Cormac Battle: “A lot of the things that are good seem to have come to us long after the gates closed”
“A lot of the things that are good seem to have come to us long after the gates closed” – Cormac Battle on Kilkenny’s Kerbdog finally getting their due
One thing that’s immediately apparent when talking to Cormac Battle is that the Kilkenny man has no time whatsoever for false modesty.
The 2FM DJ and frontman of reformed Nineties cult rockers Kerbdog is refreshingly honest and unashamedly proud of what he and his band achieved during their six-year stint as a band.
Even so, it’s a bit of a shock to hear him compare the band’s new live album, Congregation, with probably the greatest live album in the history of rock – but that’s exactly what he does.
Battle tells Something for the Weekend on the eve of the album’s launch: “I think it sounds fucking amazing, and I don’t think there’s a live album coming out of Ireland that sounds as good as it since Live and Dangerous by Thin Lizzy, which is a very high benchmark.”
Whether Congregation goes multi-platinum and enters the annals of rock history remains to be seen, but what is certain is that they’ve become one of those rare bands who are only properly appreciated once they’re gone.
Almost as soon as the band decided to call it quits in 1998 after being dropped by their record label, their influence began to spread among the next generation of rockers both in Ireland and further afield – and they became, in Battle’s own word, ‘a musicians’ band.’
He says: “After we broke up, in 1998, people were constantly hearing about our music. Our music took on a life of its afterwards from people copying CDs, and when music became downloadable, and people start hearing a band much more than we realised at all.
“We didn’t realise that people were hearing it more and more, until we decided out of the blue to just do a gig, and suddenly all these people were turning up and we were like, ‘what’s going on here? We couldn’t get two men and a dog when we were going a few years ago.’
“There’s an element of a lot of people finding out about our band after the event, who never got to see us live and had to go back and look at what we did.”
It wasn’t all myth-making either – they’ve been cited as a primary influence by no less a figure than Simon Neill, the architect behind one of the world’s biggest rock bands, Biffy Clyro.
He says: “We became one of those ‘musicians’ bands’ – younger bands coming up were listening to us when we came out, particularly Biffy Clyro who are very big now. It’s very nice and very flattering to hear them say that and say it quite vocally that we were one of their biggest influences.
“That was surprising, but it’s another surprise that comes along with the Kerbdog – a lot of the things that are good seem to have come to us long after the gates closed as far as we were concerned.”
Battle says he was bitter for a long time after the band were unceremoniously dropped by their label almost as soon as they finished recording their second album, On the Turn, and they were literally sent back to the dole queue.
That bitterness has given way to understanding that Britpop had swamped the UK music scene and that the label were probably right that there wasn’t much money in their sludgy, punk-infused metal.
He says: “We came back after making our second album, and we spent over half a million pounds sterling making it in Los Angeles, acting the idiot and spending [money]. We were meant to be there for six weeks and we were there for four months.
“When we came back, the label had the choice of either we push this or we drop them, and they decided to drop us and that was the end of it. I can kind of understand it – Parklife was number one in the charts at the time and I don’t think anybody was going to be interested in the music we were making, and I think the record company recognised that.
“It was hard to be going back to the dole office a week after coming back from LA – having made this amazing album, going into Kilkenny post office for £38 to sign on the dole was difficult! But that’s exactly what happened. I think it was the right album at the very, very, very wrong time, but now we’re getting the chance to rectify things for our own psyches at least.”
With the UK market effectively off-limits, the natural alternative would normally have been to focus on the large rock market in the US, however the massive bill racked up during recording may have made the label’s mind up in that respect.
“Our management and our label didn’t have enough faith to push us one step further and send us to America, which would have made sense at the time, but we were over a million quid in the hole at that stage as I found out afterwards and I think they were unwilling to spend any more money on us.
“If they had pushed it in America things may have been different and history would have been different for the band, but nevertheless that didn’t happen and we did get dropped pretty much as soon as the record was in the shops, but we knew it was coming.”
Ultimately, the band have been vindicated, albeit over a decade later than they would have liked, by the renewed and growing interest in the band – as seen by the positive reaction to their first single in 15 years, Electricity, which was released last month.
And though Battle is happy that his music career led him down the path to a successful career as a radio DJ, he refuses to rule out the possibility of going full-time with the band should things pan out in the band’s favour – and they’re looking towards recording an album in the coming year.
He says: “I’m lucky enough that through the band I ended up working in a radio station and I ended up getting a job I love. I’m not working as a civil servant in the revenue. In some ways the band led me down the road to a place that I enjoy anyway.
“However, if we were Snow Patrol or Coldplay’s size, that would be different. I wouldn’t be working in a radio station – I’d be sitting in the Four Seasons talking to you now with about three press agents sitting beside me.
“I’m getting less and less bitter about the whole thing – because I was incredibly bitter and damaged by the experience at the time – but having said that we had a brilliant time doing it and spent an awful lot of somebody else’s money.”
Congregation is out now. Kerbdog play the Academy in Dublin on November 14th.