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'We’re putting in the work, and no challenge feels too scary'

Wednesday, 6th December, 2017 5:56pm

“This is nice. Was this your idea?” HamsandwicH vocalist and guitarist Podge McNamee asks me as we begin talking.

I break the sad news that I am not the mastermind behind the location for this interview. Drinking strawberry-tinted water on the comfortable couches in the reception of a well-known city centre hotel is not exactly the worst environment though; I wish I could say I’d thought it up.

Despite being part of Irish indie outfit HamsandwicH for 14 years, Podge and his fellow vocalist bandmate Niamh Farrell, who also joins us, seem as humble and unassuming as anyone in the room.

“It’s exciting the fact that releasing music after two years so many people are already talking about it, how great it is to hear new music from us,” Podge tells me. “I saw one person tweeting ‘this has made my day’ about the new song! It’s so nice.”

After a year away, HamsandwicH return with a vigorous new single ‘Bodies’, a by-product of what the Kells band say is a greatly increased sense of professionalism. “I think, as a band, we’re more professional than we’ve ever been at any stage in our career,” laughs Podge.

“I don’t think there’s ever been a time before where we’ve been rehearsing twice a week. And that really registered when we started doing that, how much more effective it was.”

What’s more, they say the recording of the new single passed without major incident. “We were all really relaxed in the studio, everyone was in good form,” says Niamh. “When you go into the studio you know you’re going to be hearing the song over and over again, and you’re going to go through periods of loving it, then hating it, then back again! But this time we were all really into it the whole time, it never stopped. And that was a sign that we were all really happy with the direction we were going.”

If the band lack the inflated egos of rock stars, they certainly look distinctive. Podge wears a rather distinguishing pair of thick rimmed glasses while Niamh looks every inch the fierce frontwoman with skinny jeans ripped at the knees and a sleek, short peroxide blonde coiffure.

But with professionalism the new and improved modus operandi of the group, everything is perfectly organised now, right?

Wrong. The band giddily admit they didn’t even choose the name of the new single until a few days before its release.

“We literally had everything done for it - the photographs, the mastering, ready to be sent off, and we still didn’t know what to call the song!” Niamh confesses with yet another laugh. “You have all the best intentions to have it all organised, but some decisions are just easier than others.”

Beyond ‘Sophie’s Choice’-like decisions such as choosing song titles, the band seems focused and remarkably comfortable in their skin. Navigating some difficult challenges and establishing themselves in the industry, from trying to get exposure to being criticised by Bono for their name (and refusing to take his advice on the matter), the band now appear more assured and confident than ever.

“We’re getting into the idea of challenges now,” Podge says calmly. “It’s daunting, thinking you know ‘oh, we’ve nothing new’ or not seeing immediate obvious improvements. But now we’re putting in the work, and no challenge feels too scary.”

The significance of this statement is not small by any means; challenging yourself musically is crucial for many artists, but it can surely be daunting to venture into the unknown after having established a certain image of yourself.

Despite their stature, HamsandwicH still have their embarrassing fangirlish moments; both Podge and Niamh are admirers of Cincinnati outfit The National, and struggled to contain themselves when they once got to chill out with the band while both were playing Electric Picnic.

“It’s great being able to hang out with these people you admire, even just getting to pick their brains a little. It’s surreal,” Niamh says. “You kind of have to catch yourself. you can’t be a big weirdo about it like! You have to be cool about it.”

Our interview takes place during something of a flying visit Leeside, the band doing a succession of interviews around the city before heading back up to Dublin the same night.

“Cork’s really come on though,” Podge observes merrily. “There’s so many places to eat!” Niamh adds. They ask for a recommendation and I suggest a chipper on the same street.

Aware of time and the band’s burgeoning appetite, I finish by asking them their opinion on the current health of Irish music.

“I think it’s great at the minute,” Niamh says. “There’s a great number and variety of acts coming out. I love Soulé, I saw her at Electric Picnic last year and she just had the crowd in the palm of her hand. She’s got a great personality. I also love Fangclub’s live shows. There’s a real variety at the moment.”

“There is more going on than we’ll ever see as well,” Podge adds. “I work in a music shop and I meet tons of bands every day. Some of them are just so talented and won’t ever get the recognition or exposure that they should. So many underground bands that are actually also happy to play small shows have a core fan base. But you’re listening thinking ‘it’s crazy the fact that more people don’t know you!’”

“It makes you realise that it’s so much easier for bands like us to get that exposure, because we can send new work to people who have supported us over the years etc,” Niamh opines. “But for bands who don’t have that built up, it’s difficult you know. How do you get your song heard?”

On that pensive note, we finish up our glasses of luxurious strawberry water, and the band set off on their Cork chipper adventure. Even flying visits have their perks, I suppose.

HamsandwicH play the Triskel Christchurch on 14 and 15 December at 8pm. The first date is sold out and remaining tickets for the second are €25 and available from the Triskel website.

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