- 20 Mar 01
A House are really good! That s just one of the shocking claims Graham Linehan makes in this award winning article based loosely on an interview he did with the band.
The average age of A House is fifty-seven.
Dave Couse (guitar, vocals) was thrown out of the SAS for unspecified reasons. Ferg Bunbury (lead guitar) was a member of the Black Panthers until he was forty-two, when both he and his superiors realised that he wasn t black. Insects have little laser guns that they only use for recreation. There are all kinds of people in your neighbourhood, in your neighbourhood.
Dermot Wylie (drums), for example, is a large rotating luminous cube known to his friends as Ping-Pong. Martin Healy (bass) lived on nothing but bluetak for a year until he discovered there was an alternative. My name is Yoko Ono, good evening. Elvis is alive.
Right, no more lies . . . I promise. Perhaps now we can get down to the nitty-gritty, draw that golden scimitar The Truth from its rusty scabbard and hack away at this thing that goes under the singular and, well let s be honest, fairly strange title of A House. The great white hope for the phewture of pop? Well, I don t really care about that. All I know is that A House are out of their fucking skulls with the melting craze of their music, and I love them for it.
1986: picture the Underground, a small Dublin venue. If you haven t been there, sit inside your TV set for a few minutes to get the feel of the place. Sweat everywhere, people everywhere. On stage a frontman with white shirt, black shades, near-orange hair and acoustic guitar leers at the audience, every nerve and pore in his body popping with phosphorous consciousness. Guitar strings whip out of nowhere and sting badly. The lead guitarist is in a nausea of movement, flesh and wire and wood blurring together as the noise scrapes its diamond fingernails off the soaking walls. The drummer is a series of computer dots coming into form at the smack of the sticks on skin. The bass player is still.
This is A House, and this is the first time I ve darkened their doorstep.
The Saps Bracket
And now we have an album. On Our Big Fat Merry Go Round is a collection of thirteen songs. The longest is four minutes and two seconds long. The shortest is just over two minutes. The titles move mountains all by themselves: I Want To Kill Something , Watch Out You re Dead , Love Quarry , Stone The Crows what type of band searches out words like Clump and Crows and Quarry and uses them in song titles?
A friend in school put me onto A House (thanks, Brendan) and I got to know them by scraping worthlessly at their feet after every gig (this was before I was paid to do it). Dave used to ask me my opinion of the songs and, yes, my children, I felt I had a meaning in life.
Now we re sitting in this out-of-the-way cafe that comes complete with screaming kids, uncomfortable chairs and something else I don t like that I can t quite put my finger on. It seems like an appropriate kind of setting for a real hard rock interview.
Why are your songs so violent?
"There s not that much violence in the songs, is there?" says Dave, sipping at his tea and rolling a grenade under a nearby table. "I suppose there s a lot of violence around, and if you re aware of what s going on, then you have to write violent songs."
Perhaps I m jumping to conclusions but with titles like Violent Love , I Want To Kill Something , Watch Out You re Dead , it d be easy to get the wrong idea
" Violent Love is about wife-beating," Dave tells me. "That just basically comes from what you see around you and stories that you hear I actually know of a few cases and also what you see on TV. A lot of what we do comes from stuff you d get on TV."
Ferg cuts in: "It s actually not that strange, really. I mean, people don t get asked why they write love songs but there s just as much violence going on in the world as there is love. You can t ignore things like wife-beating if they re still going on."
"You may love about five people but you d fuckin hate about a hundred, let s face it," says Dave philosophically, laughing in that horror-movie chuckle you d expect to hear just before someone ends up on a meat-hook.
So are you a violent person in real life?
"No, not at all. There are a few people I d love to bash a few brains in but I don t think I d have the nerve. As well as that I don t think it s right so I probably wouldn t do it anyway.
"But there s plenty of things that upset me," continues Dave. "There s very few songs that are actually joyful, but they ve still got that tint of humour to them and they re fast and tuneful there s a twist in them."
"We don t want people to go out and kill each other, obviously," says Ferg. " Kill Something just refers to that impulse reaction when something bad happens to you and you want to take it out on something. Then, when you go back and think about it you say, Ah, I don t want to do that at all "
"Even if you believe in not being violent and all that," says Dave glumly, "when something happens to you, all your morals and words just go out the window. I m a chicken, though, I m a coward. I think most people are cowards."
School mustn t have been much fun.
"Aw, I had a weird time in school," he says. "I m writing a song about it at the moment called I Never Won Any Medals . I was a very mediocre person. I wasn t anyone in the class. You know the way the class is divided up: first there s the Saps, right. There s the Hards, and then there s the intellectuals (laughs). I was in the Saps bracket, I suppose. You get picked on a lot but most people love you cause you re just such a fuckin eejit. I was always the kind of person that had people to stick up for me when I was getting picked on because I couldn t do it myself."
What were you listening to then?
"God, I haven t a clue. I ve never had an idol. There was never someone that I could honestly say I really, really liked."
What about punk? Did that make an impact?
"Didn t like it at the time but I like it now. At the time I thought, pain in the fuckin hole, this stuff, but now I really like it (laughs). I just bought a Sex Pistols album. I got a Sex Pistols album and a Beethoven album on the same day. Yer man at the counter kinda went Wha?! you know ."
When you re famous, do you think you ll be able to throw bean-bags at each other on Saturday morning kid shows?
"Nawwh fuckin way," says Dave in disgust.
"Aw, I think we could be on kids shows but we wouldn t throw bean-bags at each other," offers Ferg, generously.
"Give away free fuckin Garfields," says Dave, laughing maniacally as usual. "I don t think there s anything wrong with doing kid shows. Why shouldn t kids be able to listen to A House? My kid sister s sixteen and she thinks we re brilliant, as do her mates. But people like that usually don t get a chance to listen to you because you ve got all that sugarpop crap on the music programmes, you know? There s nothing that goes over three decibels."
The Trappings of Fame
At this point I d like to say that A House are a pop band. And if sugar was a substance that tasted great and then chewed up your guts like bamboo shoots, then I d call them a sugarpop band. Joy through the pain of unbearable melody, as my grandmother used to say. Best thing of all, however, is that A House do not sound like anyone else. I have heard the most ludicrous comparisons, and so have they.
"That happens a lot," says Dave, grim-faced this is something that really bores him. "We get called U2, we get called The Smiths, we get called Lloyd Cole, we get called Cockney Rebel, we get called The Undertones, we get called Lou Reed. I mean, it just goes to show it s totally pathetic, doesn t it? How could we be like all those bands?"
A House may remind a lot of people of a lot of things, but press down on any preconceived particular and they slither away like mercury. They sound like no-one else. They sound like A House.
The album is as good a start as any for initiates. When Ferg and Dave asked me what I thought of it, I was honest and expressed some reservations (I had only heard the thing once at the time). After seeing so many of their live blitzkriegs, I missed the buzz and rumble and whine of live sound. It all sounded rather too clear and succinct. Now, after hearing the thing a decent number of times, I m pleased to say that I love the little beggar. It s loud as hell, catchy as an Abba Greatest Hits Collection and it doesn t go on nearly long enough. It beats the dust out of the carpets, clears the sinuses and cleans the sink better than any debut released this year. Best of all, it makes me feel like I m hearing them again for the first time, and that is a real gift.
"I think it s a good album," says Dave, put slightly on the defensive by my initial worries. "I think it s a really strong album. You can never capture it live because you ve got to make the stuff into a song, y know? I could sing out of tune, Ferg could trash his guitar a little louder and the levels could be up, but when you listen to that on a studio album, it s simply appalling."
"You can play anything you want live," says Ferg. "You just hit it hard but once you re doing it in a studio and the levels are fixed, it doesn t make a difference. It s really strange though, sometimes, really hard to get used to. We played as loud as we ever did when recording that album."
"Well the most fuckin important thing about it is the fuckin songs!" offers Dave, slightly exasperated. "I think the songs are brilliant on the fuckin album no matter how they sound, the songs, the lyrics are still there."
You decided to leave out a couple of my favourite A House tracks, Heart Happy and Michael
"Yeah, and Jesus and Y.O.U. and Snowball we re just trying to move on. You can t fuckin stay in the one place. That was two years ago and this is now. A lot of people wanted us to put Kick Me Again Jesus on it but fuckin ell, you know? If you weren t around to get it at the time, hard luck, tough shit."
"It s still there if you want it," says Ferg calmly, "well, maybe it s not. Heart Happy s still there if you want it."
Dave roars with laughter. Flop of the fuckin century! Oh yeah, we ve had a few flops alright."
There s been one or two signs in the past that A House may have a massive chip on their shoulder. When Dave Fanning asked for their opinion on other Irish bands during an interview on his show a while back, he met with a silence that sounded like a definite sneer on my side of the radio.
So do you have a chip on your shoulder, kiddies?
"No, we don t have a chip on our shoulder. We just don t want to get involved in the band scene in Ireland. It s pathetic, you know? Everyone knows everyone else, I mean, we don t dislike anyone. We just can t stand all the back-slapping."
"I mean," interjects Ferg, "everyone expects that if a band came in here now, we d go over to them and start talking about guitars, you know? It s stupid. If someone from the Farmers Journal came in, you wouldn t go over and start talking about pens, would you?"
"I dunno, I think Graham probably would actually. (laughs)"
So are there nay bands in Ireland you like?
"Well, I think I m probably the one who likes the most Irish stuff," says Dave, surprising me greatly. "I m a really big fan of U2 The Joshua Tree and I like Siniad O Connor and I bought the Aslan album."
Do you think you ll have a problem because you don t come across as uniquely Irish? You don t make a big deal of it like that wonderful band of gypsies (sic) The Hothouse Flowers.
"Everything was just right for them, you know?" says Dave thoughtfully. "I mean, they are very mediocre but video-wise, and image-wise, they re pretty good. I mean, the long hair and the jumping around. He has more in the way of being a star than a lot of other people around."
Ah, but so do you, Dave. Charisma? Star-quality? I remember Dave running out of the Underground and performing on the street outside.
In fact, Couse used to be a lot more manic in the early days. Have you cooled out? Are you for the pipe and slippers next, Dave? Wellllll??
"Well, the Underground was a small stage, you know? I like big stages. I get carried away at times but I m just waiting for the moment when we play to a thousand A House fans. I mean, we ve done a few tours supporting people like Edwyn Collins and Voice Of The Beehive, but you re playing to people who just want you to get off and make way for the main band.
"Most times we won them over but that s the trial. You can t really lose yourself in that because no matter how hard you try and remove yourself from the audience and say, Oh, I ll just go for this anyway, you are inhibited by the audience. There were times with The Beehive when we just got a good feel off the crowd and I just went for it. If there s two thousand people out there to see us then I could come out and be a star no problem.
"Sometimes you get shouted at. We were completely thrown off at one gig when we came out and some guy spat at us and shouted wankers . We hadn t even started (laughs). At your own gigs you d be talking to the people up at the front, calling each other names and laughing about it.
"Some of the gigs on the Beehive tour, you d swear they were there to see us. Fuckin brilliant. These were places that were not the usual venues, like Carlisle, so everyone turns up to see the bands and both bands get appreciated. It was like being stars for half-an-hour. Best moment of my life so far. I mean, screaming kids up at the front."
"They ve probably forgotten about us by now," says Ferg, but Dave is on a high, " signing jeans after the gig and everything. I just thought, oh yeah, I can live with this (laughs)."
Think you might get sick of the trappings of fame?
"I don t know. I m sure I would if it got to the stage where I couldn t walk down the street. It s almost getting to that stage in Dublin, you know? I was walking down Grafton Street just the other day with my girlfriend and I was followed into MacMahons by a bunch of girls. And I had this huge big pimple on my face and I was going (covers face conspicuously with his hand), Yeah, yeah, well the album s actually coming out soon! " Dave laughs again.
"He s getting paranoid about it," says Ferg. "He thinks people are looking at him all the time."
"Oh yeah, last Saturday I saw all these people who go to the gigs and you know when someone says Oh, there s the guy from A House don t turn around and they all turn around."
Dave laughs yet again. He s lapping it up.
Let s Talk About The Neighbours
Best track on the album has to be the rollicking fuzz-hyper trash of Hay While The Sun Shines , which closes the album with an unbearably tumultuous blanket of sound, building and building and then. Stopping dead.
"It s just a good way of ending the album," says Dave.
"When we were writing it, it just happened that way. We just kept goin for as long as we could."
Has it ever presented problems, hitting the brakes that hard.
"A couple of times Dermot s fallen off his stool, or the snare collapsed," Ferg remembers. "Once we were doing a gig and he was goin really fast and right at the time where it stops he collapsed and fell off the stool. It was really good."
"It was brilliant," says Dave, nodding. "That s what should happen to drummers."
In Call Me Blue you talk about bathroom music . What the hell is that?
"I just think there s too much mediocrity in the world," says Ferg. "People are becoming really grey, killing off a lot of their brain. Because they re watching shitty TV programmes, right? They re fuckin listening to crap all day on the radio and there s nothing to engage them. These things just drift in, drift out. Bathroom music is background music for when you re having a bath or having a shit. There s nothing noisy, nothing to wake you up. nothing to think about."
"I mean look at fuckin Neighbours taking over the fucking music world," yells Dave. "And now the most disgusting thing in the world is that Jason Donovan and Kylie Minogue are comin along with a Christmas tune! And yer man, Paul you know Paul from Neighbours he s coming up with something as well. I m just waiting for Madge to bring out something now."
"It s probably a big plot by someone, somewhere," says Ferg despondently. "I don t even know why the radio s so bad, I mean, singles are five percent of the music sales and that s all they play, all day, every day of the week. I just can t understand it."
On TV at this very moment, an ad is being shown for something called the YTP. The whole thing looks like another fucking typical Tory con. Worse, the ad is done in the style of a rock charity video. Now, this proves something so horrendous and final that I really can t think straight about it its consequences are too frightening for me to get my head around it right now. Best to ignore it, maybe it will go away.
This all may look like a plea for nihilism, but that s fairly boring too. All I m saying is that while stupidity, brute ignorance and all that crap maybe here to stay, thrash away in your corner to one of the best albums this year and you ll fall in love with life all over again.
There s enough fun out there to make this thing worthwhile, and A House are doing their very considerable bit.