Malibu’s Music Corner

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Another Irish export, and a rockin' one at that, Seneca, plays at The Malibu Inn this Friday.

Coming to America-Seneca

By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times

Ireland might be a country with a population of but three and a half million. But it has exported more than its fair share of notable independent rock bands, from U2 to The Coronas to The Cranberries. The latest Irish rock band to hit the scene is Seneca from Limerick, Ireland, who will be launching their first American tour at The Malibu Inn this week.

“Well, we’re called an Irish band,” front man Rob Hope said in a telephone interview from his home in County Mayo on the Emerald Isle. “But, actually, the violin player on our album is Dutch.”

Rob Hope (guitar, vocals), Yvonne Conaty (bass, vocals), Brendan O’Gorman (lead guitar) and Daragh O’Loughlain (drums) make up the core group of Seneca, whose title takes nothing from the native American tribe of northern New York State and everything from Lucius Annaeus Seneca, the Roman orator and playwright, whose oratorical skills so enraged the jealous, mad emperor Caligula that he contemplated executing the writer.

The band’s highly anticipated first album, “Sweeter Than Bourbon” (on the West Pole Music label) combines not just rocking great melodies, but contemplative lyrics, diverse grooves and the pure, soaring falsetto of Hope’s lead vocals.

“We came together as a band pretty organically,” Hope said. “We were all playing in different bands around Ireland and gradually met up at parties and decided to play together.”

This led to a great deal of song writing, which led to a great deal of gigging around the country before their debut single “Smile,” released in 2007, climbed the Irish Radio Chart to a Top 30 position and convinced them to release a full CD.

“The music scene in Ireland is just brilliant right now,” Hope said. “We’ve been compared to bands like Snow Patrol; but there are so many great bands like Fight Like Apes or Vesta Varro. It’s a good time to be a musician in Ireland.”

Talent might be abundant, but Seneca debuts in the U.S. at a turbulent time in the music industry. Hope acknowledged that CD sales have plummeted worldwide and record labels are scrambling to define the next step.

“In the U.S. last year, something like only six percent of music sales were in CDs,” Hope said. “The rest were digital downloads or people are just stealing off the Internet. It’s the same in Europe. So the real money in music nowadays is in touring gigs.”

Accordingly, Seneca’s debut U.S. tour will take in 18 cities between now and Nov. 15, from Malibu to Des Moines, Iowa to New York City and back to Monterey, Calif..

“We’ve got a motor home and a van,” Hope said. “And we’re all good friends. We hope to stay that way.”

Hope began playing music at an early age, when his parents forced him to take piano lessons, which he quit as soon as he was able to convince them it was a waste of money, a decision he regrets today.

But he started playing guitar at age 16 and began to write immediately.

“Well, I write most of the lyrics, but we all collaborate on arrangements,” Hope said. “The idea is that we don’t want to just regurgitate the same song and the same feeling each time around. We want a different sound each time, so there is a wide breadth to our music.”

This eclectic approach to song writing and their decision to avoid the easy labeling music promoters often like creates jamming songs of breakup like “Down to Today” and painful reflections of relationships that go awry.

In the title “Clarity,” Hope asks plaintively, “Why should I take this terrible abuse, I’ll tell you one thing, I’m a mess but so are you … I shouldn’t listen when you say you will stop, it means nothing but for some reason, nothing means a lot.”

This indictment of domestic abuse ends with a somewhat hopeful coda: “I got my reasons that you might call insanity. I don’t want my children to grow up with this kind of clarity…”

Though just released in June, “Sweeter Than Bourbon” is already getting airplay here and, while they’ve had some success in Europe, Hope said they are “dying” to start their U.S. tour.

“In Ireland, we get some amazing support from the venues around here, which is what you need to nurture a creative music scene,” Hope said. “We’re very interested to see how we will be received in America.”

Seneca will play at The Malibu Inn Friday, Sept. 26. More information may be obtained by visiting the web site www.seneca.ie