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The Italian connection

Rónán Connolly and Naiara Clarke Lafuente of indie rockers Big Sleep told David Hennessy about their upcoming London show, the dark meaning behind their band name and incorporating both the Irish and Italian languages into their music. 

Fast rising Dublin-based indie-pop starlets Big Sleep play London this week.

This comes after they released their Isn’t That Sweet EP and infectious latest single Fingerlickin’ Goodness.

Fingerlickin’ Goodness is a track inspired by their love of soul and R&B artists like Otis Redding, Anderson. Paak and Leon Bridges.

Fingerlickin’ Goodness follows Shivering, the first single from their second EP.

2023 has been a big year and 2024 could be even bigger.

Since their debut EP release, they have toured with Somebody’s Child, received international radio support and toured across Europe.

With recent high profile support slots for CVC and Do Nothing , a recent sold out Dublin show and their forthcoming London headline gig, Hot Press describe Big Sleep as ‘fast rising indie kids’.

They play Sebright Arms in London on Wednesday 29 November.

The Irish- Italian outfit met partly at school with the band’s line-up being completed through the city’s live music scene.

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With indie- pop qualities that blend alternative rock and soul sounds, Big Sleep cite artists like Big Thief, JJ Cale, Jamiroquai and The Cure as influences.

It was just in June that the band last played London.

Guitarist and singer Rónán Connolly told The Irish World they are looking forward to coming back.

He says: “We love it over there.

“It’s always kind of really different every time we go over.

“I’d say this might sound like a cliché but we’re just overwhelmed by the size when we go over and just all the variety and stuff especially in the music scene and things like that.

“Before we’ve come over to a show in Kentish town in a lovely venue called Map Studio Cafe.

“That was a really nice spot and then we did another little show in the Vortex Jazz Club in Dalston and then this time around Live Nation gave us a call a few months back and said, ‘We want to do a show’.

“And here we are, we’re about to do the Sebright Arms so very excited for that one.

“Expecting a lovely crowd and a lot of new faces as well.

“So it’s really cool.”

You have played Electric Picnic and as far away as Berlin and Italy. What has been a highlight of your journey so far?

Guitarist Naiara Clarke Lafuente says: “I think EP is definitely up there.

“We had four shows that weekend so it was really cool to run around and to try to get from one to the other.

“Berlin is definitely a highlight for me. It was our first time in Berlin and we still managed to sell out, which was a lovely surprise.

“I also really enjoyed All Together Now, it was fantastic.

“I mean, that was one of the best turnouts we’ve had.

“All Together Now was definitely one of my favourite shows we’ve probably ever played, which is saying something because we’ve played in Milan and Rome and Florence and stuff which, of course, were all fantastic as well but the energy at All Together Now this year was really something else. It was fantastic.”

The genesis of the band came when Rónán Connolly and Matteo Poli met at school with Aidan Gray and Naiara joining later.

Rónán takes up the story.

“Our drummer Matteo is Italian.

“He’s from Florence, that’s one of the reasons we’ve got to play a few gigs over there in Italy.

“He came to Ireland to learn English for a few months and I met him one day in the music room in school, hit it off.

“It was an unlikely friendship, I guess.

“I could kind of tell that he just had a passion for music that I had and I didn’t really know many people around me at the time who felt the same way about it, so we kind of just became joined at the hip for the time that he was there and we started playing and then he went home.

“I think he had a few months there and then he went home, I thought I’d never see him again.”

Although Rónán thought he may never see Matteo again, that would not be the end.

“And then he decided to come back to study music here in Dublin.

“And, as I said, I thought that would be the end of it but then he came back to haunt me.

“And myself and himself started to kind of play the live scene a bit, just playing anywhere that would have us.

“Now years later I’m wondering how we are still joined at the hip everyday kind of on that whim of a moment when I saw that one lunch break when he was banging away on some electric drums.

“That’s kind of how things started.

“And along the way, we met Naiara and Aidan through friends in the scene and the rest is kind of history.

“I think it’s coming up on Naiara’s two year anniversary in the band.

“We’ve had a lovely time of it so far.

“We kind of met through the Dublin scene and school, I suppose.”

Rónán is from Sandycove in Dublin while Naiara and Aidan are from Kildare and Longford respectively. The band are aged 23- 26.

The band have just released their sophomore EP, Isn’t That Sweet.

Rónán says: “I suppose the EP for us is a collection of songs that just we’ve been working on for a-“

Naiara cuts in: “A very long time now. They’ve been cooking for a long time.”

Rónán goes on: “It felt like a long time but I suppose it was about a year in the making.

“But they’re just songs we all felt really passionate about and just thought that they were worth hearing.

“We thought they came from interesting places.

“Some of them have pretty varying sounds, we think anyway.

“Easy has this kind of synth wave, kind of 80s pop sound.

“All of the Pretty Things for us is inspired by the likes of JJ Cale and stuff who we’re big fans of, it kind of had this easy kind of cruising feel to it.

“And then tracks like Shivering and Maccy Ds have this- we call it garage rocker- that indie sound.

“And then Finger Lickin’ just came out of this funny place.

“I suppose we all love soul sounds and great r&b acts and things like that.

“And Aidan and Naiara having that jazz background and Matteo loving the likes of D’Angelo and stuff like that, Finger Lickin’ kind of stuck around and it felt like this unlikely thing to fit in the set, but it’s still always there every time.

“I think the thing that really stuck with us was when we were actually in the recording process just working on the vocals for it, Naiara’s backing vocals just kind of came about on a whim.

“Just in the final days of working on the vocals, we stacked up her takes and it just made this really big, beautiful sounding chorus that we couldn’t get out of our head.

“So I think that’s why one of the reasons why it was a leading track for us.”

Naiara says: “More than one of the songs has references to fast food which is a total accident.

“We’ve got a song called Maccy Ds which is slang for a particular franchise and then we’ve got Finger Lickin’ Goodness.

“It was kind of a total accident to be honest but we’ve actually been asked that a couple times about why we’re so obsessed with fast food which I didn’t think we were but that’s the impression we seem to be giving.”

Rónán says: “The EP details experiences that I think all of us have been having over the time that we’ve been making it.

“They’re just themes of love, heartbreak and relationships.”

Finger Lickin’ Goodness follows Shivering as the single. Is that a song that came about really quickly and has stayed around due to how people reacted to it straightaway.

Rónán says: “That’s exactly it.

“We were in the rehearsal space, I had the kind of bones of the structure and stuff like that.

“It didn’t feel like an effort to put together.

“We had this bridge, I think it is kind of funny how it came about.

“There’s always a thing that seems to happen when we play.

“Our bassist Aidan loves to find an interesting way to present a melody and I was just playing.

“I had this bridge idea and I made a mistake when I was playing, just messed up the chords, it wasn’t right.

“And then he said, ‘What was that? Go back, do that again’.

“I was like, ‘Nah, nah, That was a mistake. Don’t worry about that’.

“He forced me to go back and do it again and that ended up kind of forming the bridge of the song which kind of has this kind of meandering feel to it.

“That seems to keep on happening with us. Every time I make a mistake, Aidan and Naiara are saying, ‘Oh yeah, that’s good. Let’s keep that in’.

“And it’s kind of like this happy accident.

“Then we actually played it the night we released the first single of our first EP, which was Tutti Frutti.

“The first time we played it, we were in a venue called Tramline in Dublin on D’Olier Street.

“It was just this crowd of kids, we didn’t know anyone.

“They weren’t sure what to expect.

“And then we just started playing it and they were all ready to get going and get a mosh pit going from the first time anyone had ever heard the song.

“So at that moment, I think we kind of had a feeling like, ‘Yeah, this is one that we want to share, this is one we want to record’.

“It was really cool to see that instant reaction early because it was such a new song.

“That was a cool moment.”

You mention Tutti Frutti which was your debut single, where everything started..

Rónán says: “That’s the track we close all our sets on.

“It was definitely a moment for us around Dublin where we felt people taking notice a bit more notice.

“I think that did kickstart things for sure.”

Tutti Frutti was accompanied with a video that saw Rónán preparing for a date with Matteo’s advice and encouragement.

The video is very funny, was it fun to do?

“Oh, we had a blast,” Rónán says.

Naiara: “I was only in the band about a month and they dressed me up like a granny who was spying on their date.

“Next thing I know I’m cycling in Crumlin traffic on a tandem bike with Matteo thinking, ‘I’m gonna die dressed up as a granny’.

“It was really something else.”

That’s what being in Big Sleep is, I guess…

“Actually that sums it up perfectly, that’s how I feel about this band.”

Where did the name Big Sleep come from? Is it a metaphor for something a little dark?

Rónán says: “Yeah, I guess you could say that.

“It does have darker connotations as a meaning.

“It just means death really which is funny.

“The energy we bring to our sets and our songs and stuff, it does not really invoke those kinds of sentiments.

“People tell us they get this real feel good vibe after seeing us play.

“That name is kind of a bit of a reminder of what’s coming for us all, I suppose and kind of reminds us of the urgency of doing what we really love and being around people we think are cool and enjoy being around.”

Naiara disagrees: “I like to interpret it more as the nice warmth you get after a big nap, just to put a positive spin on it.”

Rónán interjects again: “Scratch that, David. It means DEATH.”

How would you describe your sound for anyone who hasn’t heard you?

Naiara says: “For me personally, I really want to emphasise the fun that we have.

“We have so much fun rehearsing, writing, performing and I really want that to come through in our music.

“That’s for me personally anyway, one of the most important things.”

Rónán adds: “I would also say, in terms of sound and genre, we definitely borrow from soul and r&b sounds, and then there’s just that garage rock and indie quality to it as well.

“I’m a fan of pop.

“I don’t think some of the other band will be so keen to admit that but I think there is a pop element to what we do as well.

“I find it easier to describe our sound by kind of referring to artists that we’re fans of and inspired by.

“So we’ve kind of landed on four big ones lately for us to kind of help articulate that.

“I mentioned JJ Cale, another one for us would be Jamiroquai.”

Naiara adds: “Big Thief is a huge one, Big Thief is a common thread amongst all of us.”

Rónán continues: “And then The Cure kind of make their way into what we do as well.

“I think those four is how I find myself describing what we sound like.”

Is there banter about Matteo being Italian?

Naiara says: “I mean, we definitely all slag each other a lot.

“Him being Italian is kind of a great thing for us

“Not to be too stereotypical but he cooks us pasta every rehearsal and it’s unbelievable.

“We’re very, very lucky to have his culinary skills involved.”

Rónán says: “I think we just kind of embrace it.

“We love the different perspectives we all bring and I think it kind of informs the music a bit as well.

“There’s songs that are inspired by trips that we’ve got to do over in Italy with Matteo and we put our own little tour together over there.

“The experiences we’ve had over there, we’ve been like lucky enough to meet all his friends and family and just kind of see what life is like over there at home for him.

“We felt really welcomed and we got a special inside kind of perspective of what life is like there and I can tell you it’s really nice.

“I think that’s important to understand as well.

“Sometimes I think you’d wonder how the sound kind of comes from a band spending a lot of their time in rainy Ireland, but I think we get different perspectives.”

You’ve done some songs in the Irish language..

Rónán says: “We did that at Electric Picnic this year.

“My granddad’s a Gaeilgeoir, that was always a thing we bonded over.

“I’m not a Gaeilgeoir but I try, I feel passionate about the language and try to grab any chance to speak it.

“He kind of helped me translate some of our songs into Irish so it was really nice to do that.

“Because I think when you’re a kid or when you’re learning Irish in school, it’s like you’re learning it just for an exam.

“It felt like a reason to speak the language.

“It gave me more purpose, I think.

“It was a really nice thing to try express myself in Irish.

“It felt like a connection to what it means to be Irish and things like that.

“We definitely want to do more of that.”

Did any song work particularly well that you could even keep it in the set as Gaeilge?

“I think Shivering went down well.
“I remember working on that with my granddad and we both clicked, ‘Oh yeah, that kind of works’.

“So Shivering really was one that stood out for us in the set.

“The plan is to do more of that.”

What does the Italian band member make of the Irish language stuff?

“He’s learned a few buzz words and phrases in Irish so he loves to cite them off,”  Rónán says.

“He respects it, he admires it.

“But we have one song that we’re working on at the moment that has a few sentences of Italian based on an experience we had when we were in Italy with him.

“So we’re embracing both languages.

“He supports it. I don’t think he seems too fazed by it.

“He still needs to brush up a bit more on his Irish for sure though.”

Big Sleep play Sebright Arms on Wednesday 29 November.

Isn’t That Sweet EP and the single Finger Lickin’ Goodness are out now.

For more information, search Big Sleep on social media.

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