Interview: Bennie Reilly (Little Xs for Eyes)

Bennie Little Xs For Eyes

Mike McGrath Bryan chats to Bennie Reilly from indie pop band Little Xs for Eyes about their new album, Spotify and their plans for the rest of the year. Photo by Abigail Denniston.

Everywhere Else has been in the works for a while now. Was there a coherent record in mind all along, or were singles along the way, like ‘Summer Stay’ the focus before collecting them along with other new songs?

We recorded the album this time last year, and the songs had all been in development for a couple of years prior to that but during that time we had a slight line-up change – Ed Costello replaced Adrian Reilly as our drummer – and it always takes a bit of time to fall into rhythm with a new band member (pardon the pun!), but by the end of 2013 we decided we had enough songs to make a coherent album, so we started to put plans in place for recording. We always had the album in mind, ‘Summer Stay’ was one of the earliest tracks. We recorded and released a version of it in 2013 to keep ourselves in people’s consciousness, but we knew that it would likely be part of the album. The album version is a little different though.

‘Logical Love’ and ‘Love Gets Lost’ are more straightforward pop songs than the band has put out prior, musically at least. Was this a conscious decision on your part or rather the sum of influences/current listening at the time of writing?

That is definitely down to influences and current listening. Over the years we’ve had quite a few changes of band members, particularly during the making of S.A.D and influences had always been varied but eventually we found ourselves as a band of six musicians who share very strong pop sensibilities – an appreciation of pop throughout the ages (from Paul Simon to Paul Young, Starship to Metronomy) – and ‘Everywhere Else’ is a product of that. I grew up in a house where the radio was NEVER turned off, I mean even when there was nobody home (for security!) and during the night (to lull me to sleep) and I think all of the chart music of the ’80s and ’90s seeped into my system over the years and has made it feel very natural to write a pop songs. I’m still quite influenced by folk music too, which I think comes across in tracks like ‘Phantom Wings’ and ‘Funk Island’, but the force of the band’s collective pop passion has coloured even those songs with the pop-brush.

Little xs for eyes’ themes are all very much rooted in love and fantasies of a sort, from the imagery of teenage discos, to a love for and getting lost in nature, to little flutters of eyelashes to pop culture (‘Loser Leaves Town’, etc.). But ‘Logical Love’ dials down the fantasising a bit in favour of stridence and impatience. Is that an allusion to growing up, almost?

That’s really interesting. I hadn’t thought of it before now but ‘Logical Love’ does differ lyrically from the other songs on the album, it’s not so personal, more observational, it’s kind of like I took on a different character when I wrote it. The fact that that song was developed in a different way to all the other songs on the album probably has something to do with that. Normally I write songs alone, the tone and music and lyrics all emerge together and are usually personal and a bit introspective, but with ‘Logical Love’, Harry wrote most of the instrumentation and sent it to me and so the lyrics and melody are my reaction to this sound. It’s sort of like I took on a role that suited the music, those synths and the rhythm took me back ten years in time when the excitement and torment of every potential romance was all consuming. In real life though I’ve always been very sensible with romance, my love is very logical.

Sleep Thieves have recently come out in favour of Spotify and its reach to casual music fans, and indeed, it features front and centre in the promotional bits and bobs for ‘Logical Love’ – how has digital streaming and in particular Spotify affected the band as of yet?

Well we haven’t yet felt the benefits of Spotify at the same scale as Sleep Thieves, neither monetarily nor from musical outreach but I think it’s important to go with flow and hope that we might eventually feel some of those more positive effects. We have noticed a decline in sales of our music. I myself use Spotify to check out new music but whenever I discover something special I always go and buy it. There will always (I hope) be people in the world that will want to buy and own their favourite music and I suppose being on Spotify makes it a bit easier for those people to find us.

You’ve also provided the new theme to Conor O’Toole’s nature series for kids on YouTube, World of the Animal Kingdom. Again, nature ties in thematically with a lot of your songs, what was the craic with it?

We met Conor a few years ago at a gig in Dublin. We were playing and he was doing some stand-up and we became mutual fans! He’s a very funny chap and we do share a fascination with the oddities of the natural world. I’ve always been influenced by nature and weather, both as a visual artist and a song writer. I am definitely affected by the seasons and I’m at my best when I’m outdoors, or travelling or lost somewhere. A lot of our songs are actually conceived when I’m out walking so that might also be part of the reason that the weather and natural imagery features so much in them.

The last few years have seen an absolute explosion in Irish DIY and independent music, and interest has been piqued to the point where Le Galaxie and All Tvvins are on major labels now. What’s your take on this development, and would you do the proverbial deal with the devil?

I was delighted to see Le Galaxie get signed. They have really put in the hard graft over the past few years and their ambition and commitment has paid off. The lads from All Tvvins have been on the scene for quite a while too. It makes me wonder if this will become a trend for major labels, if they’ll wait until the unsigned band pumps all they have into their own development, makes a few albums, tours their hole off and builds up a big fan base, then when they see the band have reached a certain level of success and popularity they’ll approach, knowing that there is less risk involved and less work to be done. I think we probably would take a record deal, under the right conditions. It’s an opportunity to actually get paid to write music and be in a band! And the chance to focus purely on making music without having to worry about doing all of the booking and PR and management. Being a DIY independent band is really hard work, we’d love some help!

What’s the plan for the rest of the year? New album, festival circuit and the rest of 2015?

I think our main focus for the rest of the year will be gigging and promotion of the album, we’ll try to get around the country more and perhaps beyond. We’re looking forward to getting more videos made to help promote the tunes – the video for ‘Logical Love’ will be launched on April 7th and we’ve a few more in the pipeline.

little xs for eyes – Logical Love from little xs for eyes on Vimeo.

‘Logical Love’ is available now on Bandcamp, Spotify and iTunes. Second album Everywhere Else is available for pre-order on Bandcamp now.