After a four-year process Eoghan Holland has just released his album ‘Dreams’ - a collaborative work produced with the help of some of the north west’s finest musicians. An innovative approach has returned rewards which were beyond his expectations.
Eoghan Holland can’t resist the cheesy line, as he puts it, when describing the reaction at the two concerts which launched his self-released album, ‘Dreams’.
“The support here and in Galway blew my mind. I know it’s cheesy but the whole dreams thing actually applied.” ‘Dreams’ is the album he has just released and launched with his band, Captain A and The Commercial Monsters. Work on the album began more than four years ago and Eoghan is extremely proud of the results.
His magnum opus involves as many as 17 musicians including the core group he works with who make up The Commercial Monsters. Recording took place in numerous locations around the country.
Eoghan travelled with sound recording equipment in his car to record the musicians he wanted on the record. The musicians were a collection of friends and contacts he had built up through his two decades in music.
The ensemble brought together for the album included Jolene and Lorna McLaughlin of the Henry Girls, Eileen Twomey of Prairie Dawgs and regular Captain A contributors from the north west such as singer and saxophonist Orlaith Gilcreest (Calamity Gin, Caledonia Highly Strung Orchestra), Rohan Armstrong (Velvet Alibi) and Neil Burns (Comrade Hat).
When he began the process Eoghan had just started operating as a solo artist. Captain A was a sporadic folk project that mainly operated in his bedroom. It was an antidote to Eoghan’s ten years as bass player with the energetic Derry-based punk/rock outfit The Evangelists, who played hundreds of gigs.
Collaboration allowed Eoghan to work with talented musicians but remove the element of being in a band. When he began his only intention was to record an album, there was no time frame, no budget. “What I used to say was I’ll make a record this year, or I’ll make a record by Christmas. I think this is the same for everyone who has recorded a record. A few months later you are going to look back and say I wish I had done this or I wish I had done this and that needs a bit more of that. So I decided to remove the time line and just keep going until I could listen to something and just find no point to go back on. There was no reason to put any constraint on it rather than just finish it.”
The seeds came when he began collaborating with Lorna and Jolene in 2007. “It seemed a nice way to work from then on - to not really set up a band. With The Evangelists we were always around each other, we were never not looking at each other for quite some time. To just have people and work with them for a few hours and then let them go on and do their own thing and be themselves and come back to them a year later and do a little more. There is a lot more that they can inject than when you are with them constantly. There is less chance of osmosis.”
In a way Eoghan has created a band without being in a band. “The Commercial Monsters, adding that title, was just a way of me making it clear that although I am guiding the thing, there is a lot of different people playing. If you stripped off everything I didn’t do on the record there wouldn’t be very much there. I am mostly an instigator and I create scenarios for people to work in.”
Those scenarios were diverse. Recordings were at home, in friends’ homes, a studio in Dublin and in the case of Eileen Twomey, a bookshop in Swords, after Eoghan put out a social media request looking for a recording space at short notice. “It turned out to be a wonderful space to record in. The books absorb sound very well. And that was the take that is on the album. But I wanted to avoid studios where I could. I think there is a formality about studios that actually detracts from creativity. I didn’t actually want the interaction of people.”
However his role is described - alchemist, guiding hand, instigator - Eoghan has created a fine piece of work - original, quirky and stimulating - which has allowed the wealth of talent at his disposal to flourish. The results of his collaborative approach are well demonstrated in the album’s opening track, ‘Stay Chic’. His baritone vocals lay the path for a luxurious two and a half minutes where Loran McLaughlin’s vocals, her sister Jolene’s subtle harp, Neil Burns’ catchy keyboard work and the soaring woodwind of Orlaith Gilcreest, come together seamlessly - all underscored by Rohan Armstrong’s pulsating bass lines.
“Sometimes I would just leave the room, hit record and go and have lunch and come back 20 minutes later and see what has happened, I might come back and say, ‘That was really cool but we need more drama.’ But there are people who you don’t have to tell them what to do. Their reaction to the music is more powerful than anything I am ever going to guide them into.”
The Letterkenny album launch was just hours after the result of the marriage referendum. It added to the what was a very memorable night and Eoghan has been overwhelmed, both by the reaction of other musicians to what he has produced, and to the reaction from audiences. Eoghan is delighted at the feedback, especially at the Letterkenny gig where he performed with his “dream lineup”. “You really need top class musicians to pull that off live. If I could get that line-up into a venue every night, I’d be a happy man.”
Captain A and The Commercial Monsters play at the Swell music and arts festival, July 10th to 12th, Arranmore, Co. Donegal.