Ireland’s next BIG export
Words: Todd K Smith
The journey is what counts the most, all the places and people you meet along the way. That’s the beauty of traveling…you’re moving and it’s always unpredictable. ~ Dermot Doherty, The Plea
There’s something familiar about The Plea’s music. Somewhere, etched in their lyrical use of folk, country, rock and pop they’ve found soul - a soul that beats with a modern edge while remaining honest, passionate and fearless. This month the quartet release Nothin But Trouble, a four-song teaser, that will lead up to their debut Modern Chaos out later in the year. On our recent visit to the emerald Isle, we caught their single “Nothin But Trouble” blaring from the radio. There was a renewed excitement in their music one that sounds current with a nod to the past while still maintaining its heritage roots. It had integrity with a memorable hook, like listening to The Beatles’ Rubber Soul. It convinced us The Plea is really on to something special.
Hailing from the village of Ballyliffen, Donegal County, on the northern coast of Ireland, brothers Denny (vocals/guitar/piano) and Dermot (guitar) Doherty were raised on a steady diet of The Dubliners, Clancy Bros, Planxty and Clannad with a health dose of Thin Lizzy, U2 and Rory Gallagher. Always musical, the two gravitated toward song writing eventually moving to London, then to Minnesota. “Myself and Denny lived in the same apartment,” Dermot told us of their adventure. “We wrote a lot of songs together or maybe finished off each other’s songs. It was mostly acoustic and we’d write ‘n play most nights until the dawn, then go straight to the next gig and play the songs we had written the night before.” A good judge to their ability was once they got to the gig, if they could remember the song/songs from the night before they’d play them live. “If we couldn’t remember, we’d just assume it must not have been worth remembering.”
After several months, the two pieced together a band. A talent scout for a US label, who’d seen them play London’s Barfly, convinced them to relocate to Boston and record several songs for a proposed album. “Everything about the journey made us better at playing music,” remembers Dermot. “It was like a working lesson in music and you got paid in inspiration. At one stage, we were playing seven nights a week and sometimes, doing a couple of gig’s a day amidst recording. We just soaked it all up. It was literally playing music around the clock and the excitement was there and the places inspired us.” A roadblock stalled the band when a recording contract was not forthcoming and the brothers retuned to Ballyliffen.
Still determined to continue as a band, the Doherty’s regrouped and started looking for a rhythm section. “There’s always been too many guitarists here,” says Dermot about returning to Ireland. “Never enough bass players and drummers, even our bass player Paul is a guitarist.” In short order the brothers convinced bassist Paul Toland and drummer Gerry Strawbridge to join forces. “We’ve lived most our lives in the same town as Paul. One night I was having a few pints with him and he said he’d be interested. Now, Paul’s left-handed and the bass we use is right-handed so he plays it upside down with the bass string on the low end. It makes for a great style of playing and is never boring. I guess he could buy a left-handed bass but then he'd feel he's no longer a guitarist and that revelation could be disastrous!
“Gerry we met in a recording studio in Donegal, we needed a new drummer as usual, and Gerry was in the studio while we were putting some finishing touches on some of our demos. He kept wandering in and out and suggesting a rhythm for this and a beat for that. A week later we were all together in Denny’s gaff and working on a couple of new tunes we had written - Gerry just got it and understood what we where looking for. ‘Praise Be’ he’s not a guitarist who plays the odd bit of drums! He’s a real drummer who only plays drums!”
With a solid line up in place, the band, now dubbed The Plea has been working on a consistent pattern of song writing. A rich texture and vast soundscape has woven together songs like the sweeping “Nothin But Trouble” with stadium rocker “Beatnik Street” to the more subtle Kinks-inspired “Dream Machine” and rhythm-center “Feel it Ticking.” Says Dermot, “It also depends on what we are listening to but we still end up at The Beatles and Stones, and early Rock n Roll records. Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde gets played a lot these days but so does Television. We’ve always been into melody and if there’s no melody in a song then there’s no song. Even the hardest Punk song can have a sweet melody.”
Dermot sees himself first and foremost as the guitarist in the band. His tone is unique and fluid with a tip-of-the-hat to Rory Gallagher and U2’s The Edge. “U2 are one of the all time great bands as far as we’re concerned,” says the guitarist. “I’ve always had a less-is-more approach to the guitar. I’ve been addicted to the instrument since the first time I played and it makes me feel connected - something more than strings and wood. I still learn something new every time I pick it up and it’s definitely an infinite instrument, it’s even shaped like the number 8. There’s a tune or two by us floating around with mandolins and banjo. Those instruments are inside anybody who grew up in a small Irish village, it’s impossible for Irish folk music not to influence you if you grow up where we did.”
Though they both write songs, Dermot is quick to praise his brother. “Denny and I write differently, but he’s more prolific. Some days we sit down and it’s all there, other days we finish a case without writing a word. Denny sounds like a cross between Jim Morrison and Little Richard. He sings a lot of high melody like old Gospel and Blues. It works for us ‘cause we feel we write songs for everyday people by everyday people - with a lot of soul. Our travels keep it interesting with tales worth telling and our best songs have been done very quickly. That being said, if I think a lyric is pointless I’ll tell him and vice versa. We want the best, that’s the goal. Lately Denny’s been playing a lot of piano (not a keyboard - a dodgy, out-of-tune, off-the-back-of-a-truck piano, but a real piano none the less). It’s more blues ended and it’s leading us in a whole new direction with an emphasis on riffs, groove and feel.”
The Plea recently signed to Apollo Records, an indie offshoot of R&S Records. “We got inspired by Renaat and Sabine from R&S Records and their deep passion for music,” says Dermot. “They have a serious amount of faith in our music and in these times that’s an unusual thing.” Listening to songs like the surging “Forever Gone” the acoustic Stones-like “Neon Dream” and Beatles-inspired “Hello” shows a band comfortable in what they are doing. “It’s like ‘a moment of clarity,” says Dermot, “and it’s contagious. If music can take us around the world, then we’re going. And if it all falls apart in the morning then, so what? I’ll still play guitar and Denny will still sing. It’s great to get to record and get out there and play, these are things we know we can do and as for the rest it all depends on God’s good humor…and R&S Records.”
Check out The Plea's MySpace page for purchasing their Nothin But Trouble EP, it can be bought all over the world online through MySpace, itunes, amazon. HMV, etc…
Website: The Plea
*For all our readers and fans of THE PLEA, they have sent us their brilliant new song “Praise Be” from their sessions with famed producer Chris Potter (Blur, The Verve, U2) to share with you as a free download. This is a monster of a song with a huge hook. Get it by clicking here.