TOP FLOOR MUSIC PRESENTS
19 April 2023
Introduction written by Alice Gogarty
Tucked away in a small corner of Trinity’s campus on a bright April evening, the Top Floor Music audience were treated to a very special stripped-down gig by an artist who has previously sold out headliner shows in Workmans and Whelan's. This was none other than Last Apollo, stage name of musician Lucy Rice, whose EP 'Ordinary Matter' went off like a rocket when it was released in 2022.
The songs from the EP remained just as impressive stripped-down for her Top Floor performance; in the small room of the Trinity Arts Workshop, Last Apollo was not afraid to take up space, to stomp about in those musical moonboots and kick up some dust. With a brilliant band of musicians backing her, Lucy’s powerful voice weaved about the small room, delicate melodies rising to a roar as the music carried her up up up and our audience with her.
After their wonderful performance at the Trinity Arts Workshop, Joe and Lila from the Top Floor Music team sat down with Last Apollo, and got to chatting about songwriting, performing, and…milk? Read below!
Violin: Lucy Rice
Guitar: Naoise May
Piano: Peter McMahon
Drums: Sam Armstrong
Guitar: Síofra Mauerhofer
Listen to the Interview
That was so lovely! Thank you so much. I think my first question would be, considering the songs are so compositionally beautiful, even though this was a more stripped-back performance, but I’d love to hear how that all comes together - from the idea for a little song, little kernels here and there, how you all come together to do what you did?!
I guess the best way to describe how I write a song is I have, like, periods in life where I’m going out and experiencing a lot, and all the while I’m writing poems and taking notes and photos and stuff, things that aren’t explicitly music-related - if I was to make an analogy, it’s kind of like studying. Writing a song, then, is like, I have all of this random crap, notebooks full of it, and then I sit down at the piano, when I’m kind of in this buzzy mood, and the song just kinda comes out in this super adrenaline-fuelled way. It’s kind of like when you have an essay to write in an exam setting, in an hour or two: I’m out in the world and I’m studying, kind of, and then I sit down at the piano and I sort of regurgitate everything into like a 3-minute, succinct thing.
I’ll go through stages where I don’t really write at all, and then I’ll write like three or four songs at once. So, each of my songs kind of come in groups of threes or fours, that I’ll bring to the band and, sort of, work it out. I’ll always have certain ideas I want, like solos and stuff, and the band interprets that and brings their own, kind of, flair and pzazz to it, and that’s how it happens.
In terms of getting the band together, you’re all in Trinity, right?
Yeah! We’re all studying music here, that’s how we met.
Nice, OK. I know that some of the guys in the band are in other groups, like the Lovely Good, who performed for Top Floor Music a few weeks ago. I guess my question is how did you figure out what kind of music you wanted to make? Was that a major concern for you when you came into writing music, or did you just kind of fall into it? And how did you find people who were willing to help you make that particular kind of music?
I never really thought about it like that. I had the first EP written before I met the band, because it was during lockdown, and so I knew vaguely what I wanted to do with Last Apollo. I’d been in other bands before that were super, like, rock-y, and I wanted to do something a little more, not pretentious, but I wanted there to be more room for stuff like, time signature changes and things. I knew how I wanted the music to sound, but I think the sign of a really good musician is that they’re able to lend themselves and work together. Everyone in the band kind of comes from a different style, Sam and Naoise are both in the Lovely Good and so they have that really beautiful sound, Peter’s actually super into musical theatre stuff, so he writes these beautifully-layered, sort of theatrical, harmonies, and Siofra and I, out of the band, probably have the most similar musical tastes. But I think that the sign of a great musician is that you’re able to serve the song, so, I just picked really great musicians I think! I’m very lucky to be surrounded by them. But, yeah, that’s kind of how it came to be.
Awesome! I think next I’d just like to ask about some stories from performing live, since I know you guys have been performing live all over. Are there any sort of crazy or fun things that stand out from those performances?
Oh, all the stories from my life on the road. There was all the heroin with Lou Reed in America, but we can’t talk about that…[laughs]
No, really, some mad, I mean, not mad stuff…It’s funny to be at a stage where we have stories…I mean, I went through a stage in, maybe, October where it was fourth year and it was very stressful, I was doing a lot, way too much, and I was drinking a lot of Red Bull, and not eating a lot, ever. And we had this really big gig, probably our biggest gig to date, we were opening for Sprints in Whelan’s, and I was so excited. So excited that I got so nervous, and because I was so nervous, when we were on stage, doing this whole set, and it was very high energy, because Sprints are very high energy, and it got to the end of the set, and we’re playing Dizzy Brain, the only song I play the violin for, and so I make a big show about picking up the violin, and the bridge was…clean off. [laughs] I’ve never seen that happen before! So I had to go back to the mic, and I was like “Ok, no violin! But I’ll make up for it with even more energy!”
And so I did a very energetic set where I kind of forgot to breathe and I passed out! I blacked out on stage, right before the last chorus, and then I got back up on stage for the last chorus, which is even more impressive. I would say that’s probably the most insane thing that’s happened. There’s a video of it - I finish my solo and I kind of get on my knees and then just, pass out for a second, and then get back up. You can hear me turn to Siofra and say, like, “Siofra, I just passed out!”
You were like, “I went blind!” But I couldn’t hear what you were saying, so I was like, “Yeah! All good! You’re doing great!” [laughs]
But yeah, that’s probably the most chaotic and fun thing that happened - not fun at the time, I was actually very worried about my brain - but, yeah, that was good, I think.
What helped you gain confidence as both a songwriter and a performer? Has it been stuff like playing live and these kinds of gig, has it been the experience of studying music, what has helped you get that confidence as a performing artist?
Yeah, I used to talk about this a lot, actually! I was in this other band, and because we had such different styles, and I kind of went through this stage where I was like, “Oh my god. I’m a terrible writer.” They didn’t love the songs I wrote, just because that wasn’t really their style or what they were looking for, but I really got in my head about it, and I stopped writing. That was in like 2018, so I stopped writing for a few years because I thought most of the stuff I wrote was crap - it was slow, a lot of ballads and stuff. I was really not confident in myself, like, at all.
And then, lockdown happened, and I know a lot of people say like, “Oh, we missed out on the year of college,” but I think that, if lockdown hadn’t happened, there’s no way I’d be doing this now. Getting that space away from everything, just being by myself, not with the band, it meant that all I could do was write. I was surrounded by a lot of really cool and amazing online presences, who were very confident online, and it kinda made me feel like, “OK, maybe I can do this.” And since it was during COVID, there were, like, no repercussions, so it felt like a fake world that we were living in. If I posted something and people didn’t like it, they could just unfollow me. So, during lockdown, I started posting a lot, reels and sort of, ideas and fragments of songs, and those started to really resonate with people, so I was like, “OK, maybe these songs aren’t that bad.” My music ended up gaining a lot of traction quite quickly and I realised there was something in it. The fact that it was resonating with, even just one or two people, made me want to keep going, honestly, so songwriting confidence has definitely come from that. There have been stages where I don’t feel very confident, it’s not something I always have, so that’s one of the reasons I write in those bursts of creativity, because a lot of the time I’m listening to a lot of new music from a lot of different styles, and it can stress me out, because it’s like, “That’s not how I write! That’s not what my music sounds like…” Like, when I watched the Lovely Good gig, I was freaking out, because I was like, I’ll never be able to write something like that…
I mean, we’re class, to be fair.
Yeah, you’re so much better. [laughs]
Yeah, that’s our songwriting inspiration, just to see how much better than you we can be.
So yeah, I do go through stages where I’m not confident with it, but most of the time, it’s enough for one or two people to say they enjoyed it, or it struck a chord with them, or whatever.
And then, I guess, on stage, I’ve kind of always been confident on stage, probably undeservingly at the beginning! I remember our first gig, it was really small, it was our first ever live gig actually, and it was in the middle of COVID, so it was seated, and we showed up, and I remember being so confident. I really believed in it at this stage, I was like, “Last Apollo is gonna go the distance, Last Apollo has got this, Last Apollo is it!” But I was walking around like a total diva [laughs], and I remember after our set, which did end up going down well and got the crowd going, I was like, “Ugh! We’re amazing.” Looking back on it now, I think we’ve gotten a lot better since then. But I’ve always been really confident, and especially with this band behind me and the set-up we have, a good product, like…milk.
The biggest product there is! [giggles]
I’ve forgotten what the question was now…Oh, yeah. Stage confidence. I think I’ve always had it, but I think it’s a lot more warranted now. It’s grown a lot in the last few years, kind of taking risks on stage and doing stuff that’s come across well, so I guess it just comes with doing it a lot. The first few gigs you do, you’re kind of like, “AGH! I’m on stage.” And then you kind of black out - well, sometimes you actually black out [laughs] - but no, the first few gigs, you kind of run through the gigs in this really hyper adrenaline rush. But now that we’ve gotten more practice, we know the songs better, we’re able to be more, kind of, loose on stage and make creative decisions about what you’re doing on stage, so I guess that just comes from doing it a lot on stage.
That’s perfect! Thank you guys so much for coming to Top Floor Music!