Oct 14, 2016

Raglans on Moving Beyond the Irish Indie-Rock Scene

Stephen Kelly of Raglans talks to Saoirse Ní Scanláin about the band’s recent triumphs ahead of today’s release of their EP, Again & Again.

Saoirse Ní ScanláinDeputy Music Editor
Anna Moran for The University Times

In the intimate and refined setting of the Library Bar on Exchequer St, I met Stephen Kelly of Raglans. The quiet setting seemed somewhat ironic, with the band having just returned from shooting a music video in Cavan, a testament to the hectic lifestyle of touring and recording that the last 12 months had presented them with, which came about primarily through opening for US band Lifehouse and making use of their recording studio in LA.

Kelly and the band’s other members, Conn O’Ruanaidh, Rhos Horan and Brendan McGlynn, are united by similar work ethics and levels of commitment. Kelly tells me that the band came together somewhat blind, with no one actively drafting a master plan for future success: “Our intentions? We didn’t know anything! We booked a gig upstairs in Whelan’s … It was myself, Rhos, Conn and Liam. The three of them were childhood friends and all knew each other, and I barely knew them, so it was kind of a strange dynamic, but the first gig was so good. So many people came, it was packed. That gave us the enthusiasm to keep doing it, and every gig we did a new door would open, and it has literally never stopped since.”

We wanted to be able to prove with this EP and the second album that we are going to be taking things up another level


As the band picked up pace, recording became essential. They released their debut, self-titled album, Raglans, in March 2014 and are set to release their next album in early 2017. The band had the opportunity to record many of the tracks on Raglans in the Lifehouse studio in LA after touring with the band. “The LA thing happened because we were touring with Lifehouse”, Kelly explains. “We did their whole European tour and ended up becoming really good friends with Jason, the lead singer, that we just made plans to hang out again together, and he said he had a studio, they were very informal plans. We weren’t prepared for how good a studio it was. It’s difficult to appreciate how big Lifehouse really are if you’re not in America. To get to record there was a culmination of a lot of hard work we’ve done. To arrive there and have these facilities finally was amazing.”

Discussing labels, Kelly believes it’s important to work with a group who really understand and support the band. Taking things seriously is essential. “We have built up a team now between our managers and the people who work with us, our crew, who have been with us from the start and believe in everything we do, who understand that we treat it like it is our own thing, a business, and we run it as such. A label who understand that ethos and want to get behind us and help us to continue what we’ve been doing already, which is building up a good community of people who like our music and like us as people because that the way we like it to work.” The band’s upcoming EP was produced with Fierce Panda Records, of whom Kelly can not speak more highly: “We wanted to be able to prove with this EP and the second album that we are going to be taking things up another level. Lots of labels got in touch, but Fierce Panda were just the soundest. They’ve got a cool team who really know what their doing.”

We discuss how it can often be difficult for start-up bands to catch a break and make it into the industry. Kelly believes that, as was the case for Raglans, catching a break is often more about a lot of hard work: “One of the main things that helped us was how hard we work to play gigs and get in front of as many people as possible. It’s not considered ‘a break’, but if you do it for long enough, it does become one big break.” However, this was not the only contributing factor: “Working with Finn Keenan making great videos from the start, our videos have always had a greatness to them because of him.” I ask Kelly why he thinks music video are so important: “I didn’t think they were until I met Finn. It is very enriching every time we work with him, he’s got a great enthusiasm, and he is great at what he does. If they are good videos, it marries well if you’ve got a good song, and it gives people a reason to show other people what you’re doing.”

Sometimes songwriters want complete control over how the song will sound when it’s played through the radio, but with me, once it’s written, that’s my job done

Raglans have opened for some big names in recent years, from Haim to The Fray. I ask Kelly how he feels these opportunities influence the career of the band: “Those experiences make you want to work harder on your own shows, it gives you a worth ethic and drive to be able to enjoy the comforts big bands have when they are on the road.” We talk a little about songwriting and Kelly’s own role in the band: “I’m a songwriter, that’s what I do. I’m lucky that I don’t have to work another job so when the band aren’t touring I’ve got so much time to myself to stay at home and write. I try to write about my experiences, but there’s no barrier.” For Kelly, the songwriting process goes beyond him as an individual: “Writing about and putting my own experiences into the songs has been satisfying me when I listen to them, but once I write the song, that’s it. Sometimes songwriters want complete control over how the song will sound when it’s played through the radio, but with me, once it’s written, that’s my job done. Whatever happens with the song afterwards will be fantastic, and then its represents all of us. That’s why we’re a band.”

I like to believe that Raglans are well on their way to representing Irish indie-rock at a tremendous level internationally as some of the country’s best bands have done before. They believe firmly in “selling themselves on their own merits” and feel uncomfortable “playing the game to hard”. They are honest and have a love for their work. Their 2017 album will encapsulate everything that has happened in the last two years and is sure to be one to look out for.

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