Irish Music


Owen Denvir: “I love writing from the perspective of people who ignore reality in order to dwell in a fantasy within their head”

A fiercely conceptual artist with the backing of Coldplay and an output that leans quite heavily on his own dreamscape, Belfast experimentalist Owen Denvir has an imaginative and memorable output.

He’s currently working on a series of three EPs, each representing a different Freudian concept, which will eventually combine to form his debut album. The tracks feature various household implements creating percussion, and challenge Owen to take on different styles as he creates them.

I caught up with him before the release of latest EP ‘Stones’ in late May…

I like the concept behind your EPs – what made you decide to do things with three different, related EPs eventually forming an album?

Thanks! It’s kind of become the trend with music now to keep releasing a catchy radio-friendly single every month or 2, which is a bit frustrating because I’d been hoarding a lot of music I loved that didn’t really fit that formula. Basically I wanted to be able to release collections of music with a definitive theme behind it, rather than just continually releasing short songs with no real depth or connection from one to the next. I grew up with a portable CD player, so music was always delivered within the context of an EP or an album.

Do you going into producing the EPs with a particular theme in mind for each one? I understand it’s a Freud concept?

My plan from the start of the project has actually changed as it’s progressed. The concept still stands of Freud’s theory of personality – where we each have 3 sides to ourselves: the “Id” (chaotic and unreasonable, responding directly to basic desires), the “Ego” (which operates by reason and real-world influences) and the “Superego” (the moral conscience and ideal self). I’ve swapped the order around in my trilogy though, with the “Ego” coming first in the “Sticks, Stones and Bones” EPs.

I’d already paired up which songs were going to go where before I released the first EP – with all of the songs being related to love and relationships – but as time’s gone on I’ve written and recorded new songs that I’ve swapped in instead. It’s nice to have the restrictions of a theme to follow because it invites you to go a different direction each time. The upcoming EP (Stones) has probably been the most fun so far because it’s supposed to be brash and chaotic, so I let rip with my voice on some places.

Tandem Felix: “I liked the idea of referencing Corsodyl because it sounds like a drug, even though it’s just mouthwash”

Tandem Felix are a wonderful contradiction: at times pointedly DIY (they once sold a series of records for which every single one had an individual cover), but also hopeful of making a serious international breakthrough, the quirky indie act stride down the most wonderfully surreal of lyrical roads and famously don’t particularly like the live arena.

Perhaps best styled as a kind of indie country folks band, their debut album Rom-Com came out last year, though there is already a second one on the horizon (or at least the songs are written).

I caught up with frontman David Tapley to talk it all over…

The album’s been out for a few months now. How has it gone for you?

It’s gone well! Albeit, stalled a bit early due to COVID-19. We had a few shows booked but obviously they’ve all been cancelled/ postponed now.

Have you found releasing a record makes much difference to how you’re seen in the industry? It does seem to be dying as an art…

There were definitely moments where I felt like the financial stress it would put on me would be too large but people still have a big appetite for records! It’s great. I’ve sent packages all around the world and it is very heart-warming to know that our music is reaching people on the other side of the globe.

Let’s talk a moment about a track that didn’t make the record – ‘The Assassination of President Music’ sounds like it might have quite a story behind it. Tell me a little…

We played a show in London a few years ago and saw a crime scene in a café-bar. Yellow police tape, hazmat suits and everything. At the time, we were deep in the throes of trying to get recognition from the UK side of the music industry and having little-to-no success. I took my frustrations out on this fictional President, assassinated in a London bistro.

The album itself seems to be written very much from a ‘this is my reality’ type perspective. Was it important to you to pour a lot of yourself and your life into the record?

Yes and no! I wanted to write stories as well as personal tales and sometimes intermingle the two. There’s a fair amount of fiction interspersed with autobiography. I guess there’s a fair amount of fiction in my memory too though, so yeah, that “is my reality”.

Beoga: “We’d been fans of Lissie and knew she’d bring the right folk tone to it all”

Beoga‘s gentle ride into the mainstream realm has really taken flight in recent years. Despite being an unconventional ‘pop’ act – they sit closer to folk and trad circles – they’ve worked with Ed Sheeran and Lissie, and found themselves with millions of plays on Spotify.

With years in the music industry, though, you get the impression their recent success is essentially just another phase to the band, who remain at their best in the live arena, and have a heap of new material waiting in the wings to be polished off and released.

I caught up with them ahead of the launch of new single ‘In A Rocket’, which features that folk star Lissie.

First of all, guys, congrats on the Lissie collaboration. How did that come about?

Thanks, the song had been brewing for a long time and then someone suggested Lissie could be the kind of artist who would help finish it. We approached her and she agreed so happy days! We’d been fans of hers and knew she’d bring the right folk tone to it all.  

We could all use the kind of escapism that’s explored in the single right now. Does your music offer that to you?

All music does to an extent I suppose, it’s important to be able to take yourself away from the news headlines for a bit here and there and music definitely helps. 

Have your lives changed significantly since the Ed Sheeran work, in terms of people reaching out to you, and recognition for your music?

Not really, a small bit maybe. We’ve always been pretty active so that hasn’t changed, the business side of it has changed in terms of having record labels and publishers and stuff involved. It’s definitely helped us reach a new audience that wouldn’t have found our music otherwise. 

Alex Gough: “I want my first album to mean something and have huge conceptual and contextual value to both me and the listener”

An unusual hip-hop act, in that he performs his vocals live from behind a drum set, Alex Gough is one of the ever-growing array of international-calibre Irish hip-hop acts.

His output has been light but cutting so far. In most recent single ‘Fool’, for example, he builds the track around an almost tropical rhythm, cutting vocally into the beat as it progresses. ‘Step To Me’ has dancier undertones and a mellow edge.

I talked to Alex to explore his music so far, playing live from behind that drum set, and what he makes of the development in Irish hip-hop in recent years…

2019 was a big year for you. Did it feel like a step up?

2019 was definitely a massive step up. I had been working away on my own music alongside playing in other bands and school etc. 2019 was the year I decided I was going to turn this project into something. I had big plans for creating a live show and bringing a band together. I was fortunate enough to be able to take the live show to some of the biggest shows I’ve ever played like Electric Picnic, my first gig in London and Other Voices, 2019. It was a dream come true.

You’re stuck indoors at the moment, but a big part of your reputation is live. How have you developed your live show, and how anxious are you to get back to it?

The live show has gone from my original brainchild of live jazz-infused hip hop and developed through playing gigs and trying new things in the moment. I’ve always wanted the live show to be a different experience to my recorded music.

I’m lucky to have a band that are both amazing musicians and very close friends that allow me to bring that to life. They do a ridiculously good job at every gig. From the start, I’ve left a lot of the live show up to interpretation, meaning it could really go anywhere at any point and I love that. The root of the song always remains the same though. Losing shows as a result of all this has been tough but it’s for our safety and the safety of the gig-goers. I’d play a gig right now if I could, I can’t wait to get back to playing.

Can you tell me the story behind ‘Fool’?

It was towards the end of last summer when it was made. I had driven to cork for a rehearsal and was staying at my guitarist’s house, the day after I was supposed to drive home, but we started messing around on Ableton on his computer.

We were scrolling through a sample pack and found this Afro-Cuban loop with this really cool trumpet line. I was like “Matt, that one let’s chop it” and within like 30 minutes, the beat was done. I wrote and recorded the first verse and hook while we were listening through and tweaking. The words were pretty nonchalant at the time but came to some sort of meaning as it progressed.

David Turpin: “I was interested in the idea of reversing the polarity of ‘romance’, which is typically thought of as a genre pertaining mainly to women”

Spanning an extraordinarily inventive artist palette, David Turpin – often known in musical circles as ‘the late David Turpin’ – has undertakings that dabble in film and music, incorporating work on Netflix and singles featuring the work of drag artist Veda in her own words, set to Turpin’s music.

It’s a slow-paced world – Turpin’s art often takes years to emerge from its embryonic state – but the result feels incredibly carefully developed and makes a statement, one so bold that he’s abandoned the entire concept of playing live, preferring to let his recorded releases do the talking.

I caught up with Turpin to talk about his album ‘Romances’, as well as new single ‘Burn Everything’, the aforementioned Veda collaboration, and how life is panning out right now…

Let’s talk about Romances first. It seems to have a seriously complex musical arrangement on the original version. Did it take a lot of time to set up?

Romances, the album, took about four years to make, off and on. All told, there were about fifty musicians, co-producers and engineers who came and went at various stages. I met a lot of interesting people and made some new friends making the record.

I suppose the most obvious thing about it is the ten lead singers, all of whom are men. I did that because I was interested in the idea of reversing the polarity of ‘romance’, which is typically thought of as a genre pertaining mainly to women.

That’s nonsense, of course – and I think it’s another way for a chauvinist culture to ghettoise that which it perceives as feminine. In my own small way, I wanted to puncture that. Of course, working with a lot of different people means working with a lot of different schedules, approaches and idiosyncrasies. But that’s part of the joy of collaborating – you’re not shut inside yourself, the way you often can be as a ‘solo artist’.

How do you find reproducing the record live?

I don’t play live any more. I did for a few years, and I really enjoyed it, but for whatever reason I don’t feel that need any more. Perhaps it’s because, when I think honestly about my experiences as a music listener, all my most significant encounters with music have happened privately, between myself and recorded music.

People speak a lot about the intimacy of live performance – and I can see where they’re coming from – but to me there’s a different kind of intimacy in being alone with a recording. I’ve enjoyed live music, on both sides of the stage, for me the mere physical presence of the musicians doesn’t make the experience more immediate or more authentic. Sometimes it can be the other way around – the palaver around live performance can push you away from the music.

Delush: “I simply let the music speak and everything is there for the one who seeks to find it”

An Irishman relocated to Berlin – though not right now – delush has found the German capital has crept quickly into his very identity.

His music is a thoughtful journey of self-discovery, with tracks of self-examination, gentle, soulful takes, alongside creative collaborations and almost jazzy undertones.

The whole thing stems, in part, from finding his crowd aborad, spending years working on their music, and then finally turning around to lean into his own output.

I spoke to him about his forthcoming album, and to learn all about his lifestyle and music…

You’ve been in Berlin for a few years now. We all hear about the city’s artist lifestyle – how have you found it, and has it influenced the way you work?

More freedom means more ability or even responsibility to figure out for yourself who you are and what you want and do not want in your life.

Without judgement, who would you be? How do you want to spend your time? The city gives you a close approximation to this particular ideal.

If you are to survive more than a couple of years in the city, reflection on yourself is essential, and of course, this naturally seeps into my work like water.

There are many chances to get lost in the city, in music and nightlife and everything that comes with it, and many do.

There are also chances to find yourself, and many do find themselves.

There is every extreme and everything in between being expressed by artists here. Both in consciousness and unconsciousness. And still there is always space for an artist who is simply him or herself.

What have been your favourite experiences from your time in Berlin?

Our collective, Welcome to the New World, hold annual rituals with music, poetry, and sound journeys. They have been special and transformative for me. You can come to the next!

What prompted you to move to solo work instead, and how does it compare to your previous work with others?

After many years helping others with their music the feeling just came up: “it’s time now”.

When helping others as a producer, I was very focused on developing artists. Rather than go into the studio for longer periods and hope for an evolved record, I preferred to work with artists in rehearsal rooms and small studios over the course of a year, so that they instead would have evolved as artists in the way they wanted to by the time the record was produced.

It meant I had their interests and vision in my mind and heart for long periods of time. It wasn’t really possible for me to also focus on my music during those years. Now I can. When I collaborate with artists as a vocalist or writer, I tend to have a lot of fun, and enjoy the opportunity to explore in a new territory.

With my own music, especially when I’m also the producer and writer, the music walks hand in hand with my own growth and outlook on the world. My natural way of creating shifts over time from one approach into the next. I would say because I am the artist and producer I get to take care of every detail. That is both a great power and privilege and a heavy weight sometimes. But I love it. It’s a greater ask than collaborating for sure.

Leanne Ryan: “there weren’t many songs where the protagonist accepts the blame for the downfall of a relationship, so I wrote one.”

From the outside, Leanne Ryan‘s success with debut album ‘Neon Love’, released last month, came slightly out of the blue.

The number one Irish iTunes album shortly after its release, the record combines pop and folk influences and shoot brutally straight from the heart.

I caught up with Leanne to talk it over…

Congratulations on the debut album. I understand it comes off the back of many years in music. Was it just time to get it all out into the world?

Thank you. I’ve been involved in music in many capacities for the past fifteen years, I started busking on Henry St. when I was fourteen and have sung at countless weddings. It just felt like the right time to release my own music and have it heard.

Can you tell me the story behind a couple of the tracks on the record?

I wrote ‘Trade It All’ to try and help me get over a very broken heart. It’s my favourite song on the album because it’s the most honest I’ve ever been in my songwriting. The song is almost like a letter to the person who broke me. I can listen to that song and be brought right back to how I felt in the moment and the lyrics are so raw and honest that everyone can relate to them in some way or other.

I wrote ‘Mayday Call’ after breaking up with an ex and doing a lot of self-reflection. It’s another honest depiction of heartbreak, but from a different perspective than usual. I realised that it was my fault and there weren’t many songs where the protagonist accepts the blame for the downfall of a relationship, so I wrote one.

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.