“I was driving through Rathgar one evening and saw a sign that said ‘Late Night Pharmacy’, and I liked the sound of it. It kind of sounds almost like a euphemism for a dealer, the guy you buy ‘medicine’ from when it’s late at night.”
That was guitarist Fionn Murray talking about the influence behind christening the alternative rock band he had co-founded back in 2017 with lead singer and bassist, Dave Sihra. Fast forward three years and Late Night Pharmacy has been one of the awardees of a highly competitive recording grant worth almost €4000, in November this year. The grant was part of the Music Industry Stimulus Package, a funding scheme, totalling €1,700,000, being rolled out by the Irish government to support the popular and commercial music sector in a covid-stricken economy.
As The Irish Times has reported, the Employment and Economic Impact Assessment of Covid-19 on the Arts Sector in Ireland forecasts that the recession in the arts sector will be five times worse than the rest of the economy in 2020 and 2021.
According to Central Statistics Office (CSO) data, economic activity in the arts sector has fallen by 67.7 per cent in the second quarter of 2020. That means the arts and entertainment sector has performed 10 times worse than the rest of the economy.
The stimulus package from the Department of Culture comes in the face of mounting challenges for Irish creatives.
The following includes my conversation with the members of Late Night Pharmacy about navigating through a pandemic, prospects that await them after winning the coveted grant and the fundamentals of their work and art form.
In the weather of a typical Irish afternoon, I found the band rehearsing in a refurbished shed in the backyard of a South Dublin property.
The walls boasted abstract sketches and drawings with a sole photo of Phil Lynott at the centre keeping vigil.
Being greeted by the smiling faces of four unassuming young men, I realised how easy it can be to forget that the line-up facing me has enjoyed some noteworthy recognitions in their steady ascent in the exploration of Irish rock.
In September 2020, Late Night Pharmacy was one of four Irish bands to be selected to participate in the TiLT Development Deal, in collaboration with Totally Irish 98FM, the Sound Training College and the Button Factory.
The band has shared the stage with the renowned Irish house producer Daithí. Its EP’s have received radio play on various Irish and international stations.
Babylon Radio’s Fruit Sonic presenter, Colm Slattery talks about the band: “Mind-blowingly talented indie musicians ‘Late Night Pharmacy’, are on my ones-to-watch list for 2021. The band has a raw energy that you can hear in their recordings with upbeat electric guitar melodies… They have really caught my attention with their… original sonic textures abundant in their 2019 EP Flamingo. They will be on repeat coming into the new year on my FlutterTone ‘StarShip Indie’ Playlist.”
My chair faced a set of drums dominating the practice space. The members were seated in a sort of arc around it as we began chatting.
As each member proceeded to introduce themselves, I learned that Robert Maguire, the lead singer and second guitarist, is the newest member of the band. He joined Late Night Pharmacy in July this year.
Michael Spence plays bass in the band and is also this year’s addition, albeit in the pre-pandemic month of January.
Jordan Swanson is the drummer and has been playing for the band for well over two years.
Fionn Murray, the lead guitarist, has been a fixture in the band ever since he co-founded it with Dave Sihra, who parted ways with the band at the end of 2019 to pursue a solo career. Fionn did not seem to hold back and casually joked about his status as “the only remaining founding member because every other member got sick of me”, which in turn, prompted the rest to break into peals of laughter.
How it started:
Help me get to know Late Night Pharmacy a little bit better. What is it that connects each of you to this band?
Fionn: I started the band in 2017. I used to play in a band called Viktor Grey. I wrote a lot of songs for that band…I was like 17 when I wrote them.
I got in touch with a friend of mine, Dave [Sihra] and asked him, “I have these songs. Do you want to record them? You can sing in them.”
He was like, “Yeah sure, let’s do it.”
So that’s how it kind of started. At the time, I was playing in a metal band [Suzaku Avenue] but I also had these songs that were more post-punk kind of style and they didn’t really fit in with the stuff I was writing for the metal band so I thought of starting a new thing that kind of lets me explore those post-punk-y influences…We’re kind of an alternative rock band. We draw influences from a lot of different places like post-punk bands like Joy Division and Bauhaus but also like more modern bands like Interpol and Bloc Party and The Smashing Pumpkins.
Robert: I wanted to join a band and I came across Late Night Pharmacy looking for a singer. They had three songs already and I listened to them. They’re pretty much exactly the kind of music I like…it was just a perfect match so I just went for it. The references that Fionn has mentioned were also bands I liked and it just seemed like a good match.
Michael: Yeah, similar to me. I just listened to the music…I wanted to play with these guys. I guess how it relates to my identity, it’s nice to have a creative outlet I suppose. So you’re doing something other than just work and things, you know (chuckles). It’s a nice break from ordinary life.
Jordan: I just met Fionn and Dave through Facebook…
The Impact of Covid-19 and Other Pursuits:
By the way congratulations for being awarded the funding from the Music Industry Stimulus Package.
Michael: Thanks very much.
So how has Covid-19 come to affect your work? What would be different if the pandemic had never occurred?
Fionn: So the main thing is we all really miss playing gigs. I really miss playing live. And we’ve only been in a position to play gigs since like September because when Rob [Robert] joined, we had to teach him all the songs and then work on new songs. I think we have been ready to play shows since September but it has just not been a possibility.
Jordan: Yeah I think this has been really good for the fact that we can record. Actually like gives us a chance to sit down and actually have some recordings to bring with us to shows and kind of show ourselves before we even play. So people can at least know a song or two.
Fionn: Yeah exactly.
Jordan: Before we even play so that somebody could sing along.
Fionn: Back in March, we wanted to practise, but we couldn’t practise because of the five-kilometre-radius restrictions…that was like torture…I was just dying to get into a room and play the guitar again but that just wasn’t a possibility at the time until like June, July.
So do you think this funding package comes at a really opportune time because you can actually stay inside and work on your album?
Jordan: Gives the government an excuse to put some money into the arts finally so it’s nice to see. It should have been done a long time ago, I think. There’s a lot of demand for it.
Fionn: Huge demand.
Michael chuckles nervously: You’re getting political right now.
Fionn: We were one of 180 acts who got a grant for recording and there was like 1400 applications. So there’s a huge demand for it. And if anything, they could have put 10 million towards it and it wouldn’t have been enough because there’s such demand for music in this country.
May I know what each of you do apart from playing in this band and also this question kind of ties in with this bit about… we hear extensively about how the pandemic has dealt an especially hefty blow to the arts sector — do you think hailing from diverse backgrounds, not rooted in the arts is a boon in the sense that such developments might not lead to an existential crisis for you, the way it has for some artists without a job today?
Michael: Definitely, well, me, Fionn and Rob, all work from home now. We have been working from home…
Fionn: Since March?
Michael: Yeah…we’re not immensely affected, except for that. I think that we’re definitely very lucky in that respect.
Fionn: I think Jordan’s probably been the most affected by Covid.
Jordan: Yeah. I got made redundant but then I found a job within a week. I’m also an immigrant so I have to deal with work visas so luckily I did get a work visa all sorted out pretty quick.
Okay, I’m getting mine done now, so yeah.
Jordan: Yeah, so luckily I’ve found work. It’s been really nice and keeping me busy. I don’t know I feel like I’ve personally been really thriving, during this time. So I don’t know, it’s a bit different than other stuff I hear.
Me too actually.
Jordan: It’s really worked out for me, in my favour. But not for everybody, I suppose.
Fionn: As Michael said, I’ve been working from home since March and it’s kind of strange to me because we’re in the events business, that’s what we do. We do events but like there haven’t been any events [in the Convention Centre] since March…So it’s really weird for me because my job just involves analysing events, but now there are no events going on.
Jordan: I just started a new job as a project engineer with a technological contracting company. I’m already a qualified electrician…I’m office-based and I do estimations for large commercial projects in the city and then like budgets for those and ordering materials, procurement and other bits and pieces.
Michael: I’m a programmer at UCD…IT and stuff, which I don’t know, it’s kind of boring… Rob’s an investment banker.
Oh! You all have fancy jobs, don’t you?!
Robert: Yeah, I wouldn’t say an investment banker (chuckles)… I just work in finance for a company…it’s just a nine-to-five in a financial services company. Full-time, nine-to-five, Monday to Friday and then this is a nice outlet.
Jordan: We’re not really broke musicians necessarily.
Fionn: No. It’s always been a part-time thing for us… None of us put all of our time into just this band. Like it’s always been like an evenings-and-weekends kind of a thing.
So what are your plans going forward? Tell me a bit about what’s coming up and how you plan to acclimatise to a post-Covid atmosphere, because the vaccines are out, or is that too soon to call it post-Covid?
Michael: First, the recording in January (with the help of the funding from the stimulus package) and then once it’s possible to play live again, play as many shows as possible, I think. Once the vaccine, fingers crossed, is widespread.
Fionn: We got this thing in September, called TiLT, which would mean several recording sessions. Then in April, there’s meant to be a concert at The Button Factory. So they picked four bands and the idea is that in April there’d be a concert with these four bands. But we still don’t know if that’s going to go ahead, like fingers crossed it’ll go ahead. But like, if there’s a huge number of cases in March, then maybe the lockdown could come down again. But we’re trying to be cautiously optimistic and hope that by April, things will be more or less back to normal. I mean, probably there’s to be like strict capacities on the number of people that could come into a venue. Hopefully, if things are pretty back to normal in March and April, then we could start playing in shows, as many shows as we can, straightaway.
Would you like to talk about any of your upcoming work?
Fionn: So we’re recording two songs with TiLT and then three songs in January as part of the stimulus package. So we’re gonna have five songs recorded next year. Then we’re hoping to release them maybe every two months in the new year and maybe have some music videos to go with them. That’s the plan — one single every couple of months in 2021.
The interview concluded with the band playing one of their upcoming songs to be recorded in January — “Too Late for the Rickshaws”. A jangly, dreamy song with clean guitars and lots of delay — it was a fitting testimony to the achievements of Late Night Pharmacy so far. The exuberant chorus transported me back to a time in my teenage years when boy bands were all the craze. Hopefully, they get to stir up some similar trouble in the world of post-Covid Irish jam.