Irish Music


Hannah Kathleen: “I’d like to use my voice as a positive influence, and hopefully inspire others to chase their dreams too”

Hannah Kathleen‘s route into music has been anything but conventional. A marketing entrepreneur who dropped out of school due to medical issues, she steps into music with a wealth of life experience for her tender years and drops her debut single ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ as she’s stuck in South Africa amid the coronavirus crisis.

Behind the scenes, over 60 tracks are waiting to follow the debut single down the pipeline, so we’ll be seeing plenty of Hannah Kathleen’s upbeat pop in the coming months.

I caught up with her to get a glimpse of her career’s promising early days…

At two and a half minutes, ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ really is the lightest of glimpses of what we might expect from you. How typical of your music is it?

I felt Little Miss Sunshine was the ideal introduction; it highlights many key elements of my vocal style and it’s quite vulnerable in its approach. I do, however, have multiple sides to me that I enjoy exploring in my music. So in a nutshell, I would say it’s typical in its styling of my music, but also just one side of me.

Did it feel strange releasing the single into the ether while you’re locked at home?

Yes, it felt completely strange! I’m actually stuck in South Africa right now due to the COVID-19 lockdown, and so, I was away from home when the single dropped. At first, I felt a little apprehensive to share it at such a time, as we are all going through so much, but my hope is that it can bring some sunshine to your day when listening, even if just for 2 minutes 29 seconds!

In the announcement of the single, you talk about how music helped you through health problems when you were young. Are the 90s icons you cite as influences the same acts you were listening to back then?

They have always been big inspirations to me, for sure. But there are also many other artists that I listened to growing up, ranging from the likes of Celine Dion to The Carpenters, to Westlife to Enya, so my musical taste is very broad and always has been.

James Cramer: “It’s funny – when I write a song it could be on my bed, in the studio, on a plane, wherever… and then as if by magic it’s suddenly halfway across the world on a TV show!”

Until recently, James Cramer has been as much a part of what you might call the ‘hidden’ music industry as a star in his own right. Part of the quirky and dynamic ‘Tupelo’, he’s also spent much of his musical life behind the scenes, crafting songs for others.

The multi-intstrumentalist who’s worked with Hermitage Green and Eleanor McEvoy plays every instrument on his own work, which has seen him feature on Canadian TV series ‘Hello Goodbye’, and will shortly see him feature on the BBC adaption of Sally Rooney’s debut novel ‘Normal People’.

Latest single ‘Simple Man’ is, he feels, the closest to his ‘true sound’ he’s ever got. I caught up with James, virtually, just ahead of its release…

I understand you have a substantial background working with others as well as your own work. What are you most proud of to date?

I’m proud of being able to make it a career. When I started out I was advised by lots of people to not write my own songs – to write other people’s instead. I’ve managed to see a lot of the world because of my own songs so that’s something I’m very proud of.

Do you approach writing differently when you’re writing for yourself, or with Tupelo, or for somewhere else entirely?

I write constantly so I have lots of songs in different genres; if a project comes up I usually have some in the locker. If I write with someone else I might buzz off their vibe and usually new ideas come to the surface quickly that way.

Sometimes, an artist might want to cover one of my compositions or do a co-write. That’s great too because the artist might be totally different to me so it brings different elements into the song – they will be the one performing it and recording it so it needs to suit them artistically. At the end of the day, they’re all songs. If you sing it in a different key, or play it using a different instrument, it’ll sound totally different but in its essence, it’s the same thing.

I’ve learned over time what will work for certain projects. My manager, Ian, always reminds me to not get frustrated – to just keep writing. The songs will be used in the future, they just they might not suit right now. He’s been right!

Rrestlers: “it reminds me a bit of Sigur Ros the way the songs can put you in a trance, that’s the unspoken aim”

A new act born out of plenty fo experience, Rrestlers come from the same north Dublin stable that’s pumping out acts like Girl Band and Fontaines D.C, but sit in a very different sonic world.

Intent on a kind of escapist, swirling approach to music that aims to put the listener in a trance, they draw on a wealth of experience and the energy that came from a temporary role subbing in another band.

Their debut track ‘Spore’ could hardly be more timely, given it deals in isolation, abandonment and a lack of contact. It’s also a seven-plus minute epic. Here’s what they had to say about it all when I caught up with Paddy Groenland, vocalist with both Rrestlers and his other act, Paj.

Tell me the story behind the new act – is it intended to go far outside of your collective previous experience?

Sure. Paddy here, vox & bass. I play with Ryan Hargadon in Rob de Boer’s band and it started there. Last year I asked Robbie Barrett and Ryan Hargadon to do a festival gig with my group (Paj). They were depping on that gig but the vibe between us was so good that I forced us to start a new band.

There’s a mad connection there where we can just start making noise and turn it into something that sounds like a song. RRestlers is a source of pure live energy and a release for all of us so I think it has crazy potential.

What are you bringing from your various other roles into RRestlers?

Robbie has the most astonishing control of the drums, Ryan is patient and brilliant accompanist and I’m able to connect the two of them. There’s a lot of wisdom there because we’ve been around the block with loads of different bands. Because we’ve all played a lot we’re patient and let a vibe develop – it reminds me a bit of Sigur Ros the way the songs can put you in a trance, that’s the unspoken aim.

Spore could hardly be more appropriate. Presumably it was written prior to the pandemic. What was it intended to refer to?

It was intended to portray the feeling of an isolated singular being, believe it or not. I read the Kurdish phrase ‘I’ve no friend but the mountain’ about being abandoned by the world and it struck me as so melancholic and profoundly sad. The opening line is ‘invisible people, touch me not’ and that sets the tone.

The music came from our first jam together and I remember we were all vibing off of the epicness of it.

Dirty Dreamer: “songs are shaped through hours of improvising and just seeing where the mood takes us”

For a little while, Come On Live Long were quite a big deal in Irish indie circles. A quirky, disparate band, their output was mellow and effortlessly charming, and won them a coveted Choice Music Prize nomination and the chance to expand outside Ireland.

That’s all on hold for now, however, and several of the members have gone on to form a new act, ‘Dirty Dreamer‘, a light electronic act with hints of ambient music in their style, and an overall buzz that recalls the likes of Zero 7, or the lesser-known corners of Moby’s quieter moments.

I caught up with Daithi O’Connor to talk about their new venture…

This is quite a departure from Come On Live Long. How are you finding the change?

We are loving it. Although Ken, Louise and myself have been playing together for years and years, the Dirty Dreamer project feels very fresh and each of us is bringing something new to the table.

Can you give me a quick outline of the evolution from Come On Live Long? Who’s still involved, and does this mean that COLL are finished?

The Dirty Dreamer project consists mainly of myself, Ken and Louise and also our good friend Paul Kenny who plays drums with a host of acts such as James Vincent McMorrow and Jape. We had almost 10 amazing years in Come On Live Long, released two albums independently, toured Canada and got a Choice nomination.

We did all of that completely independently. We haven’t drawn a line under the band but at the moment we are happy out with our respective projects. Rob is doing amazingly well on his own at the moment and he works extremely hard so we are delighted to see him doing so well.

We haven’t heard the second single ‘Electric Sleep’ yet – tell me a bit about that.

‘Electric Sleep’ is a song that has been kicking around for quite a while. It started out with just Louise and a piano but has had many iterations over the last few years and we think we finally nailed it this time. The full version has an ambient outro that Ken and I recorded out on Achill Island a few years ago. We recorded an old harmonium in a tiny church on a very stormy night and built it from there.

Is there much more on the way? Are you set up for live performances yet?

Yes, we have another 4 track E.P almost finished. We have been writing and recording for quite a while now so we constantly have new material ready to go. As regards gigging, we had hoped to put on our own show in May but that now looks unlikely with ye old virus.

Soulé: “To be streaming seven figures now just seems so far fetched, as an independent Irish artist”

For those in the know, London-born Balbriggan native Soulé – Samantha Kay to her parents – has been threatening to become a very major artist for sometime.

Hit single ‘Love Tonight’, launched early last year, has millions of streams and is a regular on almost every major Irish radio station. She’s appeared at the 3Arena and her social media does serious numbers. Perhaps most of all, though, her song appeared alongside every Love Island episode for a huge chunk of last summer, gathering hours of prime time play as part of a fashion advert.

“The Love Island placement really did a lot for me,” she remembers. “It was on every ad break for two or three months, and it definitely boosted the track. People were hearing it, but a lot of people assumed it was an American artist. I thought it was amazing. It doubled the number of streams, with radio boosting it too.”

“The dream was to have the song actually on Love Island, but that would be once. To have it on an ad every ad break was much better. At first it was cringey, but after a while I just got so excited about it, with the tweets going crazy all the time.”

Soulé might be flying now, but she finds some of her roots in the local Foroige club, where she spent a lot of her time collaborating with Farah Elle, who has also gone on to be something of a local rising star.

“We were in Foroige Balbriggan, there wasn’t a sort of music thing that they had, and my friends and I were very into that kind of thing, drums, guitar, dancing, singing,” Soulé recalls. “Our mentor there was an Irish rapper called Messiah J, an amazing guy, and he gave us loads of advice on recording, stuff like that.”

Moncrieff: “You want to give something genuine, something that is real, but you don’t want to dictate to the audience how they should see it”

There were plenty of barriers to Moncrieff pursuing a life in his colourful, emotive brand of pop music, from social pressures at school to a gut feeling that it wouldn’t work as a career at home. He’s jovial and outgoing, though, and prepared to spill his life into his heartfelt, poetic melodies. A move to London to commit fully was the kick start he needed.

“There were no avenues really to pursue modern music, just the choir,” Moncrieff says of his upbringing in a small town outside Waterford. “The choir was social suicide really. I did love singing, I probably would have enjoyed it, and the occasional musicals, but growing up I didn’t want to stick out. I was a sportsperson.”

“I didn’t start doing things publicly until I was 18, in a band, and played local school shows. It snowballed for me, I became obsessed. As soon as I decided I was going to make music, I realised that it was what I wanted to do, a dream to chase, and that it could be done. It’s been done before, so why not.”

“I knew London would make the learning curve steeper. Difficult, but worthwhile,” he continues. “There are a lot of people that succeed in Ireland but never achieve anything in the UK. Sometimes the quality in Ireland isn’t in the spotlight elsewhere, and there is so much quality. I knew I’d learn a lot more and get a lot further outside of my comfort zone in London.”

Since arriving across the water, Moncrieff’s Irish success has seen a massive uptick, with his show at The Soundhouse selling out extremely quickly, and his forthcoming Academy main room date showing his progression.

“For the first few months I couldn’t get on at open mic nights over there,” he laughs. “Later, I figured out when to get on for my time of music, how to get my name down, stuff like that. I did so many nights, and I learnt so much. I learnt so quickly, and that’s what London represented to me. It made it much easier to perform live, which is everything to me.”

The Brother’s Movement: “We were always fine on stage, but as soon as the amps were turned off, it wasn’t so good”

After an almost decade-long break, once buzz-laden Tallaght indie rock act The Brother’s Movement are returning for a one-off show this Christmas, or at least that’s the official line.

There are already hints, you see, of a broader return. Nothing set in stone, but enough little jokey lines throughout our quick chat with frontman Daniel Paxton that suggest that rehearsals have proven a hold lot of fun, and just lead to something more than a one-night nostalgia trip.

“We always said we’d come back and do some shows if we were still on talking terms, and we felt that we didn’t sound dated,” said Paxton, who has since played a key part in the output of popular rockers Sweet Jane, and later Buffalo Sunn. “We’re doing it to mark the ten year occasion, really.”

“We’re in a few different bands now between us. We worked hard on that Brother’s Movement album, and spent a lot of cash on recording it in Philadelphia. We were very proud of it. There’s no pressure, which is the beauty of this show. At the time, we always had that aim of getting something more from it, making a career. Now it’s just for the pure enjoyment of playing the songs.”

The rehearsals weren’t always easy, but things are coming together. At first the rehearsals weren’t good, to be honest with you,” Paxton says. “But after about three or four shows things started coming together. We actually sound a hell of a lot better than I remember, because we used to be in this pokey little room. Having a really good PA and actually being able to hear each other play definitely helps. Plus we’re a little bit older and wiser and don’t need to have the amps turned up to 11 all the time to make the point we’re trying to make.”

“There is one song we’ve been leaving until last. It’s ten minutes long and instrumental and it takes a bit of working out, it has so many twists and turns. A few of them took a little while, but once we figured them out, they came good. We enjoyed the process of looking at how we did it back then, and it came back to us.”

David Keenan: “I think I see things with an optimistic realism, but through a lens of romanticism”

Perhaps the strangest thing about David Keenan’s wild developmental story – still unfolding slowly after years of slow-building to the heights of an Olympia Theatre headline slow – is how long it’s taken the Dundalk man to release an album.

Keenan is an intense character, his words flowing with the considered, poetic bent of someone who’s spent a lot of time thinking about what the world means, and his own place in it.

Talking to him about his music is a strange experience, uncomfortably intimate at times, having a top-class songwriter look you in the eye and talk off the cuff in a way that isn’t all that dissimilar to the way he delivers his lyrics. The album ‘A Beginner’s Guide To Bravery’ is now just around the corner, being due just after Christmas, and is very much a long-term project.

“It’s a consequence of living,” Keenan says of his record. “It’s a kind of bookmarking of a certain period. There are songs on the record from four years ago, and others I wrote this year. They’re a byproduct of my own individuality, so in a way they’ve been developing since I was a child.”

“A collection of things have aligned. I’ve been releasing EPs for a couple of years, with the intention of getting a body of songs that tell a story. It’s always been about telling that story, not just a collection of strangers on a record. There’s a lineage between each song, but they have to have their own personality, too. It’s the story of my evolution, moving to Dublin, finding a stride, the emotional journeys.”

“It’s also been about getting the right band, and recordings that I was happy with. That was a lot about getting people I trusted into the band. I did it live, and that was important to me. Life isn’t click tracked.”