THE unwritten law of rock ’n’ roll dictates that Monday mornings are to musicians what Kryptonite is to Superman — so when Patrick ‘Pa’ Sheehy and Sorcha Durham bound into a café in Cork city centre all bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed, something seems amiss.
“We’re actually not that cool,” protests keyboardist Durham, shaking her head and refuting all accusations of wee-hours partying after their gig the previous night.
“We’re not,” confirms her bandmate Sheehy, apologetic smile peeking out from under the rim of his baseball cap. “I usually spend about an hour in the green room after the gig, have a cup of tea, then I go to bed. I’m such a loser.”
Not to be confused with Little Green Cars — the young indie-folk-pop Dubliners also comprised of four young men and a woman in their mid-twenties — the pair have driven from their hometown of Dingle this morning.
The picturesque Kerry town, on the edge of Ireland, is where Walking on Cars formed after a variety of aborted college degrees in Cork and London (Sheehy) and temporary jobs in local restaurants (Durham).
“Dingle is tiny, so everybody knows each other,” explains Durham, adding that all five members are former schoolmates.
“Everybody had played with each other at various times, apart from me; I had just done classical piano, mostly, and written my own stuff. Then Pa just rang me out of the blue one day after coming home from London, and we just got together and started playing some tunes.”
Their respective tastes in music in their formative years proved diverse, to say the least.
“As a teenager, I was big into rock and metal: Metallica and Nirvana, bands like that, all the way through secondary school,” reveals shy frontman and guitarist Sheehy, who looks as far from a metal-head as you can possibly get.
“Before that, it was just whatever was on the radio, which was pop, mostly. Then I grew out of that rock phase and started listening to Coldplay, things like that, and more recently the likes of Ben Howard and Lumineers, stuff like that; James Vincent McMorrow.”
Durham’s classical background, meanwhile, wasn’t initially as influential as you may think. These days she cites acts like Arcade Fire and contemporary pianist Nils Frahm as musicians to aspire to, but it wasn’t always so.
“I loved classical stuff, but as a teenager I was into whatever was on the radio, too,” she admits.
“My brothers would have listened to a lot of Nirvana, Metallica, System of a Down and whatever was around the house — so I would have listened to that, too. Then there was stuff like Emmylou Harris and Santana from my mum; very general stuff. As I got older, I was a bit more interested in finding new music and different music, so my taste broadened. I listen to a bit of everything now.”
Having roughly settled on a particular genre, the placid indie-rock sound of Walking on Cars was born around 2010. After spending months rehearsing in bassist Paul Flannery’s “messy kitchen” and playing their first gig in a Dingle youth café — a memory which sees them embarrassedly roll their eyes in tandem — they locked themselves away in a rented cottage on the Dingle Peninsula and spent time honing their craft and writing songs.
After triumphing at the Red Bull Bedroom Jam (a high-profile battle of the bands-style competition) in 2012, they set about recording debut EP As We Fly South.
Its debut single Catch Me If You Can proved moderately successful, spending 20 weeks in the Irish charts and earning a playlist spot on several regional radio stations when it was released in May 2013.
Subsequent singles, as well as songs from their new EP Hand in Hand, have been similarly well received; they regularly sell out mid-sized venues in Dublin and proved a big hit at Other Voices 2013 in Dingle, a festival that they grew up watching.
“When we used to play gigs at home in Dingle, there’d be 40 or 50 people squeezed into a little bar called McCarthy’s, and we’d be delighted, thinking, ‘This is the job! This is unreal! Yeah!’,” says Sheehy, laughing.
“A year later, we’re going to Dublin and playing a venue that holds 850 people and that’s selling out… it’s like, what’s the hell is happening? We knew Catch Me If You Can was a strong single, but we did question ourselves, thinking ‘Jesus, was that pure luck or not?’ I think the new stuff that we’ve been working on is very different. And I think recording has played a big part. We’ve just been taking steady steps towards getting better, I think.”
“I think even just the way we approach songs has changed quite a lot since a year-and-a-half ago,” agrees Durham. “We’re a lot more aware of the composition and arrangements and stuff; there’s a lot more thought gone into it. But it’s kind of happened quite easily, as well — it’s been quite a natural progression that we’ve just figured out through experience.”
Their growth and confidence coincided with an ever-growing buzz building around the band in the first part of 2014.
A showcase gig at Cork’s (now-closed) Pavilion venue was arranged in February; several labels had been courting the quintet, impressed by the maturity of their sound, as well as Sheehy’s swarthy voice and thoughtful lyrics on songs like the melodic Two Stones or the heart-tugging, slow-building rock balladry of Tick Tock.
They had considered signing with Universal Ireland, but the singer says that they were very aware of how limiting an Irish label may be.
“We were completely flattered when they came along, but there was always that question: if we sign to a label in Ireland, how far can we go with them?” he says, nodding. “It wasn’t long after that that some UK interest came along, so we weighed up our options and it seemed to make more sense.”
They eventually signed on the dotted line with British label Virgin EMI after a lunch in Abbey Road Studios. “Towards the end of the meal, one of the guys gave this really heartfelt Braveheart-style speech, and that really sold it for us,” Sheehy recalls, laughing. “Everyone around the table was like ‘Yeahhhh! Let’s do this!’”
The band spent most of this summer between Dingle and London recording tracks for their debut album, which is tentatively scheduled for release early next year.
Their first-ever London gig quickly sold out in August; their debut US dates in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles during September were deemed a swimming success. It would seem that there’s no discernible reason why they should not follow in the recent footsteps of Irish acts like Kodaline, Hozier and James Vincent McMorrow, who they name as a big influence.
Yet as busy as their globetrotting schedule looks for 2015, there’s no chance of them relocating to the bright lights of London — or even Dublin, for that matter — anytime soon.
“I think Dingle is part of us — all our family and friends are there,” shrugs Sheehy. “Unless something crazy happened and we had to live somewhere for a few months, I can’t see us moving anywhere else.”
“I think we all feel the same,” agrees Durham. “It’s great to go away, but it’s also great to come home — so we have the best of both worlds, really. Some people might find it being suffocating in a small town like that, but we get to go away and come back, and we just love being there.”
Still, given how smoothly and swiftly that things are building, there must be some sense of ambition on a grand scale: where are they hoping to be in the next 12 months?
“I don’t think we’ve thought about stuff like markets, or anything like that,” says Sheehy, shrugging casually.
“It’s kind of hard to think about what sort of group we’re working towards, really; as of now, our fanbase is quite broad. I think we just want to get accomplished elsewhere: do what we’ve done here in the UK, Europe, the US. That’s the goal. We’re at the stage now where we’re ready to go and play in other places and release stuff.
“I like the fact that you see people from the ages of 15 to 40 in the audience at our gigs, both male and female. We’re just going to keep writing and releasing and see what happens, rather than aiming for this market or that market. We’re really bad at that kind of stuff, anyway. Fingers crossed, we’re just gonna go for it.”
Walking on Cars support The Kooks on their British tour from November 6-22. They headline Glasgow’s King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut on November 24; Manchester’s Night and Day on November 25 and London’s Dingwalls on November 27