Near-dwarf experience sets Eoin and Moley on a mission to entertain
Eoin Ó Súilleabháin taught his little brother Mícheál (he calls himself Moley after the character in The Wind in The Willows) the chords to Radiohead's prog-rock masterwork Fake Plastic Trees when he was 17. With those chords, Moley wrote an ode to Charlie Haughey in the style of a Christy Moore ballad. It was the first song he ever wrote.
"It is about a man who loves Charlie and tells me he is right and everyone else is wrong." He sings me a bit of it. I hope the Minister for Health isn't in the vicinity. You'll soon see why ...
"I love the Taoiseach, and I love Fianna Fáil
He's not dirty, he's the king of the Dáil"
Moley roars note-perfect,
"They want to put you under lock and key
I've only one thing to say: F*** Mary Harney."
The cultured sons of acclaimed Irish musicians and singers Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin and Nóirín Ni Riain, they both went to the Benedictine monastery Glenstal Abbey in County Limerick for their initial education.
"It gave us a posh accent, a Dublin accent," laughs Moley, "even though we're from Limerick."
Born in the maternity hospital in the city (Eoin on April 12, 1984 and Moley on February 16, 1988), the brothers, aka size2shoes, have a chemistry both onstage and off that is infectious.
Over lunch in One Perry Square in Limerick on Wednesday afternoon, they play around with thoughts and ideas like two metaphysical kittens with a ball of wool. You can see why actor William Hurt is one of their biggest fans and supporters. He brought fellow movie star to see the band's gig in Maidenhead last week. He told them he was impressed that they had their act "so down".
"I think the actors were impressed because we were riding the wave in real time, ie performing in front of an audience live," says Moley.
Ben Elton, who was also at the show, told them that their performance "was an act of genius".
What did you say to that?
"Holy f***!" smiles Eoin. Moley didn't know who Ben Elton was.
The brothers Ó Súilleabháin exude both a kind of manic youthful joy and an out-of-kilter innocence. Their eponymously titled début album has a consciously positive and upbeat feel. They don't do recession-appropriate dourness. On the title track of the album, they are "looking forward" to "a pleasant surprise". On Light In The Dark, they are looking to "tomorrow" and feeling themselves "glow".
The album throughout has a meditative Van Morrison-on-ecstasy hopefulness to it.
"We set out to write songs to make you feel happy inside," Moley says. (They are officially launching the new album in Crawdaddy in Dublin in September and in Union Chapel in London the same month.)
"We've had people come to our gigs who don't actually like gigs and they have a really great time," says Eoin. "The numbers are down for people who go to Irish artists' gigs because they are indulging in songs that are not very uplifting or entertaining. The acoustic scene in Ireland is dying."
"We are good old-fashioned entertainment. That's our motto. It's been so long since we've seen anyone with a smile on their face play a guitar and wanting the audience to smile, to feel happy," says Moley, adding that "punk" violinist Nigel Kennedy, who has had size2shoes play for him a few times -- most notably at his birthday party gig in Krakow two years ago, has described them as "Ireland's best singer-songwriters".
"We are," smiles Eoin, "great live." I can attest to this fact having seen them perform in the Cobalt Café on North Great Georges Street last October. I wrote at the time that the synergy between Eoin and Moley onstage "puts you in mind of Simon & Garfunkel or Steely Dan unplugged".
Hearing the songs on the new album they have evidently increased their powers. (They are supporting David Gray on Tuesday at the Galway Arts Festival and then at the Electric Picnic, so go along and see for yourself.) They talk a lot about breaking down the barrier between performer and audience.
"It is about stepping over where it is about the listener not the performer," says Moley. "The primacy of the performance is in the listener," adds Eoin.
"We are more entertaining than Bob Dylan live," Eoin claims, somewhat controversially. Not that they shy away from controversial comment. Moley describes Irish singer-songwriter Declan O'Rourke as looking like he "has a potato for a head".
Eoin, who studied philosophy at UCD, can have his egghead moments.
"He's the thinker," Moley says, "I'm the populist."
The chorus of Take It Easy is pure Van Morrison circa No Guru, No Method, No Teacher.
"You see, I am the master, I am a slave
While you foresee disaster, I'll float upon this wave."
"I can trace the history of those lyrics," says Moley. "Before we started to sing together, Eoin was a songwriter of many songs. He was very serious and he used to read a lot of philosophy. That line in the song about master and slave is actually linked to a philosophical idea."
Eoin looks morto. "It's Hegel. It's the Hegelian dialectic of philosophy. It's not really interesting. We talked about dropping that verse from the song. Yet it got in. If you look at the album, which is very hopeful and jolly almost, those are the most austere lines on it. We tried to concentrate on keeping the songs light and happy."
On the song Respect The Man, they sing about loving "the ground -- it keeps me up when I'm feeling down". "It's just about feeling down," says Moley, who wrote that song. "It's about things that have a negative connotation but sometimes make you feel better."
"When we are writing love songs, we don't say 'he' or 'she' or 'we'. We don't break down the gender boundary. We try to write love songs but we try not to make it gender specific, so that everyone can share the emotions."
Ireland got its first chance to share those emotions when size2shoes played their first gig supporting Damien Dempsey in 2004 in UCC. Since then, they have picked up many fans and famous admirers along the way. Paddy Moloney of The Chieftains has asked them to play with his band. (Moley rapped onstage with The Chieftains at the Waterfront Hall last year.) "Paddy loves our stuff and is going to help us," says Eoin.
Similarly, Russell Crowe, who "loves the new album", has invited them out to his farm in Australia in September for two months to record their second album at his studio. "Russell has always been one of our biggest fans," says Eoin. They met three years ago when the actor was in Kilkee to honour the late Richard Harris. "The local community were putting up a statue to Harris and they asked Russell would he come over and sing. He said yes. He asked for a choir and he got us." They met outside Scots pub in Kilkee. "We got on straight away," says Moley. Later that day, they sang together the Crowe-penned Mr Harris Takes The Field. They have been in touch ever since.
Formed in 2002, the name size2shoes was inspired allegedly by an American girl Moley was dating and she was suitably diminutive. "She was one inch off being a dwarf. We never got beyond the kissing. I didn't want to unleash the madness!" Moley told me last October, when I met them for the first time after their show in Dublin. (Nine months later, Moley and his brother appear no closer to unleashing the madness.)
Matters romantic rise their head on the new album several times. On Sleeptight there is much Van musing: "We take a stroll/You satisfy my soul." On the same song, there is also talk of the sun falling "but I'll be by your side". On Snooze, an unnamed object of affection in bed is told: "Now we're doing what we're choosing/So baby keep on snoozing." Yet, despite the amorous lyricism, neither of them have girlfriends at present.
"But we're available," laughs Eoin.
"We're open to offers!" laughs Moley, adding with a bigger chortle that his brother "is more confident sexually".
"What that's supposed to mean?" says Eoin morto again.
"We've had girlfriends in the past," says Moley. "We're not virgins!"
"But I think celibacy is underrated," Eoin.
Time to go. Moley has to go to teach his rap course to students in Limerick Youth Service. Eoin drives like a bat on acid out of hell to get me to the train on time. The Cork train at Limerick Junction is pulling in just as he turns the corner into the station. "Safe journey" he says.
Size2shoes' journey to superstardom is perhaps just beginning.
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