Cactus World News: Frank Kearns talks about new album ‘Found’

Cactus World News emerged in 1984 as the Irish band most likely to follow U2 on the road to international success. They had all the right connections but more importantly, had the songs and the sound that made them ideal candidates for graduating to the major leagues. Debut single ‘The Bridge’ was an impressive opening shot – stirring, anthemic guitar rock and debut album ‘Urban Beaches’ served only to cement the impression that CWN were a band ready to make a big leap forward.

Released on MCA Records, the album sold well, but a change in label personnel led to a familiar story – the band didn’t find favour with the new regime and follow up album ‘No Shelter’ sat gathering dust before being released many years after it was recorded. Now, some 25 years after their last release, the band have compiled a collection of rare and unreleased tracks, another chapter to the CWN story that is sure to satisfy their loyal fan base.

Guitarist Frank Kearns took the time to talk to us about the band, their history and the upcoming release of ‘Found’ following a pledgemusic campaign.

Thanks for taking the time to talk to us Frank – its been almost 25 years since the release of anything by the band – tell us a little about how the idea to put out this album of rarities and unreleased tracks came about?
The story of ‘Found’ begins back in 2004 when we discovered a bunch of Cactus tracks that were never released and felt there was enough for at least an albums worth so we set about collecting the tapes but then life intervened, family, kids you know the way, so we never actually managed to realise the ambition until now.

How difficult was it to pull together a project of this nature? I would imagine aside from the logistical difficulties of finding master tapes, filtering out what was usable, etc., there were also difficulties in getting everyone who was involved to agree on what should be released and how it should be presented to the world?
In 1999 I negotiated the license to all our recorded works from MCA and thus inherited all the MCA recorded material. By 2000 it was agreed that myself and Eoin would set up a website and allow fans to buy cds online. At this point original Urban Beaches cds were going for $120/130 on ebay so we knew there would be some kind of market for a rerelease of Urban Beaches in its expanded form.

The success of this rerelease encouraged us to release No Shelter and now Found. Historically, CWN split in 1990 and we continued with other musicians until we halted operations in 1991. When we originally looked into the viability of this Found project we discovered that some of the tapes had degraded due to age and storage conditions and in some cases we had to do emergency restoration work just to figure out if the tracks could be up to the release quality.Cactus World News

What material on the upcoming album do you think will be of particular interest to fans?
People who enjoyed the Urban Beaches album will be happy with most of the songs slated for Found and while it does contain tracks such as 12 inch ‘Years Later’ mix and songs such as ‘Hurry Back’ and 12 inch ‘Worlds Apart’, it also has really great tunes such as ‘1975’ and ‘No Time’.

You are using a Pledgemusic campaign to fund the album release – what do you think of the whole concept of this? It is something that is relatively new and do you think that another threat to the record companies traditional stranglehold on how music is distributed.
Pledgemusic is not only a crowd funding platform but also a way to communicate directly with fans as the project develops. I think there is a growing bunch of people out there who want to support bands like ourselves releasing old material.

They appreciate that in the absence of a meaningful record deal there are little options for funding the recording and release of any material. For us, the chance of actually being able to fund the Found project from fans making pledges was exciting and motivating. There was now a way forward.

Cactus World News emerged in the eighties when bands sole focus was on securing a record deal. Do you think there has been a big shift in emphasis for bands now with technology allowing bands to cheaply record, distribute and promote their own music?
For sure, technology has allowed easy access to recording equipment but you still need engineers and producers with experienced ears to make a recording that will be listenable. It all depends on the act. Most bands need a room to record in. That room has to be acoustically balanced otherwise you end up with the classic honky demo problem. In other words the basics still apply, talented ears recording great players playing great songs.

When Cactus World News first arrived on the scene they were touted as the next big thing – did the whole Mother Record thing and Bono’s endorsement of the band act as a help or a hindrance in the long term?
Being upfront I’d say both. All of us had been in bands for years prior to Cactus World News so we had paid our dues by the time the band formed in 1984 however there was a perception in Ireland that we had had it easy being friends of U2 but really the truth was different.

Although we were grateful for the opportunity to record with Mother, we struggled to step out of the U2 success shadow as did all the bands that followed but in the end we managed to shine and be appreciated as a unique creative force that produced great original music.  The sounds on Urban Beaches were ground-breaking.

Urban Beaches -CWNYour debut album ‘Urban Beaches’ was very well received on release in 1986 and you secured a contract with MCA. What was your experience like working with a major label?
It was great actually, we were able to sell records, get a decent recording budget and afford great producers and studios and then get financial support to tour Europe and America with a show worthy of the album. Working with top producers like Chris Kimsey, Andy Wallace, Peter Gabriel you learn a lot fast.

Thing with record deals is that you don’t have to pay back the advance unless you sell records because it’s ‘an advance in lieu of royalties’ and in the end Urban Beaches over 250,000 worldwide but because of our big advances, MCA had a sizable investment to recoup before we got paid.

Record companies are made up of people. They are a business, some are good and some not so and yes there has been many documented disasters in the Artist/ Record company relationship however of more importance, we currently have a situation where musicians are struggling to get paid hardly anything at all for their work. File sharing websites facilitating the illegal download of musicians work are being made rich on the money they receive from ads they attract as a result of their popularity.

I have seen major phone companies and Banks being advertised alongside the invitation to download our albums for free! Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with others wishing to give away their creative efforts for free but I strongly believe that those wishing to be paid for their music should be able to be paid so that they can continue their work.

The follow up record ‘No Shelter’ was recorded in 89, but didn’t see the light of day until 2004 – is that correct?

Yes, MCA was bought out by Seagram and then it turned into Universal so lots of personnel changes brought about a cull of anything not immediately commercially viable. No Shelter was a victim of circumstances however it’s now available alongside the back catalogue on the Cactus World News Pledgemusic site.CActus World News Live

The local music scene in Ireland in the eighties was particularly vibrant with a lot more live venues than there are now.  When you look back at the scene back then how do you think it compares with what’s currently happening out there?
I think music occupied a different place in people’s heads back then. It was seen as vital. There wasn’t talk of us being ‘content providers’ or whatever bullshit they are calling creative musicians now. All of us were passionate about our music and still are, so it’s alien for me to see music as anything other than an essential essence of life. What you see today is just a reflection of the times we live in, one door closes another opens I guess.

What creative projects are you and other members currently involved in?
Eoin is based in London and writing a novel. Wayne Sheehy has his Ocean studios in Co Cork and of course being a drummer in high demand is always busy with people like Damien Dempsey, he is also a great producer. Fergal Andrews owns a website development company in London and I have recently completed a collaboration with Steve Kilbey of the Church and an album of that work will be coming out this year.

And finally, will the band be playing live shows in support of the album release and any plans to record new material?
Eoin, the singer has been battling with tinnitus so it’s a huge mountain to climb before the original line up could reform for shows. I love playing live but they say never say never right?


Interview by Paul Page


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