When The Murder Capital first landed in 2019 with their debut album ‘When I Have Fears’, they further invigorated Ireland’s already febrile guitar music scene. A rich, emotionally complex record, it dealt with the suicide of a close friend of the band by channelling the grieving process through a prism of raging, serrated post-punk guitars and urgent, furious vocals from the Dublin five-piece’s frontman James McGovern.
That approach makes the sound of their second album, ‘Gigi’s Recovery’, all the more surprising. The same heightened passion remains, but The Murder Capital have evolved over the past three-and-a-half years into a more mature and refined proposition. Damien Tuit and Cathal Roper’s guitars are more nuanced and textured, while McGovern has embraced the full range of his lower vocal register in order to convey what previously may only have been punched out in raspy yells. ‘Gigi’s Recovery’ is the sound of a band looking inward and reflecting on the decisions that have taken them this far, while also thinking twice about where they would like to be taken next.
As The Murder Capital release the album on their own label, Human Season Records, NME caught up with the band to discuss the motivation behind their change in sound, the perspective they’ve gained on their career to date and why accepting that we have no control might be the answer to our deepest concerns.
NME: ‘Gigi’s Recovery’ is a pretty big departure from your debut album. Was it always the plan to take this left turn on your second album?
Damien Tuit: “I’m not sure. After three months at home during the first lockdown, I remember distinctly that when we came back and met together it had been the longest time we had been apart by quite some measure since we formed the band. Those few months had allowed us all to grow in different ways [and] in different directions. It also allowed us to explore different avenues in a way that we’d never had the chance to before. I got into sampling, which ended up influencing the album a fair bit. I probably never would have done if it wasn’t for those months at home.”
James McGovern: “It really all started from the day that we came back together in June 2020 in Dublin. Everyone had a different idea of what the evolution of the sound would be, or the evolution of their own creativity was. We were pulling in very different directions at the time, which was causing a huge amount of friction. In hindsight, it was actually a common direction, a common theme of evolution and change. In the end, we were just spreading out so that we could come back round to meet each other again. That took about two years.”
Did you want to give it as much time as possible for the new sound to come together?
Diarmuid Brennan [drums]: “Not at all: we thought we’d be finished by the end of the summer! After we got back in June , we were like, ‘We’re gonna be done by September’.”
James: “Even a year later, we were due to be finished in October , and it was, like, ‘No, it’s still not done’. Frankly, we were fucking jaded. We were working ourselves to the bone, and that’s when we weren’t depressed or anxious or in our rooms just trying to get through this pandemic. It’s kind of a chaotic cohesiveness: the whole record is very much reflective of everything we went through as individuals and together. You’ve got all this mess of emotions, but it feels cohesive as if it’s in one body, which is I think a good reflection of the human condition.”
Would it have felt too weird to have come back and made a similar album to ‘When I Have Fears’?
Diarmuid: “It’s that thing of just wanting to express more. You have that feeling where you’ve said something already, but you feel like there’s something more to say and you have the ability to do it, you’re not just coasting on expressing the same thing again and again. That’s when you really start finding out more about yourself.”
Damien: “I remember feeling quite guilty sometimes, because the music on the first album is kind of one genre, one angle. I started to get really in my head and not happy about it. I would be listening to so much different music and different genres, and I’d still be playing the same thing, and I’d just feel like there was something inauthentic about it. So I kind of wanted with the second album to make something that was more representative of the wide tastes that I know we all have.”
‘Gigi’s Recovery’ sounds like The Murder Capital taking stock and re-evaluating what matters to them. Is that how it feels to you?
James: “That makes sense. I think a huge part of writing this record was realising that you have to really take responsibility for yourself and your own demons, so that you don’t take them out on the people around you and the people you love the most.”
Damien: “As Gabriel [Pascal Blake, bassist] kept saying, ‘We are the work’.”
Were you consciously drawing from new influences on the record?
James: “The thing is, we don’t actually use literal influences in the studio – very, very rarely [we do]. We do listen to such a wide variety of things that I find it very difficult to draw the exact lines between all the work we did. I can hear the comparisons that are made, I don’t think we’d deny any of that – we listen to Radiohead, we listen to Alex G, we listen to whatever else. The ones we used to always get were The Chameleons or Whipping Boy, stuff that we hadn’t listened to, actually. That’s interesting to me. People come up to you after a show and they grab you by the scruff of the neck and say, ‘You fucking definitely listened to this record’.”
Damien: “And it’s some obscure fucking ’80s punk band. Because that’s how people write music: they sit down and write notes while listening to an album.”
James: “Yeah, that’s what Bob Dylan did [laughs].”
You’ve often been compared with the likes of Fontaines D.C. and IDLES. Did part of you want to move away from those comparisons and do your own thing?
Damien: “The post-punk label was getting a bit tiring.”
James: “First of all, we took all that with a pinch of salt: we knew that we weren’t making the same music as any of our contemporaries. There are definitely some commonalities, for sure, we wouldn’t deny that. But no, it was never like, ‘Oh god, they’re right’. It’s all self-set challenges, all internal ambition and a desire to move forward. It wasn’t about, ‘Oh, let’s be different to the lads in those bands’.”
Diarmuid: “It’s just that we’re five lads in a band with guitars. John [Congleton, producer] at one point was talking about how the music that five individuals make isn’t going to be the same as the next five individuals that come in. I just thought that was great to hear, because you’re capturing something that’s completely authentic to you just by being there, you know? You’re creating something completely new that hasn’t got anything to do with any other band. I find that really comforting. That’s always what I’ve loved about bands in general.”
James, was it daunting to explore the deeper, darker parts of your vocal range on the album?
James: “That was just my gear shift when we came back together, that’s where my head was at. I understand what you’re hearing about the darker and deeper [parts], there’s definitely a lot of that. But there’s also a lot more movement in melody. I didn’t desire to deliver monotone, aggressive post-punk vocals, and by the time we were recording in London I think I had a good grasp on how to bring some of that early intensity with me, just in a new way. We were also just trying to turn down the reverb on the vocal, you know? Get it nice and dry. Reverb is just the Botox of music.”
The album opens with a track called ‘Existence’ and closes with ‘Exist’. It’s as if it’s charting the journey from pondering one’s existence to being content to just exist.
James: “It was always an ambition of ours to have those bookending interludes that give more of a cinematic, narrative feel. ‘Existence’ is very much to me the sound of an existential crisis that is affirmed by control, utterly burdened by the need for control when you just don’t have it. And then in the outcome – ‘Exist’ being the outcome – is the outcome that everyone wants or desires, which is just to exist, to love, to be in it, to be here, and not be fucking clambering at this desire for control, where it’s just not possible.”
With the album now ready to be released, do you feel like you have a clearer perspective on its meaning?
Diarmuid: “Almost, because I think a lot of it has to be revealed when we play the songs live. That’s a very important part that we haven’t been able to do yet. For me, the album is just about introspection and moving on from there. But it could be something different in six months’ time.”
James: “The whole album is a process. Our management sent me this quote of mine the other day which read, ‘’Gigi’s Recovery’ is a positive ensemble of life after darkness and only good things’. And I was like, ‘Holy shit, no no no no’. If I said that, I don’t know what I was thinking. I wrote back with what I think fairly encapsulates how I see it now. I said, ‘The story of ‘Gigi’s…’ is about returning to a place of strength and taking control of the few things that really matter. ‘Gigi’s Recovery’ looks to the future by owning its past’. I think that’s pretty concise today. Ask me in a month and I might think it’s absolute shite, though.”
The Murder Capital’s new album ‘Gigi’s Recovery’ is out now