- 17 Aug 21
With gigs scrapped for the past 18 months, the former Revelino and Coletranes frontman turned his laser focus towards curating a debut solo album.
Nestled into his home near the Dublin Mountains, Bren Tallon has hijacked the family kitchen and transformed it into a makeshift studio. Speaking to the musician and former Bohemians footballer over Zoom, Tallon sits in the same spot he created his 80s-tinged new project, Love in These Times.
The dedicated songwriter re-emerged last year with the Indie chart-topping re-issue of Revelino's acclaimed, self-titled debut album. Having performed with six-piece covers band Beatclub for the past 15 years, how did Tallon find the transition into solo work?
“I was working on songs without really consciously creating an album, because my job is my music - I never stop writing,” the musician reflects. “I never had any intention of putting a solo record out until I received the masters for it the day Covid restrictions were announced. All gigs were cancelled for six months so I had to hold back on spending money, so the album was sitting on a shelf for about a year and a half until a funding offer came in. I hadn’t recorded anything on the album in over two years.”
“I’ve never done this before either so I didn’t know how to approach it,” Tallon adds. “If you get an exciting new idea when you’re in a band, you have to make sure it’s finished before the next gig. When you’re on your own, the deadlines can be put off forever. There are advantages to having total creative control, but it’s fantastic having people to bounce ideas off. Making an album is like making a hundred thousand decisions, but it’s all going on inside your own head when you’re alone. That can be tormenting."
“Looking back on it, I’d love to talk to a therapist about the whole thing. Not that it messed me up, because I think I’m a better person now than I was before I started, but because it was such a psychodrama from start to finish. Dealing with all the self-doubts was hard,” Bren adds, after a pause. “In a band, if somebody’s having a bad day, the other four guys kind of push you forward. That whole battle was going on inside my own head. Some days you wake up and think it’s the greatest thing ever and literally the next day you think it’s rubbish. I literally had the whole project in the trash can of my computer two or three times, with my finger on the delete button. I had to fight those demons all the time.”
Life may have gotten in the way of making this record sooner, but Tallon amassed a treasure trove of ideas realised into fully-formed songs. It’s a debut full of optimism and addictive hooks - with Bren’s passion for layered musical and lyrical textures on show. Interestingly, the troubadour’s most poignant songs are often told from the perspective of others. ‘Old Man Superman’, Brendan’s first solo track since 2012’s Saturday Captains collaborative album with Barry O'Mahony of Luggage, was inspired by the actions of 72-year-old Yasuteru Yamada and the ‘Skilled Veterans Corps’. The group volunteered to enter the Fukushima power plant in Japan following 2011's nuclear disaster.
“I wasn’t even going to put ‘Old Man Superman’ and ‘American Strings’ on the project, even though they actually turned out to be the first two singles. I was doing a drum session with my friend Gavin Ralston, who has unfortunately passed away since, and he immediately chose ‘Old Man Superman’ as a standout track when we recorded it. I’m really glad that happened because now those two songs are my favourite on my album.”
Love in These Times is dedicated to producer and guitarist Gavin Ralson, who passed away on September 23rd, 2019.
“Gav was an incredible musician and engineer. He was that guy who got behind you. I’d often ring him to talk through self-doubts, and he’d always tell me I’m on the right path,” Bren muses, quietly. “Apart from the fact that we were really good friends, I could ring him up about anything. He’s well known among the community for always being full of energy and calm under pressure. He was doing a gig down in Cork once, and I decided to just go along in the car with him. We’d left Dublin, we were just chatting and listening to music. The next minute we saw this sign for Galway, 50km away. He turned the car around, flew down to Cork as fast as he could. I wasn’t even playing the gig but I was totally stressed out. He ran into the room and all the other musicians were like, ‘Gav, where were you?’ He opens his guitar case and starts chatting away - even with three minutes to get on stage. Charming as ever,” Bren laughs. “He told me years ago that he saw the Coletranes playing a gig when he was 15 or 16. He told me that it was one of those moments that really kind of inspired him to be a musician, which is lovely. I miss him a lot.”
Travelling back in time, Tallon had a multi-talented stint in his early 20s as a graphic artist, football player for Bohs and musician. His life choices eventually led him down the path of the Coletranes, with each member deciding to quit their job and move in together. There was no turning back from there, and the lads practiced day in, day out in a Ballinteer space.
“I never wanted to be a solo artist, I always found that terrifying. Now I’m much more comfortable with putting my name out there, but I just like the safety in numbers aspect of a group and that camaraderie thing. The Coletranes were really tight at playing together but it took two years before we were ready to non-stop gig. We treated performing like a job, never waiting for inspiration to strike. Then Revelino came along and that was an incredibly intense time. The band itself never made money; it was always put back into studio time or traveling. Then Revelino stopped, and suddenly you’re in your 30s and have no consistent income. But I look at my 20s as a music apprenticeship, because it’s a craft.”
Considering the tumultuous nature of band splits, it seems only fair to ask Tallon about his relationship with previous group members. Does he have fond memories or harbour any regrets?
“Everyone in the band had a really good sense of humour. We did have arguments as well, actually we had literal fist fights. That was in the mix, but the overriding memory is just having a great time with people who were like family. You’re a bit too close, because the highs are really high and the lows are really low. If things aren’t working out, you tend to blame the people around you. Working on my solo album, any other musicians do the job you want them to do, and there’s no hangover from personal issues. It’s kind of liberating. As I said, you lose something by working on your own, but there’s things you gain as well.”
“Some would accuse me of being a perfectionist, but I’m not a virtuoso musician, so I like to know what I’m doing before going on stage. We’ve had a lot of conversations since Revelino broke up, and Bren Berry helped me a lot with this album,” Tallon adds, choosing his words carefully. “I’ve apologised for some of my behaviour, and they realised it was all done in good faith. We all wanted the band to work, and at times you say things you later wish you hadn’t. I hope that we can look back and say we tried our best.”
Given the emotional turmoil of curating a solo album, will Bren Tallon continue down the solitary sonic path for his next project?
“A second album is definitely on the cards, but self-funding takes time. I don’t know if I can face that whole psychodrama again. The songs evolved over a long time, and they benefited a lot from that because I wasn’t making snap decisions. The criteria I set for myself was that everything had to have maximum feeling - those hair on the back of the head moments - but I wasn’t going for perfection. These days, even the heaviest bands don’t sound dangerous because everything is tuned within an inch of its life.”
“The whole experience really was an adventure. I don’t think I had nervous breakdowns, but I came close a few times,” the Dublin native laughs, shaking his head. “I’m not a fan of my own voice, so everytime I did a vocal, I’d bin it. That went on for ages. For me, it could always be greater. This is just my musical statement, for better or worse.”
Love In These Times is out now:
Photo credit: Ruth Medjber