'I lost my mum when I was seven – it's hard to do it justice' – Longford band Brave Giant on personal tragedies captured in debut album

“A lifetime covered in roses/Spread your wings to fly/Don’t look down, the wings will guide you/But only through the night…” So goes Pray from Brave Giant’s drenched-in-darkness but beautiful debut album, White Pink + Blue.

“I lost my mum when I was seven,” says Mark Prunty (bass/guitar/vocals) of his mother Rosaleen. He is 25 now. He wrote Pray about losing her. Asked about his memories of his mum, he says: “Unfortunately, I can only remember the bad times, like going through chemo, and all that sort of stuff. So, I don’t have many memories, no.”

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Mark, who like his three bandmates grew up on a north Longford farm, says he “tried to write a song for my mother for years. I have always found it very difficult. It either came out too sappy or… it’s hard to do it justice. Then I played it for Ross (McNerney, banjo/mandolin/keyboard)… we were listening to a lot of Ben Howard at the time, and I wanted to do a song that built up to a long, atmospheric instrumental bit. So that’s what we made Pray into.”

Hand Me Downs, the last track on the album, was written by Emmett Collum (drums). His brother Brian “passed away two years ago. Hand Me Downs is all about not taking siblings for granted, and making plans that you don’t actually get to see out in the end. It was sudden adult death syndrome. He just went to bed one night. He was a healthy lad. He was 21. I was living in New York working in my auntie’s pubs at the time and he was coming out to me the next day.”

“Brian and I were supposed to fly out to Emmett in New York,” says Podge Gill (lead vocals/guitar). “Then Brian passed the night before.”

“So when I came back for that,” Emmett says, “I ended up just staying back with the family in Longford. That’s how I got into the band.”

Having just released the punk-folk of White Pink + Blue, Brave Giant are playing to an almost sold-out Olympia in Dublin on November 9 as well as a nationwide tour that sees them play the Sunday Independent’s Rock Against Homelessness show in Monroe’s in Galway on November 23 in aid of Focus and Cope.

What makes you angry about Ireland? 

“The people running it and the fact that a lot of them don’t believe Ireland exists past the M50. Also the price of fags is a joke!”

Given Brave Giant are headlining Rock Against Homelessness how does Emmett  feel about the homeless situation in our so-called modern little nation?

“Being from a rural area, we’re not faced with it on a daily basis. That being said, anytime we are in Dublin it seems to be getting worse with every visit. The housing crisis facing the country at the minute is an obvious factor fuelling the homeless situation and more needs to be done.”

Podge, Ross and Mark all went to the same playschool together in Ballinamuck, which Podge’s mother Carmel owned. When Podge was down in Mark’s house aged three, he stole Mark’s Spider-Man car and didn’t want to bring it back to him the next day. Until his mother made him.

“That’s how close-knit it is between us,” says Podge. “We’ll never forget when Mark’s mother did pass, because we were so close; and especially in rural Ireland, when a death of importance happens, the whole place just comes to a standstill, and that was definitely the case.”

The band all still live in Longford — “within a 5km radius of each other”, says Podge. Ross is from Dromard, Podge and Mark from Ballinamuck, and Emmett from Drumlish. “We are all farmers’ sons,” says Mark. Three of them are teachers (Mark: woodwork and technical drawing; Emmett: history and geography; Ross: maths and PE), while Podge works for Vodafone. They are on a career break, devoting themselves entirely to Brave Giant. “We went to the same secondary school, Moyne CS,” says Ross.

“I know him since he was three,” says Podge. That bond continued when they released their debut studio EP in 2016, The Lordy Lordy, followed by two feted singles in 2017, The Time I Met The Devil (with Father Ted’s Joe Rooney in the video as a tormented priest) and Way To Love. “We were best mates before band-mates, and I don’t mean that in a cheesy way,” says Mark.

“Our bond started when we were practically babies,” says Ross. I ask about the Spider-Man grand theft auto tale. Did Podge really steal Mark’s toy car? “I remember you stole my Spider-Man car,” claims Mark.

“I didn’t steal it!” shoots back Podge. “I borrowed it and I didn’t want to give it back.”

“I remember him,” says Ross of Podge “because it was his mother’s play group. He got preferential treatment, of course. He got the best toys!”

“He used to come to my house and his auntie used to live next door to me,” adds Ross.

“And we used to kick football,” says Podge.

But what about the music? “What made me want to start guitar” says Mark, “I was singing in a competition in secondary school and I saw Podge play guitar and I thought, ‘that is class’. Then I asked Podge to give me some lessons and he showed me the first couple of chords [of songs by Paolo Nutini, Kasabian].”

Mark and Podge started playing covers in pubs locally.

Podge: “The two of us were just starting college and it was a way for us to make money at the weekends, but the more we got into it, a momentum seemed to take over. Then Ross joined and then a year after that Emmett joined and we started getting a gra for it. It was the folky-pop at the start.”

What was the first record they ever bought?

Emmett:  “Sum 41  – Does This Look Infected?”

Ross: “Mumford and Sons – Sigh No More.”

Mark : “50 Cent – The Massacre.” 

Podge: “Artic Monkeys  – Whatever People Say I am, That’s What I’m Not.”

I ask Emmett for his favourite Brave Giant song.

“We all have different favourites but the one that we all have common love for at at the minute is Wizards and Witches. We feel it encapsulates the sound we were trying to achieve with the album and it set the premise for every track to follow.”

“The great thing about us now is that we all have different influences coming to the table for White Pink + Blue. There’s folk chasing with punk with trad,” says Mark. “There is a lot coming to the table and then we are kind of mish-mashing it.”

“Tastefully!” says Podge, adding that “the themes of the album are isolation, anxiety, relationships”. Ross: “There is a darkness to the album. Dark times, loss, anxiety, depression. The little speck of white on the cover of the album represents hope.”

Mark: “And there is hope.”

The new album is, as they say themselves, quite dark in places. Where did that darkness come from? Describe some of the songs on White Pink + Blue where the darkness emerges and why?

“I guess the darkness come from being in a bad place mentally,” says Emmett. “Individually we all go through our own personal battles. Writing is a good exercise to combat it and can be therapeutic to get you out of those head spaces. The album itself isn’t a complete representation of darkness – there’s hope. The light at the end of the tunnel is also conveyed throughout.”

How would Emmett describe the music of Brave Giant to someone who has never heard of them?

“This answer would have been a lot different a year ago. Our early stuff had very much a pop/folk sound. We made a conscious decision to take things a different direction with this album. We think it very much holds an indie vibe with the core elements of folk appearing throughout in which the bands foundations were formed.”

“Wizards and Witches on the album is about relationships,” says Podge (who wrote the song), “where I felt I was more into her than she was into me; and I was trying to be something that I wasn’t.”

What was Podge trying to be? “What I thought she wanted me to be. And I felt I had to change myself in order to make the relationship work. I was forcing it. I liked her a lot. It came to its peak last year and it fizzled out.”

What is Waves about?

Ross: “I was going from Doolin to the Aran Islands on a boat and I was getting profusely sick overboard and all I could see was waves; and the song was written out of that… ‘I want to go home, please let me go home!’,” he laughs. “It was a beautiful sunny summer’s day but whatever way the waves were hitting the Cliffs of Moher…” The way things are going Brave Giant will be hitting further shores soon.

Brave Giant’s White Pink + Blue album is out now. They play Cyprus Avenue, Cork on Thursday, Sligo Live Festival, Saturday, Voodoo, Belfast Oct 26, the Olympia, Dublin on November 9 and the Sunday Independent’s Rock Against Homelessness concert with State Lights in aid of Focus Ireland and Cope on November 23 at Monroe’s in Galway

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