While the name suggests a more Mediterranean make-up than their Belfast background betrays, Tuskany certainly possess a sound verging on the exotic. The trio of Owen McGarry, Mick McDowell and Thomas Bannon may have only released one track to the world but no doubt there’s been more than a little foot-tapping and grooving already. If debut single ‘Better Time’ is anything to go by, the band have their sights firmly set on pop sensibilities with a healthy dose of groove and funk. Aaron Cunningham sat down with the trio to see if he could find out just a little bit more.
In the modern world of band name conventions anything goes. So why did a band from Belfast name themselves after a region of Italy? “Just to try and get a gig there. It’s a bad joke” Mick tells us, “We came up with a lot of things and we thought it’s easier to find with a K, rather than having the Tuscany tourist board come up.”. “If we can get a tour in Italy, that’d be alright.” adds Owen.
►The band’s beginnings…
“Owen was badgering me and we thought we’d write together. It turned into a bit of a full time job, just go to his for three days straight and bang out stuff when we could, more or less to see where we could go. We thought we’re onto something here, we might just start something.” says Mick. With Owen and Mick writing together, Thomas was soon approached and brought on board. From that period of writing and the addition of Thomas, the band itself had started to form: “over the past six months it’s grown into what is now Tuskany.”
Owen, known for his own solo career, has certainly taken to the experience of initiating a new project. “It’s been great being able to start something with a totally new brand and come at it with completely fresh eyes. This will definitely be my main thing for the next while.”
►Response so far…
The band only launched themselves via the medium of Soundcloud about a month ago with their first track ‘Better Time’. With little in the way of promotion, Owen and the band were hoping the single’s infectiousness would lead to a good response. “We’ve had it shared on a load of blogs around the world which has been cool. We haven’t really contacted anybody, they’ve just picked it up off Soundcloud and added it to a load of playlists which has been awesome for us. We had one in Tokyo which was kind of funny. We just got the tweet and it was all in Japanese, we didn’t know what it meant.” “It probably just said ‘what a load of shite’. Publicity is publicity I guess.” Mick adds.
Sadly despite their Italian touring hopes, the Mediterranean nation hasn’t yet picked up on the single though Thomas offers an explanation, “Classic Italians, playing it cool.”
►Recording Better Time…
With such a heady mix of synth, drum rhythms and indie guitar there appears to be a lot going on in their debut. The writing process Owen and Mick took didn’t require too much of a transition into the recording stages. “Mick and myself have been in the home studio in my house where we’ve been demoing everything. We’d written a load of songs then we took four into the studio.”
While ‘Better Time’ certainly features a very layered sound, it could have been that little bit denser. “In the demos there’s actually more tracks than we recorded. There were like eighty tracks on the demo, just background noises of maybe one note.” states Mick. “It wasn’t even going to be the original single as well which is the weird thing. We worked on it more in the studio than we did writing it. And it was probably the song that we changed most structure wise.”.
To aid with the recording the band teamed up with producer Matt Weir, ultimately producing a four track EP. Fans of their ‘Better Time’ stylings will be pleased to know that sound has carried into their other recordings. “It’s quite reflective. It’s definitely that indie-pop 80s kind of vibe.”
But it may be a while yet before we hear the rest those recordings. “It’ll be under wraps for a while. Release wise we’re happy to keep it very closed down and just be giving out breadcrumbs of content at the moment.”
Having taken a good six months to write music together and prepare to launch, the band are clearly keen to put the work in. The band looks to be in a rich vein of songwriting form with Mick showing that they’re keen to strike while the iron’s hot. “We’ve only had a brief break from writing over the past few weeks while we’ve been launching it. As of next week we’re going back in to write more stuff. It’s the way we’re treating it, if you get too complacent then we’ll not do anything. So we’re going to do exactly what we did last year, two or three days at a time at each other’s house trying to write stuff.”
The infectious groove of seems to be informed by a love of disco and pop. Mick certainly suggests that this the sort of angle he has approached their songs from. “I like listening to a lot of Motown so that was my sort of thing, progression wise. It was a writing partnership, we just threw all that together and see what came out. It’s enjoyable for me to write music like that, stuff I would listen to anyway.” That love of the Motown sound is backed up by Owen who is also keen to assert a local influence, “It’s soul and funk meets Two Door-esque genre of dancey pop.”
The synth and electronic hue on ‘Better Time’ also influenced their songwriting process as stated by Owen who is more used to writing on his acoustic guitar, “This time we did it totally different and started with synths and electronic drums. We built the production before we built the melody or the lyrics. It was a nice way to approach it and I think that’s reflected in the overall sound that we’ve got.”
One quick listen to ‘Better Time’ would definitely confirm its radio appeal, which is something that band seems to have in their sights. “I think eventually, we’re definitely targetting straight down that path, pop with musical credibility. And hopefully that should be able to be picked up by radio. We just have to keep working at it.”
And while Owen McGarry is clearly no stranger to a bit of collaboration himself, with collaborations on each track of his 2014 ‘Stray’ EP, the band has certainly adopted that joint-up attitude on their music, although according to Mick it took time for the honest criticism to come out “Because we’ve never worked together it took a while before we could say ‘that’s shit’ to each other. But I think we’re comfortable enough writing with each other now to say something’s terrible.”
Having only launched via the single in January, the band are gearing up to play their first live show for Chordblossom and Hidden Machine, headlining their Output showcase on Thursday 17th February and the band are keen to get out there. “We’re all pretty excited about playing it live because it’s been in the studio stage for six or seven months so it’ll be so nice to go out and play these songs as opposed to just listening and editing. It’ll be nice to get out there and play them.”
While its the trio of Mick, Owen and Thomas tackling the songwriting, live shows pose a different challenge. “We’re trying to make it sound as big as possible because the record itself has a lot going on. It’s trying to transfer it over to the live sound so it will be similar to what you can hear on the single.” The key to that according to Owen is the expanded live set-up. “Live it will be a five-piece, not just the three of us. I’m playing keyboard and singing, Mick’s playing guitar and singing, Thomas lead guitar then bass and drums as well.”
You’ll be able to catch Tuskany playing their debut show tomorrow night at the Black Box, Belfast for the Chordblossom and Hidden Machine Output showcase.