Band of the Day: Dirty Power

All answers to our Band of the Day grilling come from Brendan – vocals, guitars, songwriter. Damn these multi-talented individuals!

Simple things first – where are you guys from?

I’m half Irish, half Belgian. The bigger half is Irish, but the Belgian part is powerful too.

The band has members from all over Europe, depending on what the trio lineup is, for a specific tour or recording session: Scotland, Austria, Poland, Czech Republic, Ukraine.

How did you meet?

While living in London, I gigged with many different bands, crossing paths with some great people and some incredible musicians along the way. Things really clicked with certain players who had a great vibe, plenty of musical ability and a penchant for Guinness.

So when it became time to make my own original effort, I booked a gig in Camden, wrote songs, sent demos to a drummer and a bassist, and told them to meet on stage. The energy was amazing. Since they were playing in other cool bands, a great drummer or bassist could always be borrowed from a member’s other group, if needed. That bred a whole ecosystem of rock musicians, which resulted in the collective that is Dirty Power. Fortunately for me, as the permanent fixture, this meant I got introduced to ever more incredible drummers and bassists to tour and record with.

How long have you been playing as a band?

I think that first Camden gig was in 2013… but that was under a different name, as the whole thing was still taking shape. We’ve been Dirty Power since 2015 and have been playing around bits of Europe since.

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Before you get sick of being asked… where does the band name come from?

I had been mulling over different options and approaches for naming the band for absolutely ages. Eventually, the hope was to combine something like ‘Rage Against The Machine’, or ‘AC DC’ (no-frills band names which just “do what they say on the tin”), with something like ‘Nirvana’ or ‘Muse’, which imply deeper, more meaningful themes. The combination of simple pleasures with the profound resonates really well with what music does for me. So the hope was to capture that sentiment in a name, if only for myself.

During a rehearsal, we were looking for the root cause of a scandalous hissing sound, coming from my effects pedalboard. One of the band’s former bassists shrugged and said “sometimes you just get some dirty power”, in a sort of Forrest Gump “life is like a box of chocolates” kind of way. I immediately jumped on it – “that’s the band name!”. It clicked with so many of the things I wanted in a band name, especially since “Dirty” is slang in Ireland for “fucking good”. Like, “I’d love a big, dirty pint of Guinness right now”, or “that riff is absolute dirt”. Plus the symbolism of power and electricity has plenty of relevant meanings, which many of our influences have made great use of. Dirty Power also implies corruption, as well as a power which has been dragged through the mud and somehow made it out the other side. I had enough of the pain in the arse of obsessing over finding the right name anyway. Dirty Power it was, is and remains.

What are your influences?

At first glance, it’s Nirvana, Rage Against The Machine and Dream Theater. Then there’s a deeper well of influences: Rammstein, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Radiohead, Silverchair, Rodrigo y Garbiela, AC DC, Muse, Audioslave, Satriani, Foo Fighters, Pearl Jam, Thin Lizzy, Metallica, Led Zeppelin, Soundgarden, Smashing Pumpkins, Queen…

Describe your music. What makes you unique?

Dirty Power was born out of what blew me away at rock festivals, with a punk DIY ethic of what blew me away about how our influences started out. Our combination of Metal, Alt Rock and Punk sensibilities, bridge the gap between focus, reckless abandon and groove. It’s a rare mix, that you can sing and bounce along to, while knowing that there’s an intense progressive instrumental section just around the corner. We’ll be screaming our way over massive, grooving riffs, to kick a hole in the roof.

We also do acoustic shows, which are more like the ‘Unplugged’ series from back in the day. The songs are written intentionally to work in both settings, so it’s cool to be able to change it up when it’s right to do so, because so much of the acoustic tradition informed our influences too.

We combine the old with the new, which comes out in our songwriting, touring and recording. Our whole setup is extremely old school, “no-frills”, and we record the band together, live, to capture the energy that’s right for this music, instead of separately, onto laptops. The approaches and songs reflect the traditions of our influences, while adding our own inflections, to contribute our part.

Do you have any particular lyrical themes?

Life, death, consciousness, the human condition, good times, bad times, redemption, the cosmic and the colloquial…

The lyrics are intensely personal, while intentionally also leaving room for interpretation, to group and universal levels. I’m a sucker for layers of multiple meanings and the combination of light and dark themes.

For example, our very first single – ‘The End’ – was written around the time my father was dying of cancer. It was an intensely transformational time, in many ways. But of course I realised that this experience of losing a father, or a key person in your life, wasn’t uniquely mine at all. It’s something awful, that is overcome by many people every day. So it’s no coincidence that our first ever release starts with questions – “is this the end? the end of me?” – not only because of what I was going through, but also what he must have been going through – what we all dread to go through at some point… While at the same time, questions about the end of “me”, as a concept, represented a new, redemptive beginning. That’s reflected in the chorus, which was inspired by becoming more aware of the parts yourself that are indestructible – a sentiment which we open our live sets with to this day. We pour all that into the most simple words we can.

Each song on our ‘Notions’ debut EP is full of that approach to lyrics and songwriting. Apart from any band’s first release being an ambitious first attempt at formulating sounds and ideas, the double meaning of “delusions of grandeur” (for ‘Notions’) fit perfectly for what we (or any rock band) could be accused of. In Ireland, if you leave for London and develop such delusions, you’re said to have developed “notions”. It’s not about acting like a big shot. Nevertheless, if artistic ‘delusions of grandeur’ are what it takes to make good music, I’m all for it.

’iDenial’ is about the role of human vulnerabilities in modern technology and which choice to overcome all that. Our latest single ‘Oh God’ is a double take on the primitive parts of us, that bumble around with ideals, bordering on religious worship. It came out of a sense that even the most highly-revered pursuits are not immune to mistakes or even corruption. But if somehow all of our endeavours, all of life, or all of reality was wiped out, compromised, or somehow corrupted, the ensuing ‘big bang’ (metaphorically or otherwise) would still see living things striving to sharpen their minds and to overcome adversity. So there’s a resilience, defiance and relentless energy to be celebrated in that.

All this, with catchy choruses you sing loudly with a beer in your hand and one in your belly.

What’s your live show like? How many shows have you played?

Our live set is a no-frills, alt hard-rock gig, which has been honed by touring. It’s drums, bass, guitar and vocals. For us, it’s more about making everyone a part of what’s happening, than putting on a trippy laser show. It’s less “look at me”, and more “This is fucking great! Isn’t rock music great?!”

When we’re playing in different countries, we like to include our take on something from our local influences there. In Germany – ‘Los’ by Rammstein (yes, in German), in England it’s ‘Immigrant Song’ by Led Zeppelin, in Ireland it can be ‘Million Miles Away’ by Rory Gallagher, in a Danish place it was ‘Waterline’ by Dizzy Miss Lizzy… Just a respectful tip of the cap to the local rock tradition.

The occasional stripped-down acoustic sets came out of a total love of Nirvana’s Unplugged album, combined with the realities of playing in some tiny venues with a great vibe. It’s been great for the touring backbone of the band, to play in lots of small rock bars. Playing places where real music fans and rockers hang out all the time, has been formative for the band’s songwriting and performing.

I don’t know how many shows we’ve played. Loads. We’ve toured under the radar, supporting other bands, in a few different countries, in so many different settings, for a number of years. That’s because I wanted to have that old-school foundation, before looking for any attention. It’s great that people are noticing Dirty Power more and more.

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What’s the wildest thing you’ve seen or done at a live show?

I’m not about to stick a bat up my arse on stage, just to get attention, if that’s what you mean. I’m happy to leave that to the die-hard attention-seekers out there. Maybe I will some day, but stunts or gimmicks purely for attention never did much for me, so it’s not likely to happen soon. Our dressing up as monkeys and going out in public for our latest video, to make a specific statement, was part of a storyline that was relevant to the song. So it wasn’t “acting wild”, just for the sake of it. Quite the opposite. There was meaning to it.

One time, a band that was on before us, started cutting themselves with a knife and spitting the blood from their arms at the crowd. They claimed that this was symbolic of their “bleeding for the music scene and their art”. Some ‘shock-rock’ can be great, but I don’t think things worked out too well for them that night.

What kit do you use / guitars do you play / etc.?

We have a simple, plug-and-play setup, so can make almost anything work. The road has taught us to rely on our playing, rather than any gear. We travel very light and keep a few tricks up our sleeves, for when equipment fails. Because sometimes it does, especially when it’s provided locally and it’s out of our control. Often a band we’re opening for, or a venue, will want us to use their gear to save time, hassle, or stage space. It’s all good. We make it happen.

I regularly use three electrics and one acoustic. The electrics are all strat-style, with two humbuckers and a coil tap: one G&L, one Fender, one seven-string Music Man. The acoustic is a Martin. For an amp I’ve been using Mesa Boogie, but am looking at ways to include Marshalls. Both have equally relevant characters for Dirty Power. Mesa for metal, Marshall for rock. Again, if everything fails, my pedalboard will get us there.

Bass switches between Fender, Music Man and Yamaha, but always goes through Ampeg. Unless the amps situation goes tits up. Then it’s DI, through a great MXR pedal.

Drums, we mix and match for a secret sauce. But it’s all low-tech, straight ahead rock gear. I’d rather have the right drummer clapping his hands, than the wrong one with a double kick drum.

What, if anything, are you plugging/promoting at the moment?

Our latest video is out, for the single ‘Oh God’. We risked getting in a lot of trouble to film it. It’s about what primitive parts of us inform what leads us on in life: sex, religion, money, power, or anything we might really think we want more of (regardless of how sophisticated we might think it is)… and questioning whether what we pursue or worship is the real deal.

For the video, we didn’t have any permits, so we “didn’t” go to London’s ‘Speaker’s Corner’, in Hyde Park, where people stand on soap-boxes and profess their views about anything to anyone who might be passing by. (If you’ve never heard of London’s ‘Speaker’s Corner’, check it out. It’s a place where crowds gather to have real go at one another. Shouting matches can be political, religious, just bizarre, or all of the above. But things can get very heated when strongly-opinionated people wave their favourite books at each other. The police are often hovering nearby.) Anyways, we went there dressed as monkeys and threw bananas at each other. Watch the video for the full story, but people started gathering and filming us on their phones, as I suspected they might, so we got out of there, before anyone asked why one of the monkeys was dressed as a bishop, with a towel on his head, a belt of bullets and waving sex toys around.

What are your plans for 2020?

The plan is to survive the pandemic first. My lord, this year has sucked for so many of us. We don’t want any part in bringing crowds of people together, until it’s a good idea to do so. But we are itching to play live again. Our plan is to continue with the touring in Ireland and the UK, adding Germany soon, and the US after that. We’re looking forward to including some cool, small-scale ideas online before then. We’ve also still got our current single ‘Oh God’ to celebrate. There’s actually another single, music video and accompanying instrumental track ready for release already, with more stuff being written as we speak. So the creativity hasn’t stopped, and we’ll roll with the unpredictable, by continuing to make things that matter to us.

If you were second on a three-band bill, which band would you love to be supporting and which band would you choose to open for you? A chance to plug someone you’ve toured with, or a mate’s band we’ve not heard of before!

For an electric gig, it would be Irish proggy duo Bicurious (for their heavy and eclectic musicality) and Cork punkers Audible Joes (for their fans and relentless live energy). For an acoustic setup, it would be Acoustic Headtrip Project (for their atmospheric soundscapes) and Irish acousti-metalheads The Scratch (for their tight riffing and general craic).

Dirty Power: official | facebook | bandcamp | youtube

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