STA is now Ten Years Old

Culture NI Our Krypton Son Feature

'Derry-born Chris McConaghy on 'striving to obtain a big, dreamy sound'.

So where did that band name come from?

I wanted an alias for myself, something like Badly Drawn Boy. Contrary to what many people might think, I’m not really a Superman fan – my girlfriend is! So the pseudonym was her idea. I wanted a name that I could hide behind and release my material under, but also something that would double up as a name for the entire band. Additionally, I wanted something that didn’t lend itself to a certain type of music, a blank canvas for different people to interpret in their own unique way.

What’s your situation at the moment?

We finished recording our first album a while back. I was going to release it in June 2010, but then a few people in the industry, including Andrew Ferris from Smalltown America records, advised me to hold back and build up as much momentum as I could. And, fortunately for me, I began working with Smalltown America soon after.

Since then, they’ve brought out a limited edition compilation featuring one of my tracks, 'Public Service Broadcast #10', and released a single, 'Catalonian Love Song' (listen below). Now it’s a case of putting out the album in the new year, probably in February, after seeing how well the single does.

Was it difficult as a struggling artist trying to make a name for yourself before that point?

It was. Before Smalltown America became involved, I’d promoted four tracks from the album, sending them away to several labels in the UK over the summer. But I found it really hard to get a response. There’s only so far you can take things by yourself before you run out of money altogether, so I’m absolutely delighted that Smalltown came on board.

I would never have thought it possible. Most of the people they’ve taken on board have been heavier bands, like LaFaro and And So I Watch You From Afar. But they’ve given me my chance, and it feels great.

What artists influence your production style most, and why?

People like Elvis Costello, Tom Waits and David Bowie, because they’re songwriters who constantly seek to change the way they approach their sound over the course of their careers. They always try to mix things up a little on each record, successful or not.

I also love the lushness of Brian Wilson, Dennis Wilson and Scott Walker. At times I’ve tried to adapt some of Brian Wilson’s production style – tunes like 'Please Let Me Wonder' are introspective, rare and really beautiful. My production as a whole would vary from song to song, but I’m always striving to obtain a big, dreamy kind of sound, by building up a track through its harmonies.

What did you learn from recording your first album?

It was a lot of fun, but it was also laborious and time-consuming. When I started recording the album, I became a father, and I had to take eight months out before I could get back into the swing of things again. We were also working on a tight budget. Luckily, we had the highly-regarded producer Sam Williams (Supergrass, Kula Shaker) to mix it for us. So it was a great experience, but the next time I record an album I would want it to be done in a much shorter space of time.

What’s the response been like to first single, 'Catalonian Love Song'?

Really positive. It's getting a lot of radio play.

We can see why, it’s a very catchy tune.

Thanks! I got good reviews recently too, at Tennents ViTal in August. The guys from BBC Introducing and Stephen McCauley have been great supporters. The responses have inspired me to consistently test myself by writing different kinds of songs. I’m hoping that the album will be received equally as well.

How would you describe your music and lyrics?

Sometimes they tell a story, sometimes they’re oblique, sometimes they’re very personal, sometimes they try and convey a mood along with the music. Above all, I always aim for my music to come from the heart, which was especially the case with 'Catalonian Love Song'. To me, it kind of wrote itself.

What’s more enjoyable for you, a solo acoustic set or a full band set?

I’ve done some solo gigs that went down really well, but I generally prefer to play with a band. You get a fuller sound that way, a chance to really flesh things out in a way that’s more in keeping with the recorded versions. That, and you’re not lonely on the stage! Having said that, if you do both kinds of sets, you’re able to tour more. We sometimes do stripped down gigs too, even with a fiddle player or trumpet player in tow. We’re always trying to be as versatile as possible.

We’re getting very close to the City Of Culture year in 2013. Do you believe that Derry~Londonderry, your home town, is the kind of city that can foster successful music artists?

Absolutely. Derry may only be a small place, but it has ideas that are bigger than itself. I know many locals tend to say this, but things really are going to get very interesting in 2013. For the size of the city, there are so many great writers and musicians to be found. And with Smalltown America’s studios in Clarendon Street, the Nerve Centre, the Unit 7 Studios and the Link Music School, Derry has a lot to offer its artists. I only see things getting better as time goes by.

In closing, do you have any words of advice for up-and-coming musicians?

Keep plugging away! It took a long time for me to appreciate the benefits of social networking websites like Facebook, Twitter and Soundcloud, but they are an invaluable lifeline for bands and artists. Make the most of those sites, and don’t forget BBC Introducing either. For if you get a good recording done, send it to them, and if they like it, they’ll play it. Everything can really take off for you from there.

Our Krypton Son play with The Holy Innocents in Mason’s Bar, Derry~Londonderry, on Friday December 9.