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Meltybrains?: “we intend to get people out of their comfort zone”

Creating a kind of music that’s hard to categorise, aside from to say that – as the name suggests – it sets out with an intent to challenge and shock, Dublin act Meltybrains? have taken the slow road to debut album ‘You’.

Described as an exploration of what it is to be a man in his 20s, ‘You’ explores anxieties and internal journeys, and examines what the band  view as a kind of symbiosis between the self and the universe. It is, for want of a better explanation, an attempt to put the bigger picture of their lives – the grand questions – to music.

The record’s been a process, so much so that Meltybrains? have only just made a post-covid return, meaning until recently it had been three or four years since their last show. “I don’t really know what to expect from our gigs,” Dillon laughs. “It’s mad music. I sometimes look at the audience and think ‘do they actually like this’?”

“We absolutely intend to be a bit jarring, get people out of their comfort zone. I think all of us would be into harsh noises, unpleasant music, especially in a live setting where volume is so important.”

“With ‘You’, we tried to use song structure a little bit more, but still the structures are quite unusual a lot of the time,” he continues. “There are a lot of moving parts in Meltybrains? and it’s been a while since this was our main thing. There are a lot of logistical, practical and emotional moving parts. We’re very comfortable with each other without offending anyone, it’s been a very personal process with no real main songwriter. Which is great but it definitely takes longer.”

The themes, too, are complex. “The album looks at a person as an analog for the universe,” Dillon says. “We thought about that while we were writing. One song, ‘Yes Man’ dates back to 2013 or 2014. I guess it’s a recollection or a reflection of our lives over the last ten or so years. Not many tracks were created just for the album.”

Roe Byrne: “Busking changed my life in so many ways”

© Dan Butler Photography

18-year-old Roe Byrne is a staple of Grafton Street, a rising star of the Dublin busking scene who has broken out into the more mainstream music world. With his first headline show ever freshly under his belt – a show last weekend at Dublin’s Sound House – Byrne’s prolific songwriting looks set to open a world of opportunities in 2023. 

In fact, with latest single ‘Set Me On Fire’, Byrne feels like he’s setting a tone of sorts for the coming year, as he looks to build on over a million video views, achieved shortly after completing his leaving cert and heading to college.

“I busk most weekends, depending on the weather and my schedule but it absolutely changed my life,” Byrne says “I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing right now if I hadn’t started busking. I was always the shy kid in school, I would carry my guitar around every day and I got a bit of teasing for it but I just loved sitting in the music room at lunchtime singing.”

“Busking made me so confident, it gave me an outlet and an opportunity to perform in front of strangers, which is a lot easier than performing in front of people you know. I was a total introvert before I started busking, but now all I want to do is to sing to as many people as possible. It changed my life in so many ways.”

While much of Byrne’s busking career centres, as is traditional, on covers, his own songs have a distinctly personal angle, with his life filtering easily into his music.

“I definitely write about my own experiences,” he says, “but I take a lot of inspiration from what’s around me. Stories that other people have told me, situations that friends of mine may be in and even just the people I meet on a random day busking, they all have a story to tell, it’s just getting that message across with a catchy melody that’s the hard part!”

Megan Burke: “It turns out I should always trust my gut”

From what she saw as something of a career ‘false start’ on the X-Factor, to appearing on the Late Late Show as she establishes herself more permanently through a series of popular online posts and singles grabbing over 4 million views, Megan Burke’s decade long journey with music has been one filled with twists and turns.

“I was only a baba and at the time [I appeared on the X Factor], and the people that I was working with urged me to enter as it was such a popular show then,” Burke recalls. “I was always reluctant because I didn’t really think it would be my thing, but eventually I came around to the idea and thought ‘feck it why not?’ Turns out I should always trust my gut because it is never wrong, and it wasn’t really for me, but it was a great experience to have under the belt.”

“At the time I was very disappointed when I was sent home. I was distraught for a few hours but looking back now I’m glad it didn’t work out. I didn’t know who I was at 20 so I believe a show like this would have chewed me up and spat me out back then. Now would be a whole different story as I am so sure of myself. It really helped me but not in the way you might think. It made me realise what I didn’t want from my career in music, which was as important as figuring out what I did want.”

These days, Burke’s music can be divided firmly into two categories: more formal releases, like recent single ‘For Hours’, and digital only ones for which she garners a heap of online attention, and are much less formally produced.

“Social media releases are a complete solo project,” she says. “I only really need myself for that process. I really need a lot of prep in general, but with single releases I need so much preparation and help. I rely on so many people when I’m releasing a single, and I am very lucky with the people I surround myself with on these projects. It really does take a village – yes, I know that saying is used when raising kids but my music is my baby so I’m gonna use it anyway!”

James Walsh: “Carol King’s songwriting is the unreachable goal”

Once touted in the same breath as global megastars Coldplay, in the early 2000s, the distinctive vocal of James Walsh and the emotive, mellow-indie sound of his band Starsailor was pervasive across radio.

With hit singles like UK top ten hits ‘Alcoholic’ and ‘Silence Is Easy’, Walsh was on the crest of a wave yet by 2009, having faded from the limelight, the band had called it a day. Today, Starsailor have been back for several years, but Walsh also tours solo, delivering a mix of Starsailor hits and his own material from a series of solo albums including his most recent, 2021’s ‘Everything Will Be Ok’.

“‘Love Is Here’ is going back a few years, but it’s nice to resurrect a few of the songs that have slipped out of the set over years, and great to see so many young people in the crowd,” Walsh says of touring Starsailor’s best-known record recently.

“The line between my Starsailor stuff and solo stuff is quite blurred to be honest. I know people want to see the Starsailor songs as well when I play solo, so I try to mix it up as much as I can, something like 50/50. It’s a sort of evolving process, as you get to know the solo songs that sit well alongside the Starsailor songs. The fanbase for the solo stuff is not huge but it has grown and grown, and there are people who sing along to both.”

“My solo stuff is more introspective, more singer-songwriter. The band has everyone’s different elements. I love Elliott Smith, Nick Drake, Jackson Browne, Carol King. Carol King is a benchmark for me, if I can write a song anywhere close to her songwriting… That’s the unreachable goal.”

“As soon as we finish our tours we’ll be going back into the studio as Starsailor,” he continues. “There are enough songs there for both another solo album and another band album. Weirdly, when the band was doing really well I felt I didn’t have the time to write songs. Now there’s a bit more time, and writing is a much more constant process.”

“Everytime I get a few spare hours I try to write a song. I’m a firm believer that once an idea starts to form, I finish that idea, and if it’s not good enough, move onto the next one. I can’t work if I think the next part of something has to be the best thing ever. I look at it afterwards instead, I find it more satisfying.”

Ciaran Moran: “Quite frequently the best souls, community spirits and talent of the inner city are overlooked”

Ciaran Moran’s most recent EP is a return, in a sense, to who he truly is. In it, Moran takes the stories from life around him in the North Inner City, and attempts to summarise them in a form of music that has a specific sense of place.

The result, ‘Life Inner City’, could easily have been a full-length record. Instead, it’s a refined but far shorter five-track, one that will draw parallels in terms of feel with the likes of Christy Dignam and Damien Dempsey. Moran eschews convention, preferring to reflect on his roots.

“The North inner city is where I was born and raised, about two minutes from Smithfield Square,” Moran tells us. “I wanted to create a project that represents the community and beauty of the struggle in the North Inner City, something that people from that area could feel a part of, or as if they own a piece of the project and feel in some way involved in it.” 

“Throughout the project, I tried to let people know of the truths and downfalls, what really happens, but also how great this place is. You’ll hear this particularly in ‘Devil’ and then just some reminiscing throughout ‘Miss The Rain’ and ‘Life Inner City’”.

“Quite frequently the best souls, community spirits and talent in the inner city are overlooked, but there’s a special vibe in that place. Everyone knows everyone, everyone supports everyone, and they’ll remind you of where you’re from. In recent years, there have been projects written about certain parts of town and the flats etc., But the difference with this project is I never adapted my style or genres to suit modern culture or trends. It’s as real as it gets and can be listened to easily by the folk it’s, at times, written about. I wanted people from the area to take the project as ‘Life Inner City – Life In Our City’.”

There’s plenty of inner city fame to be found behind Moran, who cites major influences ranging from Christy Moore to Roddy Doyle.

“When I lived in town and was about 13, I went to my local youth centre, Bradog,” he recalls. “There was a great bloke (Sparky) who introduced me to Colm Querney for a songwriting course. Colm and Sparky actually started me off writing, but through the youth club I had some great opportunities, and one of them was to do a fighting words workshop with Christy Moore, run by Roddy Doyle, on a road not too far from Croke Park.”

Paranoid Visions: “all the old sacred cows have been challenged and broken down”

Forty years into a career as arguably Ireland’s best-known punk act, Paranoid Visions are in the mood for celebration, and a little bit of nostalgia. It is, after all, forty years of change that the sometimes-abrasive act have endured and explored, commenting, in their distinctive style, on whatever social issues were prominent at the time. 

Their latest incarnation, closely linked to punk icons Crass through collaboration with their vocalist Steve Ignorant, are still producing cutting, snarling music at a spectacular rate.

“Back when we started, punk was a confused, angry, and volatile beast, with bands like The Sex Pistols, and The Clash sowing the seeds of young protest, and revolution,” vocalist Declan Dachau recalls, “but it hadn’t really discovered which political direction it was aligning itself with, as both the far right, and the far left wings recruited from the vast pool of disgruntled and disaffected youth of the late 1970s and early 1980s. It was through bands like TRB [Tom Robinson Band] and Crass that punks found their voice, and direction, as a left leaning movement.”

“Punk is a voice for young disillusioned kids to try and reclaim their lives and voices,” he continues, “and make some difference in their own world, and it is always changing, and evolving, and that is why we have stuck with it, and grown with it. All the old barriers, and sacred cows, have been challenged and broken down, and this has made gigs and gatherings a safe and peaceful environment for getting to know new people, and swapping ideas.”

The band have always sat firmly outside of the mainstream, something that they’re aware of, but not overly concerned by. “Punk has always been a persona non grata within the Irish media,” guitarist PA Jones says. “It’s always been misunderstood. We have always been treated like a substandard band from a substandard genre.” 

“One media personality described us as being the Scunthorpe United of the Irish rock industry. To be honest, that’s been a blessing. We‘ve never been this year’s thing, we’ve never pandered to it or tried to seek mainstream success because it simply doesn’t interest us.”

And yet, with shows like their sold out Button Factory 40th year celebration, and regular trips to the US and UK, the band have found substantial success in their own niche.

Moncrieff: “it’s been the biggest summer of my career”

Originally from Waterford but now living in London, Moncrieff is a rising star of Irish pop, a singer capable of flitting across genres with ease, and one with a truly spectacular live show given weight by his distinctive and powerful voice.

Moncrieff sings from the heart, and despite his rapid progress to a level that enabled him to sell out – and quickly – the Olympia Theatre this week, the isolation of the music industry through Covid almost saw him say goodbye to it completely. Instead, he’s flying as high as he’s ever been.

“I’m getting a good bit of support on radio across Ireland, it’s growing a lot quicker than in London, so the shows feel a bit different,” he says. “Irish fans are great for supporting their own.”

“The EP, ‘Warm’, is a bit Covid-linked,” he says. “The first year of the pandemic, after it settled, I fell into this dark enough place where I didn’t really think music was going to come back. I thought about calling it quits. Kind of in the middle of that, ‘Warm’ was written, and became the catalyst for just having another crack at making really personal and honest songs. That’s where the EP comes from.”

“I was doing a lot of online live stuff at the time. It was fun but it also became kind of tedious, I wasn’t too sure of myself or where I was going, yet the online stuff gradually started to grow. Some of them were amazing for my mental health, and others weren’t good.”

The return has been spectacular. “Playing big stages like Electric Picnic… it’s been the biggest summer of my career and I’m trying to take it all in. I’m still not used to people singing my words back to me. It feels so fresh, and I love performing live. These songs were born to be performed to people, and sung back. It’s such a beautiful thing to hear people sing songs back to you that are about hope, essentially.”

Jack Lukeman: “making an album is the most thankless thing you can do”

Jack Lukeman, a.k.a Jack L, is roughly 15 albums into a career that’s seen him rise from little rural stages to the country’s biggest indoor venue.

With hits like ‘Georgie Boy’ and ‘Open Your Borders’, Lukeman is fresh off the back of a summer of touring, including shows with Sting and Jools Holland, a return he’s described as “fantastic.”

“Everybody just wants to get on with things now,” he says. “There was a point where we all thought ‘will we get back at all’, so we really have to appreciate it.”

“The new single ‘Sundogs in the Moonshine’, about Thailand, came about in part because I couldn’t get out. I’ve always done a lot of travelling. That song is a kind of homage to the sun dog, the people who chase the sun, and the Full Moon Parties. They were just an excuse to stay up all night and then party on the beach, and  everyone would cheer when the sun came up.”

“I’ve done so many different styles and types of music, I suppose the albums are always a bit eclectic,” he says. “I’ve another song called the ‘Battle of the Hawthorn Trees’, which is about the resilience of nature as I stare out of the window, and one called ‘I’ve Forgotten’, which is about trying to remember how to socialise with people. I always try to write something that hasn’t been written before, really.”

Live streams were a big thing for Lukeman during lockdown, gathering a massive audience, but his albums have become further apart, with the last three spaced out by five year gaps between original albums, some cover records landing in between.

“I tend to do one of my own original albums and then in between a theme kind of thing,” he says. “This time around, I actually have a bunch more songs that will help me get another album of original stuff out pretty quickly.”