- 20 Oct 17
A year-long hiatus led to the renaissance of ELM, one of the freshest talents on the Irish music scene. The band lay their cards on the table as they talk about recent adventures, excursions in the States, and “killing each other to get the songs right”.
The Hot Press gang were among the most saddened when Elm decided to go on hiatus last September, following their 2016 performance at Hard Working Class Heroes. Having chosen them as one of our Hot For 2016 acts because of their “understated, furrowed-brow brand of heartache which build to stormy crescendos”, we had dizzying aspirations for this most unique of Irish acts. And, as One Direction heartthrobs know too well, hiatuses have a habit of going on longer than originally intended.
Thankfully, however, this wasn’t to be the case for Elm.
“We played all the festivals in 2016,” says frontman Dylan Walsh. “Electric Picnic, Body and Soul, Knockanstockan. We wore ourselves out. Then we finished with the festival season and there was an urge inside to start experimenting again. We were angsty teens when we wrote our old material. Having done all that, we want to explore and actually have a bit of craic from our music. So yeah, we just trapped ourselves in a little room and started going to town with Ableton equipment, giving ourselves a bit more range with our ideas and trying to put some cool sounds together.”
Self-styled as “four queers who love pop” and asserting that their music combines “vocal androgyny with unforgettable cello lines”, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Elm had already carved out their own niche in terms of music style. Previous singles ‘Concentrate’ and ‘Amends’ shared a sparsity in terms of arrangement and a more delicate approach to melody and lyric. While this endeared them to their solid fanbase, they decided it was time to change things up.
“At last year’s Hard Working Class Heroes we had people crying at our concerts,” says Dylan. “This year we had people dancing, actually dancing. I guess you could say we’re a lot less ‘emo’ than we were before.”
The band’s new, unreleased demos still bear the hallmarks of that “vocal androgyny” and the band’s unique penchant for blending in surprisingly brilliant cello riffs (courtesy of their virtuoso cellist Gary Molloy), but there’s a notably dancier feel to these new songs.
“We’ve just learned to be a bit more experimental,” says fellow band member Aidan Clancy. “We were a bit too restrictive with the old sound. You know, it was just the guitar, just the cello, just the drum kit. Then with the new songs there’s a lot more room for putting a few things together. And it’s transferred onto the kind of mood we have on stage. Our whole stage presence has changed.”
The end result is a full realised, more assured and, dammit, happier sound.
“Caffeine, locking ourselves up in a tiny room, and occasionally killing each other were the three things that got us there in the end,” laughs Dylan, looking to his bandmate.
“It was ‘productive murder’,” Aidan agrees. “Don’t get me wrong, it was fun. I mean we only get at each other because we’re all so dedicated. This is our full time jobs, so if we want to do a song right we all have to fight a bit until we come out on the other side with an absolute banger.”
Much like their Dublin counterparts in The Fontaines, Elm emerged from Hard Working Class Heroes with their name being prominently passed along the grapevine by music industry types. A deal – and a brighter future – seem firmly on the cards for them, but just as Dylan goes to tell your inquisitive correspondent all about it, he’s forcibly restrained from saying anything by fellow band member Aidan, who reminds him that they’ve been sworn to keep news of any deals under wraps. Hot Press’ curiosity is decidedly peaked, however…
“I’ve never been more excited about something that I can’t talk about!” Dylan exclaims. “People think we’ve broken up but I’ve seriously never been more optimistic about our music. Jesus, I’m having sleepless nights over what we’ve got lined up for the next few months. One thing I will say is that we’ll finally get a chance to do our US debut later this month. We’re playing LA for Irish Week with Lisa Hannigan, The Strypes and All Tvvins. That’ll be an exciting thing for us. It’s the first time we’ll have done something like this.”
Nearly two years after we first took a shining to this most intriguing of bands, the stars appear to be aligning for Elm.