Much as we dislike admitting it, we all need an outside objective influence to tell us what we need to do. Dublin’s Pursued By Dogs know this. Up until two years ago, the band had been one of those obsessive hobbies that are impossible to leave behind. Real life may shadow your every move. Indeed, it may sometimes impinge, impact and envelope you, but the band’s mainstay Andrew Brennan just couldn’t refuse what music offered: the interdependent spin of calm and conflict.
“We started in 2010,” explains Andrew, “not really knowing what we were doing, but trying the best we could to bridge indie songwriting with a techno/beats background.”
A few years doing that ran in tandem with a lengthy songwriting process which was, admits Andrew, “challenging and tough.” Along with co-founding member/producer, Ronan Marr, and bass player Dave Sheehan, the tough years continued until 2016. This is when the band’s male-centric dynamic was interrupted and enriched by the arrival of vocalist/keyboardist Suzanne Purcell.
Suzanne had, in fact, been circling around the band’s orbit since 2013, but only as guest singer on one song. Back then, she says, she wasn’t involved in music as much as she had been, but her vocal on that particular tune – ‘Talk’, the band’s latest single – was much admired. “It started an association,” she recalls. “We recorded the song, and then gigged quite a lot, with me tagging along to perform with them for just that song.”
With her vocal expertise providing harmonic counterpoint to Andrew, and her keyboard skills allowing Ronan to devote more time to his production ideas, Pursued By Dogs slowly took shape.
When did they feel things began to gel? Very quickly, reveals Andrew. “Even in the first rehearsal, you could hear there was definitely something there. Inevitably, there was a period where you were trying over and over again to shoehorn material to fit the addition of Suzanne. There were a few months of attrition, but when we got there it really clicked.”
By 2016, Suzanne became an integral part of the band. The difference this has made to the creative dynamic is, agrees Andrew, pivotal.
“Suzanne is capable of writing brilliant melodies, which we never had enough of before. She sings sublimely, which was previously missing. Her method of picking out extra melodies and hooks on the piano is also something we didn’t have. Her presence has also changed the tone and depth of the material – her songs are happy/sad, as opposed to downright depressing!”
“It wasn’t that I tried to pick out the lighter side of them,” adds Suzanne, “but I remember thinking that Andrew’s vocal parts should have been more at the heart of the music.”
“The songs resonate more,” affirms Andrew. “The use of piano has brought a richer sound, more musicality, and there’s an injection of tenderness. With Suzanne, there’s a split between male and female voices. In the songs there are now two different perspectives, rather than the listener being battered by my squawking all the time. Pursued By Dogs used to be full-on testosterone. Not anymore.”
The debut album takes full advantage not only of the addition of Suzanne’s skills but also of a specific sense of musical adventure. Songs such as ‘A Tunnel’, ‘Iceland’, ‘Banish The Spiders’, ‘Talk’, ‘Whiskey Ruin’, and ‘A Case Of Rules’ revolve around the kind of seductive and pumping electro-pop – peppered with delicate neo-classical piano textures – you’d have difficulty locating these days.
Themes are consciously abstract, and touch on age-old existential skirmishes of (as Suzanne impartially points out) “how not to continually mess up the life that we have.”
Modern life is rubbish? Difficulty to communicate despite the wide array of social media at our disposal? Living a full and productive life with the all-pervasive undertow of insignificance and death tugging at your back pocket? Yes, no and very confusing, confirms Andrew, the band’s primary lyricist. “I like to keep the lyrics elusive because I’ve always found it important for people to apply the words to their own experiences. I’m not a fan of those programmes where the songwriter explains the song, as their interpretation tends to always differ from mine! I like the air of mystery about songs, so I aim to do that.”
But back to that external neutral voice to tell us what we need to do in order to make our lives that little bit more worthwhile, more productive. According to Andrew, prior to securing the production/remix skills of James Darkin (whose credits include Kanye West, Rihanna, Hozier, Funeral Suits), Pursued By Dogs were drifting along, perhaps a bit too casually. Soon after Andrew and James first met, however, the latter’s advice and enthusiasm introduced a much steadier work ethic.
From hesitation to assertion in less than 24 months is something most bands rarely achieve. At every point along the way, fate has intervened: new singer, new producer, new commitment, new songs. Pursued By Dogs are now aware of not just possibilities but also achievements. The new album is ample proof of both.
“We can go anywhere we like with the new songs,” says Suzanne, with a glint in her eye. “The band is,” says Andrew with pride in his voice, “as far away from ‘indie’ normal as it’s possible to get.”
Pursued By Dogs self-titled debut album is released April 27. Pursued By Dogs will launch their debut album at Button Factory, Dublin, May 4. Summer festival dates include performances at Castlepalooza (August 3-5). More dates to be announced. Visit pursuedbydogs.com for further updates and information.