Six Star Treatment
Sixstarhotel are the band making it work on their own terms, says Francis Jones
LISTEN to Sixstarhotel: Colour The Mess (1mb)
Although they’ve been together for almost five years, Sixstarhotel remain something of an unknown commodity to the majority of NI natives. However, that seems set to change in 2007 with their debut LP.
Prepare to check-in and check out the service as Sixstarhotel offer up muscular, melodic and heartfelt indie-rock of the very highest order.
The Sixstarhotel story bears an uncanny similarity to that of another, somewhat more renowned, NI outfit. Like their famous predecessors Snow Patrol, the boys left Irish shores to seek their musical schooling in Scottish climes.
After finishing their A-levels the four-piece moved to Glasgow, determined to focus on music full-time.
As vocalist David Clements acknowledges, it was a brave decision for the fledgling outfit to take.
‘It was quite bold because we moved over and we hadn’t even organised to have a flat to move into. We just stayed with a friend, quite shamelessly hoping that he would put us up, which he did.’
Bold certainly, but as drummer Neil Gillespie suggests, it was also somewhat ‘naïve’. However, the band would soon reap the rewards of their foolhardy decision.
‘Eventually we got a flat quite close to the centre of Glasgow,’ says Gillespie. ‘It was great because we gigged hard enough that we had sufficient money to cover our rent.
'It was good to get away, and that enabled us to get into that mind frame of trying to do music full-time: rehearsing, gigging, trying to be an independent band. I don’t know if we’d remained in Northern Ireland that we could have given it our full attention.’
With their base in Glasgow, Clements, Gillespie, Matt Minford (bass) and Tim Anderson (lead guitar), found they were able to establish Sixstarhotel as a UK outfit, rather than being limited by the mental and geographical confines of the NI music scene.
‘Living on the mainland was a massive benefit to us,’ asserts Gillespie. ‘It’s a lot easier to get gigs in different venues; different locations, maybe Dundee or maybe we’d drive down from Scotland to London. There are loads of places throughout the UK which you can play and you only realise that’s possible when you’re over there.’
As Clements points out it was not as if the band were abandoning a grand NI empire in choosing to operate out of Glasgow.
‘We weren’t by any means an established NI act. Before we moved we’d only played one or two Auntie Annie’s gigs. In fact I think we were more widely known in other countries, for example, we’d played a number of shows in Holland which had gone pretty well and we picked up a few fans along the way.
'Moving over to Glasgow was about opening other doors, it wasn’t necessarily because we thought we’d done it all in Northern Ireland.’
‘That’s the nice thing, it means that when we do come back to Northern Ireland we can keep it special,’ enthuses Gillespie. ‘We haven’t overplayed Northern Ireland. So it’s nice to come back and build it up back home.’
‘Build it up’ could be the credo of this relentlessly hard working band.
‘It sounds really glamorous when we talk about a UK tour, but half the time the reality is that you’re playing desperate pubs in front of 20 or 30 people and getting paid with half a crate of beer,’ observes the sticksman.
‘However, the fact that you’re getting people to know your band, that’s what it’s all about. It’s great to go to these different cities, starting from scratch and slowly build up it over time. It’s quite humbling, but also hugely rewarding.’
The sense of a band who’ve had to strive, who appreciate life’s trials as much as triumphs is forcibly conveyed in the music, music that Clements describes as ‘energetic punchy rock with melody’. The lyrics have a certain emotional timbre that others would struggle to approximate.
‘It’s more about themes than reporting of actual events,’ says the frontman. ‘To be honest I just sit down and whatever comes out, that’s it. It could be nothing more than a turn-of-phrase, or it might well be something inspired by life or spirituality, whatever.’
Although the band has already released three EPs, it was only with the most recent of these releases, ‘These Rosewood Theories’ that Sixstarhotel truly felt they had obtained a handle on their own identity.
Gillespie describes the previous work as being ‘stained by other people’s ideas’, whereas 'Rosewood', recorded with David McNair, was ‘an honest record.’
With their debut album ‘A Kind Of Crusade’ due for early 2007 release, they’re ready to take the next step.
‘We’ve just booked the Spring & Airbrake for the launch of the record on the February 2,’ confirms Gillespie. ‘Hopefully it sounds contemporary, and people can appreciate it as a record of now. At the same time I would hate for it to be flavour of the week.'
'We want longevity, we want to make a good few albums and not simply to fade out. We know that we can’t please everyone, but there are a lot of people who are fond of the band and this will be the chance to give them a record that we’re proud of. Hopefully it will live up to people’s expectations, there are a few wee treats on it and we really like it.’
Even from the most cursory of listens during initial production at One Zero Zero studios, it seemed clear that ‘A Kind Of Crusade’ would live up to expectations. Carefully textured, the production plays to Sixstar’s strengths, unfurling the delightful facets of their musical personae.
‘Rocky (O’Reilly) did a great job with the production in One Zero Zero,’ acknowledges Gillespie, ‘and then the mastering at Abbey Road made it sound really nice, really warm.’
Having previously worked with Mark Aubrey (Bloc Party) and Richard Flack (Queens Of The Stone Age), Sixstarhotel know a good producer when they see one.
‘Rocky is probably the best person we’ve worked with,’ continues Gillespie. ‘He totally knows what he’s doing and, most importantly, we had a really good producer/band relationship. Having to work late, right through the night, having that banter makes it easier.’
With the record completed all that remains is to get it out there. Don’t have a label? No problem, start your own.
‘There hasn’t been much by way of label interest,’ the percussionist admits. ‘You could go about for a number of years pushing demos and get nowhere.
'We’ve actually started our own label, We Collect Records, to put out the album, again entirely self-funded and I’m pretty confident that it sounds just as good as it would have had it been an established label release.’
With a much anticipated debut album to promote, Sixstarhotel are limbering up, ready to hit the 2007 campaign trail hard.
‘We’re going to Denmark in March, to do a schools tour, something we actually did this year,’ says Gillespie. ‘I don’t think a lot of UK bands even think about it as a possibility, but it’s great, they’re not critical at all, they just appreciate you going out there to play.’
‘Yeah, it’s really bizarre, sitting down with these kids to eat dinner and they don’t know who you are, you get a round of applause just for being in a band,’ adds Clements.
A tour of Danish schools doesn’t sound very rock ‘n’ roll, but don’t doubt their credentials because Sixstarhotel have more than just schools on their itinerary.
‘We’re doing an acoustic set in a prison whilst we’re out there,' exclaims Gillespie. ‘That’ll be interesting, to see how we go down with the convicts! So we’ve got a few wee tours lined up, the UK again and then down in southern Ireland in May.
'Our ambitions will always be very gradual, we aren’t the sort of band that’ll skip any steps. Wherever we get to it’ll be because we’ve worked to get there.’
'A Kind Of Crusade' (We Collect Records) is out February 2007