The Mirror Trap describe themselves as ‘bound together by a love of music, ideas and romanticism’. As ‘fully inducted members of the new forgotten generation, for whom there are no jobs, no dreams and no escape’, the ‘fight back’ they proclaim, ‘starts here’.
With a name courtesy of ‘Nausea’ by Jean-Paul Sartre – first choice ‘Descartes’ was discarded after they found few people could pronounce it – the band from Dundee started out as a four piece with singer Gary Moore playing bass alongside Paul Reilly on drums and guitarists Mikey J McFarlane and Paul Markie. The band released their debut album ‘The Last Great Melodrama’ in November 2011 and a follow up EP ‘The Visible Hand’ a year later but things were not quite right. “I felt so restricted with the bass” admits Gary. “I just wanted to get my groove on”. In a move that saw him finally free to be, as he puts it, “a total penis”, bassist Ben Doherty joined the group in the spring of this year.
Following in the footsteps of Manic Street Preachers and Placebo, The Mirror Trap cite musical influence from far and wide. Artic Monkeys, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Blur, Clinic, DMX, Franz Ferdinand, The Libertines, Kanye West and Wu-Tang Clan all crop up in conversation. Looking back, their debut was “A collection of tunes more than an album” declares Mikey. “I think it’s the age we were; just pissed off at a lot of things and then when you put them all together it’s just confused anger”. The record did however serve to lay the foundations of their sound and offer a first look at their world view with its indignant lyrics raging against apathy and demanding something to believe in that would make their lives worthwhile. That entity turned out to be the band itself. In an uncertain economic climate with prospects thin on the ground they created a cause to unite behind and take on the world.
Balancing this unashamedly romantic view with the need to earn a living has been difficult but is, according to Gary, ultimately worth the struggle. “I think you’ve got to try. There is so much shoulder shrugging going on these days especially in music, to be seen to be trying is a bad thing.” Always keen to take part in public protest, Gary is scathing when it comes to lack of people from his generation in attendance, “You get the impression they’re sitting at home playing their X-Box just sort of rocking back and forwards” he sighs. The Mirror Trap however, are fully committed. They believe resolutely that there is no alternative, that they’d be nothing without the music. This conviction gives purpose to the tedium of their day jobs. “At times the band is the only thing that gets you by” remarks Mikey. “If I didn’t have the band I don’t know what I’d do with my time” agrees Paul Reilly, though “There’s nothing worse than when you play a fantastic gig and the next day you’re at work at nine o’clock in the morning” reveals Paul Markie. “We played T in the Park and the week after I was outside pushing trollies.” Playing the T Break Stage at Scotland’s largest music festival in 2012 followed several high profile support slots, most notably with fellow Dundonians The View and Brain Molko of Placebo. These shows gave the band a taste of success and served to strengthen their resolve though it wasn’t all plain sailing. Meeting Placebo after a show in Edinburgh found them in an awkward position. “We couldn’t afford to drink in the hotel we were taken to” Gary laughs. “I had a carrier bag full of Stella under the table and we were trying to sneakily drink.”
The band also met Anton Newcombe of Brian Jonestown Massacre. Asked about the clash between the defiant low-fi independence of Anton and the mainstream success of The Dandy Warhols as detailed in acclaimed documentary ‘DIG’, Gary says it’s important to “marry the two if you want to make any sort of impact. If you want anyone to hear what you’ve got to say or what you’re doing there’s a certain line you’ve got to reach. As soon as you’re in a band that wants to get somewhere you’ve essentially got a cock in your mouth and then you’ve got to decide how hard do you want to suck it?” He smiles, “No one has their hands clean, no one’s chin is dry.”
Such cynicism towards the business of being a musician can be traced back to the release of ‘The Visible Hand’. Named after a 1977 work by business historian Alfred D. Chandler, the band wanted to do something different to publicise the recording. They decided to make posters with the slogans; ‘Have Faith in the Visible Hand’ and ‘The Visible Hand Will Save Your Soul’, alongside leaving concrete hand sculpture in various public places. Their guerrilla marketing campaign drew praise from many in the industry but, as Gary recalls, “Because we never paid someone to get us in all the right magazines and stuff nobody beyond our city or Facebook and Twitter reach knew anything about it.” This disappointment has brought caution to the release of their second album ‘Stay Young’ with the band looking to build up momentum in more traditional ways. They won’t be walking away from the DIY way of doing things any time soon though. “None of us have a mass of artistic talent but we’re going to do it anyway, so it always ends up looking this sort of lo-fi way” explains Gary before adding “This is how far out talent reaches.” Pointing out that there are benefits to doing things on the cheap, Paul Markie continues “If you try and it goes horribly wrong (with a big budget) then people will just laugh at you but if you’re intentionally lo-fi then
it is like, oh, they’ve done that, cool. I think it’s very honest of the band when we do it DIY, it’s like, this is us, this is what you get.”
With much of the Scottish music scene based in Glasgow, coming from Dundee has proved problematic, with 2013 so far being quite quiet. Writing on the band’s blog Gary admitted that ‘we are just not as sought after as we were this time last year’. “It’s a notoriously fickle business” he remarks. “We were getting almost free press last year for playing T in the Park. Promoters were asking us to come play their show so they could stick on the poster ‘Played T in the Park this year: The Mirror Trap. Blah bah blah’. Now I’m emailing all the same promoters and, if they are replying, it’s ‘No, we’ve got nothing’.” Being apart from the cut and thrust has also had a direct impact on this year’s round of festival applications which saw them apply for everything but get nothing. “I can see where they’re coming from” admits Gary, “We’ve not released anything properly (so) you think fair enough. Then you see things announced and you think, that’s a Glasgow band who hasn’t released music longer than we have but because they happen to be hanging about the city meeting the right people they’re known to be active. That’s why we’re being a bit quiet now” he states, “We want to make sure that when we do come out with the album everyone is forced to notice what we’re doing.” Asked if they had ever been tempted to relocate Mikey admits that Berlin had been a consideration. “I think we’d all die that’s the trouble” reveals Gary. “We’d stop writing decent music and start worrying about where we’re getting our next heroin shot or something. If we moved to London we’d be addicts in a day I think.”
Alongside its geography, within the Dundee music scene itself, the lack of people regularly attending shows has been a concern for many. According to Ben, this can in part be traced back to the universities. “A new influx of students will come in and The Union try and keep them in The Union. They don’t promote anything outside the confines of the university as it is seen as less profitable. The Rusty Hip Collective (a Dundee based collective whose aim is to unify and strengthen the local music scene) are trying to get some students out the university and actually experience the city rather than just spending four years in one place.” Gary doesn’t see change happening soon. “It’s a taste thing” he explains, “Guitar music is not in vogue right now. That classic ever lasting image of student unions across the world being places that bands would play and weird things would happen (has) been wiped out. Now it’s pure Hollyoaks, toga parties, one pound shots and foam parties.” Ben nods before adding, “They had Bo Diddley here when my dad was a student. That doesn’t happen anymore.”
There is however, still much to be optimistic about with the band justifiable proud of their new album ‘Stay Young’. Shorter, sharper and more focused than its predecessor, first track and lead single ‘American Dreams’ (due out on November 18th) worms its way into the brain with a fantastic opening couplet “Tell me do you mean a single thing you say / Or are you just leaking words” setting up the following ten tunes perfectly. Another support slot with Placebo on the 8th of November at Leeds Academy has just been announced with shows following in Sheffield (9th), Dundee (22nd), Edinburgh (23rd) and Glasgow (29th) to launch the single and build-up to the album which will be released in the New Year. In ‘Pulse’ from ‘The Last Great Melodrama’ Gary sings ‘What’s the use in showing up if you don’t leave your mark’. Asked about what kind of legacy The Mirror Trap are looking to leave he replies, “I’m working 40 odd hours a week. People coming to our gig are probably working the same. They’re probably not having a good time, so I just want us to be a half hour/forty-five minutes where they can completely let go, lose inhibitions, lose everything, just enjoy themselves.” The audience is the most important thing agrees Ben. It’s vital to “Connect with them and give them that wow factor,” he says. Make them think “That band actually stands out from other bands, they look like they are enjoying themselves and they went that extra mile to give a damn about their fans.”
It’s a great sentiment and illustrates the belief these ‘fully inducted members of the new forgotten generation’ have in the power of music to transcend everyday drudgery and unite them and those who listen in a cause worth committing to.
The fight back has started.
More at www.facebook.com/themirrortrap
Words / images www.davidpscott.co.uk