RSAG interview in The Ticket

The third album from Kilkenny one-man band R.S.A.G is as sharp as a blade. Jeremy Hickey tells JIMCARROLL about going back to Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley for inspiration

JEREMY HICKEY has the blues but this is a good thing. Without a new-found interest in old-style blues and rock’n’roll, the one-man band from Kilkenny wouldn’t have ended up with a third album as swell as Be it Right or Wrong .

“Around the time I started playing live, I really got into the Chess label and people like Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley,” Hickey says. “This whole sound seemed to me to be the original dance music stuff that people were freaking out to because it was music that had a bit of a hop to it. That shuffle groove was what I was aiming for a new version of that sound.” Hickey’s aim was true. Be it Right or Wrong is as sharp as a blade, a record that takes a spin around the juke joints and blues clubs of the drummer’s imagination and comes back sweating.

But while those musical influences and tastes are very clearly informing Hickey’s nifty pop shakers, they’re not the only thing in the frame. “You’ve got that blues sound on the album, but you’ve also got stuff that takes in that dubby DJ Shadow groove that I started out with years ago and even some really jazzy stuff in there as well.”

Those expecting Hickey to repeat what he did the last time out may wonder what’s going on. A lot of people jumped around to the exuberant, full-bodied beats he threw down on 2008’s Organic Sampler album. Hickey, too, enjoyed the ride, but going back to that source for more wasn’t for him.

“You have to be progressing as a musician,” he says at one stage. “I don’t know what it is about me, but I think it’s very important to look ahead and always know where your next move will be. I’ve a few ideas already of where I’d like to go next, but that’s nothing new. I felt like that when I’d finished the first album, and again when I finished Organic Sampler . Music and albums have to be fresh.”

For Be it Right or Wrong , Hickey worked with Leo Pearson, a producer and remixer who has such heavyweights as U2, Christy Moore and David Holmes on his CV. Pearson and Hickey were first paired for TV show The Raw Sessions, and they clicked from the start.

“I had called out to his studio in Thomastown a week or two before I had to do the track for the TV thing to check it out. He’d actually done sound for me three times, but he’s very quiet and I didn’t know how good a producer he was until we did that track.

“After that we got talking about a few different things, and I took the demos to him and he got the vibe about what I was on about. The first track we worked on was the title track, and he got the idea I was after right away.”

The two of them seem to be well matched. “Like me, Leo is coming from the dance side, but he’s also into old-time blues and rock’n’roll, so we worked very well together. If he turned around and said something to me about a track, I’d probably be thinking the same thing.

“There was no conflict, there was no need for me to convince Leo what I wanted. I knew from the start that we were both very much into getting our own way,” he laughs, “so we cleared that before we started. It was a pleasure from beginning to end.”

A striking difference between Be it Right or Wrong and its predecessor is that there’s far more of Hickey’s vocals on the album. “Leo said to me at the start that he wanted to bring my vocals out more, which was just what I wanted to hear. I think my voice has improved from all the live gigs I’ve done since Organic Sampler came out. I’m more confident about what I can do, and I’m trying to keep the howling and yelping to just a few songs!”

The live show will continue to be a big selling point for R.S.A.G. Hickey talks about making it “bigger and bolder”, though it will remain a one-man show, aided and abetted by Paul Mahon’s visuals.

“I’m looking forward to jamming out the songs live. I want to approach it like a jazz musician who walks into a club and has played those tunes hundreds of times before but wants to make it different again that night. I think I wouldn’t have that spark if I had a full band, because I can do things differently every time out. Who’s to say that a band is right? In the current times, it’s hard enough to go out and make enough money for yourself without bringing a band along.”

Hickey knows there will be a lot more attention on him and the new album this time around thanks to the success of Organic Sampler , but he’s ready for it.

“The expectations keep you realistic about what you’re doing,” he says. “I know there’s a bit of attention around R.S.A.G. now �€� people know who I am. It’s never going to be the same as it was when I was starting out. But we’ve worked at this album and we’ve made sure there are no holes in it. We can stand tall over it and that’s all you can do. People are completely entitled to their opinion about it, but I’m very, very happy with it.

“It has more of a consistent sound on it, because I’m more experienced when it comes to recording. Some of the vocals on Organic Sampler were recorded at 2.30 in the morning, with my housemate pumping out tunes at full volume in the next room! That didn’t happen this time around. This time it was much more professional.”

Be It Right Or Wrong is released on June 11th. RSAGplays Sligo’s Model Arts Centre (May 29), Limerick’s Dolan’s (June 16), Cork’s Cyprus Avenue (17), Galway’s Róisín Dubh (18), Dublin’s Academy (24), Dundalk’s Spirit Store (26) and Kilkenny’s Set Theatre (July 24)