Interview // The Rubberbandits
“Your notes look like the ramblings of a lunatic,” says the man whose face is covered with a knitted replica of a Tesco carrier bag.
Meeting the Rubberbandits for the first time is just as memorable an experience as one would expect – any interview with the Limerick pair is bound to be unpredictable – but the knitted bags is definitely a new one.
The more vocal half of the duo, Mr Chrome, explains the change in look from their usual plastic headgear: “An American fan noticed we had the bags so he knitted us these. We just find them very comfortable, especially when it’s this time of year.
“It’s our first time wearing them. It wouldn’t be a permanent look – it’s like putting the roof up on a convertible, you know?” he points out with no little irony.
“It’s like every now and then you treat yourself by putting on the woollen condom,” adds his cohort, Blindboy Boatclub, helpfully.
Chrome continues: “When the weather is cold, the plastic bag is actually rotten because you sweat on the inside because it’s warm, but then you walk outside and you’ve got this plastic bag on, so it’s a wall of very cold sweat. You feel like you’re frightened all the time because that’s the only other time you get cold sweats.”
The Bandits are back in town to promote their forthcoming Christmas bonanza in the Academy on Friday the 14th, but before that there’s the small issue of their full-length comedy debut on Channel 4, which went out last Friday night.
After impressing London executive types with a series of shorts for the channel last year, they were commissioned to produce a half-hour show with a view to producing a full series – no small feat given that the less Irish-written and Irish-produced comedy to go out on the Channel 4 was none other than Father Ted. No pressure then.
Chrome says: “People always say that to us [about following in Ted’s footsteps], but it’s like saying ‘are you going to be the Beatles?’ I wouldn’t aspire to Father Ted. Father Ted is the Beatles – it’s perfection.”
Blindboy interjects: “I wouldn’t call the Beatles perfect. No, loads of them are dead. And only one of Father Ted is dead. And Father Ted is made up, whereas the Beatles is real.”
Chrome agrees: “The Beatles is real. Actually the Beatles is shit because half of them are dead.”
But if not Ted, then who would the Bandits consider to be their comedic influences?
“Mussolini had a few good songs,” says Blindboy. “UB40 obviously, that comedy album they released. ‘Fun Fun Fun in Barbados’.”
Chrome agrees, adding: “Erskine Childers, the protestant president of Ireland, he had some great jokes. He actually got us out of the Emergency because of knock knock jokes. He told a knock knock joke to Hitler. Hitler didn’t really have a sense of humour, so he said ‘the future ruler of the world’ and we get out of it.”
These types of surrealist turns are the rule rather than the exception when it comes to the Bandits – the phrase “are you looking for a three-in-a-bed shocker story?” is uttered more than once in connection with an Oscar-winning male actor.
Their alleged sighting of Hugh Grant on a rooftop in Edinburgh, dressed as Bart Simpson with a skateboard under his arm, is only mildly implausible by comparison. “He was having a mid-life crisis,” Chrome suggests.
Hilarity aside, the Bandits have always maintained that their comedy serves a legitimate purpose, to illuminate and to shine a light on ignorance rather than buy cheap laughs. This is no better demonstrated than on their breakout track, ‘Up The Ra,’ an intelligent and hilarious take-down of wannabe republicans who have little or no understanding of the history of this island.
“The best way to get a point across to someone is to take the piss out of them,” says Chrome. “If you dictate to people you’ll piss them off, but if you say it in a joke you’ll make them think.”
But does he not think that taking the piss out of people will make them more hostile to the point he’s making?
“No,” he continues, “because they don’t know you’re taking the piss out of them. If you’re taking the piss out of someone, they’ll think, ‘oh, you’re taking the piss out of the other guy.’ They rarely think of themselves as the object of the piss-taking.”
While songs like ‘Up the Ra’ and ‘Horse Outside’ are enduringly Irish, the Bandits are anything but insular. They insist they stopped writing about Limerick years ago, and their success in the UK and America (where they’ve produced shorts for MTV) shows their appeal is much broader than you’d expect from a pair of clowns from Limerick.
Chrome notes: “When you go over to England, the one thing you realise is that everybody you meet, they’re like ‘my dad’s Irish.’ Most of the English people you meet, they have an uncle or a granddad, so they can relate an awful lot more than we think. You assume they don’t get it, but they do.
“There’s a few references they don’t get – obviously they understand the Ra because the Ra had a bit of a falling out with the Brits there.”
Blindboy erupts in hysterics.
Chrome continues: “We didn’t have to change our show for Edinburgh, and I went over thinking ‘what the fuck are we doing, they won’t have a clue.’ But they got it.”
Having made their name online with their Limerick-accented brand of G-funk (they’re “hardcore gangster rappers,” according to themselves), the lads keep a keen eye on the nascent rap scene here, however they feel too many rappers sell themselves short by focusing only on the recession.
Chrome says: “Lethal Dialect is brilliant. There’s a guy called Rejii Snow, who used to be called Lecs Luther, who’s very talented, up and coming – they’d be my two favourites.”
Blindboy is more blunt: “But everyone else in Irish rap is shit. Everyone else. Nobody wants to hear songs about you being on the dole, and that’s the reason they’re not talking about you. A lot of those rappers are smart and good at rapping, but they just can’t stop rapping about the recession. Just write songs about dragons.”
Chrome adds: “That’s it! Write a song about flying carpets, about Dessie O’Malley flicking snooker balls out of your hedge – there’s a million things to write raps about. Getting into a knife fight with Marty Whelan on the roof of the Dáil – write a song about that.”
“That’s actually a good idea,” says Blindboy, and with that he’s away, free-styling the first verse of what one can only hope will be the next single.
Originally printed in the Irish Sun on Friday, December 7th, 2012.