hamsamboThe difference a few years can  make in the life of a band can be many things, not least surprising and  educational. They say a week is a long time in politics, but a few years  in music is multiple lifetimes. And so Hamsandwich, the band you thought  you knew very well, has turned into Hamsandwich, the band you second guess  at your peril. You can tick the boxes here: a support slot at Slane  Castle, a direct special request to support Mumford & Sons at Phoenix  Park, an invitation to the President of Ireland’s Garden Party on the lawn  of his rather stately gaff. Not bad going for a band once battling with  the dreaded ‘quirky’ tag, is it?

You can hear the difference  in Hamsandwich’s new single, Illuminate, which is as light as a  feather. You can see the difference when they perform onstage – where  there was once a band that seemed to revel in the occasional ramshackle  live show now there is self-confidence, assurance and a sense of humour  that is less slapstick and more on the subtle side.

It has  been over three years since the release of Hamsandwich‘s garlanded second  album, White Fox, and while it remains for many something of a  masterclass in quality indie pop (it featured in Irish Times’ writer Tony  Clayton-Lea’s acclaimed book, 101 Irish Records You Must Hear Before  You Die) it is now viewed by the band as just their very astute second  album.

“It’s good that the songs on White Fox are  still loved,” says Podge McNamee. “For such a short album it’s had a  remarkably lengthy life, and to be honest, reworking White Fox  through many gigs slowed down the writing for the new album; in fact, we  almost rewrote White Fox, and that was something we weren’t used  to. Most bands will tell you that the real way to learn your material is  to get out of your comfort zone, and strip the songs down to the bare  bones.”

Hamsandwich realised that being uncomfortable isn’t  necessarily a bad thing – you learn from your mistakes, you experience  things you wouldn’t otherwise encounter.

“That’s what has  made writing songs for the new album so good and exciting,” continues  Podge. “We’ve fallen in love with song arrangements, and discovered that  we all have a strong knack for it. The new songs sound bigger, although  not through any conscious decision on our part.”

“That came  off the back of playing so many gigs with so many musicians on stage,”  adds Niamh Farrell. “It was very natural for us to progress to the level  of wanting more of that on the new album. Unlike with White Fox,  when we play the new songs live we’re not reworking them because they’re  already there for us.”

“We’ve become more conscious of  layering,” says Podge. “It allows us to sound different yet it’s  completely us, and that’s difficult to achieve.”

The as-yet  untitled forthcoming album is produced by Karl Odlum (who also produced  White Fox and the band’s 2008 debut, Carry The Meek). Along  with such a continuous thread stitched throughout the band’s ten-year  existence is – as Podge has referenced – a quest to be different yet  distinctive.

“You want to aim for, achieve and retain  these,” says Niamh, “so that people can listen to the new material and  know it isn’t going to sound like previous albums, yet it’s still going to  sound like Hamsandwich. You want, ideally, people to hear the song on the  radio without the DJ or presenter introducing the band name, but the  listener will know it’s us.”

Alongside the challenges of  forging individuality within a commercial framework is the band’s work  ethic, which over the years has ricocheted from pillar to post, but which  latterly has landed in quick-setting concrete. They pay tribute to their  former manager Derek Nally (who died suddenly in July 2010 just before the  recording of White Fox) as being the person to have drilled such  disciplined sensibilities into them.

“The biggest change  about this new album,” admits Podge, “is that we’re majorly fussy about  it. Most artists will say that the best ideas come easy, without much  effort in the creative process, but that’s debateable. Throughout the  gathering of the new material, we worked very hard and had many ideas for  each song. Ultimately, we didn’t want to write anything  contrived.”

Perish that thought! With their new single and  album, Hamsandwich become a different, better band, not only more  confident in their collective abilities but also in who they are and what  they do.

“The longevity of White Fox helped us to  become more assured,” remarks Niamh, “especially in our live shows. That  has a knock-on effect on going in to record new material – it’s an  absolute boost.”

“Musically, we’re braver,” adds Podge. “By  saying that, we’re not trying to show off our improvement as a band, we’re  just celebrating it.”

And what of the new single,  Illuminate? The brand new song from a reconditioned, revitalised  band is the teaser/taster for what’s to come.

“I’m excited  for people to hear it,” says Niamh, “and I’m glad that this is the first  single from the forthcoming album, because there were a few options. As  the process for selecting the first single went on, however, we knew that  the song came from a different place.”

Illuminate is Hamsandwich’s new single, taken from their as-yet  untitled
third album.

Currently streamed on http://www.state.ie/features/ham-sandwich-illuminate

Gig details: Hamsandwich play Dublin’s  Olympia theatre, April 19.





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