With friends in high places and a new album set to make waves, Irish synthpoppers Tiny Magnetic Pets look ready for the limelight
In the world of electronic music, endorsements very rarely, if ever, come much better than this. “Tiny Magnetic Pets are pure pop music,” states former Kraftwerker Wolfgang Flür in a short-but-to-the-point email that turns up in our inbox one morning. “I like the Irish band very much, we are friends. Paula Gilmer’s voice reminds me of a young Debbie Harry. I wish TMP luck and success with their wonderful music. I can only recommend: turn your radio on!”
The Dublin-based trio first caught the ear of Flür when they opened for him in their hometown in January 2016. They subsequently met him at the London launch of ‘Electri_City’, Rudi Esch’s book about the Düsseldorf music scene, and persuaded him to collaborate on ‘Radio On’, a track they were writing for their second album.
“We had his album, ‘Eloquence’, which we loved, and we were struck by the lyrical content and the way he approached the delivery of his lyrics,” recalls Sean Quinn, one third of the TMP trio. “We had some spoken word pieces on our last album, ‘Return Of The Tiny Magnetic Pets’, and we thought it would be great to get Wolfgang to collaborate on a track. We had a chorus and a sketch for the verse with no vocal. He came up with some synth parts initially, then we asked him to do a vocal. He did a great job. We love the way the second verse goes dark! He’s very meticulous, we bounced a lot of ideas off each other and it all felt very natural.”
Were the three-piece passed on any nuggets of wisdom from the former Kraftwerk member?
“His best bit of advice was not to ‘uber-produziert’ [over-produce] in reference to the original mixes of ‘Radio On’. He was completely right,” admits Sean.
Wolfgang appears on two tracks on the new record, ‘Deluxe/Debris’, the follow-up to their ironically titled debut album ‘Return Of The Tiny Magnetic Pets’. ‘Radio On’ sees Flür delivering a deadpan, but strangely moving spoken word counterpoint to THP vocalist Paula Gilmer, paying tribute to the power of the wireless, while the LP’s closing song ‘Never Alone’ comes swathed in his masterfully icy synth lines.
While the connection between Dublin and Düsseldorf may not be immediately obvious, ‘Electri_City’ author Rudi Esch points out that he was keen to have TMP play the first Electri_City Conference and be included on ‘The Düsseldorf School Of Electronic Music’ compilation earlier this year, because the trio are “in many ways connected to Düsseldorf”.
The band freely admit that in influence and outlook the German city has played a significant part in shaping their sound.
“Dublin is quite a beautiful European city,” says Sean, “but there’s no real tradition of electronic music, so we have to look to the UK and the rest of Europe.”
Deluxe/Debris’ certainly mixes and matches an impressive array of differing flavours. It combines avant-garde experimentation and cool synthpop purity with the catchiest earworms – understandable, as the band cite Bowie and early Kraftwerk alongside less expected influences like Radiohead and The Monkees. The opening tune ‘Lost My Guiding Light’ begins with widescreen grandeur echoing The Prodigy’s ‘Climbatize’, throbbing Orbital-esque basslines and Sean’s cascading guitars, bolstered by the beat programming and additional synthesiser manipulations of their third member, Eugene Somers.
“None of it is deliberate,” maintains Sean. “We’re the sum of our influences. We are all musicians, so we play a lot and ideas come from that. It has to come naturally or it doesn’t feel right, especially with the more experimental stuff. We describe ourselves as a live electronic band.”
“We all write, and in different ways,” adds Eugene. “Sometimes a whole song is presented, but most times someone has an initial idea, then someone else picks up on it. A lot of ideas get aired and we respect each others’ opinions.”
Elsewhere on the record we’re treated to the evocative, piano-led instrumental ‘Cold War Neon’ (“Cold War chic” having significantly shaped their aesthetic) and the more reflective ‘All Yesterday’s Tomorrows’, with its slowed down OMD/Human League-style mixture of the grimy and glamorous.
Their decision to call the album ‘Deluxe/Debris’ is reflected in the lyrics of ‘All Yesterday’s Tomorrows’ and ‘Shadow Street’, looking back on the promise of a scientifically-driven utopian future we were all sold as youngsters, and comparing it with the economic and cultural deterioration of the present.
The band originally recorded and subsequently shelved what they call a “sprawling” double album called ‘Future Perfect?’, which was intended as the follow-up to ‘Return Of The Tiny Magnetic Pets’.
“There was a song on there called ‘Deluxe/Debris’ or to use its working title, ‘Krautroxy’,” explains Sean. “It deals with the idea of the great shining future we had as kids: the end of war and hunger, flying cars, people on Mars. That’s the deluxe. What we actually have is the debris.”
Although the album contains a number of genuinely stirring, hands-in-the-air anthems, from ‘Here Comes The Noise’ to ‘Semaphore’, scratch below the surface and the lyrical content of ‘Deluxe/Debris’ is not as universally positive and feel-good as the music might initially suggest.
“The recurring theme in most of our lyrics is doubt or uncertainty,” says Paula. “Second guessing yourself, the choices you make. This comes up a lot in our songs: ‘I wonder if I got it all wrong / Is this where I’m supposed to be?’ from ‘All Yesterday’s Tomorrows’ or ‘The miracle of days unseen / Gives your life an optimistic sheen’ in ‘Lost My Guiding Light.”
Tiny Magnetic Pets see ‘Deluxe/Debris’ as a natural but significant progression from their debut, which featured founding members Sean and Paula occasionally backed up by James Byrne from Villagers on the drum kit.
“It was just the two of us with a couple of Moogs, a Vox Continental 300, a TR-77 and an SH-201,” says Sean. “We had no idea what we were supposed to sound like, so we just got on with it.”
The addition of third member Eugene heralded an upturn in their fortunes, with their 2015 ‘Stalingrad’ EP bringing them to the attention of Visage member and Blitz club founder Rusty Egan.
“Suddenly everything changed,” continues Sean. “He opened a lot of doors for us, people were now listening to us, which brought a fair bit of pressure to the follow-up ‘The NATO Alphabet’ EP sessions, but we tried to ignore it as much as possible.”
As well as a growing fanbase, they’ve subsequently picked up positive endorsements from a host of illustrious musicians, including OMD’s Andy McCluskey (who they’ll be supporting on their forthcoming tour) and Michael Rother of Neu! who invited the band to open for him. The added bonus of being very much a live band was they were able to road test a number of tracks from ‘Deluxe/Debris’ in the live arena before hitting the studio.
The band’s ambitions for the future, as well as to keep moving forward creatively and perhaps doing a soundtrack to a cool film, is gigs, gigs and more gigs.
“We want to get on as many stages as possible,” states Paula, “and it would be great to experience the old album-tour-album treadmill… you always read about bands saying it’s draining, but we can think of worse things!”
After the first TMP gig proper (their debut album launch in Dublin venue Whelan’s), they’ve thrown themselves into blasting out the songs. Probably unsurprisingly, they intensely dislike being “studied” by an audience, preferring a visceral response, and count their Düsseldorf show opening for Rother and Hans Lampe at Electri_City 2015 as their best to date.
“When we came off stage, we were pleasantly shocked, as we spent half an hour signing CDs and posing for photographs afterwards. Very strange…” remembers Eugene. “Then with Rusty and Andy McCluskey, we watched Rother and Lampe run through music that we never expected to hear performed live. An out-of-this-world experience!”
Given that their public that night also included Daniel Miller, Benge and Rudi Esch, it must have been a nerve-wracking experience. They most definitely agree.
“Nerve wracking it was!” says Sean. “We were supposed to go to Kling Klang, but we spent so long soundchecking we missed it, but that’s another story. Michael Rother was really nice. Definitely a privilege. We got everybody’s autograph on the Electri_City poster, but left it in Düsseldorf airport’s x-ray machine!”
‘Deluxe/Debris’ is out on Happy Robots