Interview: Daithi O Dronai

Having launched himself on the Irish public by tackling ‘The All Ireland Talent Show’ as a beguiling 18 year old fiddle player back in 2009, Daithi Ó Dronai’s career took a swift, notable turn away from both his trad. upbringing and the realms of reality television. Today, now a regular on the indie gig circuit, particularly in his home base of Galway, Daithi’s favoured bedroom production crosses the boundaries between traditional Irish styling and sitting at the very cutting edge of electronic looping. Prior to his Camden Crawl Dublin performance, where his brilliance on fiddle will be backed by ample computer-fuelled trickery, he tells us just what’s propelled his new direction…

Fiddle, loop stations and a career launched on national television. Is there no end to the randomness of your creativity?

Ha, it’s funny how I fell into the TV thing, I had never played music solo before then. I’m happy with where I am after three years, It’s going in the right direction.

Fusions of Irish traditional music and modernity often seem to end in trad. rock. Do you think it’s important that the genre is twisted in ways that show a more imaginative development?

I think there is a wealth of stuff in traditional music that hasn’t been touched yet. Electronic music these days has a great culture of sampling and finding really cool stuff from other musical styles, and mixing it into electronic music. We have an amazing musical style in this country that has hardly been touched, one full of interesting and unique melodies and sounds. The first time I realized this was when I heard Passion Pit’s ‘sleepyhead’. The fact that an American act was using Irish traditional samples and we weren’t? Madness. I learned the fiddle traditionally so I had a little background in it, but in recent years I’ve learned to truly appreciate it. If you come to one of my live shows you will even hear sean nós samples. They sound amazing, so different.

How do you go about converting the more complex aspects of your electronic edge into something that can be performed on stage?

It’s really important to me that the live show is good. It’s how I started playing as Daithí; I didn’t start as a bedroom producer. I try and do as much as I can live, so I have my laptop set up so I can loop drum sounds, the fiddle and synth stuff. I can also trigger lots of samples at once, so I can do big drops and choruses without having to loop everything at once. The live show is really energetic, I want people to dance, so I try and get as energetic as possible while on stage.

What you played on TV, which is still where a lot of people will remember you from, was perhaps a bit more traditionally minded than your normal sound. Have you found yourself pigeonholed as a traditional musician at all?

Once the TV stuff finished, definitely, I was being asked to play at trad. sessions and traditional concerts, which is a bit difficult, people didn’t really get how different it was. I knew if I played in those concerts it wouldn’t go down as well as say an indie gig would have. It was difficult from the other side as well; I was pigeonholed as a TV talent show contestant. I really felt I had to prove myself in the independent music scene, which gave me a lot of drive starting out. I loved when people discarded me as a TV thing, as I’d play a good show and change their minds. That was the biggest buzz after the TV thing had finished.

How did life change after you unveiled your sound so publically?

It was crazy, an amazing experience for an 18 year old, I am happy I did it. I learned a lot in those years as well, about myself, how the media works and how the music scene works. I gained a lot of confidence in myself and my music, I think that was the biggest change, I was so unsure of myself before that.

Did you find you had to take a step back and look at what things become, or was the show simply a great way to push yourself forward from an almost standing start?

Shows like the ones I did are great for getting a huge amount of publicity fast, But as soon as they are done the publicity and everything just drops off, really suddenly. It is no way to create a lasting musical career. I wanted to start from the bottom again and work my way up, I started supporting as many bands as I could and played everywhere, Then I did about two months where I was playing in the Roisin Dubh in Galway every week, and finally Gugai (Roisin Dubh’s manager) offered to manage me, and then It all kicked off the right way.

Given your blend of styles, what kind if audiences might turn up at a Daithi show?

It’s interesting to see who goes, I think in Ireland we have a really good independent music scene, and a lot of my audience would be the type of person who goes to lots of Irish gigs. But then recently I’ve had more and more people who are into dance music coming to the shows and really going crazy, it’s great. You get guys who I wouldn’t look at in the street hugging me off their heads. It’s scary stuff.

You’re very much Galway-centred, and have the city’s main musical man Gugai as your manager. How has that collaboration helped push you forward?

It’s been great, you couldn’t have a better manager, He knows everyone in the Irish music scene, and has loads of experience. When we first started working together he apparently had a load of favours to call in,  So I got some really nice gigs to start off, it really got my foot in the door, and it’s been going really well since then. I was the first person he had ever managed, which was a confidence boost to me. That guy knows his music.

We’ve heard whispers of an album, and that it might go heavy on the guests. Is there anyone in particular to look out for?

I’m still working on the album. I’m really excited about it, but I really want it to be special, so I’m taking my time and making sure that it’s really great. I can’t sing at all so I’m pulling in people to do vocals. I’ve been lucky to work with some amazing people so far, no one I can name yet though, But it’s great to see other people putting their own slants on my music; it’s great to see a mixture of styles. One person who will be featuring is the amazing Elaine Mai. She already featured on my track Carraroe, which you can get for free online at, She is incredible.

When can we expect to see the finished project? Is there anything lined up that might surprise us?

I’m aiming to have it out by the end of the year, with a couple of singles released before hand. There is one big Irish name going to be featuring, someone who has been a part of the Irish music scene for a while now. All will be revealed soon.

You can already be counted, locally at least, as one of the small number of artists that can get away with just a first name. Madonna, Britney, Cheryl (so we hear) and Daithi… we’ve heard your fan base in the UK is not insubstantial, too. Any plans to go more international?

Ha what a group of artists to be lumped into! It has always been the plan to try and go abroad. Music is one of the best ways to travel, and I’d love to be touring, playing gigs every night. The Irish traditional influence is bound to go down well abroad; I reckon people would enjoy it. I’ll develop a bit more in Ireland and then start spreading out, hopefully.

For in advance of the Camden Crawl Dublin, May 2012.

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