Interview With The Event Guide

Rachel McMahon speaks to Sarah Sheil and Andrew Bushe of Dublin’s underground quintet, Estel…..

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Relocating to Dublin from Roscommon, keyboardist Sarah Sheil met with drummer Andrew Bushe while the former was performing at Eamon Doran’s almost ten years ago. Bushe remembers his initial impression of her pre-Estel trio, “It was messy, but it was good messy”. With the drummer on board, present-day Estel started to take shape. Now comprising of Sheil, Bushe, Tommy O’Sullivan, Steven Anderson and Aonghus McEvoy, Sheil explains, “There has just been loads of different line-ups during the years, but me and Bushie would be the core two that have been there from the beginning.” Of their recent recruit, Aonghus McEvoy on guitar and synth earlier this year, Bushe says, “He’s a bit of musical genius. He plays very well with Tommy”. Sarah laughs, “And he’s got lovely long hair.” Bushe agrees, “Yeah, he looks great. He looks like a King of Leon. Kind of a skinny, straggly-haired good-looking bloke.” Sheil interjects “And he wears designer glasses – put that in.”….

Planning a gig to mark the release of their latest album ‘Untitled’ on January 9th, the group will also be celebrating their ten-year anniversary. The album, a collaboration with bassist Mike Watt and saxophonist Steve MacKay of The Stooges, will be released on January 9th. “We had opened for Mike Watt’s band in 2005 and he had kept contact with us. He’d email us and ask us to send him t-shirts, and he’d wear t-shirts when he was performing with the Stooges”, recalls Bushe. “So when we were doing our fourth album ‘The Bones of Something’, he offered to put a vocal or something on it. So we sent him off tracks and he sent us back stuff”, he explains. Meeting up again in Dublin following The Stooge’s performance at Electric Picnic two summers ago, Watt suggested getting both bands together in the studio. A time slot was organised for the next morning. “When we turned up to pick up Watt, Steve MacKay was there and he wanted to come too. He’s like the original sax player in the Stooges since 1969. We were just like ‘This is insane’”, says Bushe…..

On the cover of Estel’s albums is Sheil’s artwork. Regarding the role the art plays in their largely instrumental band, Sheil says, “Some people say they’re like a soundtrack to the paintings”. Agrees Bushe, “I think it gives a visual reference to it”, adding however, “We never meant to an instrumental band really. Our first album has vocals on some of the tracks and it’s just coz we had someone in the band who could sing. It’s never like we went ‘Let’s not have a vocalist’, we’ve just found that none of us can really do it that well.” Asserts the drummer, “If someone came along who could do something else and fit in the band and sing, they could sing.” ….

Following a small Irish tour in January with fellow experimentalists, Das Wanderlust, some German dates are penned for February. On returning home, the group will be getting to work on the release of a further two albums in 2009 – a subsequent album with Watt and MacKay, as well as Estel’s own latest fifth record…..

With their ten-year anniversary fast approaching, Sheil reflects on their commitment to experimentation that has withstood a decade of various band line-ups and music scene trends, “For me now, you go through stages. You do lose your enthusiasm …it’s like anything. It’s like a relationship –you go through bad patches and the spark goes for a bit”, she muses. “And you have a really, really good rehearsal and you jam and you come up with something amazing and it just kind of comes back. But you do have to work at it and not get too downhearted when things aren’t going your way. Especially when you’re a band like us, when you might be flavour of the month one year. And then the next year… You just have to keep going and not go by trends”, the keyboardist concludes. “I think the underground thing in Dublin, maybe everywhere, it’s gotten very… you know, stuff is hip and then it’s not and then it is. So you get used to kind of ignoring that”, adds Bushe. “You get used to just operating in your own little bubble, where you just go ‘Fuck it, we’ll impress the people in the band and hopefully other people will like it’. But you stop wanting to…not like you don’t want to impress other people, but it stops being important. You start making what you think is good after a while, instead of wondering what other people are going to think about it”, comments the drummer…..

Of this approach, Bushe says “It’s kind of given us a freedom to do more stuff that doesn’t sound exactly like Estel now. We’ll put something on an album, we’ll just go ‘That’s good’, we’ll just do it, rather than going ‘Maybe we shouldn’t put that on because it doesn’t sound like the rest of the album’, or ‘It doesn’t sound like what Estel sounds like’. We’re just starting to get a bit more open.” Sheil considers, “Whether you like the music or not, sometimes you can hear the honesty – that you’re doing it because you love it and you’re not trying to be trendy or whatever… I think people appreciate that.” She deems, “This record is the most different of anything that we’ve recorded.” Notes Bushe, “But it’s taken ten years.”….

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Interview With Rendition Zine

Q1. First of all, for the uninitiated, could you briefly introduce Estel?

A1. It’s far too epic [long and boring] a story to be made brief! The band started in 1998 with Sarah at the helm and since then we have put out four albums and several singles with more on the way in the next year.

We started out playing mainly instrumental lo-fi underground stuff and we have graduated to playing hi-fi underground stuff.

Even though we don’t play genre specific music, we adhere to the principles of independence and d.i.y. put forward by the punk scene and underground metal scene.

Basically, we’re an underground band influenced by most interesting stuff we come cross, be it black metal or filthy sixties psyche.

Q2. I find it very hard to define Estel’s music, at times it is pure rock, others it just sounds like some bizarre nightmare and it is quite often heavy enough to match a lot metal bands. How would YOU describe your music?

A2. Well as individuals we listen to tons of music that we don’t all like. This ranges from metal to noise to punk to classical to bluegrass to zappa. The points that we’d [almost] all agree on would be black metal, punk, folk, prog/kraut, stuff like sixties/ seventies movie soundtracks and tons more random crap.

So, I guess that our sound would be the place were all of this stuff crosses over and meets. If I had to describe us i’d have to say we sound like Phillip Glass on crack conducting Goblin, early sonic youth and hawkwind whilst they ineptly play the instrumental black flag records.

Q3. I often think that a lot of music is centred around lyrics, so being an instrumental band, how is song writing handled, and what would your inspirations for writing be?

A3. Well, for our inspirations, see above.

We never decided to not have a singer, it just evolved that way over the years. We are not adverse to voices on our records and we have collaborated with many vocalists over the years. Each of our albums up to this point has at least one voice on it, either singing conventionally or doing something a bit more arty.

The other advantage of not having a singer is that we are not constrained by the idea of having to do the verse, chorus deal. This gives us the freedom to fuck around and play for extended periods when we feel like it without hurting the poor vocalist’s ego.

The writing of the music is very democratic. All pieces are written in the room [normally based on a cycle or a riff from one of us]. We find a piece, chase it down, play it and then edit or lengthen it sufficiently until we feel that it does what we need it to do for us and then hopefully an audience of listeners.

Q4. Estel have some really great and bizarre names for songs and albums (“you racka disciprine” “journey to the center of John’s ma” and the epic album title “My Dreams Are Like Rabbits, they built a tunnel, fell onto the pavement and died”) since you have no lyrics how do you come up with these names? Is there a theme running through songs and/or albums?

A4. The titles tend to be either; band jokes or something funny that catches our eye in a movie or on t.v. or something like that. ‘You racka disciprine’ is from south park. ‘…John’s ma’ is me slagging my mate John’s ma and the ‘dreams…’ title was based on the description of a dream that Sarah had. Again, another advantage of not having a vocalist or lyrics is that we can name a song whatever we want and it won’t clash with the ‘meaning’ of the piece.

Q5. You have recently done some recordings with the legendary Steve Mackay and Mike Watt, could you tell us a little more about this?

A5. Well. It all started in 2005 when we opened for Watt’s band, the secondmen. He watched us sound check and dug us, resulting in us chatting backstage for a couple of hours, we just hit it off well. While we played our set Watt stood at stage right and as we left the stage he insisted that we keep in touch with him. We thought that nothing would come of it, but lo and behold, he contacted us and we struck up a corrospondance and he eventually asked us for an Estel shirt to wear at the Leeds festival with the Stooges.
A while later he wore a different estel shirt on both nights of the Stooges atp headliners.
When the Stooges played in Ireland last year, we met up and set up some recordings. On the morning of the recordings we found out that Steve Mackay was coming! Talk about a mind blow. The second session was recorded when the stooges played recently . Both of these sessions will be released as separate albums over the next seven or eight months. For all you trivia nerds- the first session was the first time that Watt and Mackay had ever recorded together.

Q6. Estel have been going for almost 10 years (I think) and I’m sure some members of the band has been a part of the Irish underground for much longer than that, what is your opinion of the (current) Irish underground?

A6. Yeah, members have/do played in/with [amongst others] the waltons, yurt, happystack, sirkillalot, cruachain, pete the killer, Adrian Crowley, blood red dolls, evil kinevils, apostles, deep in the woods, drainland, tarred………

I think that the current Irish underground is in a precarious position, it could go either way really! By this I mean, that there’s more music and social stuff going on then ever before, but, an awful lot of it is genre specific – made for little sub- cultures within the bigger ‘scene’. ie; crust, hardcore, punk, post rock, metal core etc… This behaviour basically splits what could be a much bigger all inclusive movement into smaller, easily dismissible scenes that shy away from cross pollination and therefore produce ‘cookie cutter’ music and mindsets. I assume that most, if not all people involved in the underground music scene here would like to live in some sort of alternative society or at least they think they do. Why, then, would you risk cutting yrself off from new music and experiences that could broaden yr horizons as a person and artist? Tsk, tsk!

Q7. One of the greatest things about the “off-the-wall” nature of Estel is that you can fit in with a lot of different styles of music (i.e. at gigs etc.) where do you feel you fit in best (and worst)?

A7. I think that we generally fit in with most scenes. We’ve had a couple of bad experiences within every scene [indie, punk, metal..] This normally involves the usual blinkered dullards who believe that different is bad. This is fine by us, who wants to count said blinkered dullards amongst one’s supporters? Not us. Don’t get me wrong, it’s cool if you don’t like us, but don’t walk out of the venue before we play then write about how crap we are on the net whilst using a pseudynom , that’s just being silly. Enough of my bitterness! Next question!

Q8. What are your plans for the future of Estel?

A8. In the next twelve months we hope to release our own fifth album, Steve Mackay/Mike Watt/ESTEL volume one, Steve Mackay/Mike Watt/ ESTEL volume two and a compilation of early, out of print singles, tapes etc… That and the usual gigs.

Q9. Finally, is there anything you would like to add to close this interview?

A9. Thanks for having us. If anyone wants to collaborate/ play with us or have us play in their town/ release stuff with us get in touch.
Bushie.x