“Are you in a band if you don’t think you’re cool?” Silverbacks’ Daniel O’Kelly asks. It’s a question their debut album ‘Fad’ answers with a knowing smirk: full of excitable, guitar-giddy moments that call back to the likes of The Strokes, LCD Soundsystem and Yeah Yeah Yeahs – bands who made the instrument cool again at the turn of the millennium after the soppy emergence of Coldplay and Travis.
Silverbacks’ new record (out July 17) also reflects the miserable gloom that is living in the now with the same snarling spirit that’s made fellow Dubliners Fontaines D.C. and The Murder Capital a global interest. But they’re never far away from cracking a joke. “The best way to deal with a heavy subject matter is to give it a bit of humour,” Daniel says. “It’s just what people do when things get too serious.”
Silverbacks were formed by brothers Daniel and Killian O’Kelly. The pair spent years sending demos back and forth between their bedrooms after being inspired by their mutual love of The Strokes (“they were the first band that was ours; we didn’t get them from our Dad”) before uploading them to SoundCloud – it was just a bit of fun.
Then they wrote ‘Fad ‘95’, a moody, slow-burning track that takes a swing at political leaders by pointing out “the fool’s on the mic and the power’s in the stand.” They also quote from ‘Homerpalooza’, the 1996 Simpsons episode that guest-starred Smashing Pumpkins and Sonic Youth, by invoking Grandpa’s admission on the ever-shifting nature of trends: “I used to be with It, until they changed what It was. Now what I am with isn’t It and what It is seems weird and scary to me.”
“We just threw that track out,” Daniel recalls of the song, which quickly got picked up by blogs before labels started to take an interest. Killian continues: “We were full of self-doubt, but that song gave us more confidence in our skills and abilities. It ignited a work ethic that we’ve tried to stick to since. As more people became interested in us, it feels like we have people to fight in our corner.”
“And to disappoint,” adds Dan.
Their goal was never to become rockstars (“we were just happy writing songs, we weren’t interested in playing them”), but that all changed when they went to a Girl Band gig three years ago: “It was amazing. We looked at each other and knew that was what we wanted to do.” The brothers recruited the rest of the Silverbacks band – bassist Emma Hanlon, guitarist Peadar Kearney and drummer Gary Wickham – and set to work.
“We’ve been writing songs together since we were kids, but now we’re making sure other people can hear them. There’s something sad about being 30 years-old and being in a band that’s releasing their first album,” Daniel says. “Maybe that’s not that cool. You see younger bands and think: ‘Shit, what was I doing then?’”
Silverbacks are determined to make up for lost time, with ‘Fad’ having been finished for over a year now. Plans to release it at the end of last year were postponed before it was then pencilled in for May – but then the coronavirus outbreak took hold. Its release in July isn’t ideal for a new band who had a summer of scheduled festival appearances to draw our attention, but Silverbacks just didn’t want to wait any longer. It’s coming out now, the brothers say, “because of our own impatience to get it out”.
“We have the majority of album two written already, so let’s get on with it,” Daniel says, grinning. “At least we have an excuse if it doesn’t sell well.”
With one foot in the realities of the everyday, such as the ritual of going to the pub on a Friday night or people being mean in the comments section (Daniel: “I have a WhatsApp group with myself where I write them down”), and an eye on the fantastical, ‘Fad’ is a fiery burst of aware escapism.
The stuttering march of ‘Dunkirk’ is a sci-fi daydream about the titular harbour city in northern France, which served as the site of a mass Allied troop evacuation during the Second World War, becoming a holiday resort, and was inspired by Daniel and Killian’s own experience of growing up in a house that was built on a First World War battlefield in Flanders, Belgium. ‘Klub Silberrücken’, meanwhile, is a lush disco stomp of youthful nostalgia, while ‘Last Orders’ captures the discomfort of returning to your hometown local. “But the DJ won’t play ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’,” it winks.
Elsewhere, there are moments of political fire. The urgent rage of ‘Drink It Down’ touches on the idea that every bloodline has blood on its hands, of which Daniel says: “The Irish have this reputation for being these neutral, happy-go-lucky, warm people, but a lot of the Irish immigrants that went to the US were a big part of the inherent racism over there.” ‘Fad ‘95’ deals with the insincerity of “the powers that be using fads to get their message across.”
“The thing they have in common is revolutions without substance,” Daniel adds. “The main reason for political messages or belief systems is profit rather than actually having some kind of deeper meaning about what it is to be human. We try not to put shite in there.”
Being a guitar-led band from Dublin, Silverbacks have benefitted from the spotlight that’s already shining on the Irish capital’s music scene thanks to the success of the aforementioned Fontaines D.C., The Murder Capital and Girl Band. “It was inspiring when we saw that they could do it,” Daniel says of those bands. “It’s a kick up the arse to see another group of lads from Ireland who are touring the world because of their music. If they can do it, maybe so can we. There’s an added drive to get your shit sorted.”
But Silverbacks don’t want to be just another post-punk band from Dublin. ‘Fad’ flirts with buoyant pop, math-rock and slacker punk, while ‘Dunkirk’ sneers at the idea of using “every punk trick in the book / And you want it to go somewhere?”
“There’s no stress to be the next big thing,” starts Killian. “We’re not writing music to fall in line with what others are doing, either. It’s just fortunate timing that there’s this focus on Dublin right now. Not everything we do ties into that bleak, guitar-heavy scene. There are multiple sides to the band, and we’ll still be making albums whether there’s that focus on Ireland or not.”
Even the album title, a nod to that Pavement-esque world of self-deprecating slacker culture, is a tongue-in-cheek dig about the hype. A grinning Killian concludes: “The Irish post-punk scene that the world’s music press seems to be focused on right now – maybe that’s all a fad, too?”