A small town that forces a strong bond is where the greatest loves begin, and Walking on Cars are no exception. These five school-mates and natives of the tiny town of Dingle on Ireland’s southwest coast, have the noisy energy of a large, unruly family, hugging each other close, but fighting to be heard. Starting the music writing process in the “bleakest winter” they can remember, isolated and with nothing else to do but huddle and create, the band got on their tour bus and soon became Ireland’s biggest independent band, with two top 30 hits and an iTunes chart smash. On the day that the band announced their album release in Ireland last year, it was the only album pre-order higher than Adele on any iTunes store anywhere in the world – a testament to the band’s status in their home country and the story spreading to the UK and internationally this year.
But where they humbly started is obvious in songs such as Tick Tock, Always Be With You, Speeding Cars and Catch Me If You Can, with an emotional connection that only deep-rooted friends possess. This special relationship is just as evident when you sit down with them. As is the sense of listening in to a conversation that sounds like it’s ceaseless, and equal parts piss-taking banter and affectionate bicker. Here, by way of illustration, is their response to a question about precisely when, and how, they formed:
Paul: “Me, Dan and Evan were in a band from when we were about 12, at school.” Patrick: “And I was in a band with Dan’s little brother.” Sorcha: “My brother was in the band as well.” Patrick: “I gave Sorcha a call, I knew she played the piano, and we just started writing together, and pretty soon we both thought, ‘We need to get some more heads in on this.’ At the time, I was playing acoustic guitar, then Paul came in, and he was playing acoustic guitar. As was Sorcha’s brother. Eventually, we realised we had a problem.” Dan: “I was in Australia, working in Sydney, and they put something up on Facebook about trying to find a guitarist. At the time, I was thinking, ‘What do I want to do with my life?’. I’d decided I was coming home, so I sent Paul a message, saying I’d give it a go.”
The careful chaos that ensues from a five-piece band of brothers is apparent, but so is their bond, and love for their hometown – which hosts the annual Other Voices music festival (and boasts a pet dolphin named Fungie in it’s harbour) – “It’s so much part of who we are,” says Dan, “and I think the way the music has developed is a lot to do with the environment we’re in, and how we run our operation.” “We socialise together as well,” explains Sorcha, “and we all have the same friends. We’re lucky that we get to travel; but we’re even luckier that we get to go back there. Plus we can stay there and do what we do, when a lot of people our age have to move away because there aren’t many opportunities.” “It’s tricky in the winter, though,” says Paul. “There’s just nobody there. I can remember, when I was a bit younger, sitting in the pub with these old guys, and thinking, ‘I’ve got to get the hell out of here.’”
Early rehearsals took place in Paul’s kitchen, “but that wasn’t very good for our health,” he chuckles. “So we rented a house, in the middle of nowhere.” “And we’d no transport,” adds Sorcha, “so if we went there, we’d have to stay for a few days.” “There was no internet,” says Paul, nostalgically, “no mobile phone coverage, just a load of instruments, some mics, and us. And we’d take it in turns to cook.” “We like old farmhouses, the more isolated the better,” Paul muses. “Somewhere in town would be too much of a distraction. You know, ‘Er, I’m just popping out to the shop’; and, three pints later … ”
Armed with lyrics that veer between tenderness and anguish, soundscapes that, sit back, intricate and restrained, and then explode into colour, and vocals that roar of heartache and romantic longing, Walking On Cars headed out on the road. They knew that the next step was to test the waters and see if their music could find an audience. “I never really thought of myself as a lead singer,” says Patrick. “I’m pretty shy, and I kind of like to hide behind things. I didn’t realise that being a singer would focus so much attention on me.” (Patrick’s being ridiculously modest: he’s a messianic frontman, hurling himself off the precipice, and taking the band with him.) As expected, Paul has a slightly different angle on the experience of playing live. “For me, sometimes I’ll start saying something on stage and I’ll think, ‘What in the name of God is this stuff coming out of my mouth? Play something! Please save me!’” When she’s managed to stop laughing, Sorcha adds her own take. “Both my parents are uilleann pipers, and growing up, I learnt classical piano.
When the band first started, I didn’t know what I was doing at all. I had to learn to play rhythmically rather than intricately – and that’s even more the case live. We’ve been through a lot in the past two years, played some great gigs and some not so good ones. Local radio has been amazing in Ireland, they really got behind us. Now, it almost feels like we’re starting all over again, but we have the experience from playing so many times back home.”
“It was always about getting as many fans as possible,” Sorcha continues, “playing as many gigs as we could, and pleasing the fans rather than anybody else. And that’s what happened: our shows got bigger and bigger, we were building a fan base, and people started to take notice.” “We spent two years travelling all around Ireland,” says Evan, “and eventually we were selling out every show and scoring numbers. But there was no label involved, no publicists; we were doing everything ourselves. Our only aim was to save money so we could record the album.” “We didn’t chase a record deal at all,” Paul stresses. “We always thought, ‘Let them come to us.’”
Which they duly did, with Virgin EMI winning the day. The early singles Catch Me If You Can and Two Stones were both Top 30 hits in Ireland, the former also topping the iTunes charts there. The As We Fly South and Hand in Hand EPs followed it to the number one spot, as the band hunkered down in the studio with the MyRiot production team of Tim Bran and Roy Kerr (whose past credits include London Grammar, Bloc Party and Foxes) to record their debut album. All the while, the buzz got louder, their epic songs being streamed over 5 million times, selling out three London headline shows last year including The Scala and Electric Ballroom, and dominating Ireland’s most prominent venues, playing two sold out nights at the Olympia in Dublin and Killarney INEC arena. Now, with their much anticipated debut album ‘Everything This Way’ set for release in January, 2016 is theirs for the taking.