The Hard Ground are nine days away from the end of their Fund:It campaign to help them ultimately release a new album, Triptych, and three preceding EPs. You can read all about that here and contribute to the Fund:It campaign here. I emailed the Hard Ground a few questions a couple of weeks back. Here are the answers, provided by co-vocalists Pat Carey and Marlene Enright.
I presume you always knew after the success of Broken Conversations that you’d be doing a second album. When and why did you decide to do a Fund:It campaign for it?
Marlene: We always wanted to make a second one of course. We were very happy with the response that Broken Conversations got but we have known for a long time that we had a lot more to give and that creatively we could push ourselves more. We self-funded the first album in its entirety through a mixture of savings and loans. It’s no secret that being in an original band initially is difficult and we certainly didn’t get back what we put in to that album, in financial terms, which is something you have to accept from the get-go, especially if you decide that your first official release is going to be an album rather than an EP. The honest answer to this question is we simply could not afford to make a second album on our own. Some people might say, why bother then? The music industry is different now – perseverance and a lot of hard work have always been necessary but ever more so now. Big record deals are few and far between now and although bands can continue to create music, they cannot record, mix, master, manufacture and promote their music without help. We decided that doing a Fund:It would allow us to carry out these steps. allow our supporters and fans to be involved in the process and in return facilitate us to release new material that we hope everyone involved will be proud of. I don’t think we could have done it for Broken Conversations as we simply wouldn’t have had the fan base there to support us at that stage.
What was it that attracted you to Fund:It over other crowdsourcing sites and how do you feel about the idea of crowdfunding in general – was there a lot of arguing about whether ye should actually do it? What were the potential drawbacks that ye potentially saw?
Marlene: Initially we were hesitant, and we certainly gave it a lot of thought. There is always the possibility that you’ll fail and that in itself is a drawback to doing a crowdfunding campaign like this. Fear of failure in anything is a drawback to doing anything though, I guess! Also, the fact that some people might perceive crowdfunding as charity was a potential drawback to doing a Fund:It campaign. But I think when you look at artists like Gemma Hayes, Julie Feeney and other higher-profile acts than us that have run these campaigns you have to put those concerns aside. A crowdfunding campaign isn’t charity and it isn’t asking for a loan from people. It’s a reward-based means of reaching a specified target required for a project. It’s very similar to a pre-order system except the money paid by the funder is used to create the project from the start so it definitely involves your fans and supporters more. That’s very important for us – to be able to actively involve fans of the band from the start of this project. In very real terms, they’re helping us make this album. They’re a part of it. And Fund:It is an Irish company so it’s good to keep things local!
How did you settle on the figure of €8000? Is that the bare minimum that recording and mastering etc costs?
Pat: We’ve gone through the process before, and it has actually cost us quite significantly more than that. This time we’re a little bit more experienced and a little bit wiser, so we know where there are places that we can maybe do things ourselves. So we’ve costed out the project for 12 months. The entire process will cost us more than that over the course of the year, but we hope that we will be able to cover those extra costs off our own back.
The rewards are quite interesting. How did Davie learn to make a Cajon? Have you done weddings before (would you be willing to do the required Abba covers?)? And if someone buys the tour reward what should they expect on a Hard Ground tour and rider?
Pat: Davie is an all-rounder! He has a huge interest in all things percussion obviously, but he’s also pretty good with his hands. Davie and his father Eamon, who is a carpenter, quite literally taught themselves how to make the Cajons. They made lots of sample models before they decided on the structure and the sound that they were happy with. They’re beautiful pieces, as well as sounding fantastic. The weddings are actually limited to ceremonies and drinks receptions as opposed to all out wedding bands! We’re all musicians actively involved in the music scene so we’ve done all types of functions both with each other and separately. Besides, we think that ‘Bad Faith’ might be an interesting tune to walk down the aisle to! Seriously, though, don’t worry, it won’t be a Hard Ground-music themed wedding ceremony! The ‘Be in a Band’ reward was one that we decided on to really show funders what it’s like to be on the road. So as well as contributing to the album financially, you’ll be able to see how that works on tour as well. Touring is the most unique side of the music industry – it’s unlike anything else. The closest thing I can get to describing it is like a team sport. You do absolutely everything together. And it certainly has its moments, to be fair – we had a great night last year where five of us were roaming the streets of an unnamed city in Ireland looking for a Brazilian guy who had a couple of bottles of red wine hidden around the corner for us. It was like something out of The Wire… Our rider is pretty standard – water, beer, red wine, towels, crisps and if the resources are available, cheese, grapes and togas.
You’re releasing the album in stages, as the name alludes. Is that because you feel the album format is dead; like, people lose interest towards the end of an album, I think. Do you agree?
Pat: The album format isn’t so much dead as maybe cryogenically frozen. I still really love albums, and giving them a real chance. I love the way songs on an album can grow over the course of 12 months – the last Alt-J album, I think I’ve had maybe five different favourite tunes.
The problem is that it doesn’t work at the moment. People don’t have the patience to give the album a chance. People sometimes don’t have the patience to give the song a chance. I stream as much as the next music listener, but music has become so ubiquitous that it can be very hard to hang your hat on an album for a bit. It’s like the advent of digital TV – you’d always have found something to watch when you had four channels, but when you get 400 channels, you find it hard to stay watching one show in case there’s a better one up on channel 398. The idea with Triptych is that we get to release three mini-albums as such, but still get to release the full album at the end. We’re trying to have our cake and eat it too, basically. The other aspect to Triptych, and it does feed into your next question, is that we’re trying to provide an alternative to the album format, from the perspective of the music consumer as such. The album as a concept may be on hold, but the album as a means for a band to try to support itself is certainly dead. People don’t buy albums anymore, unless they’re emotionally invested in the band. We felt that we wanted to provide an alternative this time. By the time the album comes out, you’ll have had the chance to listen to two-thirds of it digitally. And by then you’ll pretty well know if you want the physical copy of the album, because it’ll have a different resonance to it – it’ll be the missing piece of the puzzle, both musically, and even physically.
You say in the press release that it’s a response to the “challenges and opportunities that the rapidly evolving music industry has presented to both musicians and listeners”. What are the challenges – the idea that it’s so difficult to make a living as an artist?
Pat: From a musician’s point of view, quite simply put, yes it is very difficult to make a living. Most musicians, unless they get picked up by a massive label, will have to double-job, or triple-job just to make ends meet. That’s just the way it has gone, and there’s no point in complaining about it or playing the sympathy card. Artists used to support themselves mainly through album sales since the 60s, and suddenly, that entire revenue stream is gone. It’s like being laid off from your day job but being left with your overtime. So you have to react and think of different ways of doing things. What we’re doing isn’t exactly unique, but it’s our take on trying something different. I was chatting to Peter from Eat My Noise (one of David Duffy’s other projects) recently, and they’ve already started releasing material in an episodic model. Each musician or band has to try to navigate the industry as they see it. Something needs to change in the industry if musicians are to keep going. Artists have to stand up for themselves, as a unit or group. And we need to be able to change as well, which is what we’re trying to do here. It has opportunities as well of course – it’s easier to get yourself out there, and to actually interact with your fans and followers. You can really develop a relationship with people, and not in a cynical ‘developing your listener base’ sense, but actually interact with people who enjoy your music, in a more meaningful way.
How do you feel about the likes of Spotify? It’s given the average listener the whole history of music (nearly) but is that a good thing?
Marlene: We, as musicians, could speak as negatively as time would allow us about the advent of Spotify and its counterparts and their payment models to artists, which are very poor unless you’re a global sensation! But the fact is that it has allowed people worldwide to listen to every genre of music, hear almost every artist in the world and allowed people like us to have an audience base worldwide. Territorial releasing is becoming far less relevant now. Streaming is now the main way for people to access new music. I use Spotify all the time myself on a paid subscription and it is a great resource but it certainly doesn’t give me the same pleasure that I get from listening to a record that I love from start to finish on vinyl. It just carries more weight for me. These days I think it has become a case that a band has to ‘graduate’ to a point in their career when people are willing to buy their music rather than stream because streaming does not allow for ownership and owning your favourite band’s latest album is still very important to a lot of people.
For Triptych, both the first EP and the ‘album’ as a whole, what can we expect? Has the Hard Ground sound changed much? Like, you haven’t ditched the guitars for DJ decks, I presume?
Pat: No decks yet, but I think we’re developing. We’re looking for new sounds, and we’re branching out a little sonically. I think we’re also in a more creative space as well. I don’t think we feel the need to follow a formula which is liberating. We maybe felt the need to try to define what constituted ‘The Hard Ground Sound’ before, whereas I don’t think we feel the need to do that. We’re writing songs, and if they end up occupying different spaces, then great. Lets roll with that.