Although Irish singer/songwriter had a late start getting into creating music, you would never be able to tell by the music he creates. His voice and his lyrics sound like those of a soul much older than his actual age – his songs are sure to win you over the same way they have won us over. We got to ask him some questions about his songwriting process and his expansive variety of musical influences. Read below and be sure to catch him live at Variety Playhouse this Wed. Nov. 5th!
How did you first approach making Post Tropical? How did it’s development play out? What was the most difficult part of creating this album?
I work while I’m traveling and touring on my laptop, so Post Tropical started like that, fragments of ideas recorded whenever I have the chance. I have no clue how to sit and write a song with a guitar, I work in loops and bursts of melody and then slowly tie them all together. I spent about a year just touring and pulling the ideas slowly into focus, then another 4 or 5 months in Dublin at my studio making it all coherent, this album was like the most complex math problem, everything fits together so tightly, it’s incredibly complicated but I wanted to make it sound simple. I think that was the most difficult part of making the record, I hate when I hear records and it’s clearly just some person in a room impressing themselves with their own production know-how. That’s really boring to me, if there’s no song or flow there then who gives a shit how good you are with a mpc you know?
What is your ideal way to write music?
Honestly how I’m working now is kind of my ideal way, as I get better at this I’m losing a lot of the more cliché pretentious musical tendencies, overcomplicating shit, stuff like that. I think it’s only recently dawned on me what kind of songs I’m compelled to write, just big melodies and emotional resonance, not over-fussing it which I’ve done in the past. It’s why I’ve been putting out some new ideas, I’d never have done that before, I’d have sat and tweaked the arrangement so much, but now it just feels simple to me – thats how I’ve always wanted to be as a writer.
At what point in your releases did you realize that you were on to something? When did the ball really start rolling?
Hard to say, with me it was a real slow and steady rise, there was no catalytic moment. The first year I had Early in the Morning out it was only out in Ireland and I think it sold about 3,000 copies, which for a guy on his own with no support I was extremely proud of. Then I licensed it and people outside of Ireland started to hear it and it slowly found its feet, the shows got bigger and bigger. I think around the start of 2012 when all the shows were big rooms and all sold out, I think that’s when it occurred to me that things were different than they had been. But I never really paused to think on it. Honestly I’ve always felt I was on to something, I always believe things can get better and they always have if I’ve worked for them the right way. So stopping to think on success isn’t really in my makeup – too many other things to do.
How have your live performances evolved over time? How do you connect with a crowd when playing a live show?
In the beginning it was me on my own playing guitar every night and singing, I wasn’t very good in the beginning, I hadn’t performed, never really had much desire to as I’m fairly reserved as a person, but I had this record and I had to play it so I got up there and tried my best. It went from being terrified, to just scared, to finally understanding what it meant to be up there and how I needed to go about connecting with an audience, and at that point it got really fun. I had been trying to almost shout the songs at them, but it’s not about raw power, it’s about subtlety and being delicate with the material. Nowadays I have a big crew, 3 other musicians, a huge lighting rig, it’s a completely different animal. But at it’s core it’s still just me trying to connect these songs with the people in the room.
What’s been the most meaningful accolade you’ve received so far? Or what’s the most fulfilling thing to have happened so far on your journey in music?
Hard to say, as I said I don’t tend to stop and reflect on stuff too much. I know where I am and I know what it means for sure, every night when the room is full and people are into it then it’s amazing to me, because I never just expected this to happen, I believed it would, but it still took a huge amount of work, so I feel I appreciate it that little bit more. This year has had a lot of highlights, 2 nights at the Sydney Opera House was kind of magical, what a place to play. And headlining the Electric Picnic second stage on saturday night in Ireland was unbelievably fun, just a hard core homecoming.
Where do you see yourself in a year? Will you be enjoying a much-deserved break after this album?
I’m not much for breaks to be honest, every time I make a record I start work on something new. I’ve been working with a lot of other people this year, stuff people will hear end of this year and start of next, that’s been fun, but I also have something of my own, maybe I’m just talking out loud here, maybe I’ll get to the end of the year and completely collapse. Or maybe I’ll go to the studio and finish a new record and release it early next year. It could go either way.
What was your musical upbringing like? Who were the artists who influenced you the most growing up?
My upbringing was cool, laid back, my parents listened to a lot of music but not in an intense way, they weren’t putting on limited edition vinyl and reading the album inlay cards to us or anything, they just liked catchy legit music: ELO, Elvis Costello, Neil Young, ABBA, a lot of light yacht rock stuff like Chicago and Air Supply, just generally cool stuff. I think all of that had an influence on me. On my own I found endless other musical avenues, people who’ve impacted me: D’angelo, Prince, Jeff Buckley, Elton John, Radiohead, honestly the list is huge.
Do you have any pre-show rituals? Or how do you prepare for a show?
No hard core rituals, usually I hang out and work on my laptop until about an hour before the show, then I watch some tv, something light, Parks and Recreation or something, and do some vocal warm ups and get changed for the stage. I try and keep it as relaxed as possible, before we go on stage we all have a quick chat about the show, then it’s head down and lock into the first song…. I guess that is a ritual huh!?
What is the strangest thing a fan has done for you? Or at your show?
Nothing terrifying, people are usually pretty nice with me. There’s a couple of people who like to make me things, scarves, stuffed animals, things like that, but it’s always just attached with a nice note and left with security, there’s never anything creepy with it.
If we were to take a look at your Spotify or iPod, what would be the three most recent artists or albums we would find?
Run The Jewels – Run the Jewels 2
Jessie Ware – Tough Love
T.I. – Paperwork