It says something about the demands upon Little Green Cars right now that scheduling will only allow this London writer to meet the Dublin band in Austria. This is life for Ireland’s hottest new rock quintet — a number one act there and rapidly rising over here — arriving on the outskirts of Vienna straight from San Francisco, playing an afternoon set on a small stage, then driving through the night (in a van, mind, not a blacked-out tour bus where they could actually lie down) to another festival in Belgium.
There’s one more festival the following day in the Netherlands, a show in London and then it’s off on their fourth American tour of the past 12 months. All five members are just 21. “How we play depends on how tired we are. Sometimes gigs can be more … emotional,” says singer and main songwriter Stevie Appleby. “Which can make for a good show, I think.” At Chicago’s Lollapalooza festival at the start of this month, co-vocalist Faye O’Rourke developed serious laryngitis and only managed to sing the final song of the set after a shot of steroids. Today, bassist Donagh Seaver O’Leary is attempting to take an afternoon nap on the dressing-room floor with his head resting on a crate of water bottles. Appleby nurses scabbed knuckles from a recent fight in an American bar.
What percentage of their time has been spent at home recently? “Zero,” says the singer, with the wild eyes of a man who could do with at least a week with the curtains closed, mum’s cooking and a tower of box sets.
The work is working, though. Their unoffical sixth member, touring keyboard player Kevin Horan, sees the US venues getting bigger and more crowded every time they go back. He recognises the pattern, having previously served in an Irish band that was successful a decade earlier, The Thrills (Little Green Cars’ manager is Daniel Ryan from the same band).
Little Green Cars were signed to an American record label first (Glassnote, also home of Mumford & Sons and Phoenix) so their debut album, Absolute Zero, has been out over there since March and in Ireland since May (released by Island/Universal).
It is now available for us at last and should not be missed. With all five of them singing, it’s got that Mumfords skyscraping harmonies thing going on but is also a good deal louder — piling on the electric guitars — and more unsettling too. Songs such as My Love Took Me Down to the River to Silence Me leave indelible images in the mind. “If people say we have a cutesy folk thing going on, we’re like, have you listened to any of the lyrics at all?” says O’Rourke.
A doughty girl with a pierced eyebrow and one leg of her jeans rolled up, possibly in the service of fashion, she’s their secret weapon, with a staggering voice when she steps forward to sing the lead on her own songs.
The Kitchen Floor, a piano ballad about a destructive relationship, is an over-whelmingly powerful piece of music. She’s pleased when I recognise the tattoo on the back of her arm as a reference to Watership Down rather than a Playboy bunny, recommending the book for its strange darkness. An only child who attended an all-girl Catholic school while the boys in the group (except Seaver O’Leary) were at another nearby, she easily holds her own in the macho world of the touring band. “They’ve been my best friends since I was 14 and we lived together before we got signed, so it’s not new to me,” she says. “I’ve never particularly missed female company too much. I try to make it feel like an equal playing field.”
Lined up on stage, despite the unity of their harmonies, they don’t really look like a band. Guitarist Adam O’Regan is small and dapper. Drummer Dylan Lynch is wide-eyed and looks too innocent to be circumnavigating the globe. Seaver O’Leary could be a Californian surf dude with vest and broad shoulders. Appleby is a big guy too in an oversized shirt, prone to flights of fancy such as putting a box covered in tin foil on his head to sing Red and Blue, a love song from the perspective of a lonely Martian robot.
“I think creativity saves lives,” says the frontman. “We’ve got a new song on the go now but it’s hard. Your brain is fried and all over the place. You can’t think. It’s not a natural life.”
“I’d absolutely love it if my immune system wasn’t so shitty,” adds O’Rourke. “When I think about the next tour I’m already wondering which antibiotic I’m going to be on.”
At Austria’s Frequency festival, at least, they must be wondering whether it’s all worth it. The stage they are playing on is illustrated on the map in a font like the one at the bottom of the optician’s chart that no human will ever read. It’s inside a windowless concrete warehouse accessible only through an easily missed side door, behind a black curtain, and as a result no more than 100 potential new fans are watching them. Even so, by the end of an exhilarating hour, that handful are pressed to the barriers, whooping like twice their number. It’s not quite a disaster.
“It’s good to have a bad one every now and then, to keep yourself in check,” they claim with stoicism afterwards. There’s no time to dwell on it. Jack Black’s over there in the band canteen and Belgium awaits. Gig by gig, Little Green Cars are heading determinedly in the direction of the big time.