Why music is all in a day's work for Derry indie hopefuls
Adam Montgomery, multi-instrumentalist and singer of Londonderry duo Sullivan & Gold, has taken time out from his day job to carry out this interview.
"I'm working in Lisburn at the moment, for a sales company," he says. "If Ben (Robinson, piano/vocals) and I had an opportunity to work in music full-time though, we'd take it of course. It's what we aspire to, but we're realistic about it."
It's exceedingly rational talk from the man who, bizarrely, named his band after the joint chairmen of West Ham United.
It seems humility and a work ethic is the grounding for new Northern Irish bands, values epitomised by Smalltown America, the rootsy Derry record label that Sullivan & Gold's debut album, For Foes, was released on. Other Ulster acts on the roster include folk band Little Bear, acoustic singer Our Krypton Son (real name Chris McConaghy) and cult punk group Jetplane Landing, whose frontman Andrew Ferris played a part in the formation of Sullivan & Gold and the production of their record.
"Ben and I had been in a group called The Good Fight that ended three years ago, leaving us a wee bit down on ourselves and unsure about what to do next," explains Montgomery. "Then Andrew came along and persuaded us to get writing again. He worked on the songs for the album with us, too."
Ferris has been promoting and collaborating with Northern Irish bands for over a decade, and his generous spirit seems to be filtering down to the new breed of musicians; this is the impression given by the story of For Foe's recording at least. Sullivan & Gold received a fair amount of help on the record, although its creation was a fairly laborious process due to the "tricky" responsibility of an office job.
"Connor (Mason) from Little Bear did all the post-production on the album," says Montgomery. "So there is a definite sense of community at Smalltown America. A lot of guys in bands are always pottering around the headquarters doing different things from the label and other bands; Our Krypton Son plays in our live band."
Mr McConaghy will take to the stage twice next Friday, when he joins both Sullivan & Gold and Little Bear for a gig at 101 Central, a renovated church on Belfast's Donegall Street. Sullivan & Gold will perform tracks from For Foes, which was completed about a year ago, but only released late last month. Montgomery is coy when pushed on the delayed release.
"We were just sitting on it, waiting for the right time when everything was in place," he said.
So there was no issue over the release? "No, they were cool."
Critics have compared the record favourably to folk-leaning indie bands Bombay Bicycle Club and Ireland's Villagers. Montgomery admits Sullivan & Gold "aren't doing anything brand new", and states his desire to retain a "classic feel". Music bloggers have lapped up For Foes, a pleasing occurrence for Montgomery, who concedes that he and his bandmate have "been following all of the reviews".
Montgomery and Robinson were keen not to write about themselves, so they created a fictional persona. "Through artistic licence we've focused on this person's older and younger self as well as their present being," says Montgomery. "We were just trying to find more interesting ways to write."
As for Derry, Montgomery sees no reason to sever their hometown ties for now.
"There's a real music culture about Derry," he says. "People are starting to recognise it as a place of massive musical influence. I don't plan on moving away for a long time!"