First Published December 2021
BACK IN THE GAME
I was working away at my desk last Friday when I decided to turn off the news for a change and add some music to my day instead. Tapping into my Apple Music account and scrolling through my options, the playlist Today’s Hits caught my eye for some reason so I made it my selection. And a quick glance at what was on offer soon brought a smile as wide as the Shannon to my face.
Right there in the middle of it all, keeping company with international superstars like Ed Sheeran and his recent gems Bad Habits and Shivers, Adele with I Drink Wine, boyband giants Westlife and Starlight, and Driving Home From Christmas by Dermot Kennedy…were three dudes from Tullamore and their newest banger, Close To You. What these guys have already achieved is immense. And the mind-blowing thing is that in terms of both their creative and commercial potential, they’ve barely even begun to jog yet. When they start running at full-speed…world watch out!
A few weeks back, before Close To You officially became CHASING ABBEY’s new single, I had the pleasure of catching up with the band.
It was the afternoon after their first real-life gig in a long, long time when I sat down in the Brewery Tap for a catch-up with Bee (Jonathan Byrne) and Ro (Ronan Bell). Unfortunately, the previous night’s triumph had taken its toll on the vocals of lead-singer Ted, who wasn’t able to join us. The funny thing was, having viewed the band’s stories on Insta the night before, Ro was the one I didn’t expect to see! To say he enjoyed the band’s first night back doing what they love would be an understatement! And that was the note on which we began.
What was it actually like for Bee and Ro to be back in the game again?
Bee: “It was…an adjustment. When Covid started, we were so used to gigs and being in front of people. Then when we had to start doing all the Zoom things, that was so strange. We had no clue what we were getting into and we weren’t able to feed off anyone. But then we got used to that. And now that’s been flipped on its head last night, trying to dust off the cobwebs. That was the feeling beforehand, but once we got into it, it was like we’d never left the stage…”
Ro: “It was carnage! [Laughs]. Even being back doing sound-check, being back on-stage, first time with a PA, just going through all those things, there’s a certain feeling that comes with all of that. And I hadn’t felt that in a long time. It felt special. And it was weird, because going into the gig, I thought it was going to be like a normal gig was before Covid. But once it started, with the crowd and everything, it felt like we were back to years ago. It was savage!”
Were there any nerves in the build-up?
Bee: “Yeah, but not nervous about being in front of people, more so remembering all the little things that you used to do, that would have been second nature to ya when you were gigging a lot. But now we had to start thinking about those all over again!”
Ro: “I think that was just before the gig, though, because halfway through the first song you kinda started shouting all the same stuff you would have done before, and jumping the same way [laughs], and we kinda slid back into what we always used to do. And I think we did that pretty early in the gig, which was fun.”
Bee: “A big thing for us as well, is that in the last eighteen months we’ve obviously been making a lot of music. Usually we’d make maybe five or six songs, pick our favourite one, and maybe try that one out at our next gig. But we had no gigs to try out any songs for eighteen months. And we had literally nearly a hundred songs to pick from. We played four or five of them last night, and just to feel the new songs ‘live’ was just…, THAT was something we were really missing. Because you get to feel the way it went down with the crowd. And that’s a way you’d nearly pick what your next single could be.”
There’s always a certain performance high that comes with taking to the stage, but had the high of the previous night been a little bit higher than ever before?
Ro: “Yeah. It was the best we’ve felt since Covid began. We got off stage and we just said we feel alive again, ya know! It was just nuts.”
So does that mean the comedown is that little bit lower too?
Ro: “I think we’re still a little bit high! [Laughs]. Spirits were still high this morning!”
Bee: “You get a hangover from drinking, but there’s this thing called a ‘gig hangover ‘as well, where you’re just so drained. I’d say last night will go down as one of our favourite gigs for a while.”
Like everybody else, back in March of 2020, the world came to a very sudden halt for Chasing Abbey. I asked Bee and Ro to take me back to where they were as a band when that happened…
Bee: “We had just finished ‘Lately’…”
Ro: “’Lately’, along with three other songs, we had four songs ready to go.”
Bee: “And we had picked a release date for ‘Lately’, at the end of March, beginning of April, and we were going for it. Then all of this started to come up in the media and it was happening elsewhere…”
Ro: “Yeah, happening elsewhere, so we were like, won’t affect us…”
Bee: “Then it got a little bit closer to home and we were like, well maybe we’ll push out the release by two weeks, that should do it! Just until this dies down. But then it looked like we were gonna be in this for a month, so we pushed it out for another month. And we had been soooo busy up to that, for nearly two years, so in the beginning we were kinda like, well, this is kind of a nice rest [laughs].”
Ro: “Especially in the few months before that, because we’d been working on those songs, and writing all the time, and we had shows as well. So when that first hit, we were like, this is kinda…grand, like! [Laughs].”
Bee: ”Yeah, we couldn’t leave our homes, but that was what we needed”
Ro: “But then it set in with us – with everyone – that this was gonna be here for a while.”
So that time of suddenly being apart, having been together so much and so intensely for so long, what was that like?
Ro: “At the beginning, it was ok. We went home to our own families, and that was lovely because we wouldn’t always be at home with our families all that much. So, that was nice for a little bit, but then it definitely got weird [laughs], not seeing the other lads.”
Bee: “We have a group-chat and stuff, so we all kinda kept in touch a good bit that way. But sometimes then, there might have been a day or two without any message going in, and THAT was strange because…”
Ro: “…if we’re not all together in person then the phone is always just hoppin’!”
Bee: “I think we all found it difficult at different times. At the beginning, I think we were all fine. But then it hit us about how real it all was. Like, one of us might have been down for a month, but then you’d pick yourself back up again. And then someone else might feel that way for a while. But I think that was normal, I think everyone was like that.”
Ro: “I think everyone was going through that. Even with dad in here [Paul Bell, proprietor of The Brewery Tap in Tullamore], there was just so much uncertainty. As a band, we didn’t know what to do in terms of releasing, we didn’t know when we’d have another gig, or IF we’d have another gig. You didn’t even know if you were going to get Covid and die. There was that, never mind music! We all went through different periods where different emotions were the main ones.”
Bee: “And there were a few lockdowns as well. The first lockdown was fine. But then the second one came, and we had started to make plans before that one. Then those plans all had to be pulled again.”
Ro: “It was that little bit of hope…gone, ya know.”
Having seen everything that they’ve worked so hard for, and everything that they love so much, taken away in the blink of an eye by something completely out of their control, has that changed everyone as individuals in terms of what they’ll bring back to the band now? Has it, indeed, even changed the band? Whereas previously, 110% was given to every show, from now on will that be 210%?
Ro: “There was a bit of that last night! When we were walking to the stage, we were just like, let’s just go nuuuuts out here [laughs]!”
Bee: “Just before we went on-stage, we said let’s see who can go the craziest!”
Ro: “I think there’ll definitely be a bit of that, but once we got back working we slipped back into a normal studio routine again fairly quickly.”
Bee: “But it has made us – and it will make us – appreciate the moments. So we will be a little bit more present, I think. Say with gigs, you’ll take out your in-ears maybe, and just listen to the crowd, really take it in. Rather than just going, that’s unreal, you might just take a minute to go…wow, this is incredible! But ya know, we did also realise a song during Covid and it’s one of our most popular songs, ‘Lately.’It wasn’t all bad either.”
Ro: “That was like a test release, because we had to really think outside the box, and it was actually exciting to do that, to do a release completely different to how we normally would. Like, we couldn’t go to a radio station. We couldn’t sit down with people. We couldn’t do anything!
Bee: “We did it all from a room!”
Ro: “Yeah, and it went so well that it’s become a very proud thing for us, that release. And I think it impressed a lot of people, too. We hear that a lot.”
Bee: “Even the music video, we had a period where the first lockdown lifted…”
Ro: “It was in between them.”
Bee: “Yeah, and inter-county travel was allowed. So we had one week to get the whole thing done. And we did. But, oh my God [laughs].”
Ro: “I think we were up in Dublin with one of the videographers, and that was just a day or two days before we couldn’t travel again. We JUST got it all done in time!”
Considering how much the band were able to write during lockdown, I wondered if the different conditions for writing – not being around each other, not being around people, not being able to gig – if all of that had affected them creatively, and changed how they write?
Bee: “All the music kind of stayed within the normal [way that we’d write]…”
Ro: “Yeah, it did. The only thing that would have changed was the inspiration aspect, because you’re just going through the same kind of mundane thing every day. That definitely made a difference, compared to coming off the high of a gig, when you could write ten songs! In lockdowns at home, well, myself definitely, we upskilled a lot, in terms of production. In that way, we’ve come on an awful lot in the last two years or eighteen months. That’s changed the way we go about things in the studio. Some things are done quicker, easier, and end up sounding better.”
Bee: “We can literally do everything just from a room now.”
Ro: “Yeah. Whereas before, it was at ‘a level’, ya know, but it wasn’t at THAT level. But having the time, and when there was no pressure of writing songs to release them, we were able to get lost in learning different skills.”
So if upskilling might have been one of the ways that Ro got through things by becoming something he could focus his attention on, what filled that role for Bee or even Ted?
Bee: “Initially, I suppose, because I don’t live with my family, so just coming back home to them. That took up a couple of months because we got to spend a lot of time together. I also got into cooking! I did a lot of that, and explored a lot of different diets, all that kind of stuff.”
Ro: “I started running as well. We all went through a bit of a running phase. Our house is down by a canal, so I used to do quite a bit of running around there, which I never did before. We’d meet up outdoors and go running.”
Bee: “But mainly, I think, what we did was just chilled out through it all. Just took a breather.”
At this stage of their careers, Chasing Abbey is a brand, a machine in a way. How do the lads plan on bringing that machine back to life after a lay-off like this?
Bee: “Well we have loads of music there. And we didn’t put any pressure on ourselves to release the next song, because we really want to find the one that can bring us to the next stage. That’s why we wrote so much. We have a few contenders now, so when the right one hits we’re just gonna put everything into it.”
Ro: “New music will really help with that, and then the introduction of more gigs as well. One thing we’ve all loved from the start of Chasing Abbey is the ‘live’ shows. So that mix of new music, and playing those songs at ‘live’ shows will ramp it back up pretty quickly.
Bee: “And once the music is out, we’ll go back on tour.”
Aside from what the band had done online, was there anything else they’d done to stay connected to their fans over the last eighteen months?
Bee: “We started making Tik-Toks, not music related ones, more kind of sketch based.”
Ro: “At the very, very beginning of Covid, Tik-tok was really taking off because everyone was at home, it was the new app. We jumped on that with ‘Lately’.”
Bee: “And it’s funny, we have our most social media followers on Tik-Tok.”
Ro: “And that’s mad, because that’s a lot of new people. Obviously it’s a mix, a lot of people did know of us, but we’ve definitely made new fans as well. It’s a different way of interacting.”
Bee: “We went through a stage with it where it was all music, then it was all promoting ‘Lately’, then a stage where it was all sketches where there was really no music involved.”
Ro: “For our next release, we’ll definitely have a Tik-Tok campaign, because it’s huge. Huge!”
So what is next for the band?
Ro: “I think right now, we’re just looking at singles. So a single, and then the next single. We’re not even thinking too far ahead. Just the next one that feels right.”
Bee: “And feels right in every aspect, the timing, the story, the sound of it. Is it gonna take us a step forward to what music sounds like now? Will it be fresh? There are so many different things to consider. But we think we’re nearly there…!”
~ CLOSE TO YOU, the brand NEW single from CHASING ABBEY, is OUT NOW, available to stream and download from all platforms, and to request from radio.