A Return to Relish

We loved them in the 90s, and Westlife's bank manager loves them still. Frontman Ken Papenfus on the Downpatrick trio’s comeback tour and album

Relish have been on what you describe as a ‘self-imposed hiatus’. Where were you, what were you doing, and why come back now?

We were meant to be taking a break actually. That was the plan. We ended up working furiously on different projects. It was as if people were waiting for the Relish machine to stop. The offers flooded in for session work, co-writes, production etc. We ended up working with Paul Weller on a European tour and album, and various studio projects – too many to mention. So, what was to be a sabbatical became an immersion into all things musical other than Relish. But in retrospect it was something we needed.

What was it like playing your first gig in nearly five years, in November 2010?

It was a melting pot of emotions really – excitement, fear, relief, joy. But gigs are always that really. At least they should be. Without the near dread at the start of the night then you miss the overcoming, the top-of-the-mountain experience that really makes you want to do it again. We were anxious that we might over-analyse things initially, but things just fell into place in a new, refreshing way.

What has the response been like to the new single, ‘Something to Believe In’?

It has been positive, particularly at home. I don’t think we’ve ever had so much support at home, and it’s made it very special for us. In terms of those that have been following the band, the track was no great surprise, but there are many sides on this record and a few surprises up ahead.

How are you feeling about the forthcoming album Connected, due out on October 24?

Again, mixed emotions. Very new and positive overall. But it really is giving away your baby. And so be it. On a personal level, the record expresses everything we wanted it to. It has been a long journey with loved ones missed along the way, so it’s with a real sense of pride and honour for the two guys and the families we share this life with, and I think the album does justice to those people.

Was the writing and recording process different this time around?

Very different. We went in with old friends Kieran Lynch – who has worked with U2 and Elvis Costello – and Patrick McCall at the engineering helm, and Carl [Papenfus’s drummer brother] and I produced. There were no big-name producers or massive label involvement this time round.

Like the writing process, the recording wasn’t finished until it was finished. I think people in bands reading this will know exactly what I’m talking about here. At times it was climbing Mount Everest, and at times it was catching the perfect wave. I couldn’t have shared it with a better group of people and this album belongs to all of us. Everyone gave it their all.

There was a long gap between recording your third album, Three Times in 2006 and its release in Japan only in 2009. What was the story there?

A very simple one. Three Times and Connected are in fact the same album with some different songs and production on the Japanese-only album. On closer inspection, they are very different.

You have described the new album as ‘almost like the perfect debut’. Does it feel like starting again?

Yes, with so much time and so much change in our lives, it does feel like we are different people now from the last albums. There has also been a change in consciousness in Northern Ireland in the last few years. The youth in this country are so fantastic, and have to be credited for so much positive action. We are lucky to be part of this new wave right now. This album for us represents the new Relish in a new time and place.

The venues on your upcoming Irish tour are perhaps smaller than you’ve been used to. Are you determined to build things back up?

We are on a mission. The fact a band like us exists breaks every rule in the book. Every gig feels so important, necessary, relevant and vital. As long as those elements thrive, the size of the venue becomes much more irrelevant.

What were the pros and cons of Westlife covering ‘Rainbow Zephyr’?

There were no cons. The negativity that could have or even did exist around it was just going to come from the chin-stroking fraternity. And they don’t buy albums. Music is music is music. This was an exercise in sharing the joy of music. It may even have spawned the number of cross-collaborations from our brothers Ash and Snow Patrol with Annie Lennox and Leona Lewis respectively. It pays tribute to the writing talent that is born right here.

Relish have had praise from members of U2 and Queen. What has been the most humbling or surprising feedback you’ve received from a fellow artist?

Any sincere appreciation for what we do as Relish is humbling, from the top down. The ability to produce and communicate art that resonates with someone else – someone you don’t even know – is a gift. A bit of magic.

In the time Relish were away, The Answer have also helped put Downpatrick on the map. Have you followed their career?

The Answer's story is magical – like a fairytale. But what we do know is that those guys have worked incredibly hard to get to where they are now. They’re a very talented and genuine group of people who we have much respect for. Carl helped them out on drums for a while when they were supporting AC/DC in Europe, while their drummer was recovering from an injury. Somehow, I don’t think he minded leaving our rehearsal space to play to 120,000 people a night across Europe!

Ash are also still a major name. What is it about Downpatrick that spawns such world-class acts?

Same again. What a journey. Ash were an unstoppable hurricane. Their presence was so exciting and their longevity in the business is testament to their talents and genuine love for music. Again, respect. They have been an inspiration to many.

The Northern Ireland music industry is arguably the strongest it’s ever been, with the Oh Yeah Music Centre, the Northern Ireland Music Awards and so on. How different is it to the early 1990s when you guys were starting out?

We can’t leave out the pioneers like Therapy? and Ghost of an American Airman. These were the guys that said it could be done, and did it. It is a different landscape in terms of variety. For too long, everything was in the shadow of punk, or post-punk, or whatever you want to call it. There was just so much more to this place than that.

Now there are many musical dimensions being explored and a real sense of self is emerging. Exciting times ahead. We look forward to much more investment in commercially driven arts and music. It’s long overdue.

With our pedigree of artists historically and the emerging talent, we should feel enthused about the future of music here and its international potential, coupled with the fact that we have so many big players from Northern Ireland that have had and still have a huge impact on the music business in the UK, Ireland and internationally.

For readers who may be new to Relish, what would you say to get them down to Auntie Annie’s on October 21?

Just three very ordinary guys that love music for what it is.

Relish play Auntie Annie’s, Belfast, on October 21.