Conor Molumby talks to Dublin foursome Director about the difficult second album
“When you are half writing for someone else and half writing for yourself, you end up with something less meaningful,” says a pensive Michael Maloney, front-man with Malahide quartet Director, on the pressure of expectations. Facing the daunting challenge of following up a successful debut album is something few Irish bands have to do these days.
Director’s second album I’ll Wait For Sound, comes three years after its predecessor We Thrive on Big Cities landed at number two in the Irish charts, remaining on the rankings for 28 weeks and exceeding platinum status. An album that was praised by press and public alike, it was a genuine hit. How do you follow a hit? “We were worrying and second guessing ourselves so much, the only way to move forward was to ignore it.”
Maloney and his band-mates, guitarist Eoin Aherne, bassist Rowan Averill and drummer Shay Lawlor, built a reputation at the peak of the Irish live circuit and even won the Best New Act Prize at the Meteor awards in 2007. Since then, they’ve been away for a long time, partly due to a realisation that the opus in production was “not the album we want to make”, during what Maloney now refers to as “pre-production” for I’ll Wait for Sound.
The album began its gestation in a windowless room above a pub in Dublin before the band spent four months in a tiny cottage in Leitrim, getting back to basics and taking turns sleeping on the floor due to the lack of space. A new leaner – dare otwo say ‘heavier’? – sound was discovered. “Heavier, not in a grungy way, but in a tight fast kind of way,” explains Maloney.
To capture this sound the band called on the services of producer Brad Wood, who has previously worked with Smashing Pumpkins, Placebo and Pete Yorn. To record the album in Wood’s home studio, the band had to relocate to L.A. “It had a real homely atmosphere with his kids waltzing in and out. It didn’t feel like a big pressure studio situation, it was like we were still demoing in Leitrim.” As for the trappings of the Hollywood lifestyle, Maloney attests Director “were working flat out the whole time we were there”. No rock ‘n’ roll parties at the Playboy Mansion this time around then…
The result of this extensive writing and recording is, according to Maloney, “a very different kind of album”. The pop sensibility and catchy hooks of their debut certainly take a backseat on I’ll Wait For Sound, but the album retains the instantly recognisable, distinctive sound. This attribute of Director’s music is partly due to Maloney’s unique vocal talents, which find a new space on this record. “There are also quieter moments that weren’t there on the first album.”
That first album was released by major label Atlantic, and Director looked set to become overnight superstars after their chart success here in Ireland. But the band and Atlantic went their separate ways before pre-production on I’ll Wait For Sound had begun. So were they surprised to find themselves without a major label considering their commercial success? “We saw it coming a long way away, once the album [We Thrive on Big Cities] didn’t get a release in the UK.”
Director had already built a solid appreciation among music fans in Britain after bagging highly sought after support slots with successful acts such as Razorlight, Hard-Fi and the Fratellis. Add to this the numerous well-received performances at major festivals and Atlantic’s decision becomes more perplexing. Maloney is the first to admit he simply doesn’t know why Atlantic didn’t give the album a release across the Irish Sea, but contemplates that Atlantic “spent a lot of money, and maybe they didn’t see it coming back…my biggest regret about the first album is that it wasn’t released outside of Ireland.”
I’ll Wait For Sound is released on the band’s own Crapshoot Economics label, raising the topic of the music industry today, and how its transformation is taking its toll on up-and-coming acts like Director. “I really didn’t think [the music industry] would change that much, but it has so much in the few years we’ve been in it.” Does Maloney mean file-sharing? “It’s a moral and legal grey area; I mean, you’re not really stealing something if you’re making a copy of it”. He is quick to point out that new bands are feeling its effect. “People think when they are downloading [illegally] they are only hurting the record company and maybe they have no sympathy for them, but bands are relying on record sales to keep doing what they’re doing.”
The upside of the internet is the ease with which a large audience can hear a band’s music. It has also lead to bands playing live more. Live is where Director first built a fan base in Ireland, and they return to their roots with a nationwide tour next month. And as for that big regret about the first album, plans are already in the works to release I’ll Wait for Sound in the UK before the end of the year.
Director’s album I’ll Wait for Sound is now available to buy.