THERE were times, Richie Egan admits, that he wondered if he would ever write a decent song again. These were worrying moments, in the six month aftermath of his success at the 2008 Choice Music Prize, when his album ‘Ritual’, the third recorded under his moniker as ‘Jape’, scooped the top prize in a brimming Irish music industry.
“I had a case of about six months - maybe it did have something to do with the Choice - when I just wasn’t writing anything good and I felt a bit down about songwriting in general, but that didn’t last long and to be honest now I feel a lot stronger about it,” says the affable Egan, who returns with his fourth studio album, ‘Ocean of Frequency’, this month.
Asked about the pressure that goes with winning Ireland’s answer to the Mercury Music Prize, Egan says: “Making the next song better than the last one, that is the pressure I put on myself”.
“If I feel like I am stagnating, there are times when you get a bit of writer’s block and you feel like you are not really progressing, that is where the pressure comes in, and you are wondering ‘shit, will I ever be able to write a song again, will it be good’, that is the pressure I put on. When I am writing and writing stuff I feel like is good, than I don’t feel any pressure. It just bounces around,” he smiles.
Luckily for Egan, easily one of Ireland’s most prolific artists in recent years, he is a founder member of the Redneck Manifesto, a loosely formed collective of prodigiously talented musicians who have attained a sort of cult status for their four visceral instrumental albums. Together with one of that group, Egan also released two EPs as the electro side-project Vision Air. The heady mix of collaboration eased his writer’s block, helped to get his creative juices flowing again, the side projects inspiring his day job, as it were.
“That is exactly right, that is why I think I am one of the luckiest people around, because, if I was just purely working on Jape, something like that could finish you, make you really - it is so insular if you just make music on your own, but when you are with people in a room you have a laugh,” he says.
“You just forget about Jape for a little while and it is so much more fun to play with the Rednecks, it is the best thing ever. So that will loosen up the gears for the Jape stuff as well,” he adds.
And boy are his gears loosened on this album, a twelve track stunner that is a heady mix of jaunty, fizzing electro tunes, bursting at times with a slow-burning, Jamie XX meets Hot Chip bounce, Brian Eno and Prefab Sprout crossed with Caribou, all swirling synths and endless introspection. Thankfully, it sounds like Egan is also having fun and avoids the pitfalls of earlier records, which shuddered with conflicting styles, often noisy and bristling at times, then softness and light at others, leaving the listener perplexed.
“I had a sound (in mind) but I don’t really know how to explain it to you,” Egan smiles when asked whether the gently flowing, synth driven sound was intentional on ‘Ocean’.
“I wanted to make the record feel a little bit laid back and relaxing in some ways, that people could delve into it and maybe it didn’t really jump out and try and grab your attention. I think one of the flaws of the earlier albums is that they jump, one minute they are mad banging and then total acoustic the next. I wanted to make something that had a theme, even though the songs are different, I feel like they kind of sit together as an album a lot better than the other records have done. Because it is not as jarring, it is more like one sound, I think.”
It’s a belter of an album, a heart in the mouth collection of twisted, 80s-sounding pop tunes that also seem futuristic. Egan spent three years crafting it and his care is obvious.
“I definitely feel like you have to work at stuff to make it good. I am not one of those people that is naturally talented, I am a tenacious worker, you have to work,” he urges.
“It doesn’t feel like it was three years at all, it didn’t feel long, but time just goes so fast. It is not quite ‘Chinese Democracy’! I wanted to spend a bit of time making sure this one felt right. I thought it was finished about a year ago but I found there was something niggling about it so I went away from it for a while. I eventually got to the point where I felt like it was ready.”
‘Ocean of Frequency’ is more than ready and Egan is ready to take it on the road to share it with people, coming to Dolan’s where he played “one of his best gigs ever” in 2009. Expect this to be better.
Jape plays Dolan’s this Saturday. Ocean of Frequency is out on September 30.