It’s several hours before The Rubberbandits’ sold-out Galway Comedy Festival show is due to kick off. The boys are already in costume. Which is to say that Limerickmen Dave Chambers and Bob McGlynn – better known by their daft stagenames Blindboy Boat Club and Mr Chrome – are both wearing faded tracksuits, cheap jewellery, and balaclavas expertly fashioned from plastic shopping bags on their heads.
No surprise there. The acclaimed comedy duo have never shown their faces in public, and they always do their interviews in character. Their style is satirical, surrealist and deliberately crude, but also usually scalpel-sharp.
Very little is known about Ireland’s least recognisable celebrities, other than that Chambers and McGlynn met while attending Ardscoil Rís in Limerick, and were entertaining their schoolfriends with recorded prank phone calls from their mid-teens. Those calls were compiled into bootleg CDs, which eventually became successful radio broadcasts, both here and internationally. They switched to television: having entertained Irish audiences with weekly sketches on RTÉ’s Republic Of Telly (which spawned the viral YouTube hit Horse Outside), the ’Bandits are now doing shows for MTV and Channel 4.
Their debut album Serious About Men – released on their own Lovely Men Music label – has just been released. It will be fascinating to see if their popularity as a live act translates into mega sales.
While some commentators dismiss them as a novelty act, The Rubberbandits are deadly serious about what they do. Not that they’d ever say it to your face…
According to a band spokesperson, “The word ‘novelty’ is something that gets thrown at them now and then, but it stems from people’s lazy desire to label things rather than deal with the anxiety of ambiguity. Novelty music is gimmick music that lacks substance or talent, ie Crazy Frog.
“The lads make comedy music, or as they describe it, music that happens to be funny. More importantly, their music is not merely a vessel to carry jokes, but rather it is equally as important as the joke. They write, perform, record, produce, mix and master all the music themselves. The songwriting, production and melody are just as important as the jokes and satirical undertones in the songs.
“Take Horse Outside – remove the lyrics and just listen to the structure and the melody. You are left with a pure pop song that sticks in your head.
“Because they take the piss all the time, people assume that their music has no creative merit. Just like the way that some people think that they’re fools, because the characters they play are fools. The fact is that they’ve had the biggest-selling Irish single since Westlife, with a song they wrote, performed and produced themselves in a Limerick bedroom. That requires talent, creativity and an understanding of the art forms of both song-writing and comedy.”
Back to backstage in the Roisín Dubh. The Rubberbandits are in fine fettle. Spin South West disc jockey Paul Webb – who regularly appears on stage with them in the guise of Willie O’DJ – brings up a tray of drinks and the madness begins …
OLAF TYARANSEN: Does it take you guys long to get into character or do you just put the bags over your heads in seconds?
MR CHROME: Four-and-a-half hours of make-up!
BLINDBOY BOAT CLUB: They’re specially moulded to our heads! Honest to god, he’s got a mould of my head that he made and he gets a dryer and it shapes exactly to my head so I don’t get sweating issues or breathing issues.
OT: You both come across as Limerick skangers, basically, and reportedly you’re not…
MC: We’re not, we’re middle-class gentlemen. We’re kind of like … we’re between classes. We’re between middle class and upper class. We’re upper upper upper class.
BBC: Everyone thinks we grew up in the suburbs and all of that, but we grew up in mansions with butlers. Upper upper upper upper class. That’s why we love drugs and horses.
OT: How did you guys meet?
MC: We first met on a dating agency on the internet. Nah. We met in school. We both hated everything in school except art. We loved art both of us, and in art [class] we had a teacher called Bog Man and he let us do whatever we wanted.
BBC: When we got in trouble in other classes they’d send us up to the art room to do loads of art.
OT: When did you form The Rubberbandits?
BBC: Erm … I was stalking a girl who worked in a pet shop when I was 17, or 16, and my heart was broken because she didn’t want to go on a date with me, and then he started hanging around with me because he could see that I had a broken heart…
MC: I wanted to fix it.
BBC: …then he told me to fix it, that I should show her how good I am at art and stuff. And then we forgot about that idea and went to his house, he had a free house, and we recorded a lot of prank phone calls.
MC: You wrote a poem about her! Do you remember that?
BBC: I did yeah, I wrote a poem about her, and I made all the boys watch me read the poem down by the church when we were smoking fags.
MC: Daniel read it and I was like, “Don’t show it to anyone because they’ll all laugh at you and think you’re a steamer for writing a poem,” but then it turns out that Daniel was already a poet and he didn’t know it.
OT: Do you remember the poem?
MC: Do you remember the line? I remember some of the lines…
BBC: Don’t be quoting the lines of the poem! She still knows me!
MC: The pet shop, you used to have to walk down steps to get into, and the last line was something along the lines of…
BBC: Don’t! Come on, she’ll read that, stop!
MC: … ‘Subterranean lair into which I dived in, my pet shop girl’ (laughs). I was trying to tell ya, “Look, people are going to think Pet Shop Boys and it’s like you’re subconsciously telling the world that you’re a member of the steam theatre!” There you go.
OT: So it was prank phone calls that started you off?
BBC: Yeah, yeah, prank phone calls.
BBC: So we made a CD of prank phone calls for the benefit of about six people in our class, and then we found out that people in another class liked it and we couldn’t believe that someone in a different class liked the CD, and then half of Limerick was passing it around. And this was like 2001.
OT: What age are you guys?
MC: We’re both 21. We’ve been 21 now for about … 16 years. It’s great though because you get 21 kisses every year. They’re all from our mothers but they still count, you know?
Anyway, back to the CDs of prank phone calls…
BBC: So yeah the CD passed around all of Limerick and we couldn’t believe that. And then we spent a long time doing nathin’ and then, then I’d my heart broken again by his cousin. And then he said to me, ‘cos I was making music in my bedroom, he said, “That music is good enough for people to listen to,” and I was, “F**k off!” He said, “We’ll make a few tunes.” That was about 2007, so we started making songs, we made Bag Of Glue, we put it onto MySpace, didn’t think anyone would like it…
MC: And then … boom! Half of Limerick were listening to it.
BBC: And that’s when Dublin got involved.
MC: Yeah Dublin got involved. All you need to do is impress half of Limerick – that’s how David Bowie got Ziggy Stardust off the ground.
BBC: He did, yeah. Before you know it…
OT: Where and when did you play your first live show?
MC: Our 21st.
BBC: No, it was the courtyard of the Trinity Rooms at a moustache party on the banks of the Shannon.
MC: Ah that’s true, yeah.
BBC: Our first ever show had 1,500 people, because we had already built up an underground legacy.
MC: It was half of Limerick. And 1,500 people.
BBC: We played on the banks of the Shannon and it was a moustache party, as in… our manager Coco, at the time, it was the first time that we met him and he organised this because he was running a nightclub and there was 1,500 people there and they all had moustaches on. If you wore a moustache you got free drinks or something, and that was our first ever gig. Limerick had been waiting about six years to see The Rubberbandits, and the first time they saw the plastic bags, we did one song and we f***ed off, and they were very disappointed (shakes head sadly).
OT: Why did you call yourselves The Rubberbandits?
BBC: When I was 17, it just came to me. And I went into the art class and I said to him, “I have the name for our group, it’s called ‘The Rubberbandits’,” and he didn’t contest it, he said, “Yeah, great name!” and now we’re stuck with it.
MC: We fight tooth and nail over everything, you have the ideas parties where you sit down and talk about ideas and all that kind of s**t. The Rubberbandits for some reason, we had no discussion about it, and we f**king hate it.
BBC: Yeah we don’t like it at all. It’s a silly, silly name.
MC: We want to be called loads of brilliant things.
BBC: I hate my name, (disdainfully) ‘Blindboy Boat Club’!
MC: I hate my name ‘Mr Chrome’!
BBC: I want to be called ‘Freddie Honey’.
MC: I want to be called ‘Vincent Fist’ (shakes head wistfully).
BBC: And what do we want our band to be called?
MC: ‘The Gorillas In The A**’. Or ‘Don’t Tell Dennis’.
BBC: Or ‘Steam Theatre’. Loads of brilliant things. ‘Lying About Malta’. All great names, great names for a band. And we’re stuck with The Rubberbandits.
MC: With ‘Rubberbandits’ you think, “It’s s**t, but at least people will remember it” – no they won’t! Everyone goes up and goes, “Aren’t you in that band… the Rubberduckies?”
BBC: I know ye, you’re The Spanish Pirates.
MC: The Gay Terrorists. Just, the list of names goes on that aren’t The Rubberbandits. It’s a silly name, for silly boys.
OT: Do either of you guys have criminal records?
BBC: I’ve got a copy of Never Mind The Bollocks on original vinyl and Sid Vicious was a criminal when he recorded it. I’ve got all of Dr Dre’s. Snoop Doggy Dog was caught selling hash, so I’ve got plenty of criminal records. Gil-Scott Heron, that’s another one of my criminal records. John Lennon, he done a couple of silly protest things, I’ve a few of his records.
OT: Were you surprised with the online success of ‘Horse Outside’?
MC: On a serious note, yes. Absof***inglutely! Shocking.
BBC: Here’s proof of the fact that we didn’t know it was going to be popular. We just released it as a video on TV and made no plans for it to be released on CD or anything whatsoever. None. We were on Republic Of Telly every week so it was just, here’s another sketch. A little bit more effort put into it than the other stuff but this is a song we made on our computer.
MC: I think if you expected it to be [big] then you’d sing in key and have better jokes in it. The video would be more expensive we would have made our c**ks look bigger, all that kind of stuff, but no.
BBC: Total accident. At the time we were getting about 100,000 views from the sketches we put up from Republic Of Telly, and we were expecting this one might go about 200,000. We knew it would be a little bit more special than the sketches because there was music in it. But it’s around eight million [views] now.
MC: It’s a song and you can walk away with a song in your head.
OT: You wound up competing with The X-Factor for Christmas number one last year …
BBC: That was a complete pain in the h**e. We wanted nothing to do with it.
MC: It was moronic. We weren’t trying to be cool. We didn’t give a f**k about the Christmas number one. It’s for (adopts particularly strong Limerick accent) c**ts. Christmas number one is for c**ts.
OT: Actually a DJ friend of mine played it at a music festival in Portugal recently. He told me the whole place went mental …
BBC: Really? My bag’s from Portugal. This Brazilian woman got in touch with us and started supplying our bags and she sent boxes and boxes of bags over from Brazil and Portugal. That’s where we get our bags now.
OT: How many bags a night do you go through on stage?
BBC: One bag a night on stage. This one has had a few uses though. The sickener is that you get three or four uses out of it, you get used to it and then you have to throw it away. It gets comfortable and it gets nice but there is a time when you have to part with the bag. This will reveal my face eventually and that’s when it has to go.
OT: How quickly can you put a bag together?
MC: I could knock a bag out now in 30 seconds.
BBC: He could. With the mould of the head and the heat gun. Yeah.
OT: It’s that advanced, is it?
BBC: You think we’re taking the p**s! That’s heat-moulded to my head.
MC: I’m a professional make-up artist.
BBC: He’s a professional make-up artist. ‘Cos if you use a normal bag that you just put holes in, you start choking, it doesn’t work like that.
This one, no matter what you do, my eyes are where they’re supposed to be, my nose is where it’s supposed to be and so is my mouth, and that’s the only way I can perform, because if I didn’t I’d be… Van Morrison did 15 years with a bag on his head and look what happened to him.
OT: Seriously, you’re a professionally trained dancer, aren’t you, Mr Chrome?
MC: I come from a family of dancers. My ma is a choreographer. My sisters are dancers, so I was in a house of dancing but I was never trained. In fact, the thought of going out on stage and dancing was as inviting as getting a kick in the b**ls, to me.
I hated it. But you can’t avoid what goes on around you. That’s what happened there. But I’m not a professionally trained dancer, I’m just f**king brilliant at dancing!
OT: How was the album recording process?
MC: It was grand. We went up in a hot air balloon, come down about three weeks later and we’ve got an album on our hands. That’s pretty much it.
OT: How are the people of Limerick taking to your success?
BBC: Limerick are grand, Limerick are … they like it. I don’t know, I haven’t been there in a while.
MC: What does Limerick make of us? (pause) They love it, I suppose. I mean, anything that comes out of Limerick everyone just latches onto and says it’s great, no matter what it is. There’s a statue of Richard Harris down in Limerick that’s s**t and everyone says it’s great. It’s a s**t statue and everyone says it’s brilliant because it’s Richard Harris and he’s from Limerick. So I assume that they think we’re great because we’re from Limerick. They might just think we’re s**t.
OT: Will there ever be a statue of you in Limerick?
MC: I hope so. I’m gonna make one anyway.
BBC: Just put it up there.
MC: Or else we’ll put a plastic bag on the Richard Harris statue.
OT: Tell me a little bit about the new TV show that you’ve done for Channel 4.
BBC: We did MTV in June … they just pointed the camera at us and we went around acting the b*****ks. We just did one for Channel 4 with the director of Father Ted, Declan Lowney. He’s a f**king mad c**t, he’s brilliant. We put effort into this one.
BBC: Yeah, we put effort into sets and lighting. The whole thing amounted to what, 24 minutes of footage? Three by seven? That’s 21 isn’t it? I’m s**t at maths, I failed maths for the Leaving Cert. 21 minutes of footage but a ridiculous amount of effort just for those 21 minutes. About three months of work. Two months writing, one month preproduction.
OT: Are you making much money doing this?
BBC: No we make about as much money as someone managing a line in Dell. After the government has its way with you and management and all of that, you just end up with a normal wage, but we don’t give a f**k.
I’d rather earn a normal wage doing this than, I dunno, skinning chickens. What do normal people do?
MC: Skin chickens.
OT: What are your expectations for the album?
BBC: We don’t care. We make songs that make us happy and put it out.
MC: We don’t care. I suppose that’s an across the board answer.