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Thom Southern: “It’s been a constant feeling of ‘up in the air’ but it keeps things fresh”

Thom Southern‘s young solo career is built on a lifetime of performing music. Formerly part of the band ‘Southern’ with his sister Lucy (who I interviewed here), to the pair have both gone solo and relocated to Liverpool to reinvent themselves.

Thom’s single ‘Perfect Someone’ has just been launched, and I asked him to talk me through the whole journey up to it, so far, from cancelled recording sressions to personal reinventions…

Congrats on the new single! Can you tell me a little of the story behind it?

Thanks, yeah it’s a song I wrote a couple of years ago actually.  Totally forgot about it and when lockdown first started earlier this year I was in my Belfast home studio going through all my demos on my laptop deciding what to record to keep me busy.  I found an old voice note of ‘Perfect Someone’ playing it on my acoustic.  I really wanted to have a go at recording an upbeat pop tune this year using an 808 drum machine so I thought it had a strong hook to do that.

Lyrically, it’s a bittersweet tune about finding an old photograph in a coat pocket I hadn’t looked inside for years.  I wanted to keep the lyrics super simple to capture that quick feeling you get when you look at an old photo.  You get a flash of that moment and then it’s gone.  Nostalgic feelings can be rubbish sometimes so I wanted to portray that as well.  It’s hard to come to terms with the reality of the present and how things have changed sometimes.

Lucy Gaffney: “Music and art’s pretty much all I think about most days”

Having grown up in Belfast, where she wrote songs with her brother to perform busking, eventually forming the band ‘Southern’, Lucy Gaffney‘s life has been steeped in music since an early age.

These days, Gaffney has settled in Liverpool where she’s pursuing a solo career, though one in which she still works closely with her brother. She’s won plenty of acclaim from RTE for her single ‘Send Me Away’, and elsewhere for her enthralling cover songs, not least from Liam Gallagher for her version of Oasis classic ‘Songbird’.

I caught up with Lucy to talk it all over…

Congrats on your new single. I believe you’ve been getting quite a lot of play on RTE. How does that kind of attention feel to you?

I can’t believe the response the track’s had, it’s such a great feeling to know it’s resonating with people. The support’s been really lovely

Can you tell me a little bit about the story behind the single?

I wrote it mid rehearsal with the band, I guess I was in kind of a romantic headspace. I felt like the vocals and lyrics should wash in and out of the guitars and the track should chug along like a force pushing you forward with a wall of sounds.

The ethos of ‘Send Me Away’ is a dreamlike state of mind, you’re daydreaming about someone you want and kind of know they’re no good for you, but the thrill of being together and reconnecting is intoxicating. I recorded it in Parr Street Studios in Liverpool with James Skelly straight after I made ‘Can’t Escape’ last summer.

Did you find it strange releasing music into the current situation, especially debut music?

Yeah, I was pretty hesitant with it at first when I released ‘Can’t Escape’. But I kind of figured, y’know I’ve never seen most of my favourite bands play live, so in a way, it’s taught me to adapt and push myself to play online, which is something I found really daunting before.

Now I kind of love the idea that if I’m quickly writing a tune I can just quickly video it to show people and they can casually listen from the other side of the world even though we’re both just chilling in our bedrooms. It’s sort of put the control back into the artist’s hands in terms of how they want to represent themselves. I know that when we can properly gig again it’s gonna be so incredible though.

How did you come to music, and what’s your background like as a musician?

I think I’ve been living and breathing music since I was a little kid. Music and arts pretty much all I think about most days. I started playing the piano when I was 7 and was in the choir at school so learnt to harmonise pretty early. After my brother learnt the guitar at 15 we used to sing together and go busking in Belfast for pocket money, we didn’t really know any covers so just wrote tunes.

It went from there really, and when I turned 19 we moved between London and Liverpool in a band called ‘Southern’ together. We still write and produce together but we do two separate projects because our styles are pretty different now.

KEHLI: “music is the only thing I ever wanted to do”

Dublin artist KEHLI seems to draw from dancefloor-filling classics in her sound, one that she’s unveiled onto a developing Irish R&B scene in recent months. Fresh, summery beats are overlaid with vibrant, upbeat vocals, producing a dance-pop buzz that’s seen her draw attention for early singles ‘Hypnotized’ and ‘Ur So Cool’. Both are natural party tracks, heady with the style of warm late-evenings.

“It feels amazing being able to finally let people hear what I’ve been working on,” she tells the Gazette of her recent releases, which have been gathering plenty of local radioplay. “The reaction and support from people has been unreal, which has let me continue on making more music so I’m very happy.”

“I’ve always been involved in music since a young age and I’ve just become more obsessed with it as a career over the years. I started with stage school and Irish dancing from the age of four, then as the years went on I became more involved in getting to use music as a

career path, which is insane as it’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do.”

A new EP, a follow up to ‘Ur So Cool’, is in the pipeline and promises to develop on that edgy R&B vibe. KEHLI’s already been through many of the tropes of early pop music – she applied to various TV shows from the age of 14 – but is now planning to spend time in London to ensure the EP is as strong as possible, working with producer MSRD to help hone her sound.

“It’s back to work for me,” she says of the preparation. “It’s been so nice to have some sort of routine, so music-wise I’m hopefully going to London soon but we are holding off until everything is safe. I’m so excited to see everything coming together! The process can be long and I’ve grown so much through the project so it is a special one to me.”

N.O.A.H: “we are obsessed with the idea of making our show as performative as possible”

New on the scene, though a long time together, N.O.A.H. are the product of a lot of formal musical education and years of friendship.

Named in reference to a beacon of hope, there are a couple of albums worth of tracks ready to go for the three-piece, but for now we’ll have to make do with popular debut single, euphoric indie anthem ‘Shine’…

Congratulations on the first single. Can you tell me a little bit about the story behind it?

Like most musicians in 2020, we found ourselves with a lot more free time to create and write new music due to the ongoing pandemic. We wrote ‘Shine’ pretty much in the middle of the lockdown, at this time we were all writing with each other remotely, sending music and lyrics back and forth over the Internet. We would say that ‘Shine’ definitely brought an optimistic light to the band, it kept spirits high and kept us going.

The song itself is about a journey, one which we must all have to make at one point in our lifetime. Sometimes we do not know where we are going, but ultimately, deep down, we know something greater and more powerful is guiding our way. In essence, ‘Shine’ is a story about keeping good faith when in uncertain times.

You’ve already had some RTE radioplay. How did that feel?

It is definitely a great feeling to be recognised by the country’s national broadcaster, we have been frequently played on both RTE Radio 1 and RTE 2FM. The support from RTE, especially in the first week of our campaign was amazing, we were announced as RTE 2FM’s ‘Track of The Week’ and have been played every morning on the breakfast show with Eoghan and Doireann. It is just really cool to be recognised on such a platform.

What are your various musical backgrounds?

Music has always been a huge part of our lives, we’ve all been playing music from really young ages, like 9 & 10. It is only when we started secondary school together that our passion for music aligned. After secondary school we all went to study music. Ronan and Ryan went to BIMM to delve further into their instrumental craft, while Adam went to Maynooth University to study music technology.

Moncrieff: “lockdown has made the failings of the systems of power we appoint even more painfully obvious”

The current state of the world is a concern for all of us, but – from the outside at least – it could scarcely have come at a worse time for rising Waterford pop performer Moncrieff. The London-based musician was working his way towards the crest of a substantial wave, hotly tipped in many publications (including right here), after his first live performances back in Ireland blew people away.

He should have been moving onto bigger and better stages – and live is where the punchy performer particularly shines – and instead he’s stuck at home, trying to make the best of the time. Not that he sounds all that down about it, with the recent rollout of ‘PLAYLOUD’ punching at authorities and asserting independence.

“The track was written almost a year ago, but since lockdown it’s become even more personal for me because lockdown has made the failings of the systems of power we appoint even more painfully obvious. Regardless of the events of the last 6 months I feel like my generation has inherited a world that is riddled with the mistakes of those that currently sit in charge.”

“In the initial demo version of the song, it was just me trying to do kids’ voices,” Moncrieff says of the new track, which features a choral section reminiscent of a pop-lover’s ‘The Wall’. “Back last December when I was getting ready to support Walking On Cars on tour I realised I have like twelve little cousins back in Ireland who are all between the ages of six and ten so I rounded them all up one day before Christmas and we went to Camden Studios to record them and it turned out so sick. I paid them in pizza and cake.”

Outside of the music, Moncrieff has spent lockdown learning to edit photos and videos, as well as starting a clothing brand, but there’s no question the experience has been a frustrating one all things considered, even allowing for the “live shows” he’s put out on Facebook from his bedroom.

“I genuinely live for performing live, so not having an idea on when that can happen again is tough,” he says. “It’s given me an opportunity to build my relationship with my fans online but nothing can replace a live show for me.”

Sorbet: “it’s a kind of writing that just doesn’t make sense to prescribe to a band”

Best known for his work with genre-bending jazz rockers Robocobra Quartet, Chris Ryan’s solo outlet, SORBET, is an entirely different kind of project.

Described by Chris as a “musical cleansing of the palate” (hence the name), it’s out via Hamburg based Bureau B Records today, and deals with specific feelings and senses, being very much ‘feel’ based.

I spoke to Chris ahead of the release, and he had this to say about ‘Life Variations’…

Congrats on the new EP. Can you talk me through the concepts behind it?

Thanks! Life Variations is a collection of three pieces of music that all share musical/lyrical themes around life, death, birth, rebirth, and all that good stuff. In a way it’s 3 pop songs but in a way it’s 3 parts to one whole composition.

Is there a certain amount of life examination going on for you at the moment, and has it led anywhere in particular musically?

Yeah. I spent some time in Sao Paulo last year as part of the PRSF/ British Council Musician in Residence and it made me think a lot about my life and identity. I’ve also always been interested in having an outlet for the kind of hyper-specific writing I’ve always enjoyed doing— a kind of writing that just doesn’t make sense to prescribe to a band.

If you have that kind of urge I find it’s much more appropriate to use sheet music or ProTools or these kinds of fixed mediums as opposed to the ‘band’ method of getting ideas across orally.

I’m a big fan of vinyl releases – was that an important part of the release for you?

It certainly does make it feel real for some reason, especially with a short format release like an EP. It looks really cool – it’s a one-sided 12 inch so the B-side is unpressed and is just smooth black vinyl.

TV People: “The lockdown put me in a really reflective and introspective headspace and I think that brought out the existential side to the lyrics as well”

The latest in a popular string of Dublin post-punk acts taking the rock scene by storm, TV People have the dingy backdrop that’s common to the genre, their music a poetic airing of greicances delivered through abrupt, snarling tones and intense intros.

Very much embedded in the city, like the predecessors Girl Band and Fontaines DC, they’re another glance at the darker side of city life, something that shines in their videos as well as their tone. I caught up with them following the release of new single ‘Nothing More’.

Hi folks, congrats on the new single – can you tell me a little bit of the story behind it?

Paul – We wrote ‘Nothing More’ at the start of the lockdown in March. We usually write together in our rehearsal room so it was a new experience for us. We didn’t see each other in person for nearly two months but were constantly sending voice recordings and ideas over and back to each other on Whatsapp.

It was a bit of a mad way to bring the song together and it was definitely frustrating at times, but it was extremely rewarding to watch everything fall into place as we got used to writing in that way. The lockdown put me in a really reflective and introspective headspace and I think that brought out the existential side to the lyrics as well. We probably would never have written a song like that if we hadn’t been put into lockdown, so it’s nice to have something to show for that period and to look back on it.

I assume the track predates the whole 2020 shitshow, but it does seem oddly appropriate. There’s a real ‘lostness’ to the music – is an outlet for that side of things for you?

Paul: We definitely try to channel our surroundings into our songwriting. Writing this song was the only real focus the four of us had for the first few weeks of lockdown, and I think the tune was an outlet for the frustration, stress and apathy we were feeling at that time.

Those emotions can be felt in the music and the lyrics of the song. For me, lyric writing is a way to break down and express how I’m feeling so that I can manage it. The lyrics and music of this tune are emotionally woven together. I think it’s an expression of how the four of us were feeling when we wrote it.

Have you managed to function as a band since March, with everything that’s going on?

Paul – The last few months have been fairly chaotic. We had studio time and plenty of gigs canceled overnight. It was obviously frustrating but COVID has impacted everyone and some are much worse off than us. We’ve tried to stay positive and focus on writing to keep ourselves busy over the last few months.

In a way, it’s been nice to have a bit more time to dedicate to working on new tunes. We played a recorded gig in Central Arts Waterford for the Artbeat – Summer in the City festival a few weeks ago which was great craic. It was really nice to get back playing live again and hopefully we’ll be able to get a few more gigs in over the next few months.

Peter Zirbs: “Until a few years ago, I thought that I have to fit into a stylistic drawer”

Austrian artist Peter Zirbs has had a lot of incarnations over the years, and his latest, he feels, is most representative of who he is.

Having lost a feeling that he needed to pigeonhole his music, Zirbs has embraced more classical leanings, embarked on some collaborations including with former Archives man Craig Walker, and embarked on new EP ‘On A Beautiful Day’, which manages to be both quite dark in tone and occasionally euphoric. The perfect release, perhaps, for our times.

Single ‘Locked In’ is a particular stand out, exploring The Velvet Underground’s Nico’s period locked in an apartment, and feels oddly linked to today’s ‘stay at home’ world. I spoke to him about how things have changed, and his movement with the new record…

I think it’s fair to say your work under your own name is a far cry from some of your earlier stuff. Can you talk me through the musical evolution that got you to here?

I actually grew up with the duality of experimental/ synthesizer/ minimal music (Ph. Glass, M. Nyman, S. Reich, T. Riley, but also Yello, Art of Noise, Isao Tomita, Jean Michael Jarre etc) and on the other hand pop and rock music (big New Romantic and New Wave fan here! And also Disco from the 80ies) …

I’m a proper 80ies kid as I’m born 1971. So for me, there never was an “either/or” when it concerns musical styles. It’s not easy, but I try to bring both aspects into my music. I always loved experimental and artsy stuff, but you can find me on the dancefloor at 3am shakin’ it to a straight kick drum and a distorted 303 synth bassline, too. Sitting between the chairs for all my life basically!

How have you found your current incarnation differs from your work under other monikers earlier in your career, in terms of approach and feel?

Yes, it indeed does differ. I never had the courage to play my piano/ minimal/ instrumental stuff to other people, and it’s been my friends who encouraged me to do so. Until a few years ago, I thought that I have to fit into a stylistic drawer. The fantastic label Fabrique Records took it to a next level by almost physically forcing me to record my odd stuff (this was about three years ago), et voilà, a new Peter Zirbs was born … kind of.