It’s a wet and windy Monday in Dublin. Gazing out of the upstairs window of the city’s Odessa club you can spot the passers-by below weaving in and out of doorways, eager to avoid the rain blowing in a gale around them.
As the wind howls, brolleys rise. It’s horrible. On a grey October in the capital, you might say, it’s beginning to brew up a storm; ‘might’ being the operative word.
“Is that thunder?” snaps Steve Wall jumping from his seat, fearful that his trip home on his trusted Vespa may prove more adventurous than he’d like. “They can be quite dangerous to be on when the weather’s beating against you,” he says. “It’s better though than being stuck in traffic. The car now only gets country air!”
Outside of the country though is where Steve Wall wants to be. It’s biting at him. When he speaks, you can see it written all over his face. He regrets not travelling. He’s been in this business nearly twenty years. Twenty years of incredible hard work, of witnessing huge transformations, and of trying to force even greater change from within.
Of course he’s tasted success. The Stunning were huge, an Irish phenomenon. Wall was a star and the band were heroes to a generation. Over ten years on from their split, they remain warmly remembered and highly regarded.
Since then, as The Walls, Steve and younger brother Joe have helped initiate lasting change within the industry as one of the first Irish acts to set up a label and go independent. Two fine albums have been forged in the process.
Yet in the wake of New Dawn Breaking, The Walls second and current album, a frustration still gnaws at the group’s frontman. It’s one, not born out of anger or regret, but stemming from a hunger and yearning for success outside of Ireland. He’s been here before.
“This frustration of waiting around split up The Stunning,” he says with the hint of a sigh. “Since 1987 I’ve been writing songs, and every album I’ve released has only ever been available in Ireland,” he adds.
“With The Walls we’re really at the stage where we just can’t go on putting out records only for an Irish release. We’ve got two albums under our belt, as well as good sales here at home. We’re a good live band. We’re more than ready to start looking abroad. We just need someone to help us bring it out of Ireland. I don’t think we’ll make another record until we see how that goes.”
Wall doesn’t even think he’ll write another song until New Dawn Breaking gets at least a decent crack of the whip abroad.
“I don’t know if I’m in any rush to sit down with the guitar and start churning out more songs,” he says, “because I’ve written so many songs over the years, and a lot of well-known songs. My frustration is that they’re only known within this country. It’s kind of getting to the stage where sometimes I sit down and think ‘Is their any point in doing this? Are they even going to play this on the radio? Is their any point in releasing yet another Irish only release?’
"I think New Dawn Breaking will be a big deciding factor on whether we progress from here, and whether it’s worth my while heading back up to the Tyrone Guthrie Centre to write songs for a new record.”
These are questions that test countless Irish songwriters. Questions not of self worth, but of the industry.
“The big issue, I think, is that the Irish music industry isn’t helping itself enough,” comments Wall, himself a former IMRO board member. “Some one needs to have a serious look at it. This (the Irish music industry) should be huge and should be generating much more money. I mean the six months I did working with IMRO were very interesting because I was learning about the way it works from their angle. I think the most shocking thing I learned was that 85 per cent of the money IMRO earns, from radio play and live music in pubs and clubs, leaves the country. Eighty five per cent! So basically what that shows is the amount of Irish music being played on the radio over here.”
Radio in particular has proved difficult for new Irish artists to get a foothold in. “Personally we’ve been getting great play. We’re lucky to have done well. Our current single is being play listed by a load of radio stations around the country and we have to be very grateful for that because it is quite difficult to get play listed. However, other bands aren’t doing quite as well and there are a couple of stations around the country where the percentage of Irish music they play is appalling. These are in cities where there are thousands of students, live venues, Irish bands playing seven nights a week, and they are not getting the support they need from these stations, which are basically just playing established acts all day. They may have a token Irish show, but it’s usually buried on a Sunday. I can’t understand it, because those stations used to play Aslan, The Stunning, A–House and The 4 of Us all the time. When you had a new single out you got great support, and it wasn’t just the band which benefited. The whole industry benefited because it meant that your gig in say Clonmel would be much better attended because your new single is on the radio. So the venue is doing better. There was a knock on effect. More towns could afford a live music venue. That’s why I think that the industry here is not helping itself. I remember with The Stunning we used to be able to do an Irish tour t-shirt and the list of dates on the back would go all the way from your neck down to your arse. You used to be able to do seven nights in a row in packed venues around the country. You wouldn’t be able to do that now because the venues aren’t there.”
Air play, and the need for artists to stand up and fight for some sort of a change, is a subject Wall is passionate on. It’s a cause for all Irish acts, and he himself has seen the huge effect radio can have on an independent bands success.
“Huge support from Today FM essentially broke ‘To The Bright and Shining Sun’,” he says. “They made a real difference. They were the ones who picked up on it straight away. It wasn’t even a song at that stage. It was just a sixty second guitar riff on an AIB ad. Brian Adams in Today FM called me and said ‘That’s a hit. That piece of music is a hit’. Literally, he said, stick a verse and a chorus on that piece of music and get it in to us. I hadn’t even written any lyrics for it or anything. We never even looked at it as a single, just another potential song in the making. Today FM though broke that song, and then other radio stations followed suit. I just wish more stations would take a leaf out of their book and be that bit more supportive to Irish music.”
“I think there needs to be a higher quota of Irish music on the radio and it needs to be fairly distributed as well. Maybe it’s important that songwriters and bands get together and have a chat or get a petition together to demand some kind of a change. Bands like us aren’t doing badly out of radio, but others are struggling.”
With regards The Walls own aims; radio play is also a subject proving pivotal in their quest for success abroad.
“I think we may have a chance of making inroads in the US,” says Wall. “We’ve been getting great air play and great support from Nic Harcourt on KCRW in LA. He’s sort of the John Peel of the US. There’s talk of doing a session on his show, which is great. That’s a really good yard stick and I think we just need to stick at it. We’ve just got to focus on that for the next twelve months. We applied for South By Southwest which I hope we’ll get. We’re a band who really needs to get something like South by Southwest. We’ve also got Moby’s lawyer interested in the band. Someone in his office heard ‘Open Road’ and alerted him to it, so we sent him a copy of the album and he loved it. So he’d been shopping it to labels on the East Coast. We’ve had contact with publishers and that as well. So really our focus for 2006 is going to be firmly on the US and pushing this album. I just hope a change here might make things easier for younger bands. It’s amazing actually. Just a few plays on KCRW have kind of started this interest in the band and given us a real opportunity over there. That just shows you the power of radio!”
New Dawn Breaking by The Walls is out now on Dirtbird Records