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Whipping Boy - Interview

  by John Clarkson

published: 13 / 3 / 2012

Whipping Boy - Interview


Ferghal McKee from 1990's Dublin-based alternative rock act Whipping Boy speaks to John Clarkson about his band's recent reformation and first single in sixteen years, ‘No One Takes Prisoners Anymore /Earth’s Last Picture'

Whipping Boy was a Dublin-based alternative rock act of the 1990s. The group became renowned for both the stage antics of its front man Ferghal McKee and the intensity of its music. Whipping Boy, which formed in 1990, released its debut album, ‘Submarine’, in 1992 on indie label Liquid Records, before signing to the major label Columbia Records, with whom it released its second album, ‘Heartworm’, in 1995. While ‘Submarine’ owed a debt to My Bloody Valentine and Spaceman 3, ‘Heartworm’ had a shoegazing influence, which it combined with McKee’s often abrasive and violent lyrics. Despite selling 70, 000 copies and touring in support of Lou Reed to promote ‘Heartworm’, Whipping Boy was dropped by Columbia. The group’s final album, ‘Whipping Boy’, a powerful set of torch songs, was released posthumously on the band’s own Low Rent label in 2000 two years after it had disbanded. Whipping Boy toured briefly in 2005 in its original line-up of McKee (vocals), Paul Page (guitar), Colm Hassett (drums) and Myles McConnell (bass), and with the addition of Killan McGowan (guitar) who has played with group since 1993. The band reformed again more permanently last year with McKee, Hassett and McConnell being joined by new members Joey McGowan (bass), Finn O’ Connor (guitar) and Alan d’Arcy (saxophone/keyboards). They released their first single since 1996, ‘No One Takes Prisoners Anymore /Earth’s Last Picture’, on download on Rocket Girl in March. Pennyblackmusic spoke to Ferghal McKee about Whipping Boy’s return. PB: Whipping Boy toured with Lou Reed as his support act on his European tour of 1996. You had by that stage become renowned for your stage excesses, which had seen you amongst other things wrap your face in cling film, cut yourself with broken glass and strip off on stage. I saw you at a show at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall on that tour. There was nothing like that that night, but I do remember it as being still one of the most intense shows that I have ever seen. Were things as intense off the stage with Whipping Boy as they were on the stage? FM: Creative energy is intense and it doesn't matter how it is made. What matters is how it is conducted, and Whipping Boy in all its forms have always enjoyed playing with the energy it creates. As a band, we always play for the moment. PB: Your lyrics were also fairly hard-hitting, The central themes of ‘Heartworm’ seemed to be about losing a grip on everyday life and deteriorating relationships, ‘We Don’t Need Anybody Else’ from that album, which was a Melody Maker Single of the Week, attracted some controversy and you were accused of misogyny with the line “I hit you for the first time today.” It seemed, however, to be a song about someone destroying themselves and everything they loved. Would that be a fair interpretation? FM: There are a lot of themes running through both 'We Don't Need...'and the LP. Like life, it is complex but it is not for me to explain it for you. There are lots of people that can identify with it. If anything 'Heartworm' is as pertinent now as it was when it came out in 1996. PB: Your last album, ‘The Whipping Boy’, came out in 2000 two years after you had split up. Is it true that you split up the day after recording it? You had by stage been dropped by Columbia, despite selling 70, 000 copies of ‘Heartworm’. How much had been that a factor in the group’s ultimate decision to split? Were there any other factors? FM: We kind of knew it was on its last legs back in 1998. No one had the energy to pursue the dream anymore, beyond the band. Life seemed more inviting. We had milked ourselves dry. It was no one's fault, just life taking its toll. It was an album about the end of a relationship and we were all happy to see it end. PB: For your latest single you have gone full circle and released it through Rocket Girl, which is run by Vinita Joshi, who also released your first two EPs, ‘The Whipping Boy’ and ‘I Think I Miss You’ with her then label Cheree Records. Why did you return to working with Vinita? FM: We always kept in touch down through the years.Vinita had helped God is an Astronaut a few years back and she liked some of the stuff I had done with them, so when we were thinking of a UK release it made sense to approach Rocket Girl first. Plus she is a fan of music and someone whose opinion we respect. PB: The first track on the new single, ‘No One Takes Prisoners Anymore’ was co-written with the Irish singer-songwriter Martin A. Egan., who we have just interviewed at Pennyblackmusic and has described you to us as “the only band that could give the Fall a good run for their money.” How did that song writing collaboration come together and who contributed what? FM: In 2009 I was in a band called the Shitty Shit Shits, and Martin rang me out of the blue and asked if would I like to play a show with him in Dublin. We've been chatting ever since and during one of those conversations he read me 'Crazy Love Affair'. It blew me away and I asked him could if I could use it over a pop song we had just written. Martin, being the generous soul that he is, said, "Go ahead and do something with it." The fact that it was written in the 1980s just makes it all the more potent. PB: The other track, ‘Earth’s Last Picture’, seems like a throwback to your early My Bloody Valentine influences. Would you agree? FM: To our ears its nothing like My Bloody Valentine. If anything, I would like to think of it as a throwback to John Adams and his 'Nixon in China' period. With the guitars there is a classical feel to them, which I would to explore more in the future. It is also a poem by Kipling written in 1892 which shows the same cycle of shit keeps happening over and over again and, like Martin A Egan's song shows, how bereft man is at changing anything for the good of things. PB: Whipping Boy is now playing in a new line-up of which only yourself and Colm Hassett remain from the original gorup. Both Paul Page and Myles McDonell are gone. Why have they decided not to join this reformation? FM: We have added Joey on bass, Finn on guitar and Alan on sax. Killian who plays guitar has been playing with Whipping Boy since 1993. Paul and Myles have other commitments and declined not to rejoin. PB: The group reformed in its original line-up in 2005 for a small tour. There was talk of doing an album then, but it never happened. Are these latest dates and the new download single the start of something bigger? Will there be an album? FM: I don't know whether it is the start of something bigger but it is the rebirth of a musical odyssey. We will, however, be doing a new album. PB: You have largely confined yourself to shows in London and Ireland since you got back together last year. Will there be also more dates? FM: We have more dates planned for later this year. PB: The three Whipping Boy albums to date are all musically very different from each other. What direction will the new album go in if there is one? FM: At the moment we are collecting ideas for the new LP which we'd love to have out in October. At the moment we don't have a clue what direction the album is going to take, but we have been talking to Sun Ra. PB: Thank you.

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Whipping Boy - Interview

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