The Stunning are on of Ireland’s most accomplished rock groups. Lisa Redmond of The Daily Shift caught up with Steve Wall to talk about his success, Ireland’s music scene and what lies ahead for the man that can just as easily turn his hand to acting as he can performing music…
The brother’s Wall gave us one of the most iconic songs of the last 50 years with ‘Brewin’ Up a Storm’ and have reformed this year to play one special performance in Vicar Street. Considering that 2012 is a testament to their enduring talent and popularity we were delighted to catch up with one of Ireland’s most loved acts.
How did the band originally come together?
The Stunning was formed 25 years ago this year, in 1987. I originally tried to start the band in Dublin because I was living in the city, trying to pursue a career as an actor. I had been living in a bed sit for about a year and not getting any auditions. This was pre-internet days so by the time I’d get to an audition, the part was already cast.
After a year of being unemployed and looking for acting work, I started going to The Underground on Dame Street; it was a great rock and roll club and there were bands there every day of the week. After seeing one of the bands I decided that I wanted to start my own band because you don’t have to wait around for someone to tell you you’re hired; you just go and do it.
I put an ad in Hotpress for auditions in Dublin but a couple of weeks later I was down in Galway and the band kind of just fell together down there, mainly from people who I had known previously.
How long did it take for the band to be recognised? What would you say was your big break?
It actually didn’t take that long, strangely enough. It probably felt longer at the time; we started off just gigging and we didn’t have that many original songs. We started off doing covers but they weren’t current songs; we used to delve into old soul records and country records and put our stamp on more obscure tracks.
A lot of people who went to early Stunning gigs thought that they were our songs simply because they didn’t recognise them. Then I started writing and the first single came out in 1988. It was called ‘Got to Get Away’ and was sort of an upbeat country tune; it charted at no. 17 in the Irish charts.
So our first single was in the top 20 and it also got a lot of airplay so that was definitely a big boost for us.
Who are your musical inspirations?
I’d have to say, the stuff I grew up with as a kid. I lived with all my aunts and grandparents in a house in Dublin and the records that were in the house were hugely influential. When I was six-years-old, I learned to play my first record. Tracks like the Beatles, Burt Bacharach and loads of soul stuff; also tracks like Martha and the Vandellas.
My granddad had some old tracks like Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin; so the first music I heard was the music of my auntie’s and my mother. The Beatles actually ended up having a big influence on me.
Although, we’ve always strived not to let that influence show too much in our music ‘cos I hate when a band’s influence is really obvious and it sounds like a rip-off. It’s just boring. We always try to take those influences but make it our own and make it different.
What would you say was your most memorable performance to date and why?
I suppose it was being the headline act for Féile in 1991. For the first year of Féile in 1990, our album Paradise in the Picture House was no. 1. We had been booked to go on a month or two before hand and we went on at 1:30 in the afternoon. I think we were the first band on and we were no. 1 in the charts at the time so it was great.
The following year we were asked back again and we went on at midnight. We were following Brian Adams, who was the headline act at the time. I remember thinking that everyone would leave after Brian Adams’ performance; but nobody left, they all waited for The Stunning.
People genuinely liked us, that was a great buzz. It was also very nerve-wracking because it was the biggest gig we’ve ever done; the stadium was packed with around 50,000 people. I remember having serious butterflies.
What do you think of the Irish music industry in general? Do you think it has changed much from when the band were starting out?
It’s changed hugely; it’s not the same industry any more. I think the Irish music industry has made huge mistakes over the last 25 years. It was very slow to adapt to the changes that were happening. People talk about D.I.Y bands these days; people making albums on their own labels but we actually did that with our first album Paradise in a Picture House.
The band produced it, financed it and we own it. We were doing that way back then. It was the best move we ever made because now we re-issue it on our own label and it keeps selling. We have full control over it. But where you really do need a record label, is when you get your stuff released outside of Ireland. When you go into bigger territory such as the UK and America you really do need a strong music industry.
I always felt that the biggest hurdle that any Irish band had to overcome even in the past, was getting albums released outside Ireland. I felt the Irish music industry could have done more to overcome that, because no Irish band can survive just in Ireland.
You rely completely on selling records and touring abroad. The music industry should have been more aware of that but instead it put all of its resources into selling international acts in Ireland.
If you could go back to any era of music where would you go and why?
I’d probably go around the late 50′s because it was sort of like the birth of rock and roll and you also had all these great blues artists like Howlin’ Wolf and John Lee Hooker. They would have been still doing what they do. You also had that cross over where jazz was becoming bebop.
It was a really interesting time because music was changing so fast and society was changing too. You had stuff like Chuck Berry and then Elvis coming in 1956; it was an amazing time in music.
Why did the band decide to reunite after splitting in 1994?
We got back together after 10 years had passed. What happened was, a lot of people were emailing us via The Walls website looking for Paradise in a Picture House because it wasn’t available any more. We decided in 2003 to reissue the album. We found out that 90% of album sales were brought out on cassettes and most people’s cassettes had been chewed up and were gone.
A lot of people were emailing us asking where they could get the album, so in 2003 we decided to put it out on our label Dirtbird Records. We re-mastered it, put some old photos in there and we added some bonus tracks as the original album was very short. A friend of ours then asked us how we were going to market it.
We had no plan or budget. He convinced us to get the band back together and that a tour would be the best advertising the band could get. We pressed 5,000 copies and they were all gone in the first three days. The album went in at no. 2 in the charts, which was just incredible.
How do you think the highs and lows of the band have affected you as a person?
I think they’ve made me realise that things are very cyclical. After 25 years in the music business you can see that what goes around comes around. You can see how people maybe, rose to the top quickly on the basis of a couple of songs; the descent is just as fast. I think there really is something for people who manage to forge a long career out of music.
The funny thing in Ireland is, if you don’t make it outside of Ireland people look at you and say, “how come it didn’t happen for you?” I reply, “It did happen for me, it is happening now!” I’m still making music after 25 years, we can still pack a venue. There’s a thing in Ireland that we always have to look outside Ireland and you only get a pat on the pack if you make it in America or the UK.
I don’t believe that. There are artists in Ireland that have been doing their thing for years and I have a lot of respect for them. If someone is big in the UK but not America, nothing is said but here you’re deemed as unsuccessful.
What do you think lies ahead for the band in the future?
The Stunning are a band, we had our time back in the 90′s. We meet up again about once a year and do a couple of gigs and we really enjoy it. There’s no pressure of ‘making it in the business’ any more Audiences come and, in a way, they want to recreate a time; it’s just an entertaining show.
People that come to the concerts recognise every single song and it’s just great fun. Maybe it’s because all those career-based worries don’t exist anymore, we’re just doing it for the love of it. We’re not meeting every week and worrying about like ‘how things are going in the UK’ or anything.
We just get together and do it for the sake of the fans and the music.
The Stunning play Vicar Street, Dublin this Friday, December 14 – Tickets available here