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The best kept secret in music


"Irish Ayes"

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Publication date: 07/25/2002
Irish ayes
Special to The Examiner

    You snooze, you lose -- that's the name of the concert-going game for your average Bay Area rock fan. But quit kicking yourself for missing R.E.M. opening for the Suburbs, Guns N' Roses at the Stone and the Jesus And Mary Chain at the I-Beam. This weekend you have a chance to catch one of rockdom's most impressive new outfits -- a little four-piece crew dubbed Nero -- before the major labels sniff the scent and come swooping like vampire bats.

    Saturday the guys play the Voodoo Lounge, and Sunday they're at Slim's. Heck, go to both shows. Years from now, you'll be damn glad you did.

    Fronted by charismatic, chisel-featured singer/guitarist Robert Davis, the group -- on its self-issued, self-produced debut EP "Nero" (available at shows, or via its Web site, -- revels in cathedral-bell guitarwork, dark introspective lyrics and goliath crescendoed hooks that stick with you after only one listen. Some might hear echoes of Blur/Oasis Britpop; others may pick up an ethereal U2 sort of vibe.

    The lads -- including drummer Jay Duffy, guitarist Gavin Coleman and bassist Neil Gannon -- have been quietly residing in The City for the last six months, playing up and down the California coast and gradually amassing a faithful following. But the trick is to tune into Nero now, before it sets sail again for the distant shores of its homeland, Dublin City, Ireland. The next time the guys come in from the UK, it just might be as stadium-filling superstars.

    Making a break
    "Back home, we were playing 500-, 600-seaters and selling 'em out all the time," explains the 25-year-old frontman, unwrapping a chicken burrito at a Mission taqueria. "We were on the radio, we were on television. But because the music industry in Ireland is so small, our industry is always overshadowed by England -- the charts are pretty much a carbon copy of each other. So if you wanna do music professionally, if it's your long-term goal to be in a band and have a career that spans over years, then I find that you really have to get out of Ireland."

    The idea didn't hit Davis overnight, though. It took a visit from an Albany, N.Y.-based documentary filmmaker named Sean Mahoney to gas up the guys' immigrant tanks. Mahoney was so impressed by Nero, he flew to Dublin City to make a "band struggling to make it" movie.

    "He followed us around while we recorded our EP, interviewed our families and friends, basically filmed our everyday life," Davis recalls. The group was so impressed, it invited Mahoney -- a lawyer, by trade -- to be its manager. He agreed, on one condition: That Davis and cohorts relocate to Albany, equidistant from hot concert venues in Boston and New York City.

    In six months, they'd booked nearly 100 dates themselves and landed regular showcases at legendary nightclubs like the The City's Bitter End.

    Nero then relocated to San Francisco as a compromise with its new lawyer, who wanted the boys to move to Hollywood.

    "I didn't wanna move to L.A.," says Davis. "And San Francisco is just steeped in musical history, plus it's such a picturesque, inspirational city -- we just thought it would be nicer for everybody involved to live up here instead."

    The City has given the guys more than just tourist attractions to show off to visitors.

    "My parents came to one of our shows at Slim's, where we'd gotten an audience of 480 people, on our own," Davis beams. "They saw that, and they were over the moon. They saw that I wasn't joking, and that I took this music thing very seriously. So seriously that I moved to America."

    Working class
    The Nero naifs haven't had a chance to do much sightseeing themselves so far. Their time, says Davis, is evenly divided between performing live, writing new material and recording it.

    Credit for their songs is evenly divided, too.

    "We're all great friends, and we share the credits because that's why a band is called a 'group' -- it's a group of people, making music together," explains Davis.

    "I feel really good about music at the moment," he continues. "I've found that whoever listens to our CD gets something out of it, and it's always a positive, never a negative."

    That might have something to do with the band's dedication to making music.

    "America has taught me something Ireland never could," Davis says, "that if you have the belly for work, if you're willing to travel three hours to play to 15 people for 70 bucks, then that increases exponentially the next time you go. And then everything just seems to fall into place." - San Francisco Examiner


Nero EP (Black and White)
Nero EP (Arena)


Feeling a bit camera shy


Whisper the name Nero around Irish indie-rock crowds in the know today and it just might conjure up a faint echo of recognition. That echo will probably sound very similar to the buzz Nero had put in the Dublin air a few years ago. After forming in 1997, the lads spent the next four years playing the Irish club and college circuit to critical acclaim and an ever-increasing fan base. They soon worked their way up to full house shows at such venues as Whelan’s and the Temple Bar Music Centre, earning multiple TV spots, steady radio play and strong reviews.

In 2001, Nero recorded their debut EP in Sun Studios of Dublin with studio engineer Ger McDonnell, whose credits include U2 and the Manic Street Preachers. At the same time, an independent filmmaker from the US, who had previously caught a Nero show in Dublin, arrived in Ireland with a 3-man crew to film the first part of a “rockumentary” based entirely on the band.

The Nero name was certainly making a mark around town - but there was adventure in the air …

In summer 2001, armed with their new EP and fueled with a bad case of Irish boy-band burnout, Nero left Dublin for an extended trip to the US. They got off to a running start, playing famed NYC rock venue CBGB’s the day after arriving, and they didn’t let up. After six months of gigging all over NYC and the northeast, they headed west to the sunny climes and fine folks of California. Based in San Francisco, the lads quickly gained stellar reviews and a strong following, earning headline gigs at all the prime local venues, including the legendary Slim’s and such top LA spots as The Viper Room and Spaceland.

It was at Slim’s that Nero had the good fortune to meet Barrett Martin, who has played with such bands as The Screaming Trees, REM and The Wayward Shamans, and who would go on to produce a large batch of Nero songs for their next release. The recordings were made at both the Expression Studios in Oakland and Pearl Jam’s Studio Litho in Seattle, and mixing was once again placed in the trusty hands of Ger McDonnell. The ripest fruits of these labors will soon be released in Ireland on Nero’s second EP, a collection of songs that capture the passion and energy of Nero and loudly declare the promise of more great things to come.

A special bonus during the recordings came when one of Nero’s biggest guitar heroes, the great Peter Buck of R.E.M., contributed some fantastic guitar parts to four of their songs. An even bigger thrill for the lads came at SXSW, when Mr. Buck joined Nero on stage and played their song “I Keep Your Dreams” with Gavin’s guitar.

Nero’s travels and travails also found them working with legendary producer Jack Douglas whose many credits include Aerosmith and John Lennon. While Nero was shaking the walls at Expression Studios, Jack was trying to teach a class in a nearby studio. Finally giving up on class, Jack checked out the boys, liked what he heard and quickly offered his services. The fruits of those sessions will be evident with the first single off the EP, a hard-driving Nero rocker called “Live With Answers” - produced by Jack.

After nearly three years in the States, Nero made their way back to dear old Dublin early this year to oversee final mixing of the next EP and start revving up for it’s release. It’s been a long time coming for the band but the rewards are certainly worth the wait. Finally, the songs are ready to rock and Nero is more than ready to roll. Very soon, that once faint echoing buzz just might blow you away.