‘I was never looking to make a pop album,’ claimedRead more...
Ten years have passed since the release of Crave, the second – and to date final – album from Cyclefly, the Irish-French group who enjoyed major acclaim and minor commercial success before abruptly calling it a day. In the few short years that they were together they toured with the likes of Bush, collaborated with Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington and appeared at the Reading and Leeds festivals.
First emerging in 1998 with the single Crawl Down, Cyclefly blended heavy guitars with melodic vocals, a glam-punk image and often surreal lyrics, in which frontman Declan O’Shea sang about supergods, whores and plastic-coated men. Yet no sooner had they begun to gain recognition by the metal press and adoration from their fans the band fell apart, with each member moving onto new projects.
The roots of Cyclefly can be traced back to France in the early 1990s when guitarist Nono Presta, bassist Christian Montagne and drummer Jean Michel Cavallo formed The Seventeen. In 1992, the five-piece made their way from Antibes to County Cork in Ireland in the hope of making a name for themselves on the local music scene. But when fame failed to beckon two members decided to return home, leaving Presta, Montagne and Cavallo without a group. ‘Feeling that we still had a lot to give we stayed and decided to make a new band,’ recalls Montagne of the demise of The Seventeen. ‘To our luck and, more importantly, to their luck, we met Declan and Ciarán and it all started very quick after that.’
At the time, Declan O’Shea was working as a carpenter, having recently returned from Paris where he had applied his trade at Euro Disney, and was soon approached by the three musicians about collaborating on a new project. With Declan taking the role of the singer and his brother, Ciarán, joining as the second guitarist, the group adopted the name Dogabone and began to perform locally around Midleton and Cork. One key venue during the early days was The Meeting Place, a small club which specialised mostly in folk music. Launched in 1989 by Tony Moore, the bar, which had extended into the premises next door, became a hot spot for local talent and soon Dogabone found themselves under the wing of one of the owners.
‘Tony Moore was good to us, loaning us money for a van to travel in exchange for doing gigs,’ says Declan on how the band landed their first break. ‘We quickly started to become very popular from playing there.’ With their new transport, the group performed around Ireland and with the money earned through their shows recorded a collection of songs which they self-released as an EP. Through a friend they were introduced to Roger Hunt and Roy Jenkins of Noise Management Ltd and, having adopted the new name Cyclefly, they were soon attracting the attention of various record.
Among the most promising was Beggars Banquet, an independent label that had released such classic albums as The Pleasure Principle by Gary Numan and Love by The Cult. But, having relocated to London, it would be following an acoustic show at the 12 Bar Club near Soho that they aroused the interest of Radioactive Records. Based in America, the company had enjoyed major success with Live‘s breakthrough album Throwing Copper in 1994, while they had also been responsible for the last three studio albums from punk legends the Ramones. The contract was signed soon after the show and the band commenced work with producer Sylvia Massy, whose work with Tool they had admired.
Following pre-production in Ireland, Massy and Cyclefly relocated to Sound City Studios in Van Nuys, Los Angeles, where Nirvana had recorded their 1991 classic Nevermind, to commence work on their own album. ‘We felt that the L.A. lifestyle was perfect for recording our first album and where better to get a good drum sound than in the Sound City drum room,’ admits Ciarán O’Shea, who would later become a producer in his own right. ‘We recorded using reel-to-reel, vintage amps, live drums, mellotrons, the kitchen sink and all kinds of madness really!’ Having already developed an eye for metal through her work with not only Tool but artists like Green Jellÿ (including the 1993 hit Three Little Pigs) and Skunk Anansie, Massy captured the heavy aspect of Cyclefly, wisely avoiding giving the music a clear and radio-friendly sound. Assisting Massy as the studio engineer was Billy Joe Bowers, who in the years since has worked with such names as Bruce Springsteen, AC/DC and Pearl Jam. While his primarily role was that of engineer, Bowers on occasion also acted as producer, which would result in the acoustic tracks Star and Kyle, both of which would later be released as B-sides.
With the recording and mixing finally complete, the next challenge for the band was to decide on which songs to include on the album. The final version featured eleven tracks, ranging from the frantic Following Yesterday and Plastic Coated Man to the more melodic Whore and Slaves. ‘Deciding what songs make the record, well at this point everyone is involved,’ explains Montagne. ‘Band members, manager and label each with their own input and opinions. As you can imagine, the confusion and discussions! Personally I would have put Selotape on the album even with that weird intro. But I was outnumbered.’ It would seem that Selotape was one of many songs that both band and label debated endlessly over, with Ciarán stating that he ‘fucked up’ the song with the addition of a sitar, while Declan feels that either Selotape or another omitted track, Panic, could have replaced the slower number Sump.
Regardless, the songs that were eventually chosen for the album, which would be titled Generation Sap, represented the group’s broad range and energetic live performance. Both Selotape and Star, however, would surface before the album on the band’s first major label release, Crawl Down. Their second single, Supergod, would show a far more aggressive side, avoiding the inclusion of an acoustic track and instead featuring two of Cyclefly‘s heaviest and shortest songs as its B-sides, resulting in the CD running at barely eight-and-a-half minutes. The third and final single to be taken from the album was the opening track Violet High, which was accompanied by the aforementioned Kyle and a re-recording of Plastic Coated Man.
With Generation Sap gaining critical acclaim, Cyclefly soon found themselves touring with an array of popular artists, such as Live and Iggy Pop, while they also shared the Emerging Artists Stage with Muse at Woodstock 1999. While the band was featured in numerous popular metal magazines, Declan O’Shea took part in the late-night music quiz Popped In, Crashed Out, hosted by Kerrang!‘s Phil Alexander. Following extensive touring and a change of management, relocating from Noise Management Ltd to Brendan Bourke of Los-Angeles based The Firm, the band began writing material for what would become their second album. Yet despite the popularity of their debut, they opted not to reunite with Massy for the follow-up and instead agreed to work with Colin Richardson, a candidate for the first record, whose résumé included Fear Factory and Machine Head. ‘To be honest, I much preferred working in L.A. with Sylvia,’ admits Declan. ‘Some of the guys wanted to go for a heaver sound, this is why we chose Colin. They were listening to a lot of Deftones at the time, which had a great sound.’
In comparison to its predecessor, Cyclefly‘s second album Crave was far more polished and saw the band experiment with programming. Recording took place at Parkgate Studios in East Sussex, although several tracks were produced by Bill Appleberry and Tobias Miller at Totally Wired in Dublin. Proving that their status had increased in the years since their first album, the track Karma Killer featured backing vocals from Chester Bennington of Linkin Park, whose own debut Hybrid Theory had become the surprise success of 2000. Another notable appearance came from Alexander ‘Sacha’ Puttnam, an acclaimed composer and conductor who had worked regularly with Bush, as well as scoring music for various shows, movies and computer games. ‘For Crave, we knew how good Colin was on capturing live performance and this is what we wanted to capture,’ explains Montagne on the recording of the sophomore album. ‘We spent three months in Parkgate, taking our time, trying to produce an incredible record, but I guess our music missed the Californian sunshine. I feel that we were rushed into the studio to make the second album. It’s a shame, as the idea for Crave had the potential to be stronger than Generation Sap.’
For some, the bar had been set so high with Cyclefly‘s debut album that anything that followed would be met with unreasonable expectations. Regardless, Crave was still a strong record that featured some truly memorable songs, from opener No Stress to the underrated Crowns, which featured the best bass line of any Cyclefly track. The special edition included the haunting acoustic number Accidental Ornaments which, for reasons unknown, was not included on the standard release. ‘The reaction to the first album was totally surprising and very positive,’ says Presta. ‘However, although the reaction to Crave was good enough, we really had higher expectations for that album.’
The critical reaction to Crave was somewhat mixed; while Drowned in Sound said, ‘It all ends very suddenly, but that’s probably the only complaint I can make,’ NME’s more cynical review dismissed it as ‘a turgid, tuneless, completely crass piece of mix and match nu-metal.’ The single that was released to promote the album was No Stress, which was accompanied by Crowns and the previously unreleased Small Idols, a laid back and hypnotic number. It wasn’t long before the band had reconvened to work on new material, writing and recording demos for what they hope would become their third album, but it soon became obvious that there was something amiss. ‘The band had not run its course, but it was meant to end then as there was a lot of uncertainty and bad feeling. At the time the band wasn’t in a good place; Jean Michele and Nono left,’ Declan O’Shea explains on how Cyclefly started to fall apart. Yet unlike some bands, the demise of Cyclefly was not a dramatic affair and all parties remained good friends following the split.
Brothers Declan and Ciarán continued to perform together and before long they were once again jamming with Montagne. The result of this would be Hueman, with the line-up completed by guitarist Aidan Lee and drummer Kieran O’Neill. The five-piece performed several gigs and recorded demos but the band would prove to be short-lived, prompting Ciarán to turn his focus to producing. Among the groups that he has worked with over the last few years are fellow Cork artists The Frank and Walters, Echogram and Rulers of the Planet, as well as Los Angeles-based Karma Krash. Montagne continued to write and record new material and eventually approached Declan with a demo for a song called Grace, asking for his advice. Impressed with the track, the two began collaborating together once again and soon Mako was born. ‘I asked if he wanted another one, as we were both so pleased with the result of Grace,’ says Montagne, ‘I ended up giving all the songs and within a month we had it all wrapped up.’
The duo relocated to Montagne’s hometown of Antibes in the south of France to work on their new songs, recording at Panoramix with engineer Sebastian Gastaldi of EMB Productions. While both would play guitar and Montagne would handle the bass and keyboard, they invited many of their friends to the studio to contribute to the songs, with Ciarán, Presta and Cavallo all making an appearance. ‘Mako is very different from Cyclefly, mainly because Mako started off with just myself and Christian,’ explains Declan. ‘We wrote everything; it was pretty relaxed and we didn’t worry too much about an outcome. His style of writing music is a little different than what we did in Cyclefly. Ultimately, we don’t really think of a direction musically, we just let it happen.’
While Mako worked on their debut album Living on Air, their former bandmates pursued other avenues of creativity. Presta teamed up with singer Ross Daly to form That Falling Feeling, which took inspiration from such metal bands as Deftones. Recruiting bassist Sean Scott-Biard, drummer Richie Wymberry and keyboardist Dave O’Connell, they began recording new songs and published them online through YouTube and ReverbNation. ‘To be honest it’s a brand new band. We are still focusing on writing new material and developing our sound,’ states Presta on That Falling Feeling. ‘We are touring Ireland at the moment, but we do expect to move outside of Ireland at some point in the future…we are currently using YouTube as a means of progress; we have two videos called Agnosia and Here Comes the Ground featured at the moment.’ The video for the latter would incorporate footage from the 2003 animated short The Kid, a segment from The Matrix spinoff Animatrix, that told of a teenger who attempts to escape from sinister men in suits who appear at his school, resulting in him falling to his death from the roof and awaking in the ‘real world.’
Cavallo has also remained active in the years since leaving Cyclefly. Perhaps his most significant project is Slow Motion Heroes, a ‘supergroup’ that also features members of Hope is Noise and Revolution of a Sun. Cavallo first became involved with the band in late 2008 when he was contacted by frontman Barry McAuliffe, best known as the singer of Rulers of the Planet, to join his new seven-piece project. Much like Mako, Cavallo relocated with his bandmates to France to work on new material and last summer they released their first EP, entitled Pop. A follow-up, Not Pop, emerged a few months later, while the group also made their festival debut at the Indiependence Festival in Mitchelstown, County Cork. Gaining a loyal following, Slow Motion Heroes have performed alongside such local talent as The Frank and Walters and Dimitry Datus. Elsewhere, Cavallo also contributed to freezerRoom, the brainchild of Cork-based producer Graham White.
Almost a decade on from the demise of Cyclefly and each member looks back fondly on their experiences touring the world. ‘I’m really happy about my time in Cyclefly, we had an amazing time,’ admits Declan. ‘There are a good few albums left in Cyclefly, if it’s meant to happen I’m sure it will.’ For Presta, reflecting on his experience with the band brings mixed feelings, ‘I feel that we worked very hard together for so many years and felt a sadness when we had no alternative but to disband. I, as well as the others I’m sure, feel sorry that we were never as successful as we fought to be. We did our best and that’s all we could do.’ Montagne concurs, ‘I came to Ireland because I had a dream about being in a rock band, to tour the world and have an album that hit the shops and, well, my dream came true.’