Steerage’s recently released e.p smash them all to bits has received critical acclaim from a number of quarters (Three Monkeys Online included). Fearing the worst, after all a band without a singer must surely have little to say for themselves, Andrew Lawless was pleasantly surprised when he caught up with the band for Three Monkeys Online.
First things first – how would you describe the music?
(Conor-bassist) Instrumental Rock basically, with an emphasis on melody and movement.
(Donnchadh-Guitarist) We also tend to include some heavier, stoner-rock influenced elements along with the lighter more melodic guitar lines. A review said we ‘put the rock into post-rock’ which is pretty accurate I think.
How do you go about writing the songs?
(Conor) Usually someone comes up with a guitar line or bass line and we write or jam around it.Only a couple of tunes have been born from jams in the practice room.
(Donnchadh) At the moment we're playing as a 5 piece for the first time, so many of the songs are being updated with extra guitar lines – this is really interesting for me because the songs take on new personalities with extra melodies layered over them. The trick is to get it sounding cohesive and not cluttered, which is getting hard with 3 guitars and a bass, but so far it’s sounding really good.
Why no singer? Is it a decision set in stone, or could it change?
(Donnchadh) My immediate response to that is ‘why should we have a singer? This is music we’re playing, is it really necessary to have words as well?’ Initially we had vocals in the band, back in 2000, but it never really sat right with me. I’ve always loved how music, especially classical music, can emote without actually spelling it out for the listener. I wanted to explore that more in terms of guitar music, which a hell of a lot of bands have been doing for years anyway. It’s certainly nothing new, bands like Tortoise, Explosions in the sky, Halifax pier, Pullman, Do make say think, have definitely influenced me and Conor, and that’s only scratching the surface. There are just so many amazing bands out there who concentrate on music rather than music plus a lyrical message. The point is that all forms are as valid as each other, I just find instrumetal music to be more focused in bringing across the emotion of the tune.
(Conor) Personally I have a preference for instrumental and ambient music, this is what the output of sinkorswim records is based on. For me, the right combination of music and sounds really just speaks for itself and can convey emotion without having to force words on it. My own inability to write meaningful lyrics or even to sing very well influences my technical approach towards it, but in the future I could see us possibly employing ambient vocals as another layer to the music, but probably not wordy lyrics. Another influence on us as a group was that we initially had a vocalist but it didn’t work out in that I think his approach was more song-based where mine was more music-based. For me alot of singers or lead-men or whatever you want to call them don’t have a handle on the overall sound so much as considering it something that underpins their lyrics. Myself and Donnchadh have been writing together for 8 years now and we always have written the music first, then the vocals, finally after watching bands like Mogwai, Do Make Say Think, The Redneck Manifesto and Tarentel I said that I thought vocals weren’t necessary for us and Donnchadh went along with this.