The Nothingness of Now is out now.
Crafting a charming and elegant brand of electronic folk, Dublin’s Let’s Set Sail are a softly gripping listen from the first note. Calling to mind Sufjan Stevens at his most intimately reflective, they’ve just released their debut EP The Nothingness of Now. Simply, it is a spellbinding record. It demands attention. However, it achieves this not with bluster and bombast, but with lilting and ethereal arrangements and melodies imbued with both melancholy and hope.
We spoke to Ian Dunphy and Warren McCarthy who took us through the EP track by track to uncover the inspirations behind and creation of this wonderful EP.
The Nothingness of Now
Warren: We changed the title from ‘1560’ to ‘The Nothingness of Now’ only a couple of days before the press release was sent out. We had been trying to think of a suitable title for weeks but nothing was working. Myself and our piano player, Rob, were drunk by a pool in Vietnam when Stephen, who did the artwork, sent us a promotional piece that just stated ‘The Nothingness of Now’ (a line from the first track, ‘1560 Powell’) and the date of release. We knew instantly that it was the title of the EP. Each song reflects on a time or place that was far from where I was (mentally and physically) at the time of writing, so it made perfect sense.
Ian: The intro is samples of individual guitar notes put into Ableton’s Drum Rack. I messed about with them until I found something I liked. I was listening to a lot of Sufjan at the time and wanted to try to get a soft, plucky banjo sound without actually using one! The original version’s beat was much more of a driving drumbeat, kind of like a krautrock beat. But it wasn’t working. Rob suggested the beat for the current chorus, along with a more stripped back vibe. I added very minimal acoustic percussion samples over a soft kick, so to not overcrowd the tune and to let Warren’s vocals float above everything and be the real focus.
Warren: Lyrically, this is probably the most simple song I’ve written. I woke up during the night, couldn’t get back to sleep, and thought of a nice day I had in a bar in San Francisco a few months previously.
Ian: I think this song is a three-parter.
1. Ambient intro
2. Dancey middle
3. Live band outro
I love the intro. It’s so soothing. The guitar and the drone together. Yummy. I used to listen to those two bits on a loop a lot. The percussion for the middle is all quite separate from each other. I feel that the only thing that ties them together are the kick and the shaker. I’m also messing about with samples of Warren’s guitar in the background. I can’t remember where all the individual parts of the percussion come from. I made it before I had an actual drum machine. It was important for the end to have a loud, live feel so I recorded live drums to give it a splashy, explosive live buzz.
Warren: When Ian’s nana died, her funeral was in John’s Lane church on Thomas Street in Dublin. At the time, Ian kept saying how “Padraig Pearse’s Da” sculpted the statues on the church. Due to the incessantness of his statement, it became a bit of a joke between us and then, the first line of the song. From there, the song became a little list of facts that I’ve picked up along the way about Dublin. I think the lyrics work over the repetitive nature of the plucked chord structure.
Ian: I used to work in a brewery and it had this box maker that would run sellotape along the boxes, making a really weird creaky noise. The first thing you hear in the song is a box going through that box maker. Once the synth stabs come in, I cut up samples of it for the rest of the song and fit the samples around a kick, snare and hi-hat from my little MFB 522. The sequencer is from my Korg Volca Bass (also little), going through the Arpeggio MIDI effect in Ableton.
Warren: I sent this to Ian as a relaxed, 4/4, strummy number but told him to do what he wanted with it. The lyrics promote an appreciation of some simple and profound pleasures, and how they change with age, to help deal with the anxiety of existence.
4The Wax Museum
Ian: Waxer was one of the first beats I ever made and that’s why it sounds so disjointed and weird! When I made it, I didn’t really have much of a concept of say, a consistent hi-hat to keep everything tied together. I just threw stuff together to go with Warren’s odd chord phrasing. There was supposed to be a lot more over this tune, like guitar and stuff, but Rob’s piano was all it really needed. As with ‘1560 Powell’, we didn’t want to overload the song with too much.
Warren: As Ian said, the original version of this song had intricately plucked guitar with odd chord phrasing. When we were in the studio, it wasn’t sounding perfect as a unit. We took everything out and felt the piano and percussion were enough. The lyrics reference some thoughts from my walks across Dublin town, from my house to our practice space.
5Five of Trumps
Ian: This was the first song we wrote without live drums ever touching any incarnation of the tune. Warren came over to mine and called out the chords, as I put them into Ableton. I had just bought my Volca Bass at the time and preferred using it as a lead than a bass synth. We used it for the arp sequence running through the song. When the song is in full swing, I think the percussion is me messing around with different hi-hat sounds, mostly.
Warren: My lyrics are usually very literal, without too many extravagant metaphors. I like to write about common emotions and happenings. When the content is more elaborate, it is usually derived from memories or the history of others. I like using simple English and lines that feed into each other, creating a coherence that can be felt on a first listen. With Five of Trumps, I went against most of these stylistic leanings by using a lot of metaphor and imagery. (Not necessarily lyrically) It’s probably one of the best songs I’ve written.
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