As their name would seem to suggest, The Clockworks are a punctual bunch. They greet me outside the door of the Temple Café, clad in all black as is necessary for a trio of aspiring rockers. The Temple Café, which is across from Charlie Byrne’s bookshop, is a social venture – that means it is a not-for-profit organisation that donates all of its surplus earnings to charity. Their very choice of location informs me that this is no ordinary group of head-bangers – there is something ponderous about these young lads from Loughrea.
As we talk, I am continually struck by their articulate thoughts and overall polite demeanour. We spoke for the guts of an hour. They continually play off one another, butting in and finishing off sentences for one another in the way that only old friends can. After all, they all attended the same secondary school.
James McGregor, the lead singer and lyricist, lived in London until the age of 12. The accent is clearly detectable in his singing, with McGregor even going as far as including bits of Cockney slang in his lyrics as an homage to his upbringing.
Two of the band members are NUI Galway-affiliated. James graduated from NUI Galway last year with a BA in English and Philosophy, something he views as being integral to his development as a songwriter.
“Maybe if I hadn’t taken philosophy, my critical horizons wouldn’t have been sufficiently developed, I guess, to allow me to abstract myself enough to write songs”.
Damian Greaney recalls being ‘shuffled in’ to NUI Galway to study non-denominated science rather unwillingly. Damian dropped out to pursue a career in music, something he views as having majorly positive influence on his life.
Sean Connelly, on the other hand, tells me with an admirable singularity of purpose that he focused in on his music from day one. As far as he was concerned, there is nothing else he would rather do. He says that he ‘always assumed that everyone else knew what they wanted to do since the age of ten as well’. Sean has always been enamoured with rock and roll. He has a hazy recollection of ‘dancing in his nappy in the sitting room watching a tape of Bruce Sprinsteen playing Dancing in the Dark’ at the tender age of three.
Their name is a reference to the Stanley Kubrick film, A Clockwork Orange. Sean, with coy reluctance, lists out some of the names they have previously played under. They were originally known as The Morning after the Night Before, a name James refers to as ‘an essay we wrote’. He recalls being at a house party with members of some other bands, who told him ‘straight up’ that they needed a name change – a piece of advice that seems to have gone down quite well in hindsight.
Their debut single, Girls Like You, is a split-narrative – it tells the story of a one-night stand from both the male and female perspective. When asked whether there is a concealed message in the song Sean tells me that they wouldn’t really conceive of writing a song without some sort of message, the bands they listen to always aim to place meaning to the forefront of their lyrics. The Clockworks aren’t interested in weaving together a few unconnected abstract phrases together and calling it a verse – everything tells a story.
Their creative process is quite an interesting one. For James, lyric-writing is a type of free-form poetry. Damian tells me that James shuts himself off for a while and ‘comes back with a song that is usually the finished product’, and they then ‘work the music around that’. There is little collaboration on the lyrics, but they all work at the chorus together because that can either make or break a song.
It may strike people as odd that a band with such a cosmopolitan sound originated from a rural town like Loughrea, however, the lads take great pride in where they come from.
“As far as anyone in Loughrea is concerned, us making it into The Advertiser is the biggest thing we will ever achieve. I guess it’s fairly widely-circulated, so people at home think we’ll be playing Croke Park any day now”, laughs Damian.
They have taken quite a while to hone their sound.
“We didn’t want to rush into things and start feeling like we were famous just because we had an album out”, says James.
The Clockworks spent the past year playing gigs in both Ireland and England as opposed to the more conventional modern route of flooding the internet with singles and then going on tour. They are attempting to cultivate a distinct identity as a band in the hopes that fame and fortune will follow, as opposed to cashing in early for short-lived success.
Before they released Girls Like You, Damian purposely removed all old videos of them playing from the web as a means of ‘keeping an ace in the hole’. This shows how business-savvy these lads are, they know the value of first impressions and they weren’t keen on anyone seeing some of the less professional stuff that was put up on the internet during the band’s infancy.
They have learned the art of performance simply by doing. Their first gig was a ‘slap job’ – backing up Key West at the Roisin Dubh. And how things have changed – the lads have just returned from a jam-packed run of gigs in the UK which saw them play in front of a sold-out crowd at the renowned music venue, The Good Ship.
Their UK success comes as no surprise to Sean who says; “We had always subconsciously presumed that we would be received better over there because of our influences, which are primarily British bands, and it turned out to be true”.
The music scene is understandably far better developed in London than in Galway. Damian laments the lack of a clearly identifiable ‘music-first’ venue in Galway. More often than not, ‘drinks promotions’, he says, pull a larger crowd than the promise of live music.
James credits their producer, Thom McDonell, for whipping them into shape. He said; “He has taught us a lot about the industry, he is the closest thing we have to a manager figure.” In what can be taken as a sure indicator of success, the boys inform me that Thom worked with Hozier about 6 months before he exploded.
The ‘phones at gigs’ debacle is something that intrigues The Clockworks, because both sides can be argued.
“If the only memory of a gig you have is a photo, then that’s not really a memory at all. You aren’t in the moment. I’ve been guilty of it myself so many times, but I find that I never go back and look at these photos because there are so many of them, they aren’t really even for myself. It’s more of a Facebook or Snapchat thing”, says Damian.
This is further qualified by Sean, who notes that people who use phones at gigs are often trying to achieve something positive by promoting the band and the fact that they are having a good time.
I discover that it is not just music that captivates their collective interest, our conversation is side-tracked more often than not to talk about Monthy Python and Donald Trump among countless other abstractions. The lads don’t seem as interested in promoting themselves as they do in having a genuine back-and-forward conversation, with James even asking me a few questions of his own about my writing process – something that is surely a first for a music interview! This humble, grounded mind-set is something that will undoubtedly stand them in good stead when they do blow up.
Their debut single, Girls Like You, and its follow-up, Mazda, can be found on Spotify, YouTube and iTunes. More information about The Clockworks, their gigs and release dates can be found on their Facebook page.
-By Eoin Molloy