- 19 Feb 16
For years, they’ve been earmarked as one of Ireland’s most singular prospects. With their debut album finally unveiled, Colm O’Regan lifts the veil on Limerick’s best-kept secret, Bleeding Heart Pigeons.
First things first – a bleeding heart pigeon is a real thing. We’ll wait here while you Google it; it’s a pretty awesome looking creature.
Since they first appeared on the radar as fresh-faced teenagers, the Limerick trio have probably fielded dozens of questions about their unusual moniker – but no longer. The second their debut album was revealed, the queries from that point forth were destined to centre on a collection unlike much ever to emerge from Irish shores. Lyrically arresting, musically adventurous, and coming from a place where few young acts would dare, Is could be to 2016 what Girl Band’s Holding Hands With Jamie was to last year.
“We didn’t want to dance around things we were thinking about,” explains frontman Mícheál Keating. “It’s definitely dark, but I don’t think there’s any shame in that. We were young, and it’s a time where your life is changing so much that certain thoughts just occur to you quite often, I feel. That’s where it comes from.”
The thoughts in question include – but are not limited to – disillusionment, isolation, despair and the fear of death. Heavy topics all, perhaps befitting a band whose first EP was written about the Columbine Massacre, but they’re still not the sort expected from the smiling young men who perch around a table in Dublin’s Central Hotel to discuss the release. Mind, there’s an element of what-you-see about the lads – straight-talking, slightly shy, and more than once referring to the world of rock’n’roll as ‘this kinda music industry thing’. Perhaps that’s why Mícheál sees the striking subject matter as worthy of little excitement.
“It’s kind of fundamental stuff,” he reasons. “Everyone can feel isolated, everybody dies; these are universal things. We hope that people can connect with that. But the world can be quite ugly and grotesque, and that’s why we wanted to express it the way we did.”
The chosen technique can only be described as ambitious. Vast in scale, the twelve tracks straddle synth-soaked psychedelia, melancholic post-rock and avant-garde experimentation, without once allowing the focus from rewarding hooks and intelligent melody to stray too far. With songs like ‘Vapour’, former single ‘A Hallucination’ and the exhilarating ‘Nausea’ drifting towards a decidedly epic 10 minutes in length, it’s little enough surprise that the album was crafted far from the prying hands of outsiders. Though it’s possible the trio take isolation a little too far.
“Our rehearsal space is in a converted barn,” synths whizz Cathal Histon reveals. “We recorded pretty much everything there.”
And while it ain’t quite Area 51, you won’t be finding it on any maps.
“It’s about a half a mile from the road,” smiles drummer Brendan McInerney. “And it’s a pretty narrow road too…”
The centre of operations is located in the wilds of west Limerick, where the trio came together after meeting at a music camp in 2008. Bonding over a shared love of Radiohead – to whom comparisons are somewhat inevitable – the group honed their craft to be met with wild excitement and widespread industry interest a full four years ago. And then…
“We had to go and make an album?” Mícheál proffers with a smile. “We were just kids at the time. We definitely felt a pressure of sorts, because we were just kind of thrown into that world.”
“All that time away was worth it,” Cathal adds. “Even outside of the album, we needed to spend that period for ourselves anyway.”
And while sporadic releases kept a healthy share of the music industry salivating for a full-length effort, the group were determined to let things develop as they should. It’s just as well, too, because that period provided Mícheál’s lyrics in particular with the power and intensity that pervades throughout Is. While listening to ‘Sister’, a track about suicide, or the angst of ‘Vapour’, there’s a palpable and authentic sense of personal loss – so it’s something of a relief to hear that real-life tragedy isn’t behind the music.
“That was more a projection of a dream I had,” the frontman explains. “I have lots of dreams where people I know are dying, and those dreams feel very real. It was drawing on the intensity of death, and trying to find some way through the grief. But it’s nothing personal to me.
“A lot of our music is a coping mechanism,” he continues. “It’s as much about exploring concepts, and gaining some kind of understanding.”
A pattern which appears again in the aforementioned written introduction to the LP, which singles out a conservative Catholic upbringing as one of the millstones to be discarded.
“I don’t have any intention of attacking a religion,” Mícheál explains. “But for me, it was about breaking out of that shy, quiet code of Catholicism to find my own sense in the world. My family are still religious – they’ll still drag me to mass on occasion – and I respect that. But I have my own spiritual journey that’s very separate.”
Now, it’s the musical journey which takes centre stage. The band have still played less than 50 shows throughout their career: “Only when it was a good thing for us to do,” Brendan opines. But already, Hot Press feels the need to point out, every reference to Is takes the form of ‘this album’, as though it’s simply the start of a far greater adventure.
Is is out now on Virgin EMI