Interview by Amanda Astramowicz
Prior to their show at the Hard Rock Cafe Barcelona, Metropolitan sits down and chats with three of the members of Los Stompers about the band and their 5th and newest album, ‘The Harold Spencers’, released in November 2013.
For event information, click here.
Dara Luskin (bass) Frank McMahon (banjo, mandolin, mandola) Brian O’ Mahony (guitar and voice) David Holmes (accordion and violin) Marcos Lopez (drums)
How did the group form?
Dara: We all came over here [to Barcelona] separately, I came in ’94, Frank came over earlier than that, ’91 I think, and I’m not sure when Frank came, and we had a little group here playing in the various bars and, in 1997, the guy who was the lead singer left the group and we ended up calling ourselves Los Stompers. We had various people coming in and out of the group while we recording our albums on Ventilador [label]. Then, in 2002 we were gigging, but we weren’t recording for a few years.
Frank: Keeping a low profile. [chuckles]
Dara: Then our lead singer, Alex (Crichton), left the group in 2006 and Brian came in. That’s when we sort-of re-vamped the project again and began to work on our new material to record the new album.
How would you say your sound has evolved with 'The Harold Spencers'?
Dara: The albums changed constantly, I would say. The first album was a live album, recorded with no drums in a bar in Barcelona. The second album was probably a little bit more folky – Irish folky – We actually had drums up on the stage this time.
Frank: Except the drums came afterwards. It was recorded backwards. In true folk style.
Dara: Yeah, that was ‘Pub Friction’, it was about our experiences of playing in Irish Pubs throughout Europe. Then there was ‘Belmondo Café’, that was definitely a bit more poppy.
Frank: Grandiose! We had a lot of studio time… we hadn’t planned to have a lot of studio time, but we ended up having a lot of studio time. The studio can play strange tricks upon the mind… we developed fully-fledged studio fever. We could do limitless possibilities and we took full advantage of it.
Dara: So from then on, we didn’t do it for a while and then Brian came along.
Brian: Yeah now it’s kind of a mix between the sound they already had from before and then I brought along the electric guitar…
Frank: And an attitude…. and a beard.
So where are you all from? Which part of Ireland?
Brian: I was originally born in Cork, in the south of Ireland, but then I moved to Dublin as a lad, when I was about 8. And then started my formative years, musically. I listened to my brother’s records, which helped to bridge that generation gap between ourselves. And I moved here [to Barcelona] in 2002 for a girl. We’re not together anymore.
Dara: Well I’m from Dublin, I came here in 1994 to get away from being a poor musician in Ireland, basically. I recently went to Mallorca, to play shows for tourists, and then to Andorra, and after that I came here [to Barcelona] because an opportunity came up. Initially when we came here we played for the tourists, you know, the working class people or young people, they come over and have some paella and chips and go to Irish bars at night. They like to hear their favourite Irish songs in the bars, so we basically played for them.
Frank: I’m originally from Birmingham, but of Irish family. My brother came over here for a girl and I followed his footsteps, because I was at the loose end – I had just finished university and I was considering my options – it was either to continue in academia or find pastures new. Essentially, out of lack of imagination. My initial idea had been to go to Eastern Europe, this was in 1990, but I had cold feet so I though, oh I’ll try Barcelona as an experiment.
How did you find each other?
Frank: In an Irish bar. By default, being the only banjo player around at the time.
Dara: We were looking for a banjo player and this friend, a girl that we had just met, was talking about this guy she knew. But it was completely by accident.
Frank: There was a bar in the Raval, which before all the Irish bars sprung up in Barcelona, I think there were only two at the time, in 1994… well, this place had been established for a number of years. It’s how I started playing Irish music, in fact. They had Irish music sessions on Thursday nights, sort of informal gatherings of Irish music, where people come together and just start playing tunes. I played guitar at the time, but eventually through exposure I started playing the banjo.
Dara: Well, that’s not where I met you though.
Frank: I’m getting there! Well I was playing with my band at this place called Chi-Chi's on La Rambla, and this was 20 years ago. And we literally met on La Rambla, I was coming from there and he was coming from the other Irish bar.
And you, Brian? How did you meet the boys?
Brian: Well in 2002 it was pretty much the same meeting with Frank, the sessions at Backstage had moved to Cervesera Artesana, and Frank was there. I used to live up the road and there was an Irish music session there and I just dropped down and Frank said to me, “Oh you look like you know what you’re doing”. And invited me to play with them to play the covers that they were playing at the time. I was sort of short on cash at the time as well because I was doing my PhD. So, I was under Frank’s wing for a while, then one day Dara called me up and said, “How would you like to join the Stompers” and I said, OK and that was that. I finished my PhD and became a full-time musician.
So why the name, Los Stompers? What happened to the previous name, Stomping Clawhammers?
Dara: Well, at the time when we were Stomping Clawhammers, nobody could pronounce it, and we used to, informally, refer to ourselves as the Stompers and eventually we just became Los Stompers.
What can you tell us about your new album?
Dara: After 'Animal, Vegetable, Miserable' (2009) we took a break for a while, then we made a couple of decisions to try some new stuff out - one was tear back the amount of chords we were using in the songs, and also the amount of instruments, and not do so much over-dubbing for example in the melodies and things like that. We also eliminated the amount of guests that would come and play on the album...
Frank: Just try to be ourselves... whatever that means! [laughs]
Dara: And that also we would primarily use the electric guitar, and kind of rock it up a good bit. We wrote about 25 songs and then cut it down to 11 tracks for the album.
How does the songwriting come together, typically?
Frank: Basically, we all collaborate and bring basic structures along.
Dara: I suppose I kind of have a different system than these two have as well, I just bring along melodies and chords and then I worry about the lyrics later and then worry about hard arrangements, and then we all sit there and criticise it for, you know, about six months and then it just gets mutated and changed. In our past albums we sort of have a few different rhythms dispersed throughout the albums but this time we're trying to hone it in a bit more to one type of style.
Frank: It's always been a bit schizofrenik actually, trying to balance what we do for a living, and what we'd like to do.
What are the range of styles that you've had in the last albums?
Dara: Well, there have been songs that were more, a pop or a rock base, and songs that have been more with a funk base, and those are the two worlds that we're trying to get together essentially, which is what we're trying to achieve, we think, in 'The Harold Spencers', or at least this album has come closest to doing so. We don't really have any strongly folk Irish numbers in it though we still do have the fiddle and the violin, and we still use Irish melodies in the songs.
Watch the official video for the first single of the 'Harold Spencers', here.
If you can't make it to the gig at the Hard Rock Cafe on April 10th 2014, watch them play at the Festes de Gracia on August 19th 2014 on Carrer de Joan Blanques.
- Mezzy on Stage (Ventilador Music, 1998)
- Pub Friction (Ventilador Music, 1999)
- Belmondo Café (Ventilador Music, 2001)
- Animal, Vegetable, Miserable (Ventilador Music, 2009)
- The Harold Spencers (Ventilador Music, 2013)