Christy Dignam Interview (2001) - One Less Robot
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Christy Dignam Interview (2001)

Christy Dignam Interview (2001)

I recorded this interview with Christy Dignam of Irish band Aslan while I was working on the WIT radio station way back in 2000. I don’t have the audio recording anymore, but I discovered the transcription below while going through some old backups.

Marc:

You’re playing the forum this weekend, and you’re quite a regular visitor to Waterford, do you enjoy playing this part of the country?

Christy:

We do yeah, and we sell a lot of albums along the South Coast and that. You know, for some reason, it’s always been very kind to us, you know.

Marc:

Yeah, I know you’ve always been very popular down here. What kind of set can we expect from you on Saturday?

Christy:

Well, we kind of go around the country, and we do a lot of acoustic gigs, but this is an electric gig, it’s a full electric thing, and we’re trying out a few tracks off the new album. It’s going to be a bit of the old stuff, and a bit of the new stuff that we haven’t played before, so it’ll be interesting.

Marc:

Certainly I know there’ll be a lot of people looking out for new material from Aslan. The last album was Made in Dublin, and that was recorded in Vicar’s Street, and that was live stuff. I’ve noticed now recently that you’re advertising your gigs as specifically electric or acoustic. Which do you prefer, do you prefer the unplugged kind of concert?

Christy:

Initially, you know, it’s a weird one, initially, the acoustic – the unplugged thing – was just because there’s only so many electric gigs you can do, like the likes of the Forum. You couldn’t kinda do that every coupla weeks. We’re kinda going around, and doing the acoustic thing more or less just to pay the rent, kind of thing, you know, then it started taking a life of its own.

So, I like the intimacy of the acoustic things, you know, but then with the electric gigs, it’s kinda where we started off, you know, it’s what it’s really about for us. The acoustic gigs are really only to keep us going between electric gigs, you understand what I mean by that? Although I do, I like doing them, you know, there is an intimacy there, when you get onto a big stage, playing in a band, it’s absolutely shite, you know, and anybody that tells you different is a liar.

The more you get away from the ideal of sitting around a fire playing a guitar, the further you get from that ideal, the more crappy it is, the more unreal and insincere it is. So the acoustic thing, it can be very sincere and very honest. You can’t fuck around with people’s heads with an acoustic guitar, they know if its real or not.

Marc:

I assume in a big electric gig, you can’t even really see the audience, and there’s no connection between you.

Christy:

Yeah, you’re using a load of DATs and shit, you know, and most of the bands, or a lot of bands now, half the stuff the you’re hearing is not even being played, its not live, its all being done in a studio, and then being played out on DATs. And you can’t see the people, you know.

Marc:

A lot of bands aren’t even using monitors anymore, they’ve got in-ear headphones, and they’re not even hearing what the audience is hearing anyway.

Christy:

Well, I use in-ear, but what we do is we put ambient mikes around the actual gig, so that you’re getting what the audience is hearing.

I don’t know how people do it, cos what happened was we were for years going with just ordinary monitors, and what happens is the band play very loud, you know, and it was getting to a point where you unconsciously try and sing louder. And when you’re gigging as much as we were gigging, you’re wrecking your throat, so we decided to go and try the in-ear stuff, and it was a fucking nightmare, because after every song I’d just stop dead. You couldn’t hear a clap or anything, and there’s just no vibe. So to overcome it, we had to put the ambient microphones around the actual gigs to get the vibe back off the people, you know

Marc:

Has the audience you’ve played over the years changed, I mean, you’ve been playing for nearly 20 years at this stage, do you find that there’s a new young fan at your current gigs, just like the teenagers you were playing to when you started out?

Christy:

Yeah, the Made in Dublin thing was a weird yolk, you know, like when we started the acoustic thing, that was the natural conclusion, that was as far as we could take that unplugged thing, you know. We were down five nights in Vicars Street, and you’re getting a few bob for it, so rather than take the money out of the thing, we said we’d use it to record the gig for posterity. You know we could have all took five or six grand each and said that was great.

We work independently, what we do is we record and then license it out to whatever label happens to be kinda going at the time.

So everybody, all the record companies said live albums don’t sell, they only sell a coupla thousand albums, and nobody really wanted to do it. So we just went ahead and done it ourselves, but the whole thing, its really after taking off. like I think it’s gone fucking triple Platinum or something in this country, the Made in Dublin album. It’s the biggest album we’ve ever had. I’ve noticed at gigs now we’ve kind of got people from 16 up, you know, to fucking 40. It’s a real weird one, right across the board, it’s a weird one.

Marc:

It is great, cos I’m 28, and I remember when the stuff was coming out in the first place, and yourselves and the Stunning and Something Happens and the 4 of Us, and that just doesn’t seem to be around anymore. I mean, Temple Bar seems to be getting a bit of interest back up again, do you think that’s good for the Irish Music scene? All those venues for live music that seemed have disappeared into the mists of the early ’90s have found a home in Temple Bar.

Christy:

Absolutely, that whole Boy band thing, you know, it has a lot to answer for. Everybody’s saying it’s great that Boyzone are Irish, and Westlife are Irish and they’re making all this money, and the Corrs and all that, and it is great, you know. I mean, they’re Irish, but we were never renowned for writing Pop. I remember, we’d go away, years ago, when we first went to America, or London and stuff, people expected because we were Irish, they actually expected a standard, they expected us to be fucking good, you know. And that is no longer the case, That’s what the Boy band thing has done, and it fucked up live music, for a long time. But I think that its starting to wear thin now on people, and that’s why the band thing seems to be coming back, like. U2’s new album has gone back to that bandy kind of vibe, if you listen to it, you know.

Marc:

A lot of bands which have actual musicians in them, like Toploader, Mercury Rev, Coldplay, with strong melodies and meaningful lyrics, are coming back to the fore. Obviously there’s been a lot of energy drained out of this country with the Boy band “You don’t need to play an instrument” kind of thing. I mean, there’s an awful lot of people who would have spent hours in their garage with their mates, playing electric guitar and banging away on a set of drums.

Christy:

Well that’s the thing, you know, that’s what fucking gets to me; Like, years ago, when I was a kid, that’s what you done, you spent hours in your garage perfecting chords or perfecting vocals, now they spend all those hours in a fucking gym perfecting their bleedin’ biceps, or their six packs. Load o’ me bollox, it really us. Disgraceful, you know and there’s no longevity in it.

Years ago a record company would sign a band like U2 on the long term, for however many years to come.. Personally what I think is that they’ve realised with MP3 that in years to come they won’t be selling albums anyway, so they just want something that’s going to make them money now, immediately. They don’t give a fuck what they’re going to do in a couple of years time.

That’s why with people buying all this boyband kind of stuff, they’re actually buying into the record companies. If they know they’re on their last legs, and they’re trying to grab in as much money as they can at the moment. And the punters just can’t fucking suss it, you know, they’re going along with it, and it’s sad, really sad.. No matter what way you look at it, people have a certain amount of money in their pocket to spend on music, and if they’re spending it on that, they’re not spending it on good music. There’s so many good bands in the last few years that have gone under because of that, and venues closed down, because of disco’s and shit, you know.

But as you said, it’s turning around again, so hopefully …

Marc:

Yeah, and the 4 of Us just recently released a remixes album, and to be honest, when I heard that I felt it was kind of a cheat, but when I thought about it, I realised that they’re catering to a whole new generation, who have never heard all that brilliant Irish music. And even your own most recent release, the Made in Dublin album, is getting your original songs to a whole new audience.

Christy:

That’s true. There was an era during the ’90s when this country was fuckin’ vibin with music, and as you said the kids around now don’t have an idea about that. It’s like all they want now is the boy shit thing, and to dance. I don’t know, we’ll see what happens.

I think the Internet as well is after helping, Years ago, for us to get into another country, you had to have a Record company behind you that would endorse you, and then spend a couple of grand on you, marketing you in a country .Now, with the Internet, you’ve kind of got a window everywhere, all over the world. That’s been a big help, and the computer has totally changed music, it’s changed the world, I know, but it’s done an awful lot to change music as well. Actually I think it’s changed it for the better, you know. It’s put it back into our hands, it’s taken it out of the businessman’s hands.

Marc:

I think the Internet and MP3 is really broadening people’s musical interests as well. If you’re predominantly interested in one genre, then you simply can’t afford to try new and untested artists or types of music, not with a CD costing upwards of £16 at the moment.

Christy:

Yeah, that’s right. I think it’s a good thing, you know. We’ll see in the long term, we’ll see what happens.

As you say, I think once anything, whether its music, or writing or painting, what ever it is, if you’re broadening people’s spectrum of what they’re looking at, that has to have some effect. I can’t see how that can’t be helping, you know.

Marc:

And something else that looks likely to happen in the near future is a change in the way albums are released. At the moment, a band has to produce 10 or 12 tracks, and package that as an album, and that takes a lot of money and time, for studio time and whatever. Of those songs, maybe 4 of them are the best the band could have produced, but the rest are usually just fillers to make up the numbers. Really the Internet should allow bands to work on just one song, release that on the Internet, and concentrate on making every song their best.

Christy:

Yeah, 20 minutes worth of pap, just to sell the singles. Well, that’s it, now people are actually able to listen to stuff on the Internet, if they don’t want it, they don’t buy it. It’s bring the standard up again.

Marc:

And it gives such an advantage to young bands starting out, because with the very bare minimum of equipment they can create their own track, and have it on the Web instantly. In fact, if they have the equipment needed to listen to MP3s on the Web, then they probably have all that they need to make MP3s.

Christy:

That’s it. They don’t need the endorsement of a huge record label, to say this is okay. And you know, I’ve never met a record company that were into furthering the art, saying that this is a good band, and they deserve to be fucking listened to. It’s just about what was happening at that moment, it didn’t matter how good you were, or what the music was like. If it wasn’t the trend that was happening at that particular time, they didn’t want to know.

America ‘s not so much like that. In America, it doesn’t matter really what clothes you’re wearing, or what haircut you have. If the music is good, people will go for it. It seems to be a European thing, that we’ve inherited it from the Brits,

Marc:

Yeah, that you have to be in one culture associated with one type of music.

Christy:

And all that, it’s all crap, you know. Because now what’s happened is it’s all image. You get bands, with all these bands now, you know they work out their image before even listening to the music.

Marc:

And they’re waiting for music to be given to them?

Christy:

Yeah, I don’t know if you know how it works, but with those bands, say somebody like Samantha Mumba, or somebody like that. There’s two producers, say in Norway or somewhere, and they write a song, and they put this song out on tender to all the record labels. So Britney Spear’s label will look at it, or you know yer wan Billie, or the Spice Girls. All their record companies will look at it, and they’ll have an auction. They’ll auction the song off, and whoever buys it, they’ll say – well, it’ll suit Samantha Mumba. and it will already be recorded. So they’ll bring in Samantha or whoever to record the vocal track on top.

Now that song was going to be in the charts on September 13th, it was only a matter of who was going to record it. And that’s fucking dreadful, it’s terrible, I think it’s disgraceful that it goes on.

You know, I remember during the Punk era, if anybody came close to anything like that, they’d be fucking shot. And now it’s just accepted. Terrible.

Marc:

The creativity seems to be gone, and the money is all that matters.

Christy:

Absolutely, it’s all about image. No matter what, if that boyband thing … tomorrow if we found out that something awful, let’s say all boybands were child molesters, and that was in the newspapers, the record companies would just get all that music, put it into blokes, give them long hair, leather jackets and stick guitars on ’em, and say – right, give us a song.. Nothing changes but the image. They’re creating the image and then selling the group based on the image, and none of it is true.

You know the hip hop thing that’s happening in America, it’s the only real thing, the only progressive music that’s really happening in the world. A lot of the things they go on about, being real, sticking to their roots, that’s what makes that music so good. They are being fucking real, you can’t bullshit with that, you know.

Marc:

Something about Hip Hop too is that there are a lot of people involved, but the majority are constantly creating, it’s all about creating. Whereas in pop and dance at the moment it’s all about repackaging.

What’s also strange is that a Dance DJ can be known as a great DJ, purely because of the way he plays other people’s music, and he’s not creating anything. He’s just doing what you could do in your own living room

Christy:

I know, I know, that’s the thing, if you get a computer and have the equipment, and you kind of kick around for a while, you’d come up with stuff as good as any of these DJs that are making millions at the moment, you know. It’s a weird one.

Marc:

We’ll go back to some of your own music, and you were saying there’s a new album on the way, when can we expect that?

Christy:

Yeah, we were going to put it out, but what with the Christmas, we were afraid we’d kind of get swallowed up in the Christmas rush, so we’re going to keep it until January or February, when it’s quieter.

Marc:

You don’t want it getting lost in all the Christmas Compilations.

We’re coming up on 2001, and it feels strange to be saying that, 2000 is nearly behind us now. When you started out with Aslan, and Feel No Shame was getting critical acclaim, had you any vision or idea of where you’d be come the new Millennium?

Christy:

No, not at all. When we started off, all we wanted to do was play in the local venues in Dublin, and then when you do that, it doesn’t fill that hole inside you. So you say I want to make a single. So you make a single and that doesn’t fill the hole. Then you want to make an album, at least that was what it was like for me. I never really thought about it, you know, I thought I’d be retired by now. So I don’t know, it’s great. I think it’s great to be still doing it. I’d fucking die if I didn’t have the outlet. I need it, I need this kind of thing .All this shit that goes on in your day, what you do is put it in a song and exorcise it, you know.

Marc:

Probably again too far in the future, but what do you think you’ll be doing in another 20 years?

Christy:

Oh Jaysus …

Marc:

Will you still be on the stage with the aid of a Zimmer frame, and the lads behind you?

Christy:

I don’t know. You see the thing is, a lot of people look at bands that keep going, like the Rolling Stones, and I think that if you’re doing something that people are paying to come see, there has to be something there that’s working, you know. And for me, like, who makes the fucking rules? What rule says that you have to be a good band for three years? You know, you play in a band between 18 and 21, and that’s it.

Marc:

And then you get a job and settle down.

Christy:

And like I said, if I didn’t have this I’d be dead. If I wasn’t doing it in the Forum, I’d be doing in the Roxy. If I wasn’t doing it the Roxy, I’d be doing it in some little pub in Waterford, you know what I mean?

It doesn’t really matter what level that you’re doing it at; Like we’ve played the Forum, we’ve played the Bridge Hotel, and we’ve played the Roxy. I didn’t get a bigger horn playing Slane than I did playing the Roxy. It’s absolutely no difference, you don’t get a better buzz when there’s more fucking people there. Like I said when we started, the opposite is almost true. I remember playing Slane, and from me, the nearest person in the audience was about 20 yards away, with all the security and the moat. It was actually very hard to try and sing with the nearest person so far away. So if anything, that’s what I’m saying, the further you get away from the ideal of just sitting looking into the whites of somebody’s eyes, you know playing music. The further you get from that ideal, the more insincere it becomes.

Marc:

I’d have to say myself that being in a very large venue, you don’t feel a connection with the band, but more so with the rest of the audience. Most people can’t even see the band, they watch the big screens instead.

Christy::

It’s not even about that. Those gigs aren’t about going to see a band, they’re about the vibe of standing in a field. I’m not going to get into endorsing drugs, but they’re doing whatever you’re in to. You’re having a vibe with a load of people for that weekend. You know, it’s not really about looking at the band that are on the stage. It’s almost secondary, its like the christmas decorations in a party, its that kind of thing, you know.

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