Sometimes a piece of art can represent more than just itself. Through how it intertwines with what’s around it, it can take on new meanings. You might be able to say the same of Estel. One of the photo sliders on their Myspace sails through a montage of gig fliers stretching through the best part of Dublin’s underground live output for the first decade of this millennium. Estel so, through their longevity are like a wormhole through our city’s underground. They’ve been enveloping audiences in sonic depths, quick shifting moods and textures for a decade now.
Sometimes gentle and sometimes pummelling, but always furrowing ahead with their own sound and a firm, firm commitment to musical independence. And that’s a long time to be stalking the floors of Dublin’s underground gig scene in its ever shifting array of tastes. They recently celebrated their tenth birthday with the launch of a unique collaboration with two underground icons: bassist Mike Watt of seminal Californian hardcore crew the Minutemen and saxophonist Steve MacKay of The Stooges. Here, their drummer Bushie joins us with impressions of changing line ups, shit talking music blogs and working with your heroes.
The interview with Estel drummer Bushe continues after the leap…
There been significant shifts in shifts in the Estel sound over the past couple of years, can you take us through some of them or did I just imagine them?
Eh, I think that we just progressed over the passed few years and we’ve become more confident with our playing. I also think that we’ve become far less self concious as a group of people in a band and we’ve stopped being afraid to experiment with aspects of our sound like the long repetitive pieces that might last twenty or thirty minutes in a live setting. Again, it’s really just progress. You can’t do the same thing forever or constantly churn out what you think people expect of you because then no-ones happy, especially us! I think that if you’ve seen us live over the past ten years that the changes happened subtly enough to not be super noticeable but if you drop in and out of seeing or listening to us then the changes may appear significant.
Estel have been around a pretty long time, so how have you seen the Dublin underground grow and change? Road Records is closing down, spaces for gigs seem to be ever shrinking, music blogs shatter small scenes into tinier parts and Micromedia chew up poster space. Are ye optimistic, pessimistic or “what evs?”
I think that the underground scene here has become more and more narrow in terms of what’s acceptable and I think that it has become so fragmented that, like you said, it’s full of tiny scenes now. Don’t get me wrong, there were shit heads then of course, but now it’s a different type of shithead. It’s become more nice to your face, talk shit about you behind your back on my almost dyslexic blog, using a pseudonym, y’know? I would almost go as far as saying that one of the biggest problems with the ’scene’ in the last decade or so is the proliferation of the internet as a tool for people to become critics.
Because in a small local scene the pieces always carry a personal edge, so for example, if some people stop associating with you and then talk shit about you to all and sundry you will soon notice a lot of bizarre misinformation all over the internet regarding you. The problem is that people actually believe this toss.
It’s like the punk thing of ‘anyone can do it’ – this is true, but it might be shit. I guess what I’m doing is drawing a parallel between crap internet people and the exploited. Of course there are amazing, informative blogs in Ireland too, I’m just pointing out the problems. I think though that we must be optimistic, right now we have some great labels and artists/musicians in Dublin doing they’re thing so be hopeful!
Many of you had other projects on the go for a while too, and it leaves me with the impression that the Dublin punk scene of the late 1990’s and early millennium was a pretty fertile place given the amount of bands to come from it?
To tell the truth, by 1998 the scene had sort of come to a standstill. Most of the bands (Blackbelt Jones, Jackbeast, Porn, Holemasters, Waltons, Cheapskate, Null Set, Stomach, Jubilee, Wormholes…) had either stopped or gone into hibernation. Most of the zines and venues had followed suit. I think what happened then was that a lot of people started trying stuff out together in rehearsal rooms, sometimes with many projects on the go at once and by coincidence these bands all emerged at the same time. With a lot of them trying to deny their roots in the punk scene! it was a fun time to make music but no more fun than now.
What contemporary bands raise your interest?
Continuous battle of order, Sexbat [of course!], Adebisi Shank, Realistic Train, Terrordactyl, Cian Nugent, Dave Lacy, Coldwar, Janey Mac, Queen Kong, Seomhrai Geireadh, E.S.B, Drainland, Kidd Blunt, Yurt, Selahh, Herv. Tons more local stuff. There’s a lot of good stuff out there if you can wade through the not so good.
How did Estel itself start off? I heard something before that you started off as an NCAD art project? How did it grow beyond that to becoming a full time band?
I saw Sarah, Ashley and Grainne play a gig in Eamonn Doran’s without a drummer and I asked for the job. I once said that they seemed like a bizarre art project. In an effort to make us seem hip someone then claimed that the band were an art project. This is an untruth. As for the NCAD connection I can’t help you sir, as no member current or former ever attended. But if I ever wanted to use three years of taxpayers money doing drugs or taking photos of my finger up someone’s ass I’d be there sooo quick.
You must have had some ups and downs over the past few years, so if you were to trawl through those and had to come out with your best memory and worst then what would you have for us?
Best memories would be every time you hold a new release in your hands for the first time, writing songs, meeting Watt and Mackay and recording with them, getting to travel, playing with great bands like Acid Mothers Temple, Lightning Bolt, the Secondmen and The Ex. As for worst- when people leave the band it can be quite stressful.
I think that when Jamie and Grainne left it was very weird because a lot of bad feeling was thrown our way and in an effort to rewrite events a lot of misinformation was spread or at the very least encouraged by them regarding us. I think anyone who knows us or has worked with us knows that we’re not heartless pricks and that we’ll put up with a lot of silliness before the shit hits the fan so I wish that the entire debacle could have worked out differently and I want to make it clear that we have no ill will towards them, and perhaps that could be that?
Art seems pretty important in the music of Estel, the covers are always gloriously haunted and chime in with the music. Just how important is art to Estel and does the term “art rockers” pain you?
Well Sarah is a full time artist and she’s painted all of our album sleeves. How’s that for art rock? I suppose that we are art rockers in the original sense of the word, if stuff like early Pink Floyd and psych bands were considered ‘art mods’ or ‘art rock’ and what we do is, to a degree, a continuation of that lineage, then yes, we are an ‘art’ band. I think that the artwork is a very important part of our aesthetic and I, as a record collector, like when bands or labels use a consistent visual image- Raymond Pettibon and SST/Black Flag, Hypgnosis and Pink Floyd, Nick Blinko and Rudimentary Peni, Crass stuff etc…
How did the collaboration with Mike Watt and Steve McKay come about? They’ve both got quite the track record and you must have been thrilled to record with them?
We opened for Watt’s band, the Secondmen in 2005 and he really dug us. We kept in touch and he asked us to send him some estel shirt’s to wear at gigs with the Stooges at the Leed’s festival and then at both nights at the ATP nightmare before Christmas gigs. Eventually he ended up contributing a poem for a track on our fourth album, ‘the bones of something’. When the Stooges played here at the Electric Picnic a couple of years ago we got guest listed for the gig and met up with Watt. We hung around with him at his hotel the next day and he asked if we could arrange some studio time for the following day. When we arrived to pick him up, Steve Mackay had asked if he could come and we were only too happy to say yes! This is the first session that Watt and Mackay ever recorded together. The second session was recorded last year when the Stooges played in Kilmainham. That session will be unearthed and mixed for a release later this year sometime.
A decade in, and there are no signs of tiring, you’ve two other albums in the pipe-line this year? Another collaboration and a your own fifth album? That right? What else can we expect from you in 2009?
Yeah, we’re currently in the mixing stages of our own fifth album and we’ve almost written our sixth. We have the second session with Watt and Mackay to mix and we’re hoping to do a short tour with US band Sikhara and record an album with them. I’m also looking for someone to help me put out a retrospective of the band’s out of print singles, cassettes and session work that never got released. Also we have gigs lined up with Tim holehouse, Monsters killed by lazers, bilge pump and oVo amongst others and a possible tours of Germany and the UK. I’m sure about a quarter of this stuff will actually happen in the next year!
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