Music — The uncommon rock friendship of Rubyhorse

An Irish band makes its way in America

It’s common to hear bands say they’re different because they’re such good friends and would never let petty differences separate them, but it’s uncommon to see them prove it when push comes to shove.

Rubyhorse is such a band: the quintet—now all in their early 30s—have known each other since they were four years old, going to school together in County Cork, Ireland. Weaned by their parents on the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan, and finding their own inspiration in the Cure, the Police, REM and U2, they started playing music together by the time they were 14, and they were opening for national acts in Ireland by the time they were 15.

“We were all immersed in music from a very young age,” said singer Dave Farrell, 31, by phone recently. “It was a bit of a blast back then to see these kids on stage. We got quite a good amount of press at a young age.”

Although they found success fast, Farrell admits that the band had a lot of maturing to do.

“It was terrible music, absolutely terrible music,” he said with a laugh.

But considering that they were already writing their own music, they should be granted some slack for at least trying to be original. And touring with the big acts proved to be a valuable training ground for the young band.

“It was great to be around all these musicians who toured the states and Europe,” Farrell said. “We started learning our trade.”

A couple years later the band changed their name to Rubyhorse to avoid copyright issues that arose over the name BFGs after they won a band competition in the early 1990s.

The band slowly matured, but it wasn’t until they moved to America in 1997 that they were literally forced to develop.

“I think from an artistic standpoint, the most influential stage for the band was when we moved to America,” Farrell said. “When we moved to the States we had nothing else to rely on—it was music or nothing.”

The multitude of clubs in their adopted home of Boston enabled the band to play two, three, four and sometimes five nights a week, an accelerated experience that would have been impossible in Ireland. Such an extreme change inevitably provided the band endless material to write about.

“That was the biggest progression for us,” Farrell said. “Suddenly, we had a lot more things to write about, because our lives changed drastically. That was the biggest change for us: to leave our families and friends behind and come to a new country, a new culture, and try to integrate. It affected us all enormously, and that in turn improved our songwriting.”

The difficult change was eased by the strong connection among the four band mates.

“Because we had that history and that friendship behind us, we each had someone to rely on and lean on when you needed it,” Farrell said. “It certainly tightened us as friends and as a band.”

The band had released one album while still in Ireland, and in 1999 they independently released How Far Have You Come? In 2002, they released Rise with Island Records and had the incredible experience of having the late George Harrison play slide guitar on their song “Punchdrunk.”

According to Farrell, Harrison’s manager passed the song, about their transition from Ireland to the States, along to Harrison, who then rang them up and asked if he could play on it. The band duly mailed a tape to Harrison in England and Harrison recorded his part and mailed it back to them in Miami, where they were recording. It was Harrison’s second-to-last recording.

“It was absolutely amazing,” Farrell said. “It was the greatest honor, and the greatest vindication that we’ve ever had as a band. They’re the things that keep you going when the shit hits the fan.”

Farrell finds it difficult to describe the band’s brand of rock and roll, though he does allow that it has a “Euro flavor” and the “Celtic passion inherent in Irish music.”

Last year, the band fell victim to downsizing at Island Records, and moved to indie label Brash Records; the experience was serious fodder for the band’s lyricist, bassist Decky Lucey, on their recently released and aptly named album Goodbye To All That.

“It was very frustrating,” Farrell said. “When you look at bands like REM and U2 and the Police, bands that we grew up with, they were nurtured in the industry. They found people in the industry that believed in them and helped them through two or three albums until they started making their best music. I think it’s a sorry state in the industry right now, where if you don’t have a classic hit with your first or second single, you’re not nurtured.”

Getting burned like this by the industry ruins some bands, but again, Rubyhorse’s history enabled them to deal with it. In fact, the mental and emotional turbulence of the experience, and the subsequent soul searching, Farrell feels, granted the band a potent well of inspiration they had not had the luxury to draw on earlier. 

“I think the fact that we have that history together, it kept everyone together and we came out the other side,” Farrell said. “In doing that I think we’ve recorded our best record yet.”

Though Lucey writes the songs, Farrell feels no awkwardness or pressure in singing them the way he intends.

“I’m singing about something I lived as well,” Farrell explained. “It came perfectly natural. We’ve recorded a lot of work over the years, but this was the easiest recording for us.”

Though they’ve been through a tremendous amount of experience together, like any group of friends, or family, for that matter, the members inevitably and quite often fight.

“Ah, like cats and dogs,” Farrell said of their fights, laughing. “F——— terrible fights. That’s inevitable. That’s the chemistry that powers the engine. We’re Irish, so again, it’s inevitable.”

Farrell said that, with the exception of a couple instances in which band members have had to revert to the “real world” for money, the band has survived solely on their music—not an easy task in an expensive city like Boston. Farrell claims luck and extraordinary hospitality enabled them to do so.

“People have gravitated towards us, and helped us and enabled us to follow our dream,” Farrell said. “Because we are extremely passionate about what we do, and when people come into contact with us and get to know what we’re doing and where we’ve come from to get where we are, they’ve always been supportive. I don’t think that we could’ve done what we did in this country—in fact I know we couldn’t have done it—without the support and hospitality and generosity of so many people.”

They’ve been touring constantly for the last four years, and they’ve played in every state except Alaska and Hawaii. Their show on Saturday, August 14, at Milly’s will be their first show in Manchester since their early March show at Raxx.

Rubyhorse is grateful to be accepted on both sides of the Atlantic, something Farrell attributes to their universal lyrics.

“I think that’s because of the songs we write about; the lyrics are very revealing,” Farrell said. “They’re just every day working man’s problems. That’s the feedback I’m getting from the people that listen to our music: they can relate to these lyrics no matter if you’re living in Iceland, Ireland, Maine, or Manchester, New Hampshire, wherever.”

—Bernard Vaughan


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