Hailing from Crumlin on the outskirts of Dublin city, Richard Egan who performs under the moniker ‘Jape’ released his latest album ‘Endless Thread’ on September 29. With a rake of ‘instore’ sessions booked around the country in early October to promote the release, followed by a tour of Ireland’s hottest music venues at the end of the month until early November, Jape meets with Lauren Guillery to chat about his joyous new album ahead of his gig at DeBarra’s Folk Club in Clonakilty.
Having emigrated to Malmö in Sweden over a decade ago, Richard ‘Richie’ Egan initially formed Jape as a side project from his main duties as the bassist with The Redneck Manifesto. The last twenty years, the post-punk band has earned a cult-like following among Irish music fans, who travel huge distances to attend rather rare live appearances. In 2016, the band performed at the Clonakilty International Guitar Festival, but has now been on a hiatus since the release of their last album ‘The How’.
No longer a side-project but rather an established musical act in their own right, Richie Egan’s Jape have released countless albums to date and received awards and critical acclaim from many of these releases. ‘Floating’ – the catchy debut single from their second album ‘The Monkeys In The Zoo Have More Fun Than Me’ was released in 2004 and receives significant airplay on late night Irish radio programmes. Jape’s third album ‘Ritual’ won Richie the prestigious Choice Music Prize for Irish Album of the year 2008 and features songs like ‘I Was A Man’, ‘Phil Lynott’, and ‘Strike Me Down’. Jape’s fourth album ‘Ocean of Frequency’ released in 2011 earned them another Irish Album of the Year at the Choice Music Prize, making them the only Irish act to date to receive the esteemed award twice.
Since then Jape released ‘This Chemical Sea’, a rather dancey album recorded in Egan’s basement studio in Malmö that features vocals by longtime friend Conor O’Brien from indie-folk outfit Villagers. The album ‘Sentinel’ that came out in 2019 was more subdued and intimate, and then in 2022 Richie released ‘9k HI Vol 1’ – an electronic “half album” as he calls it, which he recorded primarily using an 80’s Casio FZ-1 sampler keyboard.
Whether the 2023 release ‘Endless Thread’ is indeed Jape’s seventh or eighth album is up for debate, but it’s undeniable that this accomplished musician’s body of work is manifold. Having received no formal music education but simply messing around with music and technology, the self-confessed music geek worked as an audio visual technician and taught himself to play, record, edit, and produce music, as well as making music videos. Oftentimes, his songs integrate samples of ‘field recordings’ – recordings he does on the go with a tape machine, and more recently using an Apple watch.
Despite using field recordings for the upcoming album, including the sound of an alarm which he edited to sound like a saxophone at the very start of ‘Lashing Through The Minutes’, the second single from the album, Richie explains he wanted to do something a little different than in his previous releases. “I really wanted to have those textures in an accessible way. I didn’t want it to be an experimental pop music album, so if I was using those textures I was using them in quite a defined parameter, which for me was an actual song. Basically it’s my love letter to song, I just love songs so much. In the past few albums, I drifted away from them a bit, and I wanted to come back to that joyful nature of listening to and making music.’
In terms of inspiration for the album, Richie confesses he wanted to get back to the childlike joy that music used to give him when he was a kid. “I had lost that completely for a few years,” he admits. “I realised music was not the only medicine that could heal me, and that I actually had to do some work outside of music in order to have any joy in my life. So I stopped drinking alcohol, I started to exercise a lot more, I started to do yoga and I started to try and create joy in my life that wasn’t fake joy, not like quick dopamine from drinking alcohol or scrolling on social media.”
Though he produced all the album himself in his basement studio, Egan asked David Odlum, a former member of Kila and The Frames to mix the album. “I worked with him before and I just felt like it would be nice to have a second set of ears for the mix and he did an amazing job. I really love that Lisa O’Neill album ‘All Of This Is Chance’, which he mixed. I just loved it sonically.” Richie is happy in his own skin creating music in his basement but travels home to Dublin regularly. “I miss the creative community of which I was a very active part of, and all my friends are basically Irish musicians, so I really look forward to playing with them when I’m doing these gigs coming up, and I always pay close attention to Irish music that’s happening.”
A number of solo ‘instore’ gigs booked early this month will see Jape play in the intimate settings of shops and cafés to promote the new release, including Prim’s Bookshop in Kinsale on October 1 and Plugd Records in Cork city on October 6. “It was important to me on this record to be able to play the songs live both at the piano and on the guitar with no sort of trickery involved,” he confesses. “I’ve done a lot of stuff in the past where I’ve backing tracks on the go and I just really wanted to get away from that.”
A six-date tour of Ireland with band will start on October 20 in Dublin, passing through Clonakilty on November 3, and finishing at the Roisin Dubh in Galway on November 5. “What’s important to me on this one is to expose myself, be vulnerable with the songs and see if they come across. Because I felt like I had got into a spot where I was using backing tracks as a kind of a safety net. They work for sure, but they’re boring and they become like a straight-jacket if you have to do any amount of gigs in a row.”
Working as a musician is not an easy career. To put food on the table, Egan did some commercial work writing songs for cartoons. “I got the job to write children’s songs and it was amazing,” he reveals. “It’s brilliant as a songwriter because it takes you out your comfort zone. I had to write a Broadway song about how to ride a bicycle!” Nevertheless, releasing an album in the current climate of no easy feat. “I was speaking to someone about the music industry nowadays and I think the idea is – have low expectations and be willing to fail and be willing to continue to work after you’ve failed. And I think if you can do that joyfully, then you can continue. You need to be a romantic fool to even consider attempting anything, and I love that, I love the underdog,” he continues. “I am a working class man and I feel like a working class musician in the sense that now I’ve worked to make that record. I’ve worked to do this tour. When the tour is over, I’ll work to make another record. I’ll just keep working and working and that’s the key to it.”
Human connection is really important to Richie. For the tour, he wants to engage his audience in a joyful way. Last month, he asked his followers on Twitter to come up with a name for an interactive ’gig enhancement’ whereby willing punters would take part in a quiz to win a prize, three of which would be picked at random and become contestants to test their musical knowledge and general smartness. And so ‘Japeardy’ came to be. “I wanted to sort of break it down a little bit. If people want to be in the quiz, they can give their name when they come in to the venue. We’re going to have three rounds. If you win your round, you come back at the end to play in the final round. It’s going to be fun, we’ll just have a laugh, and someone wins a prize at the end.”
Though he’s as yet undecided about getting T-shirts printed to sell at the gigs, Richie will have a vinyl pressing of the new Jape release for sale. His wish for this album is that people give it a listen. “Even a little message saying that the song meant something to you or something like that, that kind of stuff is gold,” he says. “I feel a little bit like last days of Rome where I’m just going to do my best and see what happens. If I can get to make another record, I’ll be happy.”
No doubt Endless Thread will be a mighty success. We can’t wait to see Jape unfold the new set of songs.
Jape’s album ‘Endless Thread’ came out on Faction Records on September 29. He will perform at DeBarra’s Folk Club on November 3 with support from Rob Cunningham.