Cork's Cardinals on the new era of Irish guitar music and their self-titled debut EP

Interview Cardinals: “We try to realise the importance of being subversive, thematically and sonically”

Ireland’s next great guitar hopes – this time, with added accordion.

Cardinals’ arrival comes during a great boom period for Irish guitar music, but the Cork six-piece’s self-titled debut EP reveals a band with a sense of mystique and musical curiosity that easily sets them apart. The raw scuzz of Kieran Hurley and Oskar Gudinovic’s guitars on singles like ‘Unreal’ and ‘Roseland’ may cast them broadly in the indie-slash-post-punk mould of many of their contemporaries, but listen more carefully and you’ll hear that Cardinals are hiding extra tricks under their bonnet.

Frontman Euan Manning’s pop-centric vocal melodies are often disarmingly gentle and sweet, while the addition of his brother Finn’s accordion adds an air of offbeat unpredictability. “Nothing against any other bands,” says Euan, “but I guess there’s a feeling that we’re doing our own thing. We try to realise the importance of being subversive, thematically and sonically.”

Beyond the typical punk and garage rock touchstones, Cardinals are in thrall to The Beach Boys (Euan describes Carl Wilson as having a voice that is “like gold and butter and barley and everything nice”), while Finn calls on his first love of traditional Irish music when piecing songs together. Add in Oskar’s classical training and the “aficionado” drumming of Darragh Manning, and you realise how it is that Cardinals have come to stand out as they do.

They could easily have lapsed into more predictable fare; indeed, Euan recalls that in early incarnations of the band, he “tried the punk thing, the monotone thing and the shouty thing, because I thought that’s what people did. But it wasn’t me, it didn’t work.” Instead, we have the majesty of the EP’s closing track ‘If I Could Make You Care’ – a slow-motion ballistic missile of a song, where Euan’s plaintive vocals are matched by gradual, creeping guitar refrains and, crucially, the menacing strains of that accordion.

Finn took up the instrument as a child after being inspired by his grandfather and great uncle’s “box playing”, with Euan now describing the interplay between accordion and traditional rock instruments as evoking something “otherworldly”. “It’s something that sits underneath, it’s its own layer, and sometimes you have to put your ear down to really find it, but when you do, it can be quite pleasing,” adds Finn with a hint of understatement.

“Nothing against any other bands, but I guess there’s a feeling that we’re doing our own thing.” – Euan Manning

The element of intrigue that sits at the heart of Cardinals may come from their conscious effort to derive inspiration from film, literature and visual art – in particular the work of Harry Clarke, one of the early 20th century leaders of the Irish Arts and Crafts movement. “I think if you only use music to influence your music, your music is only ever going to sound like music,” Euan says.

Cardinals’ songs are not overtly political, but in March, the band’s social conscience was revealed when, alongside all ten fellow Irish acts on the bill, they pulled out of SXSW in protest against their sponsorship from the US Army and the defence contractor RTX Corporation. “It was like being plunged in cold water and not really knowing what to do,” says Euan. “But it’s a very Irish thing, the solidarity with Palestine and Gaza.

“It’s not too long ago that the same thing was happening in Belfast and Derry,” adds Finn, “so for a lot of Irish people, there is a serious connection to that. If you’re not exposed to that, it’s easier to disconnect, maybe.”

The band liken the collective boycott of SXSW to previous Irish movements, including the Dunnes Stores strikes in the 1980s against South African apartheid. “The power of music is to help you empathise with different situations that are going on internationally,” says Finn. “Music keeps these stories alive, but it is a shame that it has to come down to the artists to have that responsibility.”

If Cardinals represent the coming era of guitar music in Ireland and beyond, then not only are we in ethically safe hands, but musical adventurous ones, too. Bring it on.

Cardinals' self-titled debut EP is out tomorrow (7th June) via So Young. 

Tags: Cardinals, From The Magazine, Features, Interviews

As featured in the May 2024 issue of DIY, out now.

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