When I meet Bobby Aherne, Popical Island affiliate and the mastermind of No Monster Club, it’s a few days before he is about to release I Feel Magic, the follow-up to last year’s People Are Weird. For nearly a decade Aherne has been knocking out infectiously melodic noise-pop through the guises of Grand Pocket Orchestra, Dublin Duck Dispensary and most notably No Monster Club as well as being a member of Women’s Christmas and Ginnels. Sonically lying somewhere between the 1910 Fruit Gum Company, Beat Happening and Clouds Taste Metallic Era Flaming Lips, No Monster Club has been responsible for some of the catchiest and delightful music coming out of Ireland for many years.
The past few years have seen him release a series of excellent but ramshackle releases, including the 46 track behemoth of indie-pop Posthumous Hits, but this newest phase of Ahern’s career shows a new level of confidence and clarity has grown. “Previously, a lot of it was me figuring out recording and producing, and I think People Are Weird was the first time I think it was entirely successful” he explains.
Talking to him on a quite Sunday night, it’s exactly a year since he was holed up in a hotel in Ferrara writing the bones of a song that became the joyous carnivalesque “Sion”, which acts as the lynchpin of the second half of I Feel Magic. To listen to the song you feel the immense joy of a street party experienced during a tour of Italy, but its origin sounds more nightmarish than you might expect.
“In Sion everyone was so friendly and carnival was on. But then when I got to Ferrara, I was on my own and I was playing in this English themed sports bar” he recounts, going on to describe the disastrous gig mentioned in the song, in which he played to ten people in the midst of an important Italian league game.
“They put me up in this nice, but ancient hotel, which really reminded me of the Overlook Hotel [from the Shining], because I didn’t see anyone else from the moment I arrived. And the guy on reception was the creepiest guy I’ve ever encountered.”
“That night I went downstairs to see if the bar was open and all the lights were off. And the creepy reception dude comes out. So he turns on all the lights and went behind the bar. So I order a glass of wine. And there were loads of bottles of wine behind the bar. But he says “oh I’ll have to go off and get some”. So I became sort of convinced he was going to put something in my drink. So I start getting real freaked. Like a proper Jack Torrance moment. So I had this nightmare in Ferrara…. possibly a breakdown” he laughs, “and went to my room and cobbled together ‘Sion’.”
Across the album Ahearne details not just the weird, wonderful and magical, but also the mundanity of real events. ‘Sion’, ‘Lemonade’ and ‘Run With The Night’ (named after a tour with Michigan’s excellent M SORD) all detail a musician’s life devoid of glamour but brimming with giddy excitement and specific references to real life people and events from his life in the past year.
“In general, universal songs are shite” he deadpans. Instead No Monster Club opts to look for the magic and wonder in real-life mediocrity when looked at from a uniquely skewed point of view.
“I don’t listen to a lot of down-tempo, soul-searching music” Aherne explains. “Music should be fun. Everything should be fun.”
The blunt realism of lines like “you should never form a band or invest in second hand” somehow blend perfectly with surreal images of travelling to Cote D’Ivoire with David Blaine. The whole album seems to be a struggle between the world of magic and the real, boring world which is finally summed up with the line “There’s nothing left to do but just doubt you’ll ever levitate again.”
Magical realism is a vein he has often tapped into, even in his factual book about famous characters of the Dublin streets, which he describes as a local history book in the style of Borges’ Book of Imaginary Beings or JK Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them.
With a new album brimming with arrays of handclaps, giddy vocals and calypso melodies, there’s not only a childlike awe but there is also a goading, obstinate defiance. In this world the serious, mean or self-important people of the world are regarded with a bemused derision. On the Animal Collective-meets-Ween flavoured ‘Ancient History’, soldiers are goaded with jeering sarcasm (“Why you got to stand in a line?”) and the ever present spectre of emigration which looms over ‘Billy Contorted the Trees’ where he dryly jibes “If you’re the last one out of this city, don’t forget to hit the lights”.
“It feels like there’s no-one around that’s my age anymore. I’d say everyone 25-30 has kind of vanished.” But luckily that isn’t No Monster Club’s only demographic.
“Nursery Rhyme is a phrase I’ve heard a zillion times and I’ve never heard it in the world of adult music criticism except for every No Monster Club review” Aherne explains through a grin.
“There’re a lot of people who say “oh my 4 year old kid loves ‘I’ve Retired’” but it seems like more toddlers are into No Monster Club than any other demographic. Which is shit because they’ve no money” he jokes. “And in 15 years time when they’re able to go to concerts they probably won’t be into it. How many bands are you still into that you were into when you were 4?”
But for Aherne, there is still a lot of music from his childhood that he still considers today. Among his musical influences he lists Daniel Johnston, Animal Collective and an assorted array of bubblegum pop alongside numerous children’s television themes for the likes of The Famous Five, Rupert Bear and Tales of the Unexpected. He even cites an obscure track from the soundtrack of a Scooby-Doo cartoon from 2010 as a reference to the album title – “I think that’s going to be our new entrance music”.
The group even appeared on cult US children’s show Chic-A-Go-Go, which has featured “dance-parties” and interviews with acts like Soinic Youth, Ty Segall, Stereolab and Andrew WK and countless others. But the logistics almost put a spanner in the works.
“That day was chaotic and we got to the studio hours late when they’d stopped filming for the day, so all the camera crew were gone and the studio was being used for something else.”
“We had spent the day running across Chicago to get to the studio and I was having a mental breakdown because the number one thing I wanted to do in America was go on Chic-A-Go-Go!”
Thankfully, the dream was saved by producers who shot the group performing in their office and spliced it into footage from earlier in the day of kids and adults dancing to their single “La La Land”, plus a bit of impromptu puppetry from Dublin troubadour Paddy Hanna.
“We arrived at the studio completely exhausted. And then we had to do a few takes of us dancing like idiots to this song. So you can see us on the verge of panic attacks and mental breakdowns from exhaustion miming our own song to a rat puppet.”
In can be difficult and exhausting trying to keep the world a fun place. But No Monster Club is here fighting the good fight.
No Monster Club plays Bello Bar, Dublin on the 4th of March
I Feel Magic is out now on Popical Island.