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May 10, 2018Feature

Since revealing themselves to the general public in 2010 with 'Horse Outside', The Rubberbandits have gone on to write and star in television shows, garner millions of views on YouTube and travel the world performing on some of the most prominent stages. In recent years one half of the masked pair, Blindboy Boatclub, has become a significant voice in Irish culture. He talks to Hannah O’Connell about fame and how to speak to the men in your life about the forthcoming referendum on the Eighth Amendment.

“When it comes to mental health and men, I do get a feeling of being duty bound.I’m a person who has overcome some pretty bad mental health issues and I did this through active changes in my thinking processes and lifestyle.”

 

It’s been a busy couple of months for Blindboy Boatclub. He arrived in our ears back in October with the tale of Erskine Fogarty and his beloved American fridge freezer, giving the nation its first podcast hug and a taste of what was to come in his debut book of short stories ‘The Gospel According to Blindboy’.

Listeners to the weekly podcast have since been treated to regular updates on the whereabouts of a Limerick based otter, learned about art history and the psychology of creativity and have been coached in how to better identify and understand mental health issues among a varying and unpredictable array of other topics.

The one common theme running under all of the apparent absurdity is that Blindboy speaks the truth. Whether it’s his truth or one you share, there is no denying his ability to articulate what the majority of us are thinking or feeling on a subject. If you’re following The Blindboy Podcast you’ll know he barely has a minute between projects these days so we were grateful to catch up with him on the progress of book number two, his thoughts on Dublin City Council removing street art and how he suggests you speak to the men in your life about the forthcoming referendum on the Eighth Amendment.

“I’m currently horsing into the process,” Blindboy tells me about his second collection of short stories due out later this year. “My approach to writing is one that’s focused on fun and experimentation. I go into the page with no expectations and pure explore the gammy depths of my head, like a waking dream, creative flow.

“Then I edit the results of those sessions with a more critical and measured inquiry. It’s a small bit tougher this time around, because the response to the last book is colouring my judgment.

“Ideally, an artist who knows what they’re doing shouldn’t really be taking too much public opinion on board. The positive feedback can be just as damaging to the process as the negative because you feel you should write what people want to read. You can’t be doing that. I can only write what I’d like to read, and if others enjoy it then fair play to them. A lot of my energy is spent expelling any expectations or judgement from the process. ’Twas easier first time round when no one expected nothing.”

As most will know, Blindboy began his public career as one half of The Rubberbandits alongside his Spar bag wearing associate Mr. Chrome. Over the past 18 years the pair have been involved in their fair share of gas cunt antics, Blindboy’s favourite of which was during their show at Electric Picnic 2008, “where we dressed a lad up as a giant lump of hash and had a guard chase him around the stage, while Gerry Adams sawed Eamon Devalera in half in the background”, but recent artistic ventures have seen him favour solo projects. I wondered if he missed his concealed companion and a marvelously Irish response followed.

“Ah we’re grand,” he told me. “When we want to do stuff together we do. But other than that, I’m completely self-sufficient creatively. I’m a bit of a loner anyway so I’m more comfortable spending hours by myself working away on something. When something hits us, we work together and have craic. But there’s no point forcing it. At the moment, my creative voice is in writing and the podcast; I have to listen to that. I’m still banging out tunes in my spare time. I’m just not ready to release them.”

Ignoring for a moment the lightening wit and piss yourself hilarity that is The Rubberbandits’ unique satirical output, they’re probably best known to the general public for wearing plastic bags on their heads, Blindboy’s bag of choosing a red and white number from JC’s Supermarket in Swords.

Speaking in a clip from the podcast now living on the group’s YouTube account he explained that he made the decision for privacy.

“I can go to Aldi, I can go to Tesco. I can go into Tesco and buy a load of toilet roll. No one knows who the fuck I am, no one cares who I am… Neither of us are interested in fame or notoriety of any description. It’s something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.”

At a recent live podcast show in The Sugar Club, Blindboy sat on the stage, plastic on head, all eyes in the sold out venue on him, listening to his every word, afterwards people waiting outside to meet him, talk to him and have copies of their books signed. Then once the show is wrapped up he can simply head back stage, pull off the bag, the red hat, and disappear into the crowd unnoticed. I asked him how he felt about living what could be described as a double life.

“Absolutely brilliant; fame and notoriety get very tiring, very quickly. I know what it feels like to be on the front page of every newspaper, it’s a surreal feeling that is toxic for the head. There’s great value and humility in being a regular person.

“I’d hate it, in my day-to-day life, if people treated me in accordance with my notoriety. I like real, human interactions where people are nice to me because I’ve earned it from them. I know famous people who have weird lives, where they can no longer enjoy regular anonymous living.

“Over the years, Blindboy has become a bit closer to who I really am. I just need the bag to avoid the bullshit and cringeyness that goes with being recognised in Ireland. I can choose to wear my notoriety and then take it off when I want to chill out. I’m very lucky in that respect, I wouldn’t trade it.”

When it comes to his past dealings with depression and anxiety, Blindboy is an open book. His compassion for people and determination to share the tools that he’s been given to care for his mental health are undeniable.

A Tweet from a follower he recently shared read, ‘Had a great chat with my doc this morning, who told me he has seen a lot of young men coming into him over the last few weeks to talk #mentalhealth. A lot said it was due to the @Rubberbandits podcast’. As someone who has studied psychotherapy and come through a difficult time, does Mr. Boatclub feel a responsibility to talk about and educate people on certain topics?

“When it comes to mental health and men, I do get a feeling of being duty bound. I’m a person who has overcome some pretty bad mental health issues and I did this through active changes in my thinking processes and lifestyle. I’ve a huge platform, so I absolutely want to share that with whoever needs it and will listen, especially in a society where the mental health conversation wasn’t part of our education or culture growing up.”

In 2015 Blindboy received a masters from Limerick Institute of Technology in Social Practice and the Creative Environment which he described as perfectly suited to artists whose gallery is the internet and social media. It’s common knowledge that social media can have a negative impact on a person’s mental health. As a prolific user of the internet, I was curious to know if he ever felt the platforms were taking their toll on him.

“I used to, but I’ve become skilled over the years when it comes to knowing when to step away. There’s great value in choosing not to type a shitty comment, or get involved in an argument online. Those little negative interactions throughout the day can be very stressful. So I actively avoid negativity online. I get great solace from videos of cats or pictures of otters.”

In January a mural of the bagged bandit appeared in Dublin city centre. It was painted by SUBSET, a collective of artists striving to turn Dublin into an open air gallery, onto one of the walls of Hangar nightclub, coincidentally the first Dublin venue The Rubberbandits gigged in. It lasted just under two months before it was removed by Dublin City Council, along with a depiction of Luke Kelly, for violating planning permission laws. As a promoter of socially engaged art Blindboy was naturally unimpressed with the return to black walls.

“The walls of Ireland should be open for painting and artwork. Art is very valuable to society; it’s a way of having important conversations, in a different, often more complex language. Art should be accessible to all, making a genuine impact on the lives of everyday normal people. Not stuck away in a gallery, only to be consumed by those who’ve studied it.”

Art played an important role during the 2015 same-sex marriage referendum. Giant murals painted by artist Joe Caslin appeared in the east and the west. Colourful logos, posters, banners and badges led Ireland to become the first country to legalise same-sex marriage by popular vote. Fast forward three years, there’s another referendum looming and art and creativity are back at the forefront of the cause.

Why does art play such an important role in political campaigns? I put the question to Blindboy.

“The Eighth Amendment is the type of injustice that sparks creative voices to action. It’s frustrating and creative people want to express and communicate that frustration in a way that transcends simple conversation.”

Anna Cosgrave, founder of the Repeal Project and guest editor of the May edition, started a campaign in 2016 hoping her range of jumpers would offer a more positive and productive way for people to engage with the movement. Back then she was contacting influential Irish women to help garner attention for the project, two years later she’s switched her focus to the men and she told me why.

“Men are half of the population, their voice, their vote and their support matters. We, for decades, have fought long and hard for reproductive freedom and it’s time to ensure that men know why and how this is fundamental to our existence in society.”

What did Blindboy have to say on the male vote?

“Just because you will never give birth, as a member of a community and society, it’s your responsibility to use your right to vote for the betterment of your community. It’s about giving people a choice that they don’t have. If you’re against repeal, you’re not against abortion, you’re against safe abortion.”

Maybe you’re a man who’s just read that quote or maybe you have a friend, a brother, a father, colleague or boyfriend who doesn’t seem to be engaging with the referendum. Blindboy had this piece of advice for how to introduce that person in your life to the topic of the Eighth Amendment.

“If it’s your mate first and foremost, approach him with friendly compassion. Not direct confrontation. Appeal to their innate kindness and frame the issue as a responsibility. Educate him on the massive health risks of pregnancy. Visually walk him through the harrowing unsafe journey that a woman in Ireland must endure to access abortion in the UK, and then return to Ireland as a criminal, so that he can empathise with that and become emotional around the topic. Then remind him, that if you’re poor, you don’t even have access to that.”

The Blindboy Podcast is available to download now. Click here for more.

Words: Hannah O'Connell / Photography: Mark William Logan 
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