Maruja on “Connla’s Well” | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Tuesday, May 21st, 2024  

Maruja on “Connla’s Well”

Manchester four-piece Maruja discuss their new EP, playing live and the importance of staying true to themselves

Apr 24, 2024 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Manchester four-piece Maruja release their new EP Connla’s Well on Friday (26th April) and it’s every bit as great as we’d hoped and expected it would be. The follow-up to last year’s critically acclaimed debut EP Knocknarea, Connla’s Well features five brand new songs – “The Invisible Man”, which came out earlier this month, “One Hand Behind The Devil”, which preceded it at the end of 2023, “Zeitgeist”, “Resisting Resistance” and the title track itself.

The band have also just completed their biggest UK headline tour to date, which included two sold out shows at Manchester’s White Hotel and another sold out gig at Camden Underworld. The quartet will also be playing a number of festivals this summer including Green Man and Arctangent, so Under the Radar caught up with Maruja – Harry Wilkinson (lead vocals, guitar), Joe Carroll (saxophone), Matt Buonaccorsi (bass) and Jacob Hayes (drums) – to discuss their new EP, incendiary live shows and how the current political and social landscape is indirectly responsible some of the finest art and music this century.

Dom Gourlay (Under the Radar): When did the band first start?

Harry: It started about 10 years ago. It actually started because I was writing some songs on a loop pedal then my mate heard some of those songs and said you should get a band together. That’s when he introduced me to Matt (Buonaccorsi, bass) and another drummer, so we started playing those songs I’d written and began writing together as well. We played as a four-piece like that for about five years and then we got Joe (Carroll, saxophone) in the band. Our other drummer wasn’t dedicated enough so we sacked him and Jacob (Hayes, drums) joined the band. Then our other guitarist left the band about a year or two after that – creative differences – and we’ve been a four-piece ever since for around five years. It was when we became a four-piece that we started to take the direction that you hear today. Before it was just us four the music was a lot different. But now it’s taken on a life of its own, ever since we started improvising together relentlessly as a four-piece. That’s where we saw a massive change in our sound.

There’s a number of elements within your sound, from post-punk and hardcore to jazz-fusion and post-rock. How would you describe your sound?

Matt: I think generally, we might throw a few of those descriptions in there but ultimately we understand that you can just keep going with words like that. It’s very spiritual music so it has a soulful element running through it no matter what genre it’s hitting. But as is with a lot of that ilk, it’s very difficult to put our sound into words. It’s all completely emotion driven, so it’s all about the feeling it gives you rather than what it actually sounds like.

The lyrics seem quite personal. Is that something you’ve aimed to convey through your songs from the outset?

Harry: I write the lyrics to understand myself and my place in the world. Writing is like a form of therapy for me, so I’m kind of healing myself when I write. That’s why it comes across as personal, because I take it very personally when I’m writing because it’s mainly things that I’m trying to make sense of. Things I’m trying to describe but also give examples of how we can improve on or better ourselves personally as a society. Because I don’t just want to write about things that are shit then leave it at that. We’ve got the news for that. If I’m trying to say something poignant then I also try and give a means to an end with it as well. The lyrics are all shaped from personal experiences. So for example, a song like “Blind Spot’’ was written about illegal immigration and the troubles those people have to go through just to flee war torn countries. I’m not saying we’ve been through that ourselves, however my mate did a lot of work in Greece interviewing a lot of illegal immigrants that had fled war torn countries and gone to seek refuge elsewhere and been treated like criminals. Literally put in prison cells without enough food or water and treated like scum just because they’re trying to survive. At the end of the day, if it was our families you’d put them first because no one argues when it’s their own. So, basically we’re writing about things that are happening in the world. That’s what’s affecting us. That’s what we’re thinking about and is at the forefront of our minds so we may as well write a song about it. “Thunder” symbolizes war and how everything that’s going on in the world with Palestine and the Ukraine has affected us a lot because we feel completely powerless. All we can do is put it into a song and hope people learn or express themselves through it or let themselves go to it. Hopefully we can take something that’s been painful to us and turn it into something that’s powerful. So, that’s the idea behind the lyricism.

The UK in particular is currently being governed by its most far-right administration in decades that seems to take pleasure in demonizing immigrants and minority groups, while poverty levels and the cost of living in general are also at their highest in years. Do you think adversity to such measures in times of austerity can lead to great art being created as we are seeing with the likes of Maruja at present?

Matt: Yeah, for sure. Definitely, as we’ve gotten older as well. As Harry said earlier, the music we were writing before as a five-piece wasn’t really what we’re about. We were a lot younger then without knowing too much about the outside world. So, we wrote music about a lot of fun things back then but as we got older and became a four-piece, we started taking the music in a more experimental and serious direction. As those years passed on and then we got into Covid, that’s where we got to see the likes of Boris Johnson make the UK crumble, and it’s just spiraled into outright fascism under the far right leadership of Rishi Sunak and they’ve put Israel on a huge pedestal with regards to Palestine and how they treat them in this war. They’ve been completely sidelined and I don’t think the four of us has ever been as angry with our government as we are with these.

I grew up during the Thatcher era and lived through the Miners Strike so didn’t think it could ever get any worse, but the last 14 years really have gotten progressively worse with every passing year. The worrying thing for me is I don’t see any light at the end of a very dark tunnel.

Matt: That’s the important part of Harry’s lyricism, because he writes about a lot of injustices in this world, especially mental health epidemics. The biggest killer of men under 50 is suicide and that’s horrifying. It all seems so intense. History’s coming back around from the Thatcher era so you’re getting a new wave of punk that should be angry. I don’t think we’re seeing enough angry punk right now. But we’ve got bands like Enola Gay and Lambrini Girls to thank for kicking back at what’s going on. I just wish more would follow. Going back to the original question, what’s going on around us definitely feeds into our music.

It’s interesting you mention Enola Gay and Lambrini Girls. Are there any other bands you feel any kind of kinship with, even around your local scene in Manchester?

Matt: There’s actually more Irish bands on the political front that we share common ground with. A lot of them were at South By Southwest recently and they all pulled out which was so incredible. We admire them so much as people. We’ve got to know them throughout the years, and the fact they used their opportunity to shine a light in these times when it’s so drastic is utterly commendable. Anyone with any sort of voice should be using it to shine a light on those kinds of things. We’re incredibly proud of them for pulling together and putting themselves second.

A similar thing is happening regarding The Great Escape next month now as well, due to Barclays being a main sponsor and their involvement in funding weapons for Israel.

Matt: It just takes one for the others to start following suit. That’s what it needs, people standing together against these corporations. At the end of the day, although we do feel powerless a lot of the time, we are the many and they are the few.

You’ve just embarked on your biggest headline tour of the UK to date. Which shows stood out for you? What were your highlights?

Harry: It’s been fucking mad to be honest! This is the first set of shows we’ve ever done with such a consistent amount of sold out ones. It’s been pretty baffling to us as well. Last week we did Newport, Bristol, Exeter and Leeds. They were all insane. What was weird is that it just kept getting better and better. But I think we’d all agree Exeter was the best out of those shows, which may be surprising to people. We played there last year supporting Psychedelic Porn Crumpets and even though we were the support band and a lot of people didn’t know us, the crowd still went mental for us and I think Exeter has a great word of mouth reputation for fans coming to the show especially if they’ve not heard us before, so an insane amount of people came out for our headline show. I think there were around 200 people there in total. People were immediately moshing and crowdsurfing, so that was one of the mad ones.

Your new EP Connla’s Well is out at the end of this month. Are there any expectations bearing in mind how well its predecessor was received last year?

Matt: There are definitely bigger expectations. Since people have come across us we’ve started building a bit of a buzz. People listen to our tracks and then a week later we get asked “Where’s the album?” It takes a long time to get the funds together to make an album! Everyone supporting us buying our merch and tickets to shows is really helping us behind the scenes get that money and time together. Because for four people to be able to take out time from work in today’s day and age in this country is very difficult. We want to be writing and playing as much as possible. So there is a lot of exciting stuff coming this year and an album’s going to come but it’s not going to be in the next week!

Harry: Some reviews we had online immediately after the first EP came out actually gave it last points because they wished it was longer! We’ve only just got management for the first time and we’re still not with a label or anything so getting that sort of funding or time – while it’s a priority – isn’t going to happen overnight. We want it to be the best it can possibly be so although we’ve got people saying that, we’re not going to rush it. It will take however long it takes.

Do you see yourselves more as a live band or as recording artists?

Matt: I love all of it, but I think all four of us would probably say we’re more of a live band at the minute. Once we get around to recording an album, we’re going to put our hearts, souls, blood, sweat and tears into it. Ultimately that’s the goal, to make a timeless piece of art. Our hearts are absolutely in writing and recording, but a lot of the magic we’ve experienced and given out is in the live shows for sure.

Joe: I think the day and age we’re in now means it’s very difficult to be a predominantly live band and make money from it. Back in the sixties and seventies it was a regular thing for recording artists to make money. The Beatles stopped playing live because record sales were how you generated income. It’s not the same now. The industry’s changed so much that you have to really work and graft for it, and the way you do make money is through live shows not from recordings. We absolutely love recording and spending time with our producer Sam Jones. He’s an absolute saint. We want to be creative and spend as much time with him as possible, and hopefully from the amount of shows we’re doing that can generate a longer and extended period of time in the studio. It’s a shame that’s the way it is sometimes, but we still love playing live. That enjoyment of playing together and improvising from a rehearsal room to then doing it live on stage. It’s a magical feeling you can’t really capture anywhere else.

The flipside of that is seeing so many venues having to close all over the UK.

Harry: In Manchester especially. I’ve been playing gigs in Manchester since I was 13 and when I was playing gigs then, the amount of venues compared to what there is now is ridiculous. They might have opened up New Century Hall which is a big venue but in terms of grassroots, low key, 100-250 cap venues they’re few and far between in Manchester. The ones that are still standing need renovating and funding put into them so it’s a massive problem. There is a solution. If there was a tax on Live Nation, even if it was just a few percent of what their income is put back into grassroots venues across the country there would be a massive change. But it’s just the same problem as it is everywhere in the world. Corporate giants take control, then they get all the money. They have all the power and they keep it all rather than share it, which is exactly what’s going on in the music industry as it is in the food industry, in the pharmaceutical industry, and every fucking industry on the planet. It’s just a mess isn’t it.

Matt: They’re just about to open up the Co-Op Live Arena in the Etihad Stadium and that’s the largest, purpose-built music venue in the entire country. The capacity is 24,000, and Take That are doing seven consecutive sold out nights at £150 a ticket. The other big venue in the city is Warehouse Project which is owned by Sacha Lord and Live Nation. Even some of the smaller venues that got closed during Covid like Deaf Institute and Gorilla which are wonderful places and give great opportunities to young bands then get bought out by Mission Mars who also own the Albert Hall and are a massive conglomerate as well. So, even small venues now are getting owned by major corporations. It’s insane how that can happen, because it keeps getting worse and becomes more and more obvious when you look at who owns everything. It has real, live consequences in the music being created. The ability to create original inspiring music as well. We’ve got a rehearsal room now, but we struggled to get one for about 10 months. We’re doing well in Manchester, selling out shows and stuff. Yet we’re still rehearsing in the same quality rooms that we were when the band were just beginning. Mainly because of the amount of rehearsal rooms that have just been bought out and turned into flats. It’s corruption from people like Sacha Lord in Manchester. He’s meant to be a night time culture executor of the council. He owns a majority share in Warehouse Project, which holds 10,000 people. It’s insane how that can actually exist as a concept in such a city as Manchester. He’s meant to be responsible for keeping the nightlife culture open and is accepting payouts from people that invest in his company – Live Nation and Ticketmaster – to then open other venues, so he can then blindside and ignore smaller venues getting shut down. It’s just the same as every politician we’ve seen fund and run austerity in the last 15 years. It’s just quick handouts of money for him to just sideline that he has to care about. It’s a weird disease that’s running throughout the whole city.

What advice would you give to a new band or artist just starting out?

Joe: Originality has been the key for us I think. The longer we’ve been going, the more we realize that the music we create is because of our mindset with things. We tried the whole thing doing something commercial for radio then started jamming stuff on the side, and that gradually ended up taking over. Harry mentioned a few days ago that we really believe in the power of music, so my advice would be to follow that and what you actually believe in, not the bullshit. Because it can be so overwhelming. So, use that for the greater good and use it to inspire the music. Make it more powerful and emotive. If your music speaks to people you’re going to make it. There’s always trends and loads of acts following those trends, but it’s like with post-punk at the minute. It feels like everyone is doing it, which maybe is a repercussion of people thinking they’re not going to make enough money if they aren’t successful. But that’s not going to get you anywhere long term because scenes come and go.

People see through it as well, especially when bands are faking it and doing what they think people want them to do rather than doing what they actually want to do. That’s when you can spot bands straight away that aren’t doing it for the right reasons.

Matt: Being authentic is really important. Be authentic to yourself. It sounds cliched but it’s very, very true.

Joe: Authentic is probably more true than original. Everyone’s original but they’re not necessarily authentic.

Harry: Staying true to yourself is really important, especially when you’re writing. You can see through music that’s been written for ulterior motives. If a song’s been written to make money, or a ten minute guitar solo that’s been written to showcase what the guitarist can do rather than create a piece of music because they’ve experienced something and they’re trying to understand it. You can hear when people are playing for their ego or putting on a mask to perform. Then you hear them in an interview and they clearly don’t know what they’re talking about. So it’s all about staying true to your own artistic integrity.

Have you got any more shows or festivals lined up for the rest of this year?

Joe: We’re doing Green Man and Arctangent in Bristol.

Harry: Bad Dreams, which is a day festival in Manchester.

Joe: Sonic Blast in Portugal. That’s with Viagra Boys, so we’re looking forward to having a bevvy with them!

The EP Connla’s Well is out on Friday 26th April and can be pre-ordered HERE

For more information on Maruja visit their Official Website and Bandcamp pages


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