Elspeth’s Gerard Sands explains how you get noticed in the ultra competitive world of indie rock.
In these uncertain times, with the maps and charts that were previously used to navigate the music industry’s dark waters clearly obsolete, it’s no surprise to find musicians nervous about their travel plans. To find them tip-toeing through the early stages of their careers – terrified of plunging into deep waters in places they expect to be shallow.
Gerard Sands, lead singer of Elspeth, however, isn’t quite so timid. The Newry man isn’t one for see-how-it-goes contingencies. He and his highly rated group don’t suffer from departure anxiety. They have a plan.
“I think when you first appear, you have to be a guitar band,” he smiles. “It’s the most aesthetically pleasing model. Everyone lined up across a stage, playing guitars: that’s what it’s all about when you make your first album. Synths are okay – I love that kind of music, but seeing a young band hunched over keyboards looks awful. And if you’re a guitar band, you have to give all your guitarists something to do. There’s nothing worse than seeing Ed O’Brien shaking a maraca.”
The band’s confidence is hardly misplaced. Over the last two years, Elspeth have inked a management deal, played some hefty supports, and recorded a debut album with big league ambitions. Fair to say, they’ve enjoyed a rocket-powered rise so far.
“God no,” he grimaces. “It’s actually been excruciatingly slow. Leo (Gerard’s brother and bandmate) and I started writing songs together when we were very young, so it’s been years of sending out demos and being ignored.”
Truth be told, though, in the early days the Sands boys didn’t exactly help themselves.
“We had a theory that we would be signed without ever playing live,” reveals Gerard. “This great gesture. But it didn’t take us long to realise that wasn’t going to happen. I think in our heads we’d have the great Springsteen moment, one of our demos being heard and someone shouting about us being the future of rock ‘n’ roll. But it didn’t happen. We ended up taking lots and lots of baby steps.”
These trial-and-error days have served the band well. If their first demos were a work in progress, the band proved to be quick learners. And as their sound settled into an arresting blend of big guitars and smart lyrical ideas, it wasn’t long before they were attracting admiring glances. In a piece of fortuitous timing, Davy Matchett had just set up Third Bar Management with his old school pal, Gary Lightbody and was casting around the local scene looking for contenders when he happened upon the boys. Elspeth, it transpired, were destined to be the pair’s first signing.
“Davy told us he wanted us to be their first band. That was great. He also asked us what we wanted. We said, ‘make a record!’ There was no trying to talk us out of it: he went off that day and booked a studio for us. That’s the way it’s been so far – really encouraging and enthusiastic.”
And what about Mr. L?
“You can tell he spent a long time not being successful,” smiles Gerard, “and that it all happened at the perfect age for him. He’s the happiest rock star in the world.”
Produced by Ben McAuley, their confident, swagger debut album, Coax, sounds more like a launch-pad than a destination.
“We’re not from the school of wanting to be a small indie band forever,” states Gerard. “We want to tour and make albums and reach a lot of people. But it’s so hard these days to get anyone to listen to your music. There are more opportunities to put it out – but everyone else is doing that too – so it’s even more difficult getting anyone to hear your music. You could upload ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ these days, and I’m not sure anyone would find it. But we’re going to give it a go.”
Coax is out now on Third Bar