PHOTO CREDIT: @itisraad
THERE is a lot to get through in this interview so I shall…
keep the introduction (relatively) short and sweet. Sisteray brings together Niall Rowan (Vocals) and Dan Connolly (Guitar) alongside Marco Polo (Drums) and Mick Hanrahan (Bass). They want to re-write the Indie handbook and are doing a good job so far – lauded by stations like Radio X and BBC Radio 6 Music. The band formed because of a shared love of music – acts like The Smiths and The Clash – and are one of the most together and brotherly units around. The London-based group talk to be about their new project, 15 Minutes, and its incredible concept. Because of their much-celebrated live performances; I was keen to discover what touring is like for the group and whether there are any dates coming up – and what it feels like being invited to play Camden Rocks. The lads reflect on their influences and heroes; they chat about Andy Warhol and vinyl and give me an insight into the one band member who is a bit naughty.
It is a stunning and insightful interview with one of Britain’s fastest-rising bands…
Hi, guys. How are you? How have your weeks been?
Hey! We are great! The last few weeks have been a blast. We released our 15 Minute project – which became a whirlwind and we are really just enjoying the aftermath.
For those new to your music, can you introduce yourself, please?
We are Niall, Marco; Dan and me (Mick) who, together, make Sisteray: four boys who became mates through our shared beliefs. We write songs about our views on everything: from politics to fame and fortune. Our live shows are where our music really comes alive.
I know you guys were formed through a shared love of music. Can you remember when Sisteray clicked into place and how you all found one another?
Dan started the band with his brother, Ryan (who used to play the drums). He met Niall on Denmark Street at a gig and got talking about what music they liked – and things just clicked. I was working with Dan at the time and we had spoken about forming a band.
One day he just called me and said we have a gig in three weeks and do you wanna play bass? I hadn’t played before but thought why not.
After a short stint, Ryan got the option to go to university so we found Marco who was coming over from Italy. He listened to our songs on the plane and by the time he got here he knew all of them. That was when we clicked. Marco brought a whole new style and outlook to us.
On the subject of those influences; who are the bands and artists you all have in common?
We actually have a pretty eclectic mix of influences – I think that’s what makes us work. We all love The Clash, Billy Bragg; John Cooper Clarke and Kendrick Lamar – politically-minded artists and bands – people who are willing to say what they think through their music.
Starting out with spontaneous gigs and solid performances; you moved on to headline shows and gaining huge respect. Were those early days of touring quite tough or, in hindsight, have they helped get you where you are today?
It is always tough for new bands that don’t have the ‘Bank of Mum and Dad’. We do bits-and-bobs of work – when we can otherwise we couldn’t afford to do the gigs. It is worth every second of falling asleep when you’re doing a job: being out on the road with mates and seeing people actually care what you have to say is a great feeling. We work hard and when we aren’t gigging we are out at gigs. When it matters that much to you, you make it your life.
15 Minutes is your latest project. Can you tell me what it is all about and how that concept came to being?
15 Minutes was an idea based on the Warhol quote “Everyone will be world-famous for fifteen minutes”. These days, you release something and if you are lucky people will talk about it: if you are even luckier it will be for more than fifteen minutes! So, we decided to create exactly fifteen minutes of music that was our thoughts on Brexit, fleeting fame; societies’ need for instant gratification and the idea of nostalgia in the music industry. It was recorded at Lightship 95 with producer Rory Atwell and was two days of chopping and changing to make it work. It is our best work to date.
I know it references Andy Warhol’s famous speech (that, in the future, everyone would be famous for fifteen minutes) but what compelled you guys to set up a PledgeMusic camping to get the material onto vinyl? What has the response been like so far?
The project was happening, and as a band, we love the idea of being on vinyl. All the labels and people we spoke to about releasing 15 Minutes said it was too expensive – because eleven minutes is about the maximum amount of music you can cut onto vinyl.
For it to still sound good and we needed it LOUD so only twelve-inch was going to do. So, we decided to set up a pre-order for the release ourselves on PledgeMusic: offering a few extras and were overwhelmed by how quickly people responded.
It’s great having your music available immediately online but holding that physical copy will always be something special.
Recently, you played at The Victoria in Dalston. Was that the first time 15 Minute’s material got a live airing? How did that gig go down?
We’d been playing a couple of the songs (that became things on 15 Minutes) live for a while, but once it was recorded, we started doing these fifteen-minute sets in the run-up to the release – we have a clock counting down the fifteen minutes on the stage so that the audience can see. Of course, it’s a bit tricky because you only have to chat a bit and you’re eating into the time – so you either have to up the tempo considerably or, like we did at The Victoria, the clock goes into the red and it ends up being seventeen minutes – naughty us!
People love the idea and have been really getting on board: we have bands and promoters calling us asking us if we want to squeeze fifteen minutes in at their gigs. It is just a great way to get the concept across.
You have some great gigs coming up – including a spot at Camden Rocks. Is that the one you’re most looking forward to or are there other dates that are creating a buzz in the camp?
We love Camden Rocks: It is a home from home for us. We started the band rehearsing in Camden – until the space got taken over by Crossrail. We played last year and it was brilliant so we are looking forward to it again. This time, we have a later headline set so we are up against some of the big boys! We also have a great gig coming up with Blinders and The Shimmer Band at Camden Assembly on 28th April which we are really looking forward to. We love both bands and love what they have to say. Of course, Camden Rocks is not the end of our festival news. Watch this space.
Stations like BBC Radio 1 and ‘6 Music have championed your work. How does it feel having huge D.J.s speak so effusively about your songs?
It’s great! You should add Radio X onto that list because they’re doing a lot to support new music.
It is always a weird experience hearing your own songs when you don’t expect it. Some people have really got behind what we are doing: John Kennedy has played everything we have done and we are always grateful – but at the same time there is that feeling of, “Well, about time”.
What does the rest of 2017 hold in terms of material and touring?
We have loads in the pipeline. There are festivals and gigs all over the country and once 15 Minutes has had…. its fifteen minutes. We have loads of new stuff ready to go. We haven’t decided in what form it will come yet but it is ready to go however we decide. We are just trying to keep up with the demand!
Away from music, do you guys spend a lot of time together? Is there a bit of a trouble-maker in the band or that one character that creates a bit of a stir?
Ha ha. Our Dan can be a bit naughty – we spend as much time as we can together! To be honest, when we aren’t working, we are doing something band-related. So, we don’t even get a choice!
Between gigs, rehearsing and watching other bands, there is no time for us to be apart. We are like brothers: we all love each other and there are times when we all hate each other.
Marco is quite hard to keep still so he is usually the one making trouble.
If you each had to select the one album that has meant the most to each of you; which would it be and why?
Niall: I’d probably say Station to Station by David Bowie because it references so many things. For me, it’s an album you have to persevere with and as such you really appreciate it. It’s only six songs but it (just) feels like something pure and very creative. The title track alone feels like a movie because of all the changes and the journey it takes you on. It just seems very original and at times very instinctive.
Dan: Shock Troops by Cock Sparrer because, simply put, it sounds like a sonic-boom condensed into an album
Marco: My favourite album is Scarsick by Pain of Salvation. This album is goliardic (Marco is Italian) and a change of direction for them. Railing against a certain type of American and their stupidity – and also a call to arms against making shitty commercial music for the sake of it. The whole thing about people selling their images to the mass media: it’s still going on now; nothing’s changed – and perhaps Sisteray reflect a bit of that in 15 Minutes.
Me (Mick): As always, the hardest question to answer. I played with the idea of (Bruce) Springsteen’s Greetings from Asbury Park but then swerved right off and decided on Billy Bragg’s Talking with the Taxman About Poetry. It is songwriting greatness; tracks like Ideology and There Is Power in a Union will forever be relevant – and Honey, I’m a Big Boy Now is one of my all-time favourite songs. Billy play’s a big part in our music and has even endorsed 15 Minutes on Twitter! We are big fans of words; especially John Cooper Clarke, Kate Tempest; The Streets and Sleaford Mods.
What advice would you give to any new artists coming through right now?
This might be a bit contentious but now is possibly one of the easiest times to be a new band. There are promoters up and down the country (now) who think it is ok not to pay bands – and just offer a few beers (if you’re lucky) and a pizza. So, if you can get to, say, Sheffield, there’s a gig for you. There are loads of online applications for festivals and, if you seem ‘nice’ to them, then you might get offered a slot.
But, what’s not easy, is standing out from the crowd: offering something different and challenging. Work hard and spend as much time as you can writing music and rehearsing.
PHOTO CREDIT: Rhona Murphy Photography
Just keep pushing! Don’t assume the world revolves around your band. If you play a gig stick around to watch everyone. If you’re not playing a gig (be out) at other gigs flyering and talking about your next gig. Never be afraid to write about what you believe. Not everyone will like you; whether you write Pop or (about) politics – so just write what you think. If you think you’ve got what it takes then get in touch: we are always on the lookout for bands for our monthly club night, Welcome to the Monkey House.
Who are the new acts you recommend we check out?
Definitely check out BERRIES and SONS: both great friends of ours and both kicking up a fuss. Blinders are great as well. They are charged and angry and always put on a great show. There’s a band from Northern Ireland that we’re really keen to check out called Touts. Their tracks always seem to get played next to ours on the radio.
Of course, we have to mention The Wholls. If you haven’t heard of them yet you soon will. They are an amazing live band with great songs and don’t follow any fashion. It isn’t a competition but, if that band aren’t massive, it will be a crime against music.
Finally, and for being good sports, you can each name a song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that)
Marco: The Clash – I’m So Bored with the U.S.A.
Dan: Wonk Unit – Horses
Mick: The Jam – The Eton Rifles
Niall: Kate Tempest – Perfect Coffee
PHOTO CREDIT: Vallance Records