Autre Monde: “You weren’t allowed to come in with an idea”

by James Hendicott
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Autre Monde’s road to musical stardom was curtailed, like a number of rising bands, by Covid. Now back with a new release entitled ‘Sensitive Assignments’, and revitalising iconic Dublin label Popical Island along the way, Pádraig Cooney took the time to tell the Gazette how his band stepped back, and started again.

“It was really disappointing at the time,” Cooney says of their unfortunately mistimed debut album. “We released the album a couple of weeks before Covid hit. We played in Other Voices Ballina, which was really buzzy. The next plan was to go to [iconic American industry showcase] South by SouthWest, and then Covid hit. Obviously there were more important things, but it killed the momentum of our band. We just kind of went away.”

For a while, the band stayed quiet, until a new songwriting technique emerged. “What did happen is that after a while we started writing again, and we did it in a really patient way,” Cooney recalls. “We had a rule that you weren’t allowed to come in with an idea. So these songs, we spent a number of months not finishing anything, just experimenting, a lot of loops and synth sequences.”

“We had 150 little clips, and we picked the ones that we felt had something. They are songs on the album now, but they came from this background, something we hadn’t done before. And we wouldn’t have done it under any other circumstances.”

Equally, the songs have quirky, imaginative meanings. “The second song is about becoming fascinated by an 80s dictator in Burkina Faso, and trying to use him to impress people,” Cooney laughs. “Then, ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ is about the book ‘Milkman’ by Anna Burn, which has this bit about the parents of the main character.”

“Then there’s the bit about being dads. The songs are self contained, and ‘Road To Domestos’ is kind of about learning to use a house. It was something along the lines of the first Grinderman album, a kind of send-up of the self-seriousness of songwriting.” The patterns of Autre Monde’s songwriting, and their subject matter, then, are wildly varied and exploratory.

“‘Popical Island lost our headquarters years back, and that knocked it on the head really,” Cooney recalls of the death of the iconic label that Autre Monde’s record marks a firm comeback for. “The first Autre Monde rehearsal was on the last day of the place. When it was gone, we didn’t replace it, and we never really took the step to being a business.”

“It was great at the time, but it was pigeonholed as being a bit twee,” Cooney recalls of the label. “I felt like I had to fit into that, which wasn’t really me, though we did some great music and great community stuff. We were all at an age where we could be around all the time back then, going to gigs. Things are different now, but most of us still make music. So we’re coming back under the banner, it just might be a bit less frenetic.”

“Live, we’ve got a really lovely, mild-mannered sound bar instead of a drummer, and it works really well, so we’re all ready to go with our new set up. There are seven shows so far, and the Dublin one will be at the end of October.”

The Autre Monde album launch show, hosted by Homebeat, takes place at BelloBar, Dublin, on October 27. Sensitive Assignments is out now.

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