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Gypsies on the Autobahn are going places, but Dublin, Cabra and the Smith’s house will always be their home. Hannah O’Connell visited their creative hangout.
It was a Sunday morning when I caught up with Gypsies on the Autobahn. The Dublin foursome piled into the living room of band members James and Dan Smith’s family home, two days after their debut album Born Brief hit the shelves. They launched the release with a live, acoustic set in Tower Records.
“We thought the number of people down in Tower was standard,” says guitarist Niall Mooney, “but the label said it was way more than you would normally get. I don’t know; they’re happy so we’re just like hey, it’s cool!”
Fellow Dublin musician Hozier is a fan and was there to support on the night.
“He came along to the gig which is great,” recalls Mooney. “It was good that he was showing his support because obviously he’s got a pull. We really appreciate that.”
This laid back attitude epitomises the GOTA ethos. They’re quietly confident, never cocky and always humble.
Speaking on when they signed to Universal in the summer of 2015 Niall says, “They had only heard about five songs before they signed us and they were never in the studio with us once. It’s kind of weird when you think about it, no one from the label ever showed up. We never got a call or anything.
“There was a time when we were wondering were we actually signed or not?” Laughs bassist Gary Quinn.
The band has been together for ten years, forming to compete in a 4th year, school talent show. They lost to a magician.
“We just did it as a hobby but we really enjoyed it,” tells Niall. “Obviously in the back of our heads we were thinking we would love to be able to make it and do it as a career but it was never something that we thought would be definite. We went to college and stuff but we kept it going on the side and about five years ago we decided to get serious about it. We started to write songs to a certain standard.”
It’s impossible to have a conversation with the guys without being impressed by their passion and dedication. What started out as four friends having the craic in school grew quickly into something which felt much bigger.
“I think it’s funny how everything has sort of changed over the years,” says Gary. “We used to rehearse three times a week and we would come down and fart around in the (Smith’s) kitchen but now as things have ramped up over the last while it’s about coming down and sitting here and having a meeting first.
“You can’t do it on WhatsApp either, it just doesn’t work,” remarks drummer Dan Smith. “People get confused in real life as to what the subject is,” laughs Niall. “Forty something messages later and no one has a clue what we’re talking about.”
Hanging out in the Smith’s home has been something the group and their friends have been doing as long as any of them can remember. The band were lucky enough to have been gifted a section of the house to be used as rehearsal space when they first formed and they’ve been writing and playing music in it ever since.
The home has a somewhat open door policy with friends, siblings, girlfriends and cats all popping by during our interview. This closeness to the people in their lives is a theme evident throughout the work of Gypsies on The Autobahn. The music video for Torrents, their first single from the new album, was shot by a close friend and features another. While Hidden gives fans a glimpse into intimate moments in the band members’ personal lives.
Lead singer James Smith writes the lyrics for the group and keeps his inspiration close to home. James and brother Dan lost their dad to suicide when they were children and there is an undeniable emotional undertone to Born Brief.
As Dan puts it, “I don’t think there’s any sad songs on the album. There are sad themes but the overriding message is one of hope in the face of these situations.
“I think for the majority of my life I was trying to pass a message down to my younger brothers,” tells James. “I was always trying to talk to them or to my family or friends and I think when you’re doing that it works universally to whoever is going to listen to it. I suppose growing up in churches where there are people trying to bring some kind of hope into their lives or to other people, it was just ingrained into my thought process. I’ve been compared to a preacher,” he laughs.
Born Brief is a collection of songs that fit together seamlessly and without knowing you wouldn’t guess that some were written seven years before others. This is down to producer Rob Kirwin who has previously worked with the likes of U2 and Depeche Mode to name but a few.
“You know when Rob came in, he didn’t know about the songs and their history,” Niall explains. “He just said here are eleven songs that I really like and that fit together.”
The group was introduced to Rob by their manager Daniel Ryan who spotted them at a battle of the bands in Academy 2 in 2011. Niall reminisces, “Dan had a broken hand at the time but he was like fuck it, so we played anyway. He absolutely smashed the drums out of it and when we came off he didn’t say anything, just dunked his hand into a bucket of ice. It worked out in our favour though.”
Not only did they meet their future manager that night but they preserved their self-proclaimed title of undefeated battle of the band contenders.
Since then Gypsies have been working tirelessly towards Born Brief. They took two years off the gigging scene and despite setting an encouragingly high standard for their songs, they have written enough music to keep them going well beyond their second album.
This Saturday sees the band take to the Whelan’s main stage for their first headline slot in three years. Initially set to take place in a smaller area of the venue, the show was moved to the larger space due to high demand.
Born Brief is an accomplished and polished debut album. Highlights on the record include tracks You Don’t Wanna, Battle, Torrents and older fan favourites Strength of Two and the undeniably catchy Hidden.
A handful of tickets remain for this Saturday’s gig. Take our advice and see GOTA in a small venue while you can. They’re going big places, but Dublin, Cabra and the Smith’s band room will always be their home.