A Chat with Brass Phantoms (10.08.20)

Hailing from the Irish capital Dublin, Brass Phantoms is a indie-rock/post-punk quintet with an eclectic New Wave sound integrating left-field effects with powerful dark undertones. We speak with guitarist Greg Whelan about their new single ‘Hurricane’, musical accomplishments and plans for the future.

OSR: What can you tell us about ‘Hurricane’?

Whelan: I wrote ‘Hurricane’ from a place of wanting change, wanting to improve and move forward. It’s a while on from then and I don’t hate the lyrics yet, which is a good sign! Personally, it turned out as one of my favourites of our songs.

We had a lot of fun getting the music down in our old rehearsal room. The melody is pretty catchy and we wanted a chorus that had an impact; the backing vocals and the guitar line along with the drumbeat help drive that home.

So far the feedback from anyone who’s had a sneak preview has been great which is exciting. I really hope it connects with people. I think it’s a little different sounding to what people have heard from Brass Phantoms but it has our footprint.

OSR: Does it have a significant meaning to you?

Whelan: Yes, definitely. I sort of pushed for it to be one of the main singles from the album if I’m being honest. I think it’s a song we poured a lot of emotion into. I think the lyrics are vulnerable and honest, which is probably why I wrote them for someone else to sing while I hide behind my guitar. The way it sounds is bigger than I could have pictured in my head, and it just takes on a life of its own which is a cool feeling. It helps the song become something more accessible and relatable instead of being tied to an individual’s situation.

OSR: Why should people listen to your music?

Whelan: *laughs* Time for the elevator pitch…

My attitude is that we should always be looking for new things to listen to, especially given the access we have nowadays. If I had to speak about listening to Brass Phantoms specifically, I would say listen to it because I think you’ll like the music. Its five people playing together out of love and I think the songs are cool. That’s good enough, right?

Really though, we appreciate every single listener we’ve ever had. It’s amazing to be fortunate enough to have anybody listen to your music. It would be wrong to speak as if we are entitled to having people listen to us. Every single time our music is heard is a privilege and we’re grateful.

OSR: Can you tell us about the upcoming album Holding Out For Horrors?

Whelan: I would be glad to! Holding Out For Horrors is the Brass Phantoms album. It comes out on September 18th. Right now, it’s just going to be a digital release. We might explore some physical copies in the new year.

The name Holding Out For Horrors has a double meaning for us. It’s a lyric from one of the tracks, ‘Indigo’, but it’s also an inside joke in the band of anticipating things going badly. Sort of like as if we were in an episode of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia or something – how can it go wrong this time? So it’s a funny title for us but ties to the tracks too.

The tracks tie together nicely (I hope!). There’s a nice flow listening to it fully through. Each track has its own moment too. For example, I’m so excited for people to hear the last couple of minutes in ‘Hurricane’. I can’t wait for people to hear Colleen’s vocals on ‘What We Leave Behind Us’. I think people will really enjoy Ryan’s lyrics in ‘Legal Fiction’ and I feel that way about something in each song on the album.

OSR: What is your creative process?

Whelan: We try to be open in terms of the process; there’s no strict format we follow writing or recording a song. There are times one member will come in with a verse and chorus written and we’ll flesh out the song from there. Sometimes we might have a couple of different ideas that sort of sit together quite naturally.

For example, there’s a track on the album called ‘Inferno’. I remember McCabe started this drum beat with the woodblock and Ryan played this bass line over it. We just sort of joined in with the guitars and keys and took it from there. We’re always open to whatever way a song might come about. No scientific formulae!

In terms of developing the songs, we strive for impactful choruses. So we might throw in a trick or two to make them pop a bit more. I’m a big fan of subtleties throughout different parts in songs, even little riffs or ideas here and there in a verse. I think you can get pretty creative with them given the right context, and then there are some cool backing vocal parts throughout the album too. That gradually became a staple in Brass Phantoms music!

OSR: You’ve toured across the UK and the US; how do audiences differ regarding engagement and reception at gigs (if at all)?

Whelan: I wish we had done more of this to give a better-informed answer, but I think there are some differences. From our point of view, more people know our music at home in Ireland – so there’s definitely a comfort with that. Having people singing back a chorus, playing to big crowds, it’s a lovely feeling. With going abroad I sometimes had the attitude that maybe people there didn’t know us, so there would be a feeling you had something to prove. Anytime we would chat to people at shows they would always be so lovely regardless of where we played.

I don’t want to pretend that they were always the most glamorous occasions. Sometimes you would be in a city where not many people know who you are and then add in the fact that the gig is on a Monday or Tuesday night. We’ve always been self-managed so it could essentially be us trying to be a promoter in a foreign city. Not an easy task. So that side could be a little tough mentally, for sure. I’m lucky though – if that ever got me down I have four great bandmates who would swoop in and change my mood.

OSR: What is your greatest musical accomplishment to date?

Whelan: Secretly crossing my fingers that ‘Hurricane’ blows all of the other ones out of the water…sorry, I’m kidding. Getting to play in New York is up there for sure. It’s just not something we thought we would ever do, and then we went over twice!

I said to the band recently that the album is definitely the best thing I’ve done. Not just in music. I love the people I got to make it with and it’s the most excited I’ve ever been for something. For these reasons, I will give the album another shameless plug and say Holding Out For Horrors is my best accomplishment, regardless of the reception it receives.

OSR: What advice do you have for emerging artists?

Whelan: Setbacks are going to happen, but they’re only failures if you use them as excuses. I’m probably stealing that exact sentence from every single “influencer” ever, but it’s how I feel about things I used to get down about, in hindsight.

I’m a believer that it’s not about what other people are doing, it’s about how you can make your own thing better. So if it’s a band, do your band with people you like doing it with. Remember how much new music is being released all of the time so be a little strategic if you’re promoting and also be patient.

OSR: If you had to live with a celebrity for the rest of your life, who would it be and why?

Whelan: *laughs* That’s a good one. I’ll say Adam Granduciel just so we could jam guitars for every waking moment. I don’t know any celebrity vegetarian chefs, but I’m sure there’s a good one out there who would spice up my food life really well too.

OSR: What are your plans for the future?

Whelan: I don’t think there’s a plan in the world that hasn’t been impacted or delayed in 2020. If I’m being honest, I don’t know. Two of Brass Phantoms have moved to the UK. Right now I’d love to get them home just for a party then take things from there.

I have a lot of music written, as do some of the other members. I think there’ll be some other projects which will be fun, but right now I’m 100% focused on giving this album the best release we can. I hope we’re able to do some gigs, but unfortunately, that’s not really something we’re able to plan this second.

OSR: Do you have a message for our readers?

Whelan: I would say good call to the readers for choosing a damn cool blog! Of course, we’d love to wish everyone the best health and mindset. It’s an absolutely insane time. Lastly, thank you for taking the time to read this interview. Be sure to check us out on any of our social channels (@brassphantoms) or Spotify or wherever. We really hope you get to listen to ‘Hurricane’, plus the album on September 18th.

Thanks to Brass Chambers for chatting with us! You can find more about the group on their Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Spotify.

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