My wife is entrenched in Seattle’s yoga community, so when a friend invited us to a free concert this Friday at the Center for Spiritual Living, I figured what better way to end the week than a few hours incense, sitar and chakra cleansing. Much to my surprise, the headline act is going to be an Irish pop band called Size2Shoes. Always on the lookout for the next big thing, I went to the band’s website to preview their music.
They seem like nice, wholesome lads; and their music recalls a lite Barenaked Ladies filtered through the Flight of the Conchords. Their completely unbelievable bio, however, namedrops more celebrities than a USC School of Film grad trying to talk his way into Quentin Tarantino’s pool party.
Reading it, I felt like an American tourist being played by the charming locals while pub crawling thru Europe. So I tracked down the Brothers
McMullen O Suilleabhain, Moley and Owen, to do a little fact checking:
So a guy walks into a bar, in this case Oscar-winning actor Russell Crowe, and strikes up a friendship and musical partnership with charming two local lads. Were you performing that night? Who first struck up the conversation?
Moley: Well here’s the scoop, it all starts with the late great Irish actor Richard Harris, who starred alongside Russell in Gladiator.
Owen: Russell was invited to unveil a statue of Harris in Kilkee, a small town on the west coast of Ireland. Russell had written a song dedicated to Harris and wanted a 60-piece choir to be there to sing it with him. Some people on the local town council knew me and Moley and booked us to be in the choir.
M: We first met Russell with his good friend and producer Alan Doyle (Great Big Sea) in a little pub.
O: So, we walked up to the pub where Russell was, it surrounded by a milling crowd and his two ex-special forces body guards. We pushed our way up to him and said, “Howya. We’re the choir.”
M: We got to singing the song and a load more and had a real blast of a weekend as part of his caravan.
O: A great friendship ensued.
Your early demos were recorded at the studios of Bill Whelan (Riverdance) — as your slightly less unbelievable bio says, “in the wilds of Connemara on the west coast of Ireland.” I picture you trekking your gear through the Irish jungle, guided only by a scruffy faced Michael Flatley. Take us inside those sessions. Were you allowed to use your arms?
M: There was no sign of Michael Flatley during these demo sessions. Bill and our dad are both classical and traditional composers. We played a few tunes for Bill in our home one day and he invited us to his private studio to demo two of our songs.
O: Actually, Bill’s home in Connemara was previously owned by Sting. Sting saw a ghost there in that house. And then one morning a local came to door and punched him in the face for no particular reason.
M: This was our first studio experience and it was in a world class set up with an engineer and everything. We owe a lot to Bill Whelan, he was the first person to give us real encouragement and recognize that our voices and songs were worth investing in. We love Riverdance too, that album is absolutely epic. We play that Riverdance tune at the end of a night and the place goes bonkers.
Russell Crowe is listed as an executive producer on your debut album. Was his job primarily about keeping you caffeinated during the sessions?
O: Russell certainly inspires us to be the best we can be; he’s such a hard and dedicated worker and just being in his atmosphere inspires that in us too. The moment he heard our first self-produced album he was already talking about our next album.
M: Russell wasn’t present for a lot of the recording process, but he encouraged us to record and set us up with Alan Doyle for some sessions. We were blown away at his support. That he was willing to put his name down as official exec producer is a real honor. He once said to us “Boys, in five years you guys should be well on the way to world domination’!” I mean what a feckin legend and hilariously charismatic friend to have. His wife Danni is also amazingly down to earth and lovely.
O: As with many of his friends, he really encourages you to persevere with your performance. So, he kept us caffeinated in the inspirational sense.
Russell Crowe: I’m a huge fan of Size2shoes. From the inspired mastery of their harmonies, to the streetwise intellect of their humours. Unique, unaffected, awesome. — as told via the band’s moderately unbelievable bio — but after reading their twitter chats with King Crowe, I’m beginning to believe at least this particular tall tale is true).
What were your roles in Steven Spielberg’s The War Horse?
O: Moley was the village vicar and I his ecclesiastical assistant.
M: Unfortunately our Hollywood movie debut didn’t see the light of day!
Did you at least make the outtake reel on the DVD?
O: Unfortunately, no footage of us in the outtakes, but that role really did introduce us to the working world of major Hollywood acting — the amazing thing was that we felt right at home on the set, so you never know, there may be more movie appearances down the road.
Did Crowe get you the gig?
M: We actually met Steven Spielberg and his wife Kate Capshaw on a tour in Ireland. They are big fans of the Irish poet David Whyte and we sing with David for his tour of Ireland every year. A year to the day after meeting and hanging out with them, they rang us and said get over to England and sing this song!
Any aspirations to join the Broadway show of the same name?
M: We are full of admiration for any theatre/stage/Broadway and movie actors, but we have no realistic aspirations to become full time actors. We love singing and rocking out!
If you two had to each had to pick a film to go back in time to cameo in, who would co-star in Once and who would co-star in The Commitments?
O: Interestingly, Glen Hansard not only stars in Once, but also had a small part in the Commitments; but I would have to pick the Commitments for myself. Originally a book by the genius Irish writer Roddy Doyle, the music and entertainment value of that movie is today still astonishing — it hasn’t dated one bit.
Quick sidebar, so long as I have your attention: When I was in Dublin for a wedding, I was told to beware of running into Galway girls at the pubs. By any chance would you know why?
M: Whoever told you to beware of lovely Galway girls is a fool. Galway is in the west of Ireland and the best fun on Earth is had there.
O: I have it on very good authority that all women from Galway are actually constructed with an endoskeleton of Connemara marble. Therefore, any running into them will only lead to injury with a high possibility of severe brain damage. It is either that reason or it’s that they are too intelligent.
M: Galway girls have a very high libido as well as having a massive tolerance for alcohol. Luckily for you Galway girls don’t frequent Dublin pubs, in fact they rarely leave their houses except to milk the cows or go to the Internet cafe.
In the next few months, you’re playing at the Centre for Spiritual Living in Seattle, the Sony Pictures studio lot in LA, The Gramercy Theater in New York, plus a house party (Minneapolis), a garden, a ranch, an ecology center and a hotel in California. What’s left on your bucket list of venues?
M: We love venues that are outside the traditional music industry. We love sacred spaces to sing in too. There are very few places that we haven’t sung in! I suppose a cruise ship would be definitely a box ticked!
O: Carnegie Hall with Sir Paul McCartney… and Seasame Street!
Is your stage show that flexible?
M: We bring together all the musical elements that we have learned through our family, education and tradition in Ireland. The live show is quite simple, using processional Gregorian chant and Irish language a cappella song to create a deep mood, we set that off with upbeat traditional English language Irish songs and our own pop songs and a few stories about the songs and how we ended up where ever we are at the time.
O: Moley beatboxes and raps too.
M: Owen is a world-class guitar player. We swing between ancient traditional and ultra modern pop with a few laughs! It’s a self made show, but definitely with an Irish flavour and a lot of respect for the different traditions that we are part of.
If you could have one of the following acts tour with you, would it be the recently reformed Shoes, 80’s hitmakers NuShooz or Kelly (Liam Kyle Sullivan) the comely lass who scored 48 million YouTube views with her song, Shoes?
M: I’d say the girl with 48 million views would be my choice, we could do an unplugged version of her songs!
O: The band Shoes are a serious 70s throw back. Love the hair those guys had. Love NuShooz too. Moley would do a wicked 80s old-skool rap over that one!!!
Finally — what’s next? A new album? Movies? TV? Theater? Novels?
M: Moley is dabbling in poetry and we are speaking more and more during our set. Trying to deepen our narrative if you will. New album of sacred song on the way as well as releasing the album that Russell is involved with.
From their 2009 self-titled debut:
From their upcoming album, ahem, executive produced by Russell Crowe:
And finally, if you’re like me and were raised on the musical stylings of Enigma, you’ll be surprised to learn that actual Gregorian Chant is really hard to dance to:
As a bonus, here is Size2Shoes taking on the King of Pop: