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MUSIC : Band From Ireland Taps Out Rock With Ecological Message : Hothouse Flowers' guitarist says, 'At the end of the day, the environment is all we've got.'

September 30, 1993|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

How would you like to get some sense beaten into that thick head of yours with a velvet fist? Well, instead of watching Mike Wallace yell at some pathetic jerk, you could watch Midnight Oil and Hothouse Flowers at the Santa Barbara County Bowl. They'll be playing and preaching about what's what, who's who and where it's at, making sense to all non-robber barons.

If it were up to the Giant Bald Guy and his pals in Midnight Oil or the Irishmen in Hothouse Flowers, whales, trees and all things endangered would live long and prosper. The Flowers are the second most-famous band in Ireland after U2, but they're no U3. They play rockin' Irish pub music with a message and a beat.

They burst on the world music scene in 1988 when the single "Don't Go" was a big hit off their debut album. The Flowers, seemingly on that long, lonesome road since then, are touring in support of their third effort, "Songs From The Rain." Guitarist Fiachna O'Braonain (whatta name) agreed to talk the whole thing over in a recent phoner.

How's the tour and all that?

The tour's going very well. We're in Boulder right now, and we've been on this tour for 2 1/2 months. This is such a huge place to tour. We could tour Ireland in a day.

How's "Songs From The Rain," and how do you think it's different than what came before?

It's doing fine. It could've sold stronger, but we're happy with it. It's a more representative effort of the band just playing, and it was recorded without too much overprocessing and without production getting in the way. The band just set up in a good studio and played.

You've said that before "Songs From The Rain" the band had never made an album the way they wanted to. What's up with that?

I think primarily when we're in the studio, we find it very frustrating. After we do a song, we go into the control room and all you hear, for example, are the bass and the drum tracks. It's like we were being dissected instead of being recorded.

Rock has more than its share of cynics. What do you say to people who accuse the Hothouse Flowers of being too emotional and too optimistic?

I'd say those people have a fairly grim outlook on life. I don't think we're grim, but we do get serious about certain things such as the environment. At the end of the day, the environment is all we've got. Of course, big business would accuse people who care about the environment as being hysterical.

What makes Irish bands different than everyone else?

I really don't know. If I did know that, our music would probably be contrived.

What's the Dublin scene like?

I couldn't tell you right now because we've been gone so long. There's a lot of media attention particularly since the success of U2; and Dublin has become a so-called hip place. There's a lot of music, a lot of bands and a lot of gigs.

Why do you speak in Irish and sing in American?

Hey, we don't sing in American. Well, maybe we used to, but that's probably because a lot of music originates in America.

What do you think your band sounds like?

Contemporary Irish music.

Your bio gives the impression that success came quickly for your band--you were a street musician, then all of a sudden, your band was opening for U2.

Actually, the band started before my street band, the Benzini Brothers. The whole process to us, seemed very gradual. We spent a year writing and working on songs. Then after "Don't Go" took off, we found ourselves touring the world at a frantic pace. That got to us all. For our second album, we went right into the studio from the road, but we had forgotten to write some songs. Actually, we had some songs and we ended up finding out the way we wished to be recorded. Usually, it's the first take that's best.

What was a strange Hothouse Flowers' gig?

Several years ago we played in a hall in Carlow in Ireland. Everyone had been up all night except for me. We just figured we'd see what happened. Very little happened.

What's next for you guys?

We're going home soon to take our first month off since January. We'll do some shows in the U.K. and hopefully come back to America around Christmas; then it's off to Japan in January.

* WHERE AND WHEN

Midnight Oil, Hothouse Flowers at the Santa Barbara County Bowl, 1122 Milpas St., Sunday, 7 p.m.--same time as "60 Minutes" only with a better beat. $28.25, $25.75 or an arm and a leg.

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