- 19 Feb 20
Following a string of acclaimed, sold-out dates, The Scratch sit down to discuss their metal roots, the influence of Blindboy, their couldn’t-give-a-fuck ethos – and their upcoming debut album.
A brazen alternative to neatly packaged and polished acts, The Scratch are a band for a post-truth, influencer-oriented age that’s starved of raw authenticity. Blurring the boundaries between rock and trad in their own wildly unique way, the Dublin-based four-piece have become a formidable presence on the live circuit – selling out a string of Irish venues, as well as London’s Camden Assembly in the run-up to Christmas.
Originally emerging as metal band Red Enemy, their transition into The Scratch saw the group swapping their heavy gear for acoustic instruments – without making any compromises when it came to the intensity of their sound. Embracing absurdity and anarchy in equal measure, while also retaining a surprisingly sensitive melodic ear, the band’s refusal to box their sound into any easily-definable genre has resonated powerfully with a generation whose playlists are packed with Lankum and Ye Vagabonds alongside Girl Band and Fontaines D.C.
“Wherever our musical tastes went, it’s always been centred around a real heavy metal base,” cajon player Daniel “Lango” Lang explains over pints in a quiet corner of McNeill’s on Capel Street. “But I’m fairly sure we’re the only band on the Sunstroke line-up with acoustic guitars – so that will surely turn a few heads.”
But if you thought acoustic instruments couldn’t wield enough power to induce raucous crowd-surfing and mosh pits, you’ve clearly never been to a Scratch gig.
“Our crowd interaction stuff really came from shit going wrong,” smiles Lango. “At our first headliner in Whelan’s, Dock was doing his usual – breaking 1,000 strings. So rather than just having dead air, we started getting the crowd involved. It was so much craic, and it was all off the cuff. That was the birth of getting people to do shit, instead of just standing there. It keeps evolving – some shit works really well, and some just falls flat on its face. But it keeps us entertained!”
“One time this guy came up on stage, and he went for a crowd-surf, so we had the whole crowd chanting ‘John, John, John’,” recalls guitarist Peter Keogh. “He nearly got all the way to the bar, when we realised his name was Jack, so we had to repeat the whole thing. We ended up having to cut our set short (laughs).”
Initially rising to prominence after a video of them busking at the Rory Gallagher Festival went viral in 2017, The Scratch have built their reputation on the raw spectacle of their live shows – but they’re eager for their recorded output to garner the same kind of attention.
“We don’t want to just be considered a live band, or a band that people say ‘you have to see live’,” notes bass player Conor “Dock” Dockery. “You want your recordings to stand up against the test of time. On The Whole Buzz, our producer Aidan Cunningham really nailed it – he captured the energy. Without him, that could have been a lot more difficult.”
Something The Whole Buzz EP certainly doesn’t shy away from is The Scratch’s natural inclination towards the more bizarre side of life.
“A lot of the madness that comes through on that EP is Lango,” smiles Dock. “It’s because he’s comfortable doing and saying whatever he wants around us. He wrote all the lyrics on that EP, so all those mad in-jokes and turns of phrase come from him.”
“He’ll often write something and we’ll be like, ‘Where are you coming from with this?’” adds vocalist and guitarist Jordan O’Leary. “He’ll be screaming some of the most ridiculous stuff into the mic. But we’re confident in his weird ideas.”
“It’s collective,” Lango notes. “If I say something, it only goes in because the lads encourage it.”
One of the inspirations behind this approach is the Father of “Gas Cuntism” himself, Blindboy Boatclub.
“What an insane fucking story it’s been for that chap,” Dock grins. “For anyone that’s really trying to do their own thing in their own unique way – and not be afraid to be as mental as possible in the process – Blindboy and The Rubberbandits are the benchmark. Whether people realise it or not, they’ve inspired so many artists.”
“It’s these very obscure ideas, executed with absolute confidence and conviction,” adds Jordan. “We try to do that as well. Even though there’s so much madness, we try to surround that with emotional music that really makes us feel something.
“Blindboy has talked before about how being an act that leans heavily on comedy can be a fucking nightmare,” he continues. “You can lose respect straight away. So the best way we combat that is by not holding back. If you’re going to do something mental, just fucking do it and follow through.”
With this fiercely DIY and unapologetically Irish ethos, The Scratch are reflective of the country’s current thriving music community – with emerging talent across all backgrounds and genres likely to make 2020 a golden age for independent Irish music.
“It’s mad,” Lango nods. “The recession happened and there were no jobs – but artists were like, ‘This is a great time to go on the dole and just hash it out.’”
“The recession also took the stigma away from being on social welfare,” adds Dock. “For our generation, those couple of years gave you an excuse to follow your passion, or do something that pays you no money.”
“Now there’s this illusion of a boom again, and people have more money and more time to go to gigs,” Lango continues. “Everyone who was an artist then has been working on their craft, and now we’re at the point where people can actually afford to support them.”
From signing-on to selling out The Academy, things are likely to jump up a few gears for The Scratch in 2020, with the release of their debut album. The lads, however, are holding onto their easygoing outlook.
“Some of the lyrics were written the morning we tracked,” Lango laughs. “We’re all practising the approach of going on instinct. In the past we’d never have done that – we’d have every inch of the album worked out. But the whole ethos of this band is to just go with the flow and not overthink anything.”
“If you plan too much, you can strangle yourself creatively,” Jordan says. “I don’t think we’d have chosen to play this kind of music or be this kind of band, but that’s what happened. When you’re watching bands like Slipknot, you just want to be them. But only they can do that, because they’re just being themselves. These things have to happen organically.”
Of course, with the buzz surrounding The Scratch growing every day, that approach won’t always be so easy.
“100%,” Jordan nods. “When The Academy sold out, we met up with each other, and said, ‘Lads, we have to remind ourselves that we’re still just fucking eejits’.”
“Exactly,” Lango laughs. “If it all stopped tomorrow, we’d be like ‘Ahh – but that was deadly’. We’re just enjoying where it’s going. We’re aware that it’s class, but it could go either way – and whichever way it goes, we’ll be fine with it.”
• The Scratch play The Academy, Dublin on April 10; Limelight 2, Belfast (11); Cyprus Avenue, Cork (17); Róisín Dubh, Galway (24); Dolan’s, Limerick (25); and Sunstroke, Punchestown Racecourse (June 14).