With their debut, The Murder Capital made a big splash – but this isn’t a band to simply do the same thing twice. Back with new album ‘Gigi’s Recovery’, this time round they’re bringing something truly special.
Words: Jamie MacMillan.
Photos: Jennifer McCord.
James McGovern is not in the mood for taking any prisoners when it comes to discussing what The Murder Capital have cooked up for their second record, the follow-up to incendiary (and intense) debut ‘When I Have Fears’. “You and I have both seen bands do that thing,” he states at one point, “where it’s just like ‘well, here you go again…’”
It’s been close to four years since The Murder Capital first exploded out of the blocks with a string of early singles that were fully formed and thundering with intensity. Followed quickly by the devastating ‘When I Have Fears’, made of equal parts brooding menace in tone and a backdrop of raw open-wounded grief, alongside a reputation as one of the most blisteringly exciting live bands around, it all served to cement them as a major force in the making. And then, it all went quiet as shutters were pulled down on stages around the world by Covid rearing its ugly head. Now that that particular set of fears has mostly receded back into the ether, it is perhaps perfect timing for the five friends to return with their captivating follow-up ‘Gigi’s Recovery’. Packed with equal amounts of light and shade, it is a concept record about choice that asks big questions about what to do with your time on the planet. What did you expect from The Murder Capital, though?
Catching up with three of the band over Zoom a few days before Christmas, the gang is in top form. James jumps in from London, while drummer Diarmuid Brennan and guitarist Cathal ‘Pump’ Roper are still back home following the bands’ recent appearance at Other Voices in Dublin. That show rounded off a year that has felt like one long warm-up before the madness that 2023 holds in store, a string of summer festival appearances chasing the tail of a support slot with Bloc Party. For a band that seemed to exist mainly on the road in that first year of life, it’s a welcome return and excitement at returning to tour life full-time is building. “We’ve put ourselves in a position where I just want to get consumed with that part of my life again,” agrees Cathal. “It’s felt like we were half on the job this summer, and it hasn’t eaten me up in a while, and I’m just so happy to be back to it. I’m so excited to just be full-time fucking back at it.”
Not that it’s been a smooth road to get back here. After that initial burst to life came a dizzying climb through a string of sold-out shows that always seemed to be being played in rooms that were one size too small by the time they took place. So relentless was the touring schedule that it was hard to see where the band could possibly find time to begin piecing together a second record until the world intervened and chucked a pandemic into the mix. “Everything that was going on in the world demanded that we kind of went away,” explains James. “It wasn’t that we sat down and thought, ‘okay, we’re going to take two years to write a record’. But it just kept on unfolding that way in front of us and kept moving it down the line.” The band found themselves in the fairly unique position of being told to take even more time by their management and label teams. “Our team was telling us to keep going for a while because tours weren’t able to even be organised properly,” says James. “So we took that time and spent it wisely, I think.”
“It’s not about ‘not’ partying; it’s about the need to sometimes, you know, go to bed at some point”James McGovern
The band have spoken previously about the writing process this time around being one of evolution, the threads that became ‘Gigi’s Recovery’ only revealing themselves over time. James picks up on that again. “The first six months were about atmosphere, texture and tone,” he explains. “New instrumentation was getting brought in; it was all very much about building the sonic world and the evolution we wanted to make as a band.” Reading between the lines, it sounds like a tricky initial writing session, with the frontman revealing that the band were pulling in completely different directions to begin with, the stresses of writing being exacerbated by lockdown. “I remember doing pre-production in fucking Slaine Castle three weeks out of recording and just being like, ‘I hope we have this’,” says James of those days.
“I think we always thought we had it because the five of us felt so strongly about why we wanted to do it and what we wanted to say,” states Cathal. “And when it comes to moments in the studio, they just light that fire again.”
Not that everybody approved, with one memorable bit of feedback returning to the band after a bunch of demos were sent to the ‘higher-ups’ on their management team about eighteen months into the writing process. “I think we thought we were finished with the songs,” says James. “But we were jaded in hindsight. And we got an email back saying that we had set a new standard for depression….”
How on earth did the band take that message, then? “With mixed feelings,” says Cathal dead-pan to laughter from the band. “At the time, the only thing we were getting optimism from was the music, so when somebody comes back and tells you that, you’re just like, ‘you don’t get it, man!’”
“I read it as a kinda quippy ‘ah fuck it, you boys did it again’,” grins Diarmuid. “’You lads…’”
“We probably laughed about it pretty quickly,” remembers James. “But I do remember that we were really castaways at that point, you know? We weren’t in any touch with reality beyond the five of us. We were very much confronted by any interpersonal issues in the band, that all just came out and spilt out everywhere in those writing periods. Because we were alone in the countryside and there was no escape! I think we projected all of that life onto the music.”
After those months of isolation in Dublin, Donegal and Wexford, the band returned to London in a move that James reckons “had a huge effect on the pulse and energy of the record.”
“The whole writing period was very much driven by the five of us,” remembers Cathal of the all-guns-blazing approach. “It was like five people are sprinting and at the same time are trying to grab the mirrors on either side of the fucking room to try and align the light into the corner of the room that we’re all heading into. And no matter what, there were moments where it felt like life or death, and I just thought, ‘I’m fucking finishing this fucking thing’. And then we can talk about what I need to deal with afterwards, you know?”
“There were certainly days where I thought, ‘this is making no sense to me’,” says Diarmuid. “But it was never like, ‘oh, I guess it isn’t for me then’. I knew it would make sense one day, and it was just part of trusting that process. Everybody had their ‘white whale’, a song that they were really narrowing in on that they might have had their own feelings towards how it sounded or a way that they wanted it to go. But allowing yourself to be vulnerable in the studio is better than being annoyed that you didn’t do something a month later, you know?”
Letting go proved to be crucial for all concerned. “That’s a forever process in creativity, I think?” ponders James. “I don’t think you’ll ever become some sort of psychic ninja as far as that goes. The music that we make, the way that we collaborate and how much our personal lives are intertwined with the music, it’s impossible for things not to get pulled in where they almost shouldn’t, but that’s a part of the beauty. I think that’s what we’re learning, knowing when to stop, when to push, when to trust. Knowing when to let go of your own opinion, when there’s a forest of birds singing in your head in the rehearsal room.”
With the title in place before writing began, James describes how it was only afterwards that the dots began to connect as the themes appeared and threaded together – something that’s not unusual for him. “I find that there’s a certain amount that you know what you’re writing about, and then a whole other part where you don’t fully connect the dots within your life and work out what it is about for months, sometimes years later. What you have written about starts becoming your life somehow. I think that’s probably my favourite part, the changing meaning of the songs being applied to my life. You can completely relate to a song, and then have absolutely no relationship whatsoever with it and am left only with a feeling.”
“I’m so excited to just be full-time fucking back at it”Cathal Roper
He describes ‘Gigi’s Recovery’ as being largely autobiographical, the album detailing “a return to a place of strength”, a recovery that could only be taken through the choice to live differently – another major theme of the record. “When you come into a band, you bring every part of yourself on that journey,” James begins. “And there isn’t much room for change when you’re in that place.” It was clear that one major aspect of his life needed to change. “I definitely, over the past few years, needed to cut out that endless partying,” he says. “It’s not about ‘not’ partying; it’s about the need to sometimes, you know, go to bed at some point. The record isn’t completely referencing that, there are a lot of things that people need to recover from, but that was certainly at the forefront of my mind. How much longer can that kind of lifestyle go on for, you know? How willing am I to forfeit so much of the future for the present?”
That sense of his choices in the present guiding his future owes much to the grief of his past, the death by suicide of a close friend that was in every moment of ‘When I Have Fears’ still understandably making its mark. “I was at a complete loss in the beginning, which sounds like a fucking pun…”, he says haltingly before expanding quickly. “But I felt like writing about anything other than this direct grief for my friend… It was a very painful process to write about that stuff, but it was also extremely rewarding because of the richness of that emotion. I mean that as a writer, obviously, I’m not talking about it coldly. And so this time round, I didn’t know what way was up, I didn’t know what to write about, and everything felt second-rate. I just had to wait and let it unfold. I think a huge amount of what the record is about is having the time and opportunity to look into the future and reflect on the past. You can see what you can cultivate to be ahead of you. In grief, there isn’t that much room for that, especially grief for suicide; it’s more about questions for the past like, ‘Why? What could have been different?’ And then as you move through that grief, you move back into looking to the future, and you have this very stark but also comforting realisation of how little control you have within your life and start focusing on those things.”
That ‘perspective shift’, as he describes it, took in elements and temptations of touring life that are pretty much inescapable for most bands these days. “Parties are fun; they still are fun,” he nods. “But it’s not more about the party than the music, you know? And sometimes it becomes that way, and it’s just stupid. You have promoters trying to give you drugs after shows; it’s a strange environment. The early tours were kind of mad, but we reached a point where we all just knew we had to be focused. I don’t think I drank on the last few tours, but then you’d come home after a very intense experience performing ‘When I Have Fears’, and you’d definitely decompress in the least constructive ways,” he finishes with a laugh. “Anyway, I’ve done it all, tried everything, and the best thing to do is just fucking go to bed. If anything good has ever come out after 3am., then I’ve fucking seen it, and I’ve seen it a hundred times. It can be fun, but I’ve seen it, and now I want to be sharp and creative.”
It’s not just in behaviour and excess that changes have been made, but in the very nature of The Murder Capital’s sound itself. Moments like ‘On Twisted Ground’ had already shown that they knew the power of stillness and space could easily outmatch and outweigh the thunderstorms created elsewhere, but even from the earliest moments of ‘Gigi’s Recovery’, it’s clear that they have shifted and transformed once more. Just as you sense everything is with this band, it is a deliberate move to not repeat the tricks on the debut. “When bands do that, it feeds a certain beast at the time,” states James. “But a year or two later, people almost always talk about it as a miss. And I’m watching. I see bands just trying to recreate that moment from their debut, and it just doesn’t really work. You know, it works functionally, but it doesn’t feed anything creatively.” It wasn’t ever even a temptation for the band. “’When I Have Fears’ was so intense, I’m so proud of it because it was honest,” he continues. “It was a very real record, and it would have been ignorant, and disrespectful, honestly, to just be like, ‘let’s do that again’. It was a fucking crazy two years really, trying to reach that unattainable moment or goal of a complete evolution of our own setting.”
The band’s love of electronic music has been pushed to the fore this time, but don’t expect club bangers. Instead, it’s something more subtle – a hint of ambient here, a dash of skittering drum and bass beats there that gets Cathal and Diarmuid waxing lyrical about the new directions that The Murder Capital are creeping off into. “I think it’s just about staying creative,” says Diarmuid at one point. “That battle between questioning every move you make, and then just turning that off and trusting that instinct about where it should go.” The drummer describes ‘Crying’ as being “brain-pickling” in its genesis, while Cathal is delighted with Dork’s description of first comeback single ‘Only Good Things’ as being like a bucket of cold water for anyone expecting more of the same. Again and again, the band return to themes of not wanting to do the same tricks twice.
“You can trust each other and not be afraid of the outcome,” agrees James. “Because there’s no musical emergency here. Nothing crazy is gonna happen. I can’t tell you though how many times I felt like I’ve been transcending human enjoyment within the band, but also where I felt like the world is actually ending….”
Early fan reactions have been encouraging, though only a handful of new tracks have been rolled out live so far. It’s a very different experience to on the debut, a record which was essentially brought to life on the road, the songs evolving naturally prior to release. It is here that Diarmuid attempts something close to an analogy to describe that process, launching a one-man mission to derail the interview late on. “I was saying to Cathal it is like buttering bread,” he begins promisingly. “It’s like, if it’s not right, the butter is still on the bread. But it’s hard from the fridge, but once you smooth it out… It’s about how tight the butter is.”
“If you haven’t let the butter get to room temperature and you put it on too early,” offers Cathal, desperately trying to bail him out. “You’ve ruined the bread. It’s still buttered bread, but you’ve ruined it.”
James is quietly shaking his head at the pair of them. “Yeah, you’ve ruined the bread,” finishes Diarmuid. “Torn bread is what you have.”
We give him a moment to recover and then begin discussing the upcoming tour. After three years without a headline run, what are they most excited about? For James, it is the unpredictability of live performances, while Cathal is buzzing about hitting the decks at his famed after-party DJ sessions. And Diarmuid? “I’m looking forward to the days off, probably.” “WHAT?” exclaims Cathal, while James softly murmurs ‘Holy shit….” The frontman tries valiantly to get the interview back on track, to no avail. “I cannot believe you said the days off!” shouts Cathal, his face filling most of the screen by now.
“It was a fucking crazy two years, trying to reach that unattainable moment or goal of a complete evolution of our own setting”James McGovern
With our time nearly up, we chat briefly about The Dinner Party, the exciting Dork Hype List act who will be supporting the band on tour. “We were talking about this earlier as well, and how the post-punk label gets thrown around,” says Cathal. “The top bands doing that stuff with the label all sound completely different, and they don’t define that kind of thing. These days, people just use post-punk for people who are doing something different, and all these bands are putting on FUCKING ROCK SHOWS!”
The others laugh at the guitarist’s sudden lurch into ALL-CAPS SHOUTING, while he continues. “Fans that come to the shows kind of love it all if it’s fun or if it involves them at all,” he says. “And when you see the singer of The Dinner Party perform, I have no doubt the crowd will love her.”
“I’ve met them a few times in person, and they seem fucking rock and roll,” says James. “And it’ll be great. We’ll just have Pump just sitting there telling everybody it’s a fucking rock show; it’ll be a good mix.”
“IT IS A FUCKING ROCK SHOW!” shouts Cathal, as the singer slumps back in his chair.
“Talking about days off and our genre-identity crisis… Can we just not print any of those things?” Sure thing James, you can definitely trust us.
The Murder Capital then, fully recovered and ready to take on and eat up 2023. Here we go again, but in all new and exciting ways. Only good things, indeed. ■
Taken from the February 2023 edition of Dork. The Murder Capital’s album ‘Gigi’s Recovery’ is out 20th January.