Adam O’Regan of Little Green Cars takes some time out to talk to Steven Balbirnie about finding a musical identity, working with producer Markus Dravs, and the day that went from being a nightmare to the highlight of their tour
It’s hard to believe that Little Green Cars have been playing together for five years at this stage. Having originally met as teenagers, Adam O’Regan, Stevie Appleby, Faye O’Rourke, Donagh Seaver O’Leary and Dylan Lynch have been growing in confidence and prowess ever since.
2013 marks the biggest year for the band thus far, with the release of their debut album, Absolute Zero, and a US and European tour which has seen them play to audiences at massive festivals such as Coachella, South by Southwest and FIB. On the way to work on their follow-up album, guitarist Adam O’Regan takes a moment to discuss the band’s progress to date.
The band’s members originally met each other while still in school, as O’Regan explains, “We all became friends over a common interest in film and art and music and things like that, started sharing ideas that we had for various things and then it wasn’t until six months after spending a lot of time together that we decided why don’t we join forces and be a band.”
The name, Little Green Cars also came out of a deliberate desire for ambiguity. “We kind of wanted a name that didn’t really give anything away about the sound of the band, but we wanted a name that had some kind of provocative element to it so we were kind of playing with words and colours and things like that and we just had a brainstorming session and eventually we came across Little Green Cars and we just liked the way it sounded, and it stuck,” says O’Regan.
Such ambiguity was a perfect match for the band’s formative period, as they strove to find their musical identity. “We were trying lots of different sounds together. You can imagine we were these sixteen, 17-year-olds in a rehearsal room and we went through so many different sounds, we were very very experimental young people.
“You know the band went through lots of different incarnations,” recalls O’Regan. “We went through a math rock phase, and we went through a punk rock phase, and we went through a jazz phase, as all young bands do, I think.”
Having dabbled in such an eclectic collection of musical styles, it is no wonder that O’Regan can’t settle on a single main influence on the band’s artistic approach. “One of my favourite English teachers used to say to me that ‘nothing is original, only manipulated’, and I certainly think that everything nowadays comes from something else that’s been before in some sort of way,” O’Regan concedes, before adding that “we certainly don’t strive to sound like anybody or anything but you can’t help things that influence you.”
One guiding influence however has come in the form of the band’s manager, Daniel Ryan of The Thrills. With his own band currently on hiatus, he has been managing Little Green Cars throughout their impressive ascent.
O’Regan acknowledges that Ryan has played an important role in the band’s development. “He’s kind of like the sixth member of the band, in a way, because when he met us we were quite young. I think we were sixteen and I guess he saw something in us early on. He’s always kind of had an input and he’s helped us kind of clarify ideas when we couldn’t necessarily articulate them ourselves.”
The band’s rise has been exemplified by the massively positive response to their debut album Absolute Zero, which went straight to number one in the Irish charts. “There aren’t really many words that can describe what that felt like. It’s a real gratification, amazingly fulfilling and amazingly heartening to be embraced like that in your home town, where you’re from. It meant everything,” says O’Regan.
The album’s intriguing title has a deep meaning and particular resonance for the band. “The title came from a Charles Bukowski poem called ‘Absolute Zero’, which basically is this backwards valuing system of people.
“He kind of felt that on a scale of one to ten, ten being completely ugly and zero being absolutely beautiful, and the idea was that somebody who is absolutely drop-dead gorgeous has had it easy and has nothing to say for themselves as opposed to someone who is ugly and has had to work a bit harder and has therefore developed a bit more character and substance,” explains O’Regan.
“We always kind of were the misfits, you might say, in school and growing up, we always felt a bit like outsiders and I don’t know when we came across that it just kind of felt right,” O’Regan continues. “Also I like the double meaning of words like ‘Absolute Zero’ where it’s like a starting point.”
Absolute Zero was produced by the highly acclaimed producer, Markus Dravs, whose previous producer credits include Bjork’s Homogenic and The Suburbs by Arcade Fire. So what was it like to work with an industry giant with so many plaudits to his name?
“He came in and from the get go said that he wanted to make the anti-production album. We were rehearsing in this derelict concrete building at the time and he came in and heard us when we first met him and pretty much said, ‘I just want to make the record sound just like it is here in this room in this building.’
“And so when we went into the studio with him we were all on the same page, it was a very natural process finding the right kind of mood for each song, but there wasn’t really any pulling or pushing of the songs, they were there when we went in and he kind of just helped us find the right temperature for each one.”
To promote their debut album, Little Green Cars have been touring extensively, with a variety of dates in America and Europe. Playing abroad was a new experience for the band and one that O’Regan explains they were apprehensive about. “We played in Brussels and Rotterdam and Paris, and had absolutely no idea what to expect in any of these places.”
However, these doubts were swiftly proven to be ill-founded. “We played in Rotterdam on the first night of the tour, we walked out and the whole place was packed. It’s just crazy; I still can’t really get my head around it. I don’t know what to say.”
The highlight of their time spent touring this year was their set at Lollapalooza in Chicago, which is somewhat ironic considering how disastrous it initially looked as though it was going to go. “It started out as a complete nightmare of a day. We woke up and our singer, Faye, had completely lost her voice. She couldn’t speak, so we were all in a complete state of panic as you can imagine,” O’Regan recounts.
“She went down ahead of us to the festival early in the morning and saw the on-site doctor there. And he basically diagnosed her with extreme laryngitis, gave her a steroid injection and said, ‘I advise that you don’t play the show, if you do you stand the risk of losing your voice for the rest of the tour.’ And we just didn’t want to cancel so we moved the set around a bit and pulled out a lot of the stuff where she sings the lead and we went out and did it anyway.”
The response to this commitment to perform for their fans no matter what obstacles were thrown in their path was even more supportive than Little Green Cars could have predicted. “We told the audience that Faye lost her voice, that we were going to give it our best; and they really just got behind us.
“The warmth from the audience was really encouraging, and as the set went on I guess the steroids started to kick in because Faye turned to me and she said ‘I think I can sing a song’.”
And the song that was chosen was a perfect fit for that exact moment. “So then we did ‘My Love Took Me Down to the River To Silence Me’ towards the end of the set and the crowd just completely erupted. And then Faye started singing and it was just, it was actually quite an emotional moment.”
After spending such an extensive time touring abroad the band have finally returned to Ireland for a series of upcoming shows, which include gigs at Vicar Street on the 7th and 8th of December. “I can’t believe that it’s taken us this long to do an Irish tour really. I don’t think we’ve ever looked forward to a series of shows more than this, it’s just going to be amazing to play to our people as it were,” muses O’Regan.
Their current sojourn in Ireland has also allowed the band to begin work on material for a second album; “it’s been great to be home now for a couple of weeks and get into a room together and flesh out the ideas properly. We’re kind of just starting that process now, but it feels like we’re all on the same kind of page and we’re very excited about the direction the songs are taking so I feel very positive about it.”
When asked about what direction this new venture will take, O’Regan replies that “the first album was written over the course of three years and I think that album we feel is just a documentation of those three years of our lives growing up and I think that this next album will be the same sort of idea.”
While he asserts that the new album will represent a sense of continuity, it will also represent a fresh step in the band’s ongoing development. “We draw from our own experiences when we write, but sonically I think it’s definitely a maturer step.”
With such an infectious sense of enthusiasm emanting from O’Regan, one can only hope that this optimism and momentum behind their music that was built from this tour will be reflected in their new material and help secure the band’s reputation in Ireland and on the European continent.
Little Green Cars have sold out the majority of the tickets for their Irish Tour with only a limited number of tickets for the Limerick show available at ticketmaster.ie