WALKING ON CARS - COLOURS
Format: Compact Disc/EP/Single
What do you do when your debut album sells in old-fashioned Big Numbers?
When, after two years on the road promoting a runaway bestselling record, you have to - to quote some fella…go away and dream it all up again?
If you're Walking On Cars, you rip it up, start again and stretch yourself in bold new directions. And if you're Walking On Cars, you're not going to lie: that didn't come easy. There were things the Irish band had to address, stark realities they had to embrace, difficult places they had to go.
The result is Colours: a second album that's kaleidoscopically rich with sounds, textures, emotions, synth-driven imagination and hard-won emotion. Big Numbers have catalysed Big Invention. Or, to quote frontman Patrick Sheehy, an album that's “fuckin' pumpin'”.
In the words of Irish music bible Hot Press, hymning Ireland's latest rock export in a cover feature: “With the massive European success of their double platinum-selling debut, Everything This Way, Kerry's Walking On Cars pretty much owned 2016.”
Indeed: with Everything This Way, the four-piece had everything their way. Released in January 2016 on Virgin EMI, their debut went on to sell a hefty 325,000 copies worldwide. Over 18 months' touring they sold 100,000 gig tickets, reaching arena level at home and selling out tours across Europe, as well as hitting the mains stages of some of the biggest festivals out there, including Isle of Wight, Rock Werchter, Rock Am Ring and Electric Picnic in 2018. Their total global video views stand at an impressive 50 million, their cumulative global streams an eye-watering, ear-trembling 200 million.. Marking that international success, the band from Dingle on Ireland's west coast won a European Border Breakers Award for success outside their own country.
It was a soaraway period that began with support slots with James Bay and The Kooks and ended with a triumphant (near) homecoming at the 14,000-capacity 3Arena in Dublin. In between there was explosive international success, notably in Germany. There, Speeding Cars - a gut-punching anthem featuring Sheehy's soulful rasp at its most powerful - blew up almost the minute it was released:
“The second that came out, the label there were like: ‘Come to Germany, we need you now,'” recalls Sheehy, who formed Walking On Cars with childhood school friends Sorcha Durham (keyboards), Paul Flannery (bass) and Evan Hadnett (drums). “And it popped there before anywhere else.”
It was an overnight success that had been six years in the making. Convening in 2010, the brand new band wrote ten songs in a two-week burst and played a debut gig in the 100-year-old former schoolhouse in the Atlantic coast wilds of County Kerry in which they've since built a demo studio and rehearsal space.
Realising they were on to something, they slogged away for the next couple of years, playing anywhere and everywhere. “We did all sorts of gigs in the back arse of nowhere,” recalls Durham.
Our regular deal back then was that we'd play for a hot meal and a place to stay. But after a while we had to start getting serious and specify that the place we stayed was indoors…that was after a night spent in a roofless tent while it was pissing rain”.
Any money they made, Walking On Cars spent on the band. In 2012 they won the Red Bull new artist competition and ploughed the winnings into the recording of debut EP, As We Fly South. “We were unsigned but managed to get our first single catch me if you can” to No.27 in the charts." This was followed by a top ten single in Tick Tock off the same EP. "It didn't make any sense!” the singer admits with a wry smile. "And all this got the labels interested".
Signing to Virgin EMI after a deal-making promise from the CEO not to interfere, Walking On Cars began recording their debut album. They were ready to rock: as Hadnett says, “by that time we'd toured the shit out of the songs”.
Even after the release of Everything This Way, the band kept touring the shit out of the songs. Those efforts begat success, but success begat strains. They changed line-up, losing their original guitarist, and also changed management. For sure, after a challenging couple of years they've come out other end stronger, and ready to attack 2019 with a new album and new lease of life. But suffice it to say, for a good few months sitting down to write new music wasn't the first thing on their minds.
Finally, though, in February 2018, after six months' grind, came a breakthrough. Monster, the first fruits of the band's labour to be released as a taster track from Colours. A cathartic howl of a song, strident with piano, punchy electronics and a sky-grabbing chorus.
“That got the ball rolling” acknowledges Sheehy. “Before that we'd been writing with one hand tied behind our backs.”
In its mix of synthesiser, guitars and feedback, sonically Monster became a pathfinder track for the album. “On the first album it was very organic: sit in a room, jam it out, tour it, come back, change the song,” remembers Durham. But the band wanted to stretch themselves further still, so they undertook a couple of studio sessions with co-writers in London. An early key collaboration was with Jon Green (James Bay). It resulted in Somebody Else and Too Emotional.
“With Too Emotional, we wanted a track that was balls-out,” states Sheehy. “It's emphatic! We were determined we were going to top our first album, that we'd have some absolute bangers. And that one was born in a day. But I remember leaving the session, going, ‘Hmm, I'm not too sure about that tune…' Then when I woke up the next day the verse was just stuck in my head. But it still took a month or two for me to realise how big a tune it was. The first album is a bit sad and depressing but Too Emotional has an upbeat edge and is also taking the piss out of yourself a bit.”
The albums second track to be released, Coldest Water is a track about Sheehy's relationship with alcohol. Something he never spoke openly about during the first record because “I wanted the music to do the talking and it was all a bit too fresh to be honest”. This song captures Sheehy's split mind. On one hand, wanting to stay clean and sober, but on the other wanting to sabotage it all. “Here I go again, back the way I came into the coldest water”. "I could never do the “lets go for a drink” thing. It was either stay at home or go out and wake up in a bush somewhere”. Now five years sober, he can look back at this with a laugh and a smile.
That momentum continued into the creation of other songs. When We Were Kids, which “was just stress-free,” says Sheehy of a starker, simpler track that showcases his astonishing vocal range, much like Coldest Water, and a song that's as deeply personal as it's instantly catchy.
After the toil to create the songs, the recording came together remarkably quickly: four weeks in total, in RAK in London and Angelic near Oxford, where The 1975 also recorded their new album.
“That was a dream,” beams Durham. “It was set up by the keyboard player in Jamiroquai, so he had all the gear - two pianos, and every synth you could think of from the Seventies onwards.”
It was a playground, too, for their producers, Tim Bran and Roy Kerr of MyRiot (London Grammar, Birdy), with whom the band had also worked on Everything This Way.
The albums final song, Pieces Of You is the most stripped back song on the record, both sonically and emotionally. It dives into the aftermath of losing a loved one. The piano and vocal carrying as much grief as each other. “It was a song I think we had been on the verge of writing for a while” says Sheehy. “and I'm glad we did because I think a lot of people could hold this track very close to their hearts like we do”.
“On the first album we didn't know what the hell we were doing when we went into the studio!” admits Durham with a cheerful shrug. “We were scared of all Roy's programming, because we were used to a more organic sound. But this time round we were like: ‘let's go mad!' We were open to being experimental and getting out of our comfort zone.”
Going mad, being experimental, getting out of their comfort zone: it's what Walking On Cars needed to do. Having something to prove was a motor to their ambition from their earliest days. Now they just have something to prove to several hundred thousand fans. Now they have Colours.
“Why is it called that?” muses Paul Flannery. “Well, because all the songs are so different from each other. It's a bigger picture.”
“It's a bit of everything,” agrees Sorcha Durham.
“Colours signifies vitality and excitement,” adds Evan Hadnett.
“If I look back on elements of the last two years or so, the colour I see mostly is black,” admits Patrick Sheehy, a musician with a fierce, must-do-better work ethic. “But now everything is colourful, and anything is possible.”