by Joe McNulty
From “Retro Futuristic” beats to outfits made of recycled biro pens, I’M YOUR VINYL are unique. Following their support slot with The Original Rude Boys in The Crane Lane Theatre, Cork, Joe McNulty caught up with Dana Donnelly and Ken McHugh – the two wheels of the roaming bicycle that has become I’M YOUR VINYL. On a street bench in the tranquil surroundings of the River Lee, overlooking Cork City Hall, the pair talk about life on the road, their unique and funky sound, making it big, and the two F’s in their life outside of the Band – Fashion and Food.
Joe: “The dynamic within I’M YOUR VINYL seems to work really well , and you both bring something unique to the But how does this dynamic work , what are your roles behind the scenes?”
Dana: “Ken produces the music, we write together, we write apart, we both make the decisions, quite like a 50/50 democracy. It depends on the song, for example, Ken could bring a piece of music and I could write something over it, or he would come with a complete piece, and I would input my little bits, or even I could come to him with something. Obviously my set up at home would be a lot less of a standard to Kens, whereas my beat would be on a bongo, he would bring it to a different level altogether, but it’s a collaboration, really. I think why it works so well, is because we’re both open to new ideas and moving forward.”
Ken: “It’s all about the song , really. Ultimately, we write a lot of songs, but not all of them would play out. We’ve worked together for over three years now and we’ve written over 50 songs together. Not just the music though, the videos as well, they’re just as important to us as the music. We’d spend a lot of time on them, to make sure they’re representative of what the band is about and what the music and the song is about.”
Joe: “The song ‘Erase It’ seems to be the song where you have finally found your true sound. Having experimented somewhat before that, you now seem to have established a sound that could well be a sign of things to come, is this the route you’re edging towards in musical terms?”
Dana: “We’re calling it ‘Retro Futuristic’. It’s still definitely new, and it’s fresh as well. We’ve always said we’ve come home to this sound, and we’re just having fun with it now. I suppose Erase It kind of hit home with us, because our live shows have become more upbeat as well, with a lot more movement on stage, so [the track] made sense as the next single. You’ve got to love a good funky beat, and that was Ken’s genius, he comes with these amazing beats and you’re so full of inspiration and excitement when the right beat comes along.
Ken: “It’s just the two of us and not four guys in a room bashing it out, where the sound comes straight away. So we have through the years tried different sounds that we’ve dabbled with, different rock and ballads, and we have some very mellow stuff too. I guess after a while you find your niche and find your sound, so to answer your question, that is what we’re focusing on now.”
Joe: “Obviously, Ken has had more experience on the road and in the Music Scene, but for you Dana this is all rather new, how has it been touring with the likes of Ryan Sheridan, and how have you been coping with the pressures that comes with it?”
Dana: “This is the first – well, obviously I’ve played around with friends of mine, but never anything on this level before. Myself and Ken have worked so hard to get this to where it is now. This has definitely given me a different perspective on how to write music and perform; it’s really helped with my confidence develop. I’m totally buzzing. But, yeah, it’s all new to me going on tour for this length of time, and they’re all a great bunch of lads. I learned an awful lot just watching them behind the scenes, and their stage craft. Those lads have been to China, they’re in Germany and then Austria as well. You wouldn’t know where they’ll be tomorrow…We’ve a few gigs left with them in December, that we’ll post on our Facebook page soon.
Ken: “For us it’s a real challenge playing support, let’s say playing for Ryan or The Original Rude Boys, because they’re such different crowds and they’re not our crowds. So what we’re playing might be a little bit different, and fair play to Ryan for taking us on. He heard Erase It and became a fan, then brought us on tour. It’s been an amazing opportunity. Every night during the first song people are like what the hell is this, then by the second or third song we’ve got them up dancing, and that’s down to Dana, but it’s a challenge we like. I suppose it’s so early in the development of the band, and that’s why playing these support slots are so important to us.
Joe: “You’ve finished touring with Ryan, now you’ve began another tour with the Original Rude Boys, what is Next for I’M YOUR VINYL? Do you feel you have done what you can in this country for now and are you ready to spread your wings further afield?”
Dana: “I wish I had the answer. If an opportunity came up tomorrow we would obviously look at it, but right now we have these few gigs coming up with The Original Rude Boys, and we’re going to release another single, a new video, but eventually we would love to bring this worldwide and spread our wings.”
Ken: “We want to do it right, if there is a right way of doing it or not. We could have released two albums already and be settling into our third album. But for us albums are not a mark of achievement, it’s about, ‘well, is a particular song doing really good’. So we’re kind of working on it single by single right now. So much work goes into the promotion of an album these days, and if it’s not all right and you don’t have all the cogs of the wheel correct, it can literally flop the next day. We’re all about quality over quantity.”
Joe: “Music aside, I’m aware of your talents and interests outside of the band. As a former chef myself I have to ask Ken about his food blog SoundGrub, where you have merged two of your passions, Music and Food, but which one is it and how important is it to have creativity in other areas of your life?”
Ken: “SoundGrub, yeah, I started up a blog a few weeks ago. I’ve been into cooking, it’s something I’ve got into later in life. Hanging around studios for years eating crap food, pizzas and takeaways, then I moved down to Wicklow and I had a studio and it had a big kitchen; I just got into it I suppose. For me, when you’re writing music and songs, there’s quite a similarity between creating a meal and a dish. I enjoy it so I thought I’d write some of them down. For every recipe, I try to have a story behind it and a piece of music that’s relevant. Music will always be my big passion though.
Joe: “No I’m your Vinyl interview would be complete without asking Dana about your fashion. You seem to be obsessed with the vintage 60’s look at the minute and I know one of your outfits was made out of recycled biro pens by designer Sophie Wallace. Given your interest in fashion, is this something that you would like to pursue in the future?”
Dana: “I love all fashion. 60’s Vintage was the theme for the last video, so I kind of went on a bit of a buzz with that. But I’m obsessed with anything fashion. Like Ken said about food, for me fashion and music are the same, as in they’re both something that gets me very excited. I wake up in the night with melodies the same as I would wake up with patterns or sketches in my head. I would never say never, but at the moment I’m just very focused on writing music and where that’s going to take me. I’ve loved working with Sophie Wallace, we’ve talked about ideas we would have, but maybe down the road who knows. She’s got a crazy mind when it comes to designs, so it’s amazing working with someone like that.”
Joe: “So what’s next for you in terms of a tour of your own?”
Ken: “We’ve played Cork twice now, in support slots, but we’re looking forward to coming back and doing our own show. We play with a band as well, and what you’ve seen tonight is a stripped down version of that. You can’t really arrive on with a whole band when you’re supporting someone or you won’t get many support slots. The last band gig we did was at Electric Picnic, so we’ll have a drummer, a bass player, some backing singers, and we’ll put on more of a show.”
Dana: “Just have to do this first and take it from there; probably in the first 1/3 of next year. If we were touring Ireland it would have to be with the whole band though. You just have to be able to afford it first, that’s the realistic thing about it, but the live shows mean everything to us.”
I’M YOUR VINYL are most certainly one of the bands to watch out for in the coming year; their unique sound of retro, funky beats, merged with Dana Donnelly’s growing confidence and stage presence, make them hot property on the Irish music scene and a live act that are difficult to ignore. Away from their flamboyant style, lie two extremely focused and determined individuals, who possess maturity and a grounded attitude that may just be the catalyst for their future success.
Images © Joe McNulty