2015 was a pivotal year for HamsandwicH, the Dublin-based band from Kells. Their 3rd album “Stories From The Surface” was released on April 17th in their native Ireland and it debuted straight in at the number 1 spot in the official Album chart. Fresh off the heels of a critically acclaimed performance on the main stage of Ireland’s premier music Festival the Electric Picnic ‘15, the band are already hoisted by the music press & gig going public as one of the most exciting live bands on the circuit, HamsandwicH sold out Dublin’s legendary Olympia Theatre for the second time on May 29th concluding their best selling national tour to date. In addition, Ireland’s seminal music & culture magazine Hot Press chose lead singer Niamh Farrell as the cover star for their historic 35th Anniversary 900th issue.
One of the most enthralling live acts in recent times, HamsandwicH are well known for their incendiary live performances which has put them right at the top of the live acts to see today. With the combination of Niamh Farrell’s powerful yet sweet vocal and Podge McNamee’s juxtaposing baritone the band are given it’s signature calling card. If ever there was a band to feed off their audience it is HamsandwicH. Each show is bona fide celebration with everything from balloons and confetti to their unique crowd interaction on display.
Last year witnessed a further important development in the life of acclaimed Irish band HamsandwicH with the release of their third studio album, Stories From The Surface. Within days, the album was not only praised to the hilt by the discerning Irish media (“An album that flows beautifully from start to finish…” – Irish Times; “with Stories From The Surface, HamsandwicH has opened up a whole new world that is theirs for the taking…” – state.ie) but also went straight to the top of the Irish album charts.
“The fact that the album went to number one, and the fact that we’re an independent band, was a huge achievement for us,” says lead singer Niamh Farrell.
Arriving several years after the band’s equally lauded second album, White Fox (justifiably regarded as a masterclass in quality indie pop), Stories From The Surface outlined what anyone with ears knew: great pop music may take time to fine-tune, but if you don’t have an intuitive sense of what it is then you might as well give up. Mixed in Studio Burpintootin, Cincinnati, Ohio, by Danny Kalb, and mastered at Sterling Sound, NYC, by Greg Calbi, the album is as immersive an experience in smart indie pop as you’ll hear this or any other year.
“White Fox was rushed,” admits guitarist/vocalist Podge McNamee. “The pressure was on for that album, we were under time constraints, so we knew that if we wrote something very decent within such a short space of time that we could do much better if we had a reasonable amount of time.”
Pressure is relative, however, and so, innately, the band realised that the material for Stories From The Surface had to be superior. “We were aware of the standard we needed to reach,” remarks Podge, “and we wanted to write a record that had far more going on in the songs.”
Allied with the addition of more texture and smooth layers, what makes the album so compelling is the band’s vigorous love of song arrangements. “We discovered that we all have a strong knack for it, and so the new songs sound bigger, more rounded. It has allowed us to sound different yet it’s still completely us – retaining our individuality yet also changing is difficult to achieve, I reckon.”
The quest to be different yet distinctive is something of a Holy Grail for all bands, but HamsandwicH has grasped not only the nettle but also the root.
“You want to aim for, achieve and retain these qualities,” says Niamh, “so that people can listen to new songs and know they aren’t going to sound like previous tunes, yet it’s still going to sound like HamsandwicH. Ideally, you want people to hear the song on the radio without the presenter introducing the band name, but the listener will know it’s us.”
Such an end result is known as ‘job done’, and because of this HamsandwicH (as much as their growing fanbase) sense justification as well as celebration. “What was amazing about 2015 for all of us,” observes Podge, “was we felt we were gaining ground for good reasons. And we really felt that our fans were in on it – so many had come along with us over the years.”
With sterling performances last year at open-air Irish festivals Electric Picnic (at which the band played on the prestigious main stage) and Indiependence (which they headlined), and the fact that Stories From The Surface was been nominated for Best Irish Album in the Choice Music Prize (Ireland’s version of the Mercury Music Prize), it seems that 2016 is all to play for.
Independent of mind and body, the need to progress things by self-financing motivates HamsandwicH. “You need to keep gigging,” says Podge. “Being driven like that ensures that what we do never feels stagnant. And people work better under a certain level of pressure, anyway.”
HamsandwicH‘s garlanded second album, White Fox, released back in 2010, remains for many something of a masterclass in quality indie pop (it featured in Irish Times’ writer Tony Clayton-Lea’s acclaimed book, 101 Irish Records You Must Hear Before You Die) it is now viewed by the band as just their very astute second album.