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Hothouse Flowers

by Jesse Nash - Beat magazine (Boston), April 1989

They're Ireland's newest music sensation. Not since the success of U2 has so much excitement been generated about an Irish band. Can lightning strike twice? It appears the answer is yes as Hot House Flowers has set off a major buzz in the record industry on both continents alike. On the heels of major success in Ireland and the U.K., Hot House Flowers debut album, "People," not coincidentally on U2's Mother Records (Bono signed the group), was number 1 in their mother country for over 10 weeks and reached the number 2 position in the U.K. as well.

In the past, the group has been heralded by many tabloids as the next supergroup from Ireland, with Rolling Stone saying that Hot House Flowers is "the best unsigned band in the world." U2's Bono was even quoted as calling the ensemble "a masterpiece of a group." Whatever the approbation, Hot House Flowers appears determined to assume full responsibility for success in their own right for the future. But, mind you, comparisons to U2 will not be looked upon favorably by the group. But it is totally understandable, because U2's triumph is the only frame of reference that rock fans and critics alike can judge the success of another band to "make it" from Ireland.

Singer Liam O'Maonlai shares with us in the following.

BEAT: You've been written up in certain tabloids, most notably in Rolling Stone, as "the hottest unsigned band in the world." What were those earlier days like before Hot House Flowers got a record deal? And how did the record deal come about?

LIAM: Well, we did a lot of busking in those days. We stayed off the beaten track as far as the music business was concerned. We didn't play all the usual venues which I think worked to our advantage. We used to busk a lot and we started our own venues in a way in the streets. We, sort of, did our own thing.

BEAT: What was the turning point?

LIAM: The turning point was the single. "Love Don't Work This Way." That song was put out by Mother Records, U2's label.

BEAT: Tell me more about your days busking in Ireland. What is it like to be a street singer in Ireland?

LIAM: It's pretty great. It's probably one of the best ways of performing because you have the most honest reactions. People don't... people only stop because they want to hear the music. They don't stop because they're obliged to stop or because they just paid for something. They... it's a very genuine reaction. It was very exciting to build up a big crowd from all that. And afterwards, very often, we'd meet a lot of these people for a drink or something afterwards. The thing was being on the streets. Living on the streets.

BEAT: So you would actually hang out and socialize with many of the people who would stop to listen to your music?

LIAM: Yeah.

BEAT: (Laughs.) Here in the states, especially in New York City, there is a different attitude toward street singers. I'm not so sure that I would be so eager to have a drink with many of the street singers that I've come across.

LIAM: I'd never worry about something like that. I don't think a musician would ever kill ya. (Laughs.)

BEAT: In New York City, you never know. (Laughs.) Tell us about some of the songs off the debut record, particularly "Don't Go."

LIAM: That song was written about a friend of mine who was in a motor bike accident. And he was in a coma for about a year and one day I was inspired to write this song for him because it was one of those beautiful days and the sky was so blue and so I thought to myself, "Please don't go." It was my personal plea to him because I realized how precious life was and how beautiful it could be. I didn't want him to die.

BEAT: Did he survive?

LIAM: No, he died.

BEAT: That song packs an emotional wallop! It is definitely one of the most poignant songs that this writer has heard in awhile. You can feel the emotion in the music. "I'm Sorry" is another great cut on the album that doesn't seem to be too personal.

LIAM: You're absolutely right, "I'm Sorry" isn't too personal. It's meant to be taken at face value. It can be about anything. It's up to the listener.

BEAT: "It'll Be Easier In The Morning" is a song that a lot of people can relate to easily. It strikes a familiar chord.

LIAM: Well, actually, "It'll Be Easier In The Morning" is about when I was younger. You see. when I was younger I used to have trouble sleeping. But, I learned from this experience, that if anything gets you down never lose sleep over it. There's always a new day.

BEAT: That's a healthy attitude. (Laughs.) Your debut record, "People," has hit number 1 in Ireland for 10 weeks. In fact, it went number I in its first week of release, outstripping guys like Elton John for the coveted title. How has the band handied such overwhelming success and does this success put pressure on the group to do even better for the next record?

LIAM: The only real pressure I feel or that the band feels as a whole is to continue and maybe to write an even better album. To improve. To make sure that the second album lives up to our own personal expectations. We never will make an album that's second best. I don't care if it doesn't make it to number 1 at all. But I do know that if we're happy with it then I'm pretty sure it will make it to number 1.

BEAT: What are the band's influences?

LIAM: They range from Bob Dylan to... all of us are totally devoted to traditional music. We really weren't devoted to any one artist or rock musician. Through Bob Dylan, through Springsteen, Van Morrison and... Hendrix.

BEAT: Hendrix? What in particular was it about Jimi Hendrix that influenced you?

LIAM: Freedom. His incredible freedom. He'd soar sometimes. His passion was powerful.

BEAT: Bono of U2 is responsible for your record deal with the Mother label. What is your relationship with Bono?

LIAM: Well, U2 and Hot House Flowers only usually see each other when we're not on tour, although we have crossed paths now and again. We're real good friends both professionally and personally.

BEAT: What was the very first experience Bono had discovering Hot House Flowers?

LIAM: He heard a demo tape of the first single. "Love Don't Work This Way." He also saw us on late night TV where we, myself and the guitarist, we were basically doing our busking routine. Between the tape and the TV show I guess he saw something so he called us over the office in Windmill and we had a chat. He came across as being very humble and shy... very genuine and enthusiastic. So we appreciated that.

BEAT: As the latest band to be labeled "the next supergroup," how did you handle such heavy expectations in your approach to your music as well as your everyday lives?

LIAM: Our expectations of ourselves I think are a lot greater than I think a lot of other people's expectations would be. Well, we have a lot of soul searching to do at times when it comes to expectations. Personally, and I think I'm speaking for the band when I say this, there are a lot of songs to be written. I mean, one is always one's own worst critic. Or one is always one's best critic depending on the situation. You see your own faults much quicker than anybody else. But, no, I don't feel pressured living up to anybody's titles nor do the rest of the guys in the band. Titles that peopIe give us don't mean anything to us. That comes with our own willpower anyway. Our main ambition or expectation is to achieve musical quality to the highest degree.

BEAT:Are there any political issues on the band's mind that you feel a need to convey through the songs that the band composes?

LIAM: There are a lot of things I feel deep down in my heart that I would like to speak about, but I would not like to put them into words until I put them into songs. And... if you know what I mean, the feeling has to be there. That's what songwriting is about. I mean, at the moment I'm right up in the middle of Northern Ireland where the political situation is extremely tense. I'm in a place called Omah in the north. Last night, for example, there was a lot of violence. And that's very upsetting. The gig was fantastic though. There were people from all corners of society. You see, the main divider here in the north is that the Catholics and the Protestants have different views about Ireland. It's very difficult to understand. The Catholics want to become part of Ireland again and the Protestants want to remain part of England...the United Kingdom... Britain. Because of that there's been this tribal warfare... lots of killings. There's no real human understanding in the whole thing. It boils down to racism. Last night to see a load of people from both sides of the barrier smiling, hand in hand, beside each other at our concert, it was very thrilling for us. Even then, before our gig, a brick came flying through our window.

BEAT: A brick? Was anybody hurt?

LIAM: No. It didn't break through the glass. The window was open and someone threw it through the gap. Peter, the bass player, was hit in the foot. The brick missed his head by inches. But we didn't let it bother us. It's a sad situation, however, because the people in Northern Ireland are fantastic. They're such an energetic people. They're so giving. Their energy is phenomenal.

BEAT: Is there anything that Hot House Flowers can do through their music to possibly bring the two sides closer together?

LIAM: You see. that's what music is really good for. People forget when they hear music. I'd love to be part of something that does that. I think in a way it's happening already. I hope. I don't want to say too much. I don't want to do too much... don't want to feel that I can do too much... But if these things can happen I'd be very happy.

BEAT: With the debut record, "People," having just been released in the United States, how do you react to the words "Flower Fever"?

LIAM: (Imitating a cigar-chewing agent or manager) I like it, J.N.! I like it! We'll put it on t-shirts, lunch boxes... it'll sell millions. (Laughs). I can see it now: Outbreak of Flower Fever. Beware! Flower Fever heads to a neighborhood near you!! (Laughs.)