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Dagny: on chilling and connection.

Norwegian pop starlet Dagny – Norvoll Sandvik, to her family – is a name that’s been on the lips of many industry types in recent months, with her debut album one of the most anticipated pop launches in recent years.

Despite the ‘fresh’ feel around the singer and her bubbly, emotion-laden pop, however, she’s actually been around the fringes of the London’s pop scene for many years, biding her time and waiting to make her move. 

When we caught up with her just ahead of the album launch, she explained that things have changed recently, and she’d just had enough of messing around the edges. She decided to take some of her massive songwriting backlog public, with the likes of The Guardian and NME throwing their weight behind her.

“The last six months have really been a different thing,” she explains. “I’ve been working on the album, and it’s really been my first big project, in a way. That’s been super motivating and exciting, but also a bit scary.”

“I started off songwriting, not performing, but once the performance came, that kind of took over,” she continues. “I spent a lot of years just performing, releasing some singles and an EP and just going with the flow. I was trying to get as much traveling and performing into the diary as possible. At times, working on an album felt further and further away from happening, and it got to the point where I didn’t know what I was waiting for.”

“I said to myself, I have 250 songs, I’m sure I can find 12 that hold together as an album. Funnily enough, I’ve been writing songs for ten years and I ended up putting on tracks only from the last 18 months, as they just felt more relevant to me. I think everyone who writes thinks their most recent stuff is their best, and I just tried to concentrate on what my vibe is right now, rather than looking to the past. The album isn’t conceptual, but because of how it all relates in my head, it almost felt like that.”

Pauli: “In a funny way, I can see how the current situation might benefit a complete newcomer like myself”

In a funny way, amid all the chaos of the modern-day, new artists like Pauli represent hope, or more specifically the idea that lockdown will serve as a positive for some, a chance to break out of a shell.

Pauli has been making music and contributing to various projects for years, having started producing music as a child, but hi new EP ‘Isolation Station’ sees him emerge from the shadows and announce himself for the first time, a project born out of the isolation he’s been experiencing, and his take on others experiences, too.

I spoke to him to explore his own isolation, and what led to this moment…

Congrats on the debut EP. A strange time to release it, but what can you do! Did you do anything different because of the shutdown?

Thanks, James, I’m looking forward to seeing what the response is. To be honest, the lockdown is the thing that spurred me on to finally release some tracks. I had been planning this for a while but having more time on my hands to dedicate to doing it ‘properly’, coupled with a little spike in inspiration recently has helped me to make that final step.

Was this opportunity a kick up the rear in some senses?

Exactly right. In many ways, I was ready for this for a while now. I have been writing music for many years already, and getting better and better at home recording and production recently. With so much more time on my hands, and not having the distraction of pubs and attending gigs and whatever else, I didn’t have any excuses left. The time had come!

Obviously the music industry is differing at the moment. Can you see some benefits, too, given the impact this shutdown has had on you?

In a funny way, I can see how the current situation might benefit a complete newcomer like myself. With live events cancelled for the foreseeable future, it gives me a chance to build a following through my EP release first. I don’t have to scramble for stage time and gig opportunities, which is already a competitive marketplace, even for established acts. This way, I have an opportunity to hopefully build a bit of a following over the next few months and build some momentum that way, and be prepared for when gigs finally get going again.

Sounds Of System Breakdown: “The events of the past few weeks have reinvigorated the case for protest music”

Sounds Of System Breakdown‘s self-titled debut album, released in 2010, is one of the sounds of my early years in Dublin. Encapsulating the gritty urban-ness of the less-touristy aspects of the city, it was a shining electro-pop record riddled with enthralling beats and whip-smart lyrics.

They’ve been relatively quiet in recent years, being spread as they are between a houseboat outside Dublin and a new home in London, but recently returned with new single ‘Connect With Me’.

How much do I personally rate this band? They were my wedding band, playing exclusively their own material. Here’s what they had to say around the launch of the new single.

Welcome back, lads! It’s been quite a while. How does it feel to be working together again?

I guess we never really stopped, we just had to slow down a bit as other life events took precedence. It’s great to have three pairs of eyes and ears on everything again. Honestly, there’s a great feeling of focus now – I think a bit of distance from the last few records has given us a better understanding of our sound.

It must be quite difficult given your disparate living situations. How do songs like the new single come together in practice?

It was kind of iterative. I’d usually demo something, then Ed would do a rough drum take, Richy would try some vocals on top. Then after a few listens we’d chat about what worked and what didn’t. We avoided preciousness wherever we could so you’ll hear a lot of the demo stuff in there, mixed with better quality recordings. It was about keeping whichever take had the best energy.

Can you tell me a bit about the story behind the single?

It came from the bass line – everything else came from that in a really instinctive way. The lyrics are supposed to be little snapshots of memories all jumbled up together. The words feel secondary to how the meter and sounds elaborate on the rhythm section.

RunOffBroke: “Berlin was crazy, we had some rough times out there but the effects it had on our music is something I’d never change”

RunOffBroke might be one of those artists to emerge from lockdown more complete, more ready to face whatever the music industry evolves into.

Filtered through young creativity and a period living in Berlin, Jordan Wilson dabbles in house and afrobeat sounds as well as his rapping, working regularly with producer NINETY7HERTZ to produce what’s turned out to be a heap of recent material.

Back in Ireland after those Berlin escapades, he talks us through what it’s all been about…

You seem to be firing out the singles at the moment. What’s brought on the creative period?

We just decided that it’s time to start working as hard as we can. If we really want this music to go where we want it to, then we need to keep the work rate high. NINETY7HERTZ and I are honestly lucky that we’re in this quarantine cause it gives us a lot of time to work on new material, new songs are being made every day and that’s not gonna stop for a long time!

For your latest single, about a conflicted relationship, is there a particular story behind the track?

I’ve definitely been in some situations with some crazy ladies, I’m not gonna say any names but they know who they are. It’s a strange thing because inherently for all of us in abusive situations we can find ourselves holding onto the rare good times you have in them and that’s basically what the songs about! But look we can go deeper about that over a few drinks.

What’s your typical process for putting a track together?

97 starts making a beat and then we need to get down a chorus, that’s what the whole song is based off. Whatever I end up writing the chorus about is what the song will be about! I feel like that’s the best way to do it cause if you start off writing verses then the main part that carries the song has to be based on too much information and things just get messy.

Mark Knight big on Dublin connection

Superstar DJ Mark Knight, a mainstay of the house music scene, is one of the abundance of cancelled shows that won’t be showing up in Dublin in the coming weeks. The beatsmith is used to the mass audiences of Ibiza and London, however, Knight has a special affinity to our capital.

It’s an affinity that plays out in the way he performs, too. Dublin’s club scene is mediocre by international standards even at its peak, with early closing hours and small-scale venues far behind pubs as a priority. Knight makes a point of dropping in regularly, however, playing smaller venues than he’d normally grace purely for the love of the place.

“It’s a special connection,” he tells me. “My wife’s from Dublin and I’ve been playing there for 15 years, I always have a great time. This year, I’m mainly focused on my business, Toolroom, and things related to that, but the Dublin date [which would have taken place in April] was an important one personally.” 

“Toolroom has fed into my music now. I come across so much different music because of my job. When it comes to playing live, I play about 50% my own stuff, and probably about 85% of it overall is Toolroom stuff. That’s how it should be, I think. The balance with the label has allowed me to play maybe two weekends a month, which is a really nice balance when you have a family and you only want to spend a certain amount of time playing at clubs at 3 or 4 in the morning.”

“I like playing small venues. You can’t just go in with a sledgehammer, you have to massage people a little, and it gives you a chance to do long developing sets that are a journey from beginning to end. It’s something a bit different.”

Knight’s previous lifestyle is one of the things that has been, at least temporarily, lost during the shutdown, along with his tour. It’s also something that indicates the strength that can – but doesn’t always – exist in creative arts. While he can’t play live, he’s putting together videos connecting with his new record, and keeping an eye on the future of Toolroom, including the label’s new development pipeline, Toolroom Academy.

Isaac Butler: “I found my sound in LA, working with the other musicians opened my eyes”

Isaac Butler shot to prominence when he released ‘Moon Song’, a track that he tells me he didn’t really expect to go too far. Now with almost a million streams for that debut, he’s worked with Adele’s session musicians, developed a new style, and featuring on The Bachelorette.

Determined to make the most of his unexpected break, I caught up with Isaac as he made the most of lockdown, streaming and writing his way through our new circumstances…

Hi Isaac, first of all, how are you, and how are you finding this enforced break? Are you making use of it musically?

Hello! I am very well thank you. Yeah to be honest I’m finding the break OK. At the start I was freaking out a bit at having to cancel shows and all the festivals being called off. I also had a few supports slots lined up that obviously aren’t happening, but I’ve kept very busy over the last few weeks writing with people over zoom and keeping active on social media.

At the beginning of the lockdown I did a YouTube series under called ‘Distance Doesn’t Divide’ where I basically got each member of my band to record themselves in their bedrooms playing their parts in each of my songs. I then put all the videos together into a split screen video and posted them on YouTube. It was great craic and people seemed to enjoy them. I also got my first brand collaboration with River Island! I did a live stream gig on their Instagram and they sent me out some lovely clothes. So I can’t complain!

‘Moon Song’ was clearly a huge success for you. Were you surprised by the traction you could get with a debut single?

The reaction to ‘moon song’ was amazing. I put the song out with no real expectations. I was toying around with the idea of releasing original music so I played a few songs for my music teacher who I stayed in contact with after I left school.

Pretty much immediately after he heard ‘Moon Song’ he said we have to get that recorded, so he called up a friend of his Billy Farrell a well known Irish producer to help out. We recorded the track in a few days and I made a really simple music video with a few friends, and the rest is history. It continues to be the song the people know me for which is funny because I just put it up for the sake of putting it up, there was no reasoning behind it, and today it has just under a million streams, pretty crazy.

Sir Bobby Jukebox: “most of my solo stuff probably has a self-isolated, losing-my-mind, ‘Yellow Wallpaper’ vibe to it”

Bobby Aherne’s place in the Dublin music scene seems to be one at the heart of every bit of wonderful, quirky offbeat pop music. His any guises over the years have seen Aherne, presumably, spending most of his life songwriting and releasing wonderful, offbeat little oddities to local acclaim, often deserving more love than he actually got.

His latest incarnation is ‘Sir Bobby Jukebox‘, a kind fo tongue-in-cheek branding of what has long been a solo project under the name ‘No Monster Club‘, in practice, at least. His new LP, in typical Aherne fashion, is available on an obscure label on cassette tape only, and (fortunately) online, and explores nostalgia and poetry, as you do.

I caught up with him on his latest buzz…

So first of all, the rebrand – what’s the story behind Sir Bobby Jukebox?

I’ve done a bunch of solo shows as ‘No Monster Club’ and it’s always felt kind of weird… after all, a club of one isn’t much of a club. So I wanted a different name for when it’s just me. That said, NMC was originally a solo thing, so I’m not sure what I was thinking there.

I’ve always found honorifics absurd, and none more so than ‘Sir’ – like being forced to call male teachers at school ‘Sir’? Also the caretaker in the building I used to live in would address me as ‘Sir’ about five times per sentence, which made me feel so awkward. And then I guess “Jukebox”, just because there’s nothing worse than when somebody finds out that you’re a musician and they ask you to give them a song – as if you’re a walking jukebox and they can put a 20p coin in your mouth and expect an Elvis impression or something.

So yeah, ‘Sir Bobby Jukebox’ was pretty much the most preposterous name I could come up with. A fitting mask for this charade.

“A fool has a great need of a title. It teaches men to call him count and duke and to forget his proper name of fool.” – John Crowne

Fox Jaw: “bands need to learn, nobody is going to do it for you”

Fox Jaw – once known by the moniker Fox Jaw Bounty Club – have been a fixture on the rockier end of the Limerick music scene for a decade. They’ve learnt a lot. Through line up changes and a slow evolution in the sound, bassist Kieran Sims – a newcomer to the band – tells us they’ve learnt to keep things simple.

“The last album had a bit of a ‘Kitchen Sink’ approach when it came to recording, where it sometimes became a challenge to represent the song accurately in a live setting,” Sims explains of the progression. “We were mindful of that when approaching this record, and we tried not to overload each song with unnecessary layers that couldn’t be replicated live. I think it’s a near accurate representation of what it sounds like when all five of us get in a room and make some noise.”

The new record is called ‘Breathe In The Strange’, and while it’s not likely to bother the upper echelons of the charts, Fox Jaw are proud of the way its developed into a shining, vibrant representation of them. They see the key measure of success as being around sales at live shows, which offer an indication that people value the band highly enough to want the physical versions of the record at home.

“The key track for me would be the album’s closer ’Shadowland’,” Sims tells us. “It was a song Ronan had originally written and demoed a few years ago, but was never quite happy with. I’d always loved the song and knew that if we put our heads down we could get something together we’d all be proud of.”

“We got a rough sketch together from one of our weekend writing sessions, and we built it from there. It took a lot of work and input from each of us, still making last minute decisions while we were recording it, to get it to where it is and I’m so proud of where it ended up.”

The DIY aspect of the way Fox Jaw produce their music is critical to the band’s ethos, as is the conceptual side of things, which has been branded as ‘weird’ in the past.

“I’ve never thought of anything we do as being overly weird, because when it’s created it’s never done for the sake of being off kilter,” Sims says. I think our tastes are so varied from member to member that you’re bound to get some things that shouldn’t work on paper but do in practice.”