Irish Music


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.

Eden Isle: “We live to perform for an audience: to deliver emotions and see them mirrored on the crowd”

Cork rock band Eden Isle are a rising name in the city, but bring with them ample experience from various projects that preceded them.

Drawing in range of rock-tinged influences, the band pride themselves on their live show. I checked in with them as they launched new single ‘Four Leaf Clover’.

Congrats on the new single. Can you tell me a little about the story behind it?

Four Leaf Clover is reminiscing about old friends and scenarios, waking up after great nights together and how you’ve changed as people.

Your band name and some song titles have a distinctly ‘Irish trad’ feel to them. Is that a conscious thing or just a natural impact of your environment?

The band name is based on our happy place as in our band room and creative space.

How did you all meet and become a band?

Ame and Kev met originally (after Ame was looking for a singer) then Kev brought in a new bassist, Carl. After a while Ame brought in Ed and Carl brought in Shane, that is how we formed as a band. Blackpool rehearsal studios is where our band was born.

How do your tracks typically come together?

Being a pianist and guitar player, track ideas would usually start from me (Ame). Since we got Shane in, he has been in the same role as Ame: a music-ideas initiator.

Ed and Carl are precious in their structuring our ideas and not alien themselves in creating and sourcing them as well.

Usually, Kev comes last but definitely not least: he adds the lyrics, ideas and helps us structuring as well. This is rather a collective effort and we love the process of music creation!

Luke Clerkin: “The EP explores the themes of mental health, love, regret, closure, and the question of love itself”

Having been part of the ‘Take Back The City’ initiative in Dublin, and written a song about it, as well as playing over 250 shows in a single year, Luke Clerkin‘s exploration of the Dublin music scene has been thorough, political, and at times extremely full-on.

Having used his experiences as both lessons and fuel, Clerkin’s now back with his EP ‘What Little Time We Have’, in which he tries to condense his fast-flowing, emotional take on life into a lively, poppy style.

Ahead of the launch of his single ‘Nocturnal’, Clerkin talks me through the journey so far…

Can you tell me a bit about ‘Nocturnal’?

Nocturnal was written over two years ago, months after I stopped seeing someone that I’d been seeing for a while. The song explores the initial moments of nervousness and lust that were involved in the beginning, and then it moves on to the feelings of regret after it finished.

The regret comes from myself, wondering if I should have given more time and energy on ‘a love that was distant but almost near’. This song is my first step into releasing something with real pop elements, and it also shows me with a full band energy that I wouldn’t really be known for.

What will be the themes of ‘What Little Time We Have’ when it arrives?

WLTWH explores the themes of mental health, love, regret, closure, and the question of love itself. These themes are things that constantly come up in my life, so putting them together made sense to me, and putting this out will essentially be my closure on the situations that inspired the songs.

Deeply personal songs seem to be a theme with your music. Is there an element of self-therapy to it all?

Absolutely. Writing music is part of my self-care routine. When I’m feeling emotional about something, or if I’m feeling hurt or annoyed, I’ll pick up my guitar and I’ll write about it. Honestly, there is no better feeling for me than finishing a song that is about something that has affected me badly.

Saul Blake: “I learned to approach my writing in a different way”

Amid the rapid rise of Irish hip-hop in recent years, Galway has sometimes seemed a bit like a missing link next to the growing scenes in Dublin, Cork, and particularly in Limerick.

Why that is isn’t entirely clear, but the west-coast city does have its own burgeoning scene, with rappers like Saul Blake keen to play up the accented style that gives them a unique feel west of the Shannon. Blake had been quiet for several years, working away behind the scenes, but recently returned with ‘Empty Homes’, a punchy political track about Galway and Ireland’s troubles with homelessness.

I asked him all about it…

At the risk of getting you to explain the obvious, tell me how you feel about the homelessness crisis in Ireland…

The Homeless crisis in Ireland is honestly a disgrace. I see it as a completely resolvable problem, and I feel like the people in power should be ashamed for taking so long to take any real action and for renting out properties at mad rates for their gain.

What made you decide to write a track about it?

Early last winter, just before Christmas, I was walking around Galway city. I have lived in Galway for most of my life and spent a lot of time walking the city’s streets, I’d never seen so many people sleeping rough. Tents were scattered around the pathways where the luckier people slept, others barely had a sleeping bag.

I was freezing walking around in a jacket and I couldn’t even imagine how hard it must be to have to sleep out in that cold and rain, not to mention how unsafe they must have felt knowing how Galway’s nightlife can get pretty wild. It made me sad at first but then I just got angry that things were able to get so bad and began to work on ‘Empty Homes’.

Lorraine Nash: “I could happily spend hours on Pro Tools layering instruments just for fun”

Lorraine Nash‘s debut EP is not so much a culmination of her recent work, but a culmination of a lifetime of music, condensed into its first public form. ‘Wildflower’ utilises Nash’s skills on piano, guitar, harp, flute and violin as well as her distinctive vocal, and serves as an intro to her subtle, trad-influenced style.

Her key message is compassion with social evolution and acceptance both giving an airing as well as evocative messages about the inevitability of change that could have been – but weren’t, in fact – penned for our current shutdown scenario.

I asked Lorraine all about it…

Congrats on the EP. Can you tell me a little bit about the themes behind it?

Thanks so much! As this is my first EP, the timeline for the songs is spread out quite a bit and the themes vary, but one of the main ideas that runs through most of the songs is the search for independence and sense of self you experience as a young adult.

For example, ‘Changing Tides’ is about realizing what your own beliefs are and trying to keep hold of them in a world that is constantly changing around you. Some of the tracks also deal with relationships, the central theme to ‘Everything to me’ is trying to understand how much you can expect from another person.

I understand you had to push back the launch because of the current virus situation, but now you’re going ahead in June. Has the whole process been more stressful this way?

It was stressful in the beginning for sure, just because of the uncertainty of the situation. The main concern I had was that an online release wouldn’t be as impactful, but seeing how well other artists have used this as an opportunity to connect with people at home it seems best to just go ahead with it. Live streaming wasn’t quite as scary as I thought it would be!

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

Fakenamé: “I’m still working out exactly what Fakenamé will sound like”

Fakenamé – Dave McLoughlin to his friends – made the brave decision last year to depart from a true Irish indie icon of an act in Le Galaxie, and set off on his own. He didn’t know at the time that he was simply getting a jump on the band calling it a day – in fact, many still don’t know he had already departed – but McLoughlin has already been working away on his own new sound, under the new branding.

Fakenamé has none of Le Galaxie’s 80s influence. Instead, McLoughlin is going solo, making all his own decision in a strictly DIY aesthetic that’s seen him embrace sampling, undertake some remixes, and start to consider what his first magnum opus under the new heading will sound like.

I caught up with a refreshingly forthright McLoughlin as he eyed his next move…

Let’s start with the obvious – Le Galaxie are done. It felt quite sudden from the outside. Did it just run its course naturally?

Being brutally honest: I had left Le Galaxie a couple of months before they had announced the end of the band, so I wasn’t part of that decision. Having departed in July I learned from Instagram in December the same way as everyone else. I put my first solo track “Strangers To Love” out on Soundcloud in October 2019 and even at that stage I was getting messages from DJs saying “What? You’ve left Le Galaxie?” I didn’t have any public social media profiles myself until I started the Fakenamé project, so even now a lot of people have no idea I’m even embarked on this. So if you see me online, please “Like, Rate and Subscribe” as I believe I’m supposed to say now!

When I left Le Galaxie, we were just putting the finishing touches to an all new live show, so I had expected that the new live show would be their focus after I’d left, and for them to start writing new material. That all sounds a bit distant – but don’t get me wrong, I still talk to the guys all the time, I’ve met them a few times for pints when I’ve been over in Dublin, and we’ve plans to meet up for pints when all the current Corona Virus madness ends. I live on the other side of the country now, so I’m not just knocking around Dublin city anymore.

Sion Hill: “It is difficult finding our place in the world, it’s easy to feel lost and unsure if we are on the right path”

Having revamped his sound, relocated to London, and gone on tour with the likes of Pete Doherty, A-Ha and Alice Merton, Sion Hill – or Nathan Johnston, off the stage – is on the way to a new album, and a big reputation.

Sion Hill’s journey has taken in spells in Hamburg and Berlin as well as the English capital, but it’s the more metaphorical sense of being lost that carries through in his music, which speaks open-heartedly about issues like anxiety and self-consciousness.

His sound is a kind of indie-pop soul blend, with a little bit of gospel thrown in. Here’s what he sad to say for himself from the heart of the coronavirus shutdown…

Have you noticed a big difference between basing yourself in London and being back home, in terms of getting your music out there?

It’s always going to be hard in London, isn’t it? It’s such a big city – more people, more musicians, more budding artists. Back home the scene is actually quite small but I do miss being a part of something more connected and the Irish scene is pretty dope right now as well!

London feels like the epicentre of the music biz in Europe. There are so many people coming and going from everywhere. In that sense, it’s good for spreading music across a wider audience. It’s hard to see the value now though – when there’s no gigs, it doesn’t really matter where you are as everything’s online anyway…

Elephant has been out for a while now. How do you see it looking back?

Elephant was a product of a very different time in my life. I still think it’s a nice collection of songs but it was sort of a different project as I originally played in a duo with a friend from school and we recorded the album together so it’s obviously going to have a very different feel.

I’m really focussed on looking forward right now to my next album and appreciating working with some great people along the way. It’s no use looking back really, I just want to keep creating and let my sound develop as my life and experiences develop with it.