Halfway through their EP Puzzle Project, Philippa White catches up with UCD Alumnus, Ruairi Friel from In Their Thousands, about intimate gig performances, being a less precious Mumford & Sons and unorthodox pre-gig warm ups
In Their Thousands are rather like county Donegal’s unorthodox answer to Kings of Leon, made up of brothers Aidan and Declan Mc Clafferty, cousin Ruairi Friel and longtime friend Liam Kelly. They have been writing songs and playing music together since they were teenagers. To Friel, the band’s singer and guitarist, the musicians’ future was quite clear, as he says, “it seemed only natural that we’d form a band.”
Beginning in 2011, with the convenient extra of a makeshift studio in their rented house in Rathmullen, the band began to fine tune the unique sound that they had been creating. Their first gig took them by surprise. Another group had pulled out suddenly of a supporting slot one night in Auntie Annie’s in Belfast and that is when the foursome received the call to perform. “We didn’t even have a name yet,” a laid-back Friel grins. “They asked us what they should write on the poster for the gig and we didn’t know what to say.” The men quickly dispersed into different corners of their rural abode and each member wrote out suggestions for band names. In the end, Friel’s suggestion was the winner. Although there were many more quirky and admittedly unprintable ideas, the one that stuck was inspired by a line from Cormac McCarthy’s novel, The Road.
Since then the band has grown and gained substantial national recognition. With a steady online fan base, their live shows are also drawing much attention throughout the country. Their first and second EPs were released in February and September of 2012, respectively. In Their Thousands intend on releasing another two EPs with original material they are currently working on, completing their self-described “quartet” of EPs. Like a jigsaw with an indie twist, the artwork from the covers of all four EPs will be put together in the end to form one picture.
Although both EPs have been met with critical acclaim (the band have managed to be coined as a “less precious Mumford & Sons or Fleet Foxes”) arguably their biggest success to date in terms of exposure has been winning the Guinness/Hot Press Play on the Day Grand Final in November of last year. This saw the foursome pitted against other up-and-coming groups Hot Sprockets, The Calvinists and Protobaby in a heated battle in the Dublin venue, Whelan’s. After a night of electrical live music performances by all competitors, it was In Their Thousands who stood out beyond all others.
The win resulted in a front page appearance on Hot Press’ December issue, a performance slot in this year’s Arthur’s Day celebrations, €3000 worth of Fender guitars and financial backing for the release of a single. This is not bad for a night’s work, but Friel admits that the band rarely has it so good, and that not every performance reaps such benefits: “There’s no free beer. No free anything. The biggest perk of being in the band is that we have a place for our songs.”
In Their Thousands describe live gigs as being a hugely important part of their mission as a band. For example, upon the release of their second EP, Cellars, the band decided to launch it in a more unconventional manner than most. After having sold tickets in Letterkenny for several days prior to the launch, the band rounded up 50 fortunate fans and bussed them off to an unidentified location in the depths of the Donegal countryside. The band played into the night in the intimate setting of Friel’s father’s renovated shed; a location so isolated Where’s Wally enthusiasts armed with Google Map satellites would even have had a tough job finding the place. In Their Thousands, in essence, like to perform shows that cannot be recreated. “It makes things more exciting”, explains Friel. “Our live gigs are just moments in time.”
The band’s pre-gig warm-ups are equally unorthodox, with the men preparing for a show by gathering in Declan’s blue Transit van and indulging in a feverish rant about everything from global politics to the illuminati and everything in between to get them fired up. For a band that thrives on the energy of performing unique, one-off live performances, In Their Thousands have an exciting few months ahead. At the end of this month, they will be returning to Whelans and in March they will be crossing the Irish Sea to play gigs in Manchester. The summer will also see the group performing alongside artists such as Elvis Costello and the Imposters, Imelda May and The Buena Vista Social Club as part of the Westport Festival at the end of June.
All in all, the next few months are set to be hectic for In Their Thousands, not necessarily a bad thing when it comes to working in the music industry. Their schedule may be tough but the band aren’t complaining. As Friel puts it, “We are in the industry because we want to be in it.” It would appear that the group’s ethos and direction is paying off. Their desire to create something unique in their music and performances is finding appreciation at home and abroad. Here’s hoping the industry doesn’t swallow them and spit them out. After all, a less precious Mumford & Sons is badly needed.
In Their Thousands EP Cellars is out now, catch them on Facebook for gig updates.