Ruth Mac: “Something about those empty streets stirred up this heavy sense of disconnect that I’d never felt in Dublin before”

Having left behidn her native Galway for Berlin, Ruth Mac has, like many who have departed these shores, found herself reminscing about what she’s left behind. Describing her sounds as ‘slacker rock’, the lyrically inventive sound behind debut album ‘Living Room’ saw Ruth support Hot Chip and tour her homes, new and old.

I spoke to her around the release of her new track ‘Home From Home’, a whistful look back at her former home Dublin, penned from a distance…

So, you step away from Dublin for Berlin and end up writing an ode to Dublin. How did that come about?

Yeah it is kinda funny when you put it like that, though it’s a song that could only have been written from the perspective of someone that has been away a while. At its core, the song describes my evolving relationship with a place that once felt like a home, rather than being solely about the city itself.

I’ve been watching Dublin change for 15 years now, so I can relate to your alienation. What in particular stood out to you when you were writing ‘Home From Home’?

Yes, it was definitely a feeling of alienation that sparked it. It was one particular trip during a lockdown. Most people I knew living in Dublin had scarpered, I think it was something about those empty streets that stirred up this heavy sense of disconnect that I’d never felt in Dublin before. I had been away for about three years at that point, maybe that’s enough time to start feeling like a stranger, not enough for it not to hurt? I was simultaneously thinking about the changes I’d felt on each trip home – probably similar pain points to the ones you have felt – and also coming to terms with the fact that I can’t expect it to stay the same and hold me the way it used to, you know? As much as I’ve been moving on with my life, so too has the city.

How has Berlin infused its way into your music?

Sonically, I actually don’t think the impact has been huge – yet to enter my techno fusion era – but of course my environment influences how I create and who I create with. Berlin introduced me to all my close collaborators who naturally impact my music. Berlin has also presented me with opportunities to explore new perspectives, topics and concepts in my lyrics, from the more obvious themes like home to observations on cultural quirks. Like why do Germans hold flowers upside down when they are carrying a bouquet around?!!? Show those flowers off! I had to write a song about that.

How does performing and writing in Berlin compare to being back home?

I honestly feel quite lucky that I get to do both, as well as be well positioned to play in other parts of Germany/Europe. It’s always special to come back to Ireland and play for the home crowd – the reception is warm and, yes, there’s always a bit more craic with the Irish crowd. Writing in Berlin has been great though. I share a special little studio space with three friends just outside the city. Having a dedicated space to write, demo, record in has been a game changer, and something that would be hard to come by (/afford) in Dublin

Coming back for something like Ireland Music Week feels like a chance to do the ‘industry’ thing a bit. How helpful are those kind of events in terms of getting the word out there?

Yeah, it’s a great opportunity to get the music out there and to start new conversations, as well as connect with other Irish artists. First Music Contact have built Ireland Music Week to be a really great event/opportunity.. and they have really worked hard to do it, fairplay. I had a lot of fun, though the self-inflicted pressure to meet people, pitch yourself, network, get the word out…. is intense! I slept for a week after that.

Leo Sayer: “The legacy that we’ve put down dictates our life.”

English singer-songwriter Leo Sayer is one of those legendary names whose music has had a huge impact, but perhaps sits just short of a household name. We’re not being obtuse: Sayer himself admits his music’s cultural impact hasn’t put his name in lights in quite the way you might expect, and that musical backdrop – Sayer’s plethora of hits include the likes of ‘You Make Me Feel Like Dancing’ and ‘Thunder In My Heart’ – is substantial.

Now in his mid 70s, he still writes as a matter of course, most recently producing what would normally be seen as a musical faux pas, an album of reimagined Beatles tracks called ‘Northern Songs’. It works for him.

“In a way, a lot of it has been survival”, Sayer laughs. “I’d never have expected to last this long. There’s been peaks and troughs of bad management and going in and out of fashion. But if you really believe in what you’re doing and you’ve written some good songs, you’ll see those songs have a life of their own, and you end up supporting that life. You follow the pattern. Who would have thought legacy acts would last this long? The legacy dictates our life.”

“It can be frustrating,” he continues, looking back. “Artists go out of fashion, record companies drop you, and so on. I make my own records now and release them to the record company only when they’re finished, I don’t want them trying to dictate what I do. Often my songs are more popular than me, people often don’t know that it’s me that wrote stuff. But the songs have made my life.”

Sayer is also very ‘of the minute’ in some ways. “In 2005 I had a number one with a remix of ‘Thunder In My Heart’, he explains. “Armand Van Helden has done another mix of my work recently. The dance industry is great for rediscovering stuff. I signed off on it all, it went round all the DJs and on to radio and so on. Dance has this weird world of reinvention, it’s a generational thing, and that’s how it goes.” 

“These things happen when you have a long career. I’m grateful for it happening but I have to say I don’t really understand the chopping up and remaking process. I’m playing with a dance mix of Orchard Road myself, and it does work, which you’d never think it would.”

As for that Beatles reworking process, that’s been a slow one. “I know Paul McCartney and I haven’t had a chance to talk to him about it, but I’m nervous about it,” Sayer says. “Ten years ago I was trying to find a way to work with it. It’s the same principle as my album ‘Selfie’, it’s just me and a computer, something I made totally on my own, using my own sense of musicality.”

“I came to the Beatles as a way of working the experiment. It started as four tracks and everyone told me I had to release them, so with nothing much to do during the pandemic, all this free time and my own studio meant I threw myself into it.”

“The record company ended up saying they’d release it against my wishes if I didn’t agree. A different take on the Beatles is a nice idea, I think. It’s bringing them up to date. The Beatles in their former glory are alive again through Peter Jackson’s ‘Get Back’, which still feels contemporary. It’s been fun, and for 50 years, it was nice to do something that wasn’t predicated on my songs, something out of the box.”

Conor Miley: “there’s a lot of hope, trying to take the lessons from heartbreak”

Formerly of the band ‘We Raise Bears’, Conor Miley‘s debut solo record ‘Thousand Yard Stare’ is a spectacularly personal record, one devoted to an unexpected road to fatherhood and a love of his son. Riddled with emotion, Miley’s album has deep highs and lows, and draws in a collection of his friends in attempting to summarise his feelings and experiences.

Miley himself confesses this might be something of a one time album, a product of circumstance. However those circumstances felt, the album is beautiful. Below, Conor tells me the stories behind it…

First of all, congratulations on Thousand Yard Stare. I understand it’s close to your heart. Can you tell me the story behind the record?

Thank you. The album came directly out of what was happening in my life at the time. My previous band, We Raise Bears, had ended and I was in a new relationship. This ended and I found out I was to be a father a month later. I won’t go into the specifics of what happened out of respect for my son’s mum but it was a very emotional time. I wrote the lyrics and the basic tunes over about a four or five month period. Lockdown then hit. I set up the house I was living in as a recording studio and went about recording and arranging the tunes in painstaking detail.

I moved in with my cousin and finished the job there. It’s an album directly about a breakup with someone you still loved but knew it couldn’t work. It was written at a time when I knew I was to be a father and recorded after he was born.

There’s a lot of hope in it, trying to take the lessons of heartbreak and all the pain that it brings and be appreciative of the result of it – a beautiful boy who has made everything worthwhile.

It must have been particularly difficult to create the record given parental responsibilities. How long has it taken and what were the main challenges?

From start to finish the record took the best part of 3 years. If lockdown hadn’t happened I’m not sure where I would have gotten the time to get it done. My son was a baby and living with his mum a good distance away. I didn’t see him for a couple of months and just recorded to keep me sane. I recorded when I could.

When I took paternity leave from my job as a teacher I hired a cottage near where he was. When I wasn’t spending time with him I just recorded.

The cost of producing an album was another challenge. I got some equipment and did it nearly entirely by myself mainly for this reason, but also the independence that it brings. I then wrote all the string and trumpet parts. The drums and strings were recorded in Monique Studios with Christian Best who does Mick Flannery’s stuff. I recorded the trumpets myself with Paul Kiernan, one of the guys from Booka Brass Band. I regard the parental responsibilities as my only important priority. Everything else is just stuff. Everything – gigs, recording, promotion – is fitted in around that.

Which tracks stand out to you as containing the core message of your music on this album?

There are many facets in the album. ‘Lost Honeybee’ would be the best representation of heartbreak and trying to make sense of it all after a breakup. ‘Thousand Yard Stare’, ‘Getaway’ and ‘In the Undertow’ would be quite introspective and about figuring out things in a time and space of turmoil. ‘Father’s Day’ would be quite an angry reflection on the role and place of single fathers in Ireland. It’s something I could speak at length about but the realization of the reality of the situation and being in the middle of it came out in that song.

At the end of it all there is a hopeful thread that comes out in songs like ‘Dreamer You’, ‘Slowly’, ‘I Return’, ‘From the Ashes’ and ‘Paean’ – that these things that happen to us are lessons and that there is a wealth of love and support out there if we choose to take it.

There are recordings of your son on the album. Did deciding to include those help conclude the message for you?

I wanted him on there in some physical way considering he influenced so much of it. I had the idea for introducing the final song with a conversation between the pair of us – he was 2 at the time. It didn’t really work so I swapped it with two recordings – one a voice mail his mum sent me when he was a baby and the other a recording I made on the sly while we were making lego boats and putting them in a basin.

I finished that song with a distant recording of us talking and me showing him the main piano figure of the tune. I thought it was a perfect way to end the album – an audio recording of us as I sing “It’s a paean to the story of our love” over it. It represented the album perfectly for me. That line was written for his mum and our son is the product of what we had – he is the paean in some metaphorical way!

Someone: “I started writing a story in my head, fuelled by my surroundings”

Someone, a.k.a Tessa Rose Jackson, is both sat in a musical niche, producing superbly atmospheric and personal music, and also one of the more complete and thoughtful musicians you’re likely to come across. In fact, she sits in a very similar toned down realm to one of my bigger obsessions of 2023, Arny Margret.

From the stunning and downbeat ‘True Love Will Find You In The End’, to her beautiful latest offering ‘Owls’, which comes complete with its own unique form of artwork (a kind of vinyl-based animation activated using an app), Someone is nothing if not inventive.

She’s also sensationally good – I’d highly recommend sticking a track or two on whilst reading the below:

Music, art, video… your creative world seems to span a wide spectrum. Do you see all these things as one big connected whole?

I do indeed! When I was a kid, I used to write these wild, outlandish stories and was sure I was going to be a writer when I grew up. Then I fell in love with music and my love for storytelling just got morphed into the whole. I see myself as a professional dreamer, almost. I like imagining myself in make-believe places, making up sounds and situations that don’t exist or are a colourful embellishment of reality. Anything that tickles the imagination is gold for me.

Can you tell me a bit about the mini movie and how it came to be part of Tribeca?

Another person I know who is a professional dreamer is my dear friend David Spearing. He is a film director, and we bonded early on in our careers over our obsession with quirky, heartwarming stories. We’ve made so many music videos together by now and we see it as an opportunity to create these ‘mini movies’, as we like to call them. Not your average music videos, but proper little stand-alone narratives, usually totally over-the-top when it comes to design and aesthetics and always with a little nod to sci-fi, or magical realism. For ‘I Guess I’m Changing’, I had the idea for a story about an android stuck in a sterile,
controlled cubicle with no knowledge of the outside world, just doing the same routine, boring tasks day after day after day.

And then one day, she discovers a hint that there may be a bigger world out there, far more colourful and exciting than she’s ever imagined, and that sparks her to start rebelling, breaking the system and ultimately freeing herself. For me, it’s a direct translation of what the song is about: allowing yourself to zoom out sometimes and seeing the patterns you’ve worked yourself into – and finding a way to
break out.

Joseph Bisat Marshall is an incredible set designer who we always work with, and he built this magnificent, clever set that could be transformed into different cubicles for the different stages of our android’s day. Hannah Mason is an incredible dancer and performer, and she just deep dove into the role of the android. We spend three days together fully immersed in making the film, it was a proper little magical bubble. And when it was done, I was so proud of it that I took a leap and submitted it to a bunch of festivals – not really expecting to get into any as there is so much competition out there. But then out of the blue I got a phone call that the film had been selected for Tribeca Film Festival in New York!

It was quite surreal, we were overjoyed and so honoured, of course.

Tell me about the experiences that inspired ‘Owls’

My partner Darius is also a musician, a keyboard player and fellow producer, and we sometimes collaborate on the Someone material. We were on a road trip through America, from New Orleans through Memphis and up to Nashville. There was something so crazy and other-worldly about the experience, there was so, so much music but also the culture and the vibe was so different from what we’re used to in Europe and the UK.

Especially while we were on the road, when we passed through proper rural America, it felt quite dark and ominous at times. Just this feeling that there was so much going on beneath the surface, a lot of things left unsaid, a lot of unknowns. Plus – we were watching the last season of Twin Peaks at the same time, so I think that put me in a certain kind of headspace too.

While we were there, I started writing a story in my head, fuelled by my surroundings… the combination of sweet romance and a lurking, mysterious dark side. In fact, when we got home I wrote a full screenplay for an indie, arthouse musical called ‘Owls’. Perhaps one day we’ll make it.

Death Milkshake: “I wanted something with contrasts, mixing of genres, light and darkness, a mix of playful nonsense and more serious lyrical content”

Coming from an alt-rock background but producing electronic, looped beats, Death Milkshake is ploughing what he sees as something of a lonely furrough as he develops his sound in the quiet, rural music scene of North Roscommon. The result is a playful, original sound that, as you’ll see from the below, has been carefully and thoughtfully curated. He also dons a suit in a hot tub to promote his music, and helps run a new festival in the town. What’s not to like?

First of all, it’s an obvious and throwaway question, but I have to ask… tell me about the name!

The name actually came a long time before there was any music written for this project. I lived in Australia for almost ten years, and always planned to start a band when I returned to Ireland. I was never sure exactly how that would come together, but I knew I wanted something with contrasts, mixing of genres, light and darkness, a mix of playful nonsense and more serious lyrical content. Death Milkshake just seemed quite apt as a name for that band. Of course it turns out there’s not many people who want to start a disco-punk band in north Roscommon, so there is no band, just me.

Tell me a bit about your single and the inspiration behind it…

The ‘Shiny Thing’ idea is about having someone in your life who reflects back the best parts of you so that you can see your potential. I have a beautiful wife and we have an amazing five year old little girl, and this whole music project wouldn’t happen without their support. I think it’s pretty apt that my first single is a kind of a thank you to them for putting up with me and always being there when the rollercoaster of creating this project is on the downslope. They are absolutely amazing!

I understand you’ve been in a few acts before. How does this one compare?

This is very different to anything I’ve done before, I’ve mostly been in grunge/heavy rock bands, and to be honest, that’s kind of where this project started. The electronic thing really started happening when I decided to stop looking for band members and go it alone. That was well over a year ago now. I’m loving creating this type of music, and loving having the freedom to make all the creative decisions myself too. On the flip side the workload and financial load is on one set of shoulders instead of 3 or 4 which is hard, and the way I write songs takes a long time. I’m enjoying it though and it definitely feels like I’m in the right place.

How does looping play into the style of music you create?

Everything is live looped when I play live, so I really have to think about that in the writing process. Can I sing and play this bassline at the same time? Do I have time to get from this synth preset to this other one? If I don’t think about these things I end up with a finished song that I can’t play live. It can be a bit of a headmelt when it comes to song structure, but I do enjoy the challenge of working within those constraints when writing. The biggest challenge I find with live looping is not to bore an audience while building your loops (it can take a long time to get into the meat of a song). The goal for me is for people to hear the finished song online or on the radio and have no idea that it’s live looped.

When it comes to longer format releases, do you see your approach changing in terms of style and feel?

‘Shiny Thing’ is pretty much a beat-driven, danceable tune and a fairly good representation of most of what’s to come on the debut EP, though there are a couple of tunes that come from more of an alt-rock place.

How would you describe that style, and how does it fit in with your own taste in music?

I see the music as having an electronic feel with alternative rock sounds. I’ve been calling it disco-punk but that’s not a real genre, it’s just some bullshit I came up with. My tastes are more towards the Alt-rock side than the electronic side, but the equipment and instruments I am using really do lead me into electronic territory. I find it so interesting that that part of the influence for the project is coming from me and half is from the equipment (the synth sounds and the fact that I have to loop the drums). I should really be giving my gear songwriting credits.

Groundhopping: Drogheda United (v Bohemians, United Park)

Competition: League of Ireland Premier

Date: 22 September 2023

Result: Drogheda United 0 – 0 Bohemians

Tickets:  €15 for adults, €5 for kids.

Attendance: circa 1,500

Game/ Experience Rating:  ☆

The Game: I think we can all admit that sometimes football is just a bit dull. Just as often it’s fiercely exciting, but this game fell firmly into column A. A really indifferent, low-energy encounter that saw the Drogheda ‘keeper make a couple of fine saves and very little else happen at all. Europe seems to be slipping through Bohs fingers, and this was the worst game I’ve seen all year. Nice to watch with Chris Lee of Outside Write, though, who I’ve known ‘online’ for some time. He’s over in Ireland sniffing out a new project, which is well worth keeping an eye on.

The ground:  I like United Park, if only for its ramshackle, proper oldschool feel (much the same reason I like the visitor’s ground, too, as it happens). It has decent facilities for the state of it, and generally sells well with good local support. Not great for walking around (you’re always stuck on one side or the other), but it’s a cool place to watch Irish top-tier teams in close proximity.

Extras: I saw programmes for the first time at Drogheda. I don’t buy them – this is my alternative – but good to see paper offerings. I think the food and drink is decent and decently priced compared to a lot of places.

Assorted asides: A week earlier these two teams had a really entertaining cup game that Bohs won 3-1. We drew the short straw!

My totals for the year so far:

Games: 20. Home wins: 11 Draws: 5 Away wins: 4

Goals: 54. Home goals: 35. Away goals: 19. Goals per game: 2.70


Flogging Molly: “We felt we might never work again”

Born in LA, but of strictly Irish stock, Flogging Molly are named for the local Irish bar where their career started: by their own admission, Dubliner frontman Dave King and his band played Molly Malone’s a slightly daft amount of times.

Since then, the folk-punks, who combine heavy Irish trad influences with politics and punch, have soared to international acclaim and a heady touring schedule that means Dave and his wife Bridget, also in the band, live a large part of their marriage on the road. In fact, these days, that lifestyle is a relief: early in Covid times, King and the band feared they’d played their last show.

“People are starting to get out a bit more and the atmosphere at shows is unbelievable,” King says. “This hit everybody in a shockwave. We were packed up in trucks and had driven to the first show of an American tour in California, and the tour was cancelled on the day of the first show at the start of a major US tour,” he says of Flogging Molly’s harsh Covid experience.

“Bridget and I got a flight to Dublin and drove to our house in Wexford. We thought it might be two months, six months… then we felt we might never work again. We shrugged that off and went to New York and locked ourselves in a basement and wrote an album in 14 days. We just went for it, there was a real sense of urgency.”

“We just wanted to get together as a band and it felt almost like the last hurrah, but also like going back to the beginning, all the shackles off, like the early days. The album [which will be titled ‘Anthem’ and is due in September] has that about it. One song is completely live, the rest of them are just three or four takes and a few things patched up here and there.”

“The thing for me is that the music is very rock and very raw. The lyrics are simply about hope. No matter what the subject is, I think as a songwriter there needs to be hope in the lyrics. There are a couple of songs about the pandemic, because that’s what was going on when we were writing. I can’t ignore things when I’m sitting down writing.” 

“There’s one song, “We All Stand Alone Together’, which I wrote in my house in Wexford sitting alone, looking down the lane, and thinking about the beauty of people caring for their older neighbours,” he says. “‘Song Of Liberty’ has a video by two of our friends from Ukraine, a very powerful animated video. That also gives hope. It’s their piece of art, telling their story through our song.”

The new and the old, though, combine in modern day Flogging Molly. “We might actually be going back to playing Molly Malones, around the time the album’s out,” King laughs. “We might even film it and get it out there. These last few shows have been really positive, especially Europe. There’s a wonderful atmosphere at gigs and festivals.”

“The guestlist in Dublin is always pretty big,” he continues. “The last show we did in Dublin was the last gig and the best gig of the tour. It was electric. I still get really nervous and have to do everything in a routine before I go on stage. It takes a couple of songs, before that I’m useless.”

“We’ve been very lucky to be doing what we’re doing,” he concludes. “We’ve had some great results, like two top ten albums in the US charts. Our gigs are great. We’re lucky and honoured to be doing it. It’s great to be back.”

Banríon: “I always write about what’s close to home”

Formerly a solo project out of outgoing singer-songwriter Róisín Ní Haicéid, Banríon have developed into a really strong jangly alt-rock band, a Dublin act with a message, and distinct Irish elements, but that feel like the natural sister act to the likes of Vampire Weekend or Phoebe Bridgers.

Now a four-piece fronted by Ní Haicéid, Banríon are both quirky and accessible, and while there’s only a single EP on the market so far, tracks like ‘End Times’ and ‘Yesterday’s Paper’ give a real sense of promise. 

Ní Haicéid’s songwriting style has both personal and social elements, but it’s not so much a planned process as a reflection of who she is. “I guess it’s an extension of what I spend my time thinking and talking about,” she says. “My lyric style is very verbal, or maybe the word is colloquial. I can’t really write poetically or anything too complex, so I always write about what’s close to home. It doesn’t feel like activism much because there’s not an end goal or awareness-raising motive, it’s just singing how I speak.”

“So much of our sound and songwriting is inspired locally, by my friends. Our guitarist Robbie Stickland has been instrumental in planting the seeds that maybe I could do music too. His shows introduced me to the Dublin indie music scene when I was about 18/19. Diarmuid O’Connor (Passersby), who produced my last single End Times, is another musician whose early encouragement made me pursue music and whose music and approach to it continue to inspire me.”

As something of a ‘covid band’ – much of their lifespan so far fell under the times of the virus – the four-piece are really enjoying making their way into the live scene, with a series of shows lined up over the summer. 

“We’ve Only Just Begun [a Whelan’s festival taking place in August] is absolutely up our street because of the ethos,” Ní Haicéid says. “There’s been way too many gigs where I’m the only girl in the green room. Forever being the minority creates a horrible feeling in the back of your mind that you’re being booked as the ‘token girl’ on the line up, even though I know we get booked because we’re good. I’m so excited to play Ireland Music Week as well! Both shows have such amazing line ups and I’m really excited to meet the other bands who I’m huge fans of.”

Shortly, they’ll be a second EP to join debut ‘Airport Dads’, though a full length is still some way off – at this stage, it’s building blocks.

“​​It’s the next natural step from Airport Dads,” guitarist Robbie Stickland explains. “We recorded out in a studio in Wicklow called Meadow Lodge which was a whole lotta fun. It’ll be a much more lush sound than what people are used to from us. It’s Phoebe Bridgers, it’s Snail Mail, it’s Soccer Mommy, all with the unique wink of Róisín’s songwriting. It’s gonna knock your dang socks off!”

“It’s a bit of a time capsule of songs I had written in 2021-2022, which are about falling in love and looking back on what I maybe thought counted as love before,”  Ní Haicéid adds. “There’s one about how it feels when your friends are all moving away and another about how putting on a brave face sometimes fools no one. It’s our first studio recording so probably a bit better quality sound than our other stuff!” One to look out for.