Usually I don’t write about Gilla Band. After covering them way back in early 2015, I ended up driving them on tour in America several times. Over the years, we became close friends, and you don’t exactly want to be reviewing the albums released by your close friends. But their latest, ‘Most Normal’, comes with a strange extenuating circumstance — its closing song ‘Post Ryan’ happens to be named after me.
As a critic and as a friend of the band, I’d tell you the same thing: ‘Most Normal’ is their best album. It is synthesis and evolution simultaneously. There are garbled, far-out experiments that sound like the wildest moments of ‘The Talkies’, and there are bold, catchy hooks that harken back to the ‘Early Years’ EP. It is at once fragmented and direct; it feels chaotic and disorienting on first listen before you realize most of its songs get stuck in your head over and over. In a lot of ways, it feels like the album they were always meant to make — adventurous, but controlled and accessible all at once.
But there are other people who can tell you more about the album and where it fits in Gilla Band’s story. Instead, I called up the band’s frontman, Dara Kiely, for a deep dive into ‘Post Ryan’ — how A Flock Of Seagulls inspired one of Gilla Band’s most propulsive songs, how the songs drawn-out origins interacted with the rest of ‘Most Normal’, how it might bear my name but in fact features some of Dara’s most straightforward, bare, and personal lyrics.
This song goes back to the earliest stages of writing the album.
The last two years are so fucking blurry, but from what I remember it was one of the early ones. Melody-wise, it was there, and the first half of it. We just couldn’t get it done. It took literally two years to get what it is.
It started with an inspiration from the beat in ‘I Ran’ by A Flock Of Seagulls.
As you know, it’s one of the best songs ever. It was more the pace of it rather than the beat. It’s only kick and snare. We could tie it in to how we were doing things at the time, which was — if Adam wasn’t there — looping the drumbeat and working over it. There’s some shakers, and Adam bought this weird thing. It’s like an upside-down cymbal on a wooden case with these triggers. It’s at the start of ‘The Gum’ too. It did come from that idea of A Flock Of Seagulls in terms of pace, but it’s very far from it.
There are ways in which ‘Most Normal’ has these hard cuts and disorienting moments but is also a lot more compact and controlled than ‘The Talkies’ — shorter, punchier. Was this song part of where that goal was crystallizing over the years? It has these various catchy bits, but it’s also not verse/chorus; it’s very direct, and doesn’t spill over into noise and screaming.
I think we were so determined to finish it, and we tried in so many different ways. When the guitars come in at the end, I had a version of it where I just repeated the same melody over the end and did this whisper-shout thing, because I can’t shout when I’m working at home. It was still in the same world as an idea of a dream at the time. The start of the track is that dreamlike thing, and then it crashed into reality, but it’s still the same tempo, which adds tension to it. It was the last proper one we finished. Once we found the ending, it felt really good. I hadn’t seen the guys buzzed that way in so long. It felt like we earned it.
It’s not unusual that Gilla Band songs take a long time to develop, but why do you think this one in particular eluded you for so long? It basically brackets the making of the album as a whole.
We really liked the start of it. We thought it was fun. It was tough for me to write on my end. The album in general for me, the majority of it was written when I was twenty-nine to thirty. That can be a really scary time, and it was in lockdowns as well. That track, we just saw a lot of potential in it, but it was this one decent part. It could’ve been a b-side or saved for the next record. It scared me, and because of it not working, when it did work, it made me want to push something different out. That’s where the lyrics come in after that.
Obviously I know why it’s named ‘Post Ryan’, but can you explain that for the readers at home.
Well, we know this guy called Ryan. He’s a dear friend. Basically, Ryan was freaking out over turning thirty for four years —
I don’t know if that’s totally fair…
Eh. How’re you feeling about thirty-five right now? Anyway, Ryan was freaking out about that and his friends got in touch asking if we could do a message for Ryan’s thirtieth. We didn’t know what to do, so we decided to do our other band Whiskey Guns, which is our hard rock/metal band. We wrote a song called “Happy Birthday Ryan,” a very original title. We thought it was kinda cool — I say the word “kinda” very strongly.
Later that day or the next, we got the start of the instrumental [for ‘Post Ryan’], and we’re terrible at naming things — “brackets, the band” —and all our titles before they get finalized are ridiculous. ‘Capgras’ was ‘Merchcore’ because we did a load of march that day and wrote a hardcore song. Was there a song called “Oh Fuck”? [laugh] You can see what we were dealing with here, it wasn’t golden material. When we were naming them after the album was finished, we were in the pub… we kind of questioned all of them. This guy Ryan drove us around America and for months it was ‘Post Ryan’ and after a lot of threats from Ryan we decided it would be easier to just call it that.
It kind of made sense. It was written at a very particular time, when we were all turning thirty and the world was a very different place than anyone had seen. It kind of tied into everything in a tonal sense. Like ‘Eight Fivers’ is light, but it has this undercurrent of “I’m deadly serious but I’m laughing.” ‘Post Ryan’ is a bit of a joke, but it’s also a homage to our friend Ryan and it cements this thing… I’ve said in the past, I want every record to be a document of us at that time. That was a blatant turn of phrase to remember exactly when we did it. You turning thirty kinda freaked me out. It was such a weird time. But I don’t think it’s a dark record. I think ‘The Talkies’ is very dark. It’s difficult to listen to, difficult to play. There were a lot of restrictions I put on the writing, not using any pronouns. Going through all the shit I went through beforehand and that manifesting in the music.
I never really thought about there being any actual thematic importance behind the title ‘Post Ryan’ and this idea of this time when we all turned thirty. There are a lot of other lyrics — “There’s a full stop on my youth / There’s a point where I stop being cute” in ‘Binliner Fashion’, some other lines in this song — that can be funny, or allusive wordplay, but also these very direct lines across the album that feel sort of like, you’re growing up. Do you feel like you came to terms with this era through writing the album?
Even the last line in ‘Post Ryan’ — “I get inevitable depression when I do nothing” — completely sums up not only the two years of pandemic shit but how it felt for most of my life. It’s a very easy thing to do, to fall into depression. I think Leonard Cohen — I’m Daraphrasing this, which is another term for lying — said something along the lines about how people think you need to be sad to write something pure. He said it was the exact opposite. As anyone who knows the band knows, it took me fucking ages to write the ‘Talkies’ stuff. This one, I was really fruitful when it came to writing, and really analyzing stuff.
That “inevitable depression” thing, it’s this feeling I’ve had for years. I’ve talked about it via song and to therapists. I’m someone who does suffer with that kind of stuff. I’m not a great direct speaker. I’m not that kind of guy. I eventually have a joke and it gets out eventually. So writing that thing at the end, it needed that and I kinda knew it. It needed something that was completely out of my comfort zone, and that didn’t necessarily match the track in a musical sense. I love that juxtaposition, that it clashes in a way. It falls out of that dream world. At the start of the track, I’m still describing the same stuff. There’s a lot of metaphors that came from other songs I was writing in Logic at the time. “Crushing the back home of a snail,” it’s an easy metaphor if you know the tone of track after listening to it once. You’ll pick up on the fragility of that. “Hanging up on the floor” was a phrase my mom used to use when we were growing up — “Where are your clothes? Oh they’re hanging up on the floor again.” I had all these familiar things, but I was still talking it through this surrealist thing where it doesn’t really add up unless you know me. Then to get away from that, but still get on topic, that was the tough lyrical thing I had to do.
Right, so you were saying musically everybody was excited about it and it made you feel like you had to do something different. So you have this surrealist half, and then a very plain-spoken second half. Were there ever any other songs that compelled you that way? Why was it this specific composition?
I don’t know. On the ‘Capgras’ track, I tried being direct on that. There were some hilariously shit spoken word parts on that. I couldn’t get the tone right. Because I was working so hard on that, and ‘Post Ryan’ didn’t happen later, it made me realize what I thought was cool about doing a more direct thing. When we finally got the second half of ‘Post Ryan’, that shot through my head immediately: “This is my only chance to do this on this record.” I’ve worked hard on my end, the lads had worked hard on their end, and I just needed something to still make it tense. I thought about an older track like ‘The Witch Dr.’ off our first record, where the tension is there but it’s obvious because I’m freaking out. This was more like a monologue in my head that I still have. I put words to that.
Some of the lyrics in ‘Post Ryan’ are very literal — talking about living in a tent and recovering from breakdowns. Once this was written down, relative to the shield of the surreal, did you ever think “I can’t put this out”? Were you nervous about saying these things in a Gilla Band song?
The only time I got really nervous was when I showed the guys. I had to leave the room. It was like, if they don’t get this or if they think it’s shit… If I did that and they didn’t like it, it would be a setback to trying it again. But it was pretty much that demo that stayed. The only thing that got cut off is I repeated the “inevitable depression” line four times. I wasn’t nervous when it came back. When they said “We are into this.” I have so much faith in their opinion, and I trust them so much. They’d tell me if it was shit. They’re so talented and know what’s crap, so when they are genuinely buzzed about it you get a feeling of accomplishment. It’s beautiful. I live for those creative moments. I appreciate it a lot more now, because it’s like “This is what it could be and everything’s open.” When we actually got it done, I was more proud of it than scared of it.
For a while, you spoke very openly about mental health, and then for a while it perhaps became suffocating — like this overriding narrative of the band, something people always wanted to fixate on. This song sort of invites people asking you about this again. The lines about thinking you were going to end up homeless, constantly in recovery. Even if they’re not entirely applicable to where you are right now, they’re going to make people think certain things. Did you have to get to a place of comfort with that, thinking about having to talk about this stuff again, maybe in a different way now?
I didn’t understand media when we were putting out our first record. So I said fucking anything. Then all this shit happened between ‘Holding Hands With Jamie’ and ‘The Talkies’, and I couldn’t say much at all between them. I just felt very uncomfortable. That was a while ago now. Since then I’ve done a peer support work class, and I’ve started talking to people with conditions or who are going through a tough time in ways similar to [what I’ve gone through]. It’s been wonderful. I’m not going to say… ‘Most Normal’, but it normalized my condition. I’m not diagnosed with anything. I’m OK with talking about stuff. It’s been five years since my last episode. I’m in a good relationship. I’m in a lovely band. I get on with people. I’m not on social media. I know my world.
Talking about it again… I didn’t even think about it coming up. It’s in the past. I’ve kinda settled these stories, and there’s a bit of “Did that actually happen?” There are better things to look forward to. This album is the most beautiful one we’ve done, according to themes. There’s a love song — somewhere in there. ‘Backwash’, that’s technically a song about attraction. If I listen to early songs I just think, “Why are you so fucking bitter?” Why was I so obsessed with authenticity and people being real?
Right so not only are these lyrics so much more open and less surreal, but some of it almost sounds like a referendum on yourself. “But I couldn’t sing for shit so I shout about crisps,” which is a funny bit of self-deprecation, but also sort of untangling part of what people liked about Gilla Band’s lyrics. Literally saying, “And I said I lived in a tent/ In my back garden to anyone who’d listen/ In a tent for attention/ For attention” which I know is a nice percussive string of words, but you’re also putting those sentiments together in a way that implies that, at some point, you liked using this narrative. You have a line about hiding behind the surreal.
That whole final section, it’s the conclusion to the album and the song. And it feels as if you’re almost throwing everything into question, so I’m wondering if it felt like it was opening the door for some kind of permanent change, abandoning old approaches.
I’m not abandoning anything. I’m just trying to see if there are any more tools in the arsenal. If I’m able to write something like ‘Desolation Row’ — in the style of it, the quality won’t be the same. [laughs] It doesn’t feel like a risk in that way. The only risk it was ever going to be was if the guys didn’t like it. I think it’s opened doors. I can do the shout-y stuff. I can do the weird food shit. And I can be very, very direct. Those certain lines — “In a tent for attention” — I just liked the percussive element of it. It took a very short time to write that part, on my end.
When it comes to those things, [I think about] what the Beastie Boys said [in the documentary]: “I’d rather be a hypocrite than the same person forever.” That really stuck with me. That fucking happened. All that shit with the God-like stuff. The first record has this ascension into madness, I guess, and concludes with an episode. The second one was me lamenting not being God anymore. Which… I guess I still claimed I was God then. [laughs] It wasn’t manic behavior, and it wasn’t depressive behavior. It was just numb. I think I sound like shit on ‘The Talkies’. It felt like a project, “You need to get this done.”
But then ‘Most Normal’ is life after that. I want to get this done. I can’t get wait this done. Because I restricted myself so much in the writing of ‘The Talkies’, it made everything after feel like I could achieve the exact opposite. Like… “I couldn’t sing for shit/ So I shout about crisps.” Well, it’s kind of true. The line about hiding behind the surreal, well it was. I’m not laying into anyone. I’m not even hurting myself saying this stuff. It’s just a fact.
This placement as the album’s closer might work because of the nature of the song, but the fact that ‘Most Normal’ ends here is part of what makes it so powerful to me. It’s notable that this is the first time you’re voicing these sorts of thoughts, in the second half of the final song on the other side of three albums.
Yeah, it’s post! Post-post. The next thing. It was a difficult process, because we couldn’t see each other when we were writing. It was a nice, insular time for someone who writes lyrics. I wrote passages, and I hadn’t written like that, and I put some of that in. It was so liberating and so satisfying, that to end the record with those lines… I say those words to myself now and then if I’m feeling low. The “inevitable depression” line. I kind of live by it now. You know you have to do something — it’s why I call you all the time. [laughs] Hop on a fucking phone call, go for a walk, go to practice, make food or music, watch something you care about. Instead of just worrying. This is advice from my future self. It’s on the nose, and I’m more about being on the cheek.
I’m a little scared of it coming out. But I’m always a bit scared of new stuff. If you don’t feel nervous before a gig, is it confidence or is it complacency? And I really don’t want to be complacent. The moment I start saying “Catch me when I fall” in lyrics kick me out of the band. Or tell me and I’ll kick myself out of the band. Because that’s bullshit. Liam, who worked on our first few records, he schooled us. He told me to not use those cliches. So that’s why I started writing all this weird shit. [laughs] It’s playful, but I still mean it. I have snippets of the day written down. Recorded in my phone. For ninety percent if not more, I know exactly where I got stuff from or what it triggers in me, so I know where to push and pull when I’m performing. With ‘The Witch Dr.’, I’m trying to explain to someone that I’m not here anymore. With ‘Post Ryan’, it’s just “Yeah, that all happened.” I can’t lie. I think it’s scarier than “Witch Dr,” in some ways. Barren surroundings. But you can kind of dance to it!
I’m laying into myself more [on ‘Most Normal’], with “shit clothes” [in ‘Eight Fivers’]. But this is the truth of what I see in things. It’s not glorifying the mundane, but understanding the mundane, and understanding how much you can miss the mundane when it’s taken away from you when you have to go to hospitals or stuff like that. That eating the perfect sandwich is amazing. If you couple that with being an amazing relationships with people, it’s just a happier record. I think ‘Most Normal’ is a great name for it. Or, an accurate name for it. It is. It’s the most normal I’ve ever been.
‘Most Normal’ is out now.
Words: Ryan Leas // @RyanLeas
Photo Credit: Mark McGuinness