Article by Sarah Williams.
If you’ve read Shout Louder before before, listened to our podcast or spent any time with me personally, then you will already have some idea of how excited we are about Only Strangers at the moment. I am a real sucker for all things gruff: over then years I’ve falled in love with Leatherface, Hot Water Music, Red City Radio, Bear Trade…. the list goes on. It’s been a while since I’ve heard a record that really fills my need for melodic guitars and shredded vocal chords and Only Strangers are, without a doubt, next on my list of favourite bands.
As with many bands that I love nowadays, I’ve gotten to know them through the old-school ska-punk scene. 3 out of 4 members of Only Strangers were originally in Sense of Urgency, who put out a split on TNS Records back in 2009. It’s hard to see how they went from that brassy, aggressive noise to the melodies and harmonies of Only Strangers, so I was keen to learn more about their journey. This is a band that have grown up together, through school, through starter bands and now through kids and marriages. The sound you hear on their self-titled record is the music that has grown with them; it has an organic depth that you wouldn’t hear otherwise.
Moreover, it’s a quality record. This 4-piece from Stoke-On-Trent clearly favour quality over quantity, although here’s hoping that they get out there and tour it soon. We spoke to guitarist/vocalist Dec O’Reilly to find out more about the band, their ambitions and how they’ve grown both as people and as musicians.
Hi Dec! You have just released your self titled album on Horn & Hoof records. It sounds like a lot of love, time and detail went into the record. How long did it take to create?
Hi Sarah! It took a very long time indeed. We wanted to make sure it was something we were really proud of as, despite most of us playing in bands since around 1999 and in Only Strangers since 2010, none of us have ever put out a full length album, so it was a pretty big deal for us. The whole process probably took around the best part of two years. Even though we had so much material from the years we’ve been playing, we had to really be convinced that we had 10 tracks which we’d never see as being more than half decent, so we kept adding new songs and re-recording old ones. We had quite a few more which we recorded properly but didn’t make it on to the album. It feels more like a ‘best of’ to us, rather than just recent tracks rushed into an album.
What did you find most challenging about recording the album?
I think the biggest challenge was simply finding time. Everybody works all week and does some pretty long hours, so realistically weekends were the only time we could ever get in to the studio, and those weekends were limited just to everyone being so busy. We weren’t keen on going in at different times mid-week or here and there as we wanted to make sure everyone was involved in everything that was being recorded.
Also, it was a big challenge calling recordings complete. There were quite a few occasions where we thought something could sound better and so we would just go back in and do stuff over and over again but it’s something we’re all really glad we did. The amazing response we’ve had from reviewers, peers and friends is a really good pay off for all the hard work and tweaking we put into it.
Are there any themes you find yourself returning to when writing songs?
Lyrically, we tend to have all the music done first and then just agree between the two vocalists who it would suit best. Then that person goes away and starts sorting out the lyrics, usually on their own. Personally I never set out to pick a theme (as I’m pretty sure Gater doesn’t) and the musical style can often dictate the content. There’s quite a variation of subjects on the album from health struggles and health care, hangovers and people’s grim attitudes to racism to name a few. I think because we’re all at that point where we’re definitely realising we’re not spring chickens anymore and have a lot of work and responsibility, there’s a bit of a theme of looking back at the past and to the future also, as that’s always going to be prominent in our minds. Bit of a cliche, but it’s very much what we deal with day to day. Musically, we just mess with hooks until something begins to stick and progress from there, without thinking of what style it should be or anything like that.
Would I be right in saying that Only Strangers is a Bruce Springsteen reference? Is that something that’s had a big influence on you?
Yeah it’s a lyric from the song Streets of Fire. We’re all Springsteen fans but I don’t know how much of an influence is it in our music. I could never imagine trying to come up with something that would emulate any of those records as his band has such a unique and huge sound. Continue reading “Only Strangers: Growing Up But Not Giving In [Interview]”