There are bountiful clichÃ©s about the “difficult second-album syndrome” – but for Little Green Cars, the pressures that mounted during the creation of their recent sophomore effort, Ephemera, were more personal than commercial.
After the breakout success of 2013’s debut Absolute Zero, the Irish indie-folk quintet – who make their UAE debut this weekend with a pair of gigs at McGettigan’s in Abu Dhabi and Dubai – embarked on a relentless two-year world tour that included live shows in the United States at Coachella and Lollapalooza, and a TV appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.
But living through what should have been a dream come true did not come without a cost – relationships with partners back home broke down, and two members lost close family members while on the road.
All of which made Ephemera – released this year and named after a Yeats poem – an album of reflection, redemption and catharsis. Driven by acoustic guitars and airy, windswept arrangements, there are sad songs, tackling grief and self-doubt – but with a sense of a glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel.
“The word ephemera means something that’s important, but only for a short amount of time,” says guitarist Adam O’Regan, who suffered the loss of his father, who died of a heart attack at the age of 49.
“To us, that means in life things come and go, the light fades out and things die and pass away – but in that same breath, things are born, and it’s only by confronting that process of change that you can learn anything.
“People say it’s a sad record, it’s depressing – but it’s the opposite to us: it’s a record about hope and about life as much as it’s about death.”
Nowhere is this more clear than on the song Brother, which O’Regan wrote for his younger sibling, Alex, following their father’s death.
One verse, performed on the record by band member Faye O’Rourke, goes: “When daddy died / I guess that I went crazy / Was a hell of a ride / Yeah but lately, I’ve been doing all right”.
“So many people tell me this song got them through a difficult period of their lives,” says 24-year-old O’Regan. “The music is no longer yours. It goes from being something so innately personal to something universal – it’s a very special feeling.”
His father, Hugh, was a renowned businessman who, before the financial crash of 2008, oversaw a network of pubs and hotels worth hundreds of millions of euros. He also was a supporter of his son’s musical ambitions – and famously came up with the band’s kooky name.
A group of school friends who began playing together in their teens, O’Regan and singer/guitarist Stevie Appleby initially had decided, somehow, on the name Little Red Cars.
“My father said, ‘Why not Little Green Cars? Because they’re what’s going to save the world’,” says O’Regan. “It just sounded so poetic to me.”
That conversation was in 2007, five years before the band signed to New York indie label Glassnote Entertainment – also home to Mumford & Sons, a clear early influence on Little Green Cars.
Their debut album, Absolute Zero, was a markedly more upbeat collection, in the then-vogue folk-revival model, which earned them a place alongside The Weeknd, Savages and Chvrches on the annual critics’ poll, BBC Sound of 2013.
While it was only three years ago, O’Regan says he barely recognises the band who wrote those early songs, the lyrics of which were primarily concerned with matters of the juvenile heart. Having survived the coming-of-age traumas of Ephemera, the cogs of Little Green Cars are running smoother then ever.
“There’s been ups and downs, but as we stand now, it’s beyond friends – it’s family,” he says. “We’re feeling stronger as people. The sombreness has faded for me a lot, and I feel happy in life.
“All we know how to do is make things together, and if we can continue to do this until we’re 90, that would be a beautiful thing.”
• Little Green Cars perform at McGettigan’s Abu Dhabi, Al Raha, on Thursday, August 25 at 10pm, and The Baggot @ McGettigan’s JLT, Dubai, at 9.30pm on Friday. Entry is free to both shows
Source: art & life