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Lauryn Gaffney Aims for Broadway… and K-Pop.

Award winning musical theatre composer Lauryn Gaffney, from right here in Dublin, made her off-Broadway debut last year with ‘Big Shot’, a show voted the Best Musical by Irish Broadway World.

Suffering an obvious dearth of opportunity amid the recent virus outbreaks, this year Gaffney turned her hand to making a short audio-only musical story, a 15-minute piece about two strangers trapped in an elevator and sharing their emotive stories. It’s an impressively colourful and engaging piece of music and storytelling for one that was effectively a time-filler, but Gaffney’s aims, it quickly become clear, are vast. In particular, she’d like to work for Disney, or write for stars of the South Korean K-pop scene. But that’s for the future.

“My dream was to have my first musical Off-Broadway and sometimes I still can’t believe that it happened,” Gaffney says, looking back at ‘Big Shot’. “There were many, many people, a lot of hours and a splash of luck that helped get the show to where it has been.”

“The show was performed initially in DCU in 2015. Then I funded the next production in the O’Reilly Theatre. We then took part in the San Diego Fringe Festival (winning the ‘Spirit of Fringe’ award and also performing in Tijuana, Mexico), and the Camden Fringe Festival, with some Irish performances in between, and then finally Off-Broadway. This was over the span of a few years. My incredible collaborators and I have spent many all-nighters calling the U.S., laughing at rewrites and crying over tech issues, but it was all worth it to be smiling, arm-in-arm at the bows.”

Corona, of course, required a change, and Gaffney adapted quickly. “I think now is the time for Musical Theatre to pivot until live shows come back. I’ve always wanted to write an audio-only musical where you don’t need to see the story to understand it,” she says.

“I want listeners to visualise the characters themselves. This musical links to isolation as there are two women trapped in an elevator with no choice but to hear one another’s story. I wanted it to be funny but have some serious elements too. It’s been described as ‘an emotional rollercoaster in under 15 minutes’ by Broadway World.”

Cousin Tablet: “We hope and believe the album will have a big impact”

Part of a scene centred around a popular bar in County Galway, Cousin Tablet aim to emulated a big-band style, drawing in a variety of musicians for newly launched debut single ‘Whatever Happened To Betty’.

The track is a real glance at the band’s ethos: an exploration of their past and a story from where they grew up, but also a broader commentary, if slightly unintentinally, of the Mother and Baby Home’s Scandal that touches on the life of frontman Donal Gibbons.

As well as getting their own music out there, Gibbons os keen to fly the flag for rural Ireland, a harder place from which to launch a band. I spoke to him around the launch of that debut…

Can you talk me through a little of the history of the band and how you came to be?

Jamie ,Steve,Wil and myself have been close friends for over 20 years. In that time we have played in a variety of different acts together and separately. We are a part of a much wider,dynamic and diverse music scene based around legendary Co. Galway venue Campbell’s Tavern, which spawned acts such as This Nachez, The Whileaways, The Rolling
Tav Revue, The Tav Jam Band and many more. When I had the first couple of songs written the three lads were my first calls to put some flesh on the bones of the ideas I had. Having played together so much over the years it was an easy fit and the contribution of the lads was critical in turning the ideas I had in to the songs they became.

How has lockdown treated you – any positive sides creatively?

For me creatively the lockdown has been amazing! Prior to its onset I was working full time as an electrician Monday to Friday and playing gigs Friday,Saturday and Sunday nights. Myself and my partner Juliana (who plays strings on Betty) had a beautiful 2 year old girl with another on the way so time to be creative was at a premium. I have to say we absolutely loved the time and space afforded to us during the first few months of lockdown. We had time to be creative and were both at home full time after our second daughter was born in June 2020. In a world without the lockdown I would have been back to work within a couple of weeks of the birth. That time at home is a luxury not afforded during normal times.

It has also shown me what can be achieved when you can afford to spend time being creative and not have to work over 40 hours a week as well to keep a roof over your family’s head. I also found time to help with the startup of a local Community Radio Station and present a weekly show, where I talk to other musicians about the music that influenced them,that has proved hugely popular.

We also set up a home studio during this time and learnt a lot about the recording process and its been great for us to be able do some recording from home while studios were shut during the lockdown. Also, being unable to afford to hire a PR company to help out with promotion,websites etc I took on all this myself and have found that I quite like the whole process of it so I have now also started doing websites and PR for some other acts. It’s a time consuming process but one I quite enjoy.

I wasn’t the only one who had spare time on my hands once the lockdown kicked in. Jamie, Wil and Stephen would also have been crazy busy during normal times so its hard to know if we would have found the time to put these songs together without the time afforded to us by lockdown. All that being said, we are well fed up of it now and itching to get back playing live and seeing other people!

Neomadic: “It’s for the nocturnal”

Neomadic‘s mellow, tripped-out style of hip-hop is, in their own words, an ode to the summer, and it does ooze the feel of the after club, a kind of sunny-climes spaciness laden with easy charm.

I found myself swept away by the style of ‘After Dark’, its distinctive and original and absolutely shine with colour, and those animated videos are something a bit special, too. I caught up with them around the time of the single ‘Waves’ to talk over their progress…

Hi guys, congrats on the new single. Can you tell me a little bit about it?

Thanks so much, it was inspired the ocean, late nights cruising, relationships, and generally good times. It’s centred on taking that leap of faith and really going for something, we hope people listening can relate to that feeling and be inspired by it.

Talk to me about that animated video – that’s class!

We’ve always been really into animation and everything to do with it. We feel our fans really enjoy it, the type of music goes hand in hand with anything animated really.

You seem to be big into the arts side of things. Do you see that as a big part of what you do?

Yea of course! But I’m sure any musician or artist would. It’s hard not to be when you’re creating something. Especially these days where artists have a much bigger say in their work compared to a few decades ago.

How much difference did your Other Voices make – was it a real launch for you?

It was an honour to be able to play! I wouldn’t really say it was a massive launch or anything like that but it was a key step at the time and it felt great to be noticed by Other Voices.

Nathaniel Paul: “It’s vital for artists to speak up”

As one half of Brooklyn indie duo The Bergamot, Nathaniel Paul should have been spending his 2020 touring the US. Like most of us, however, his plans were abruptly turned on their head, and instead he’s been using the time to branch out into a solo career he thought was, at best, many years away.

Fired up by both personal circumstances and the American political scene, Nathaniel Paul first had to find somewhere to live in the middle of a pandemic, and then set about ‘punching up’ at a culture he feels has, politically speaking, departed the rails.

“We were supposed to be on the road as The Bergamot through 2019-2020 promoting our album ‘Mayflies’,” he says, “so we gave up our place in NYC to go on tour. When quarantine hit, we were officially homeless. Friends in Sedona, Arizona offered us a place to live out in the middle of the desert.” 

“The desert is an amazing, quiet place, perfect for reflection and writing. I found myself writing a lot about past experiences. Memories would just bubble up in the silence and I did my best to put them to paper. It became a daily routine in isolation.”

“Being in a relatively small studio and living in more or less complete isolation during quarantine, writing has been my escape. I will always bring my personal baggage with me, good or bad, but when I’m writing I immerse myself in the moment at hand. Whether that be a debate about guns or relaxing on the beach, I’m going all in.”

David Keenan: “art can change your life, and create a movement”

David Keenan is your quintessential live performer, so naturally lockdown has been hard on the Louth man, a character who mixes poetry and music in a style somewhat reminiscent of classic troubadours like Bob Dylan, focusing his tracks heavily on building an intense live show.

Like many of us, then, Keenan has spent part of lockdown reminiscing about what used to be. Specifically, he’s been looking back at his live efforts, and tying together years worth of tour films – clips dating back to when he started out promoting his work by sticking posters on city walls – with footage from his Olympia Theatre date earlier this year.

“The inability to express yourself live, and just to have contact with each other, it’s been hard,” Keenan tells me when I ask about how he’s spent his time in recent months. 

“What I’ve made in the film is condensed from three years, from Rob Benson, including open mic lights at the start though to the Olympia Theatre. It’s about the positive impact that music brings to a life, and the musical community in Ireland.”

“It’s also about finding a tribe, self acceptance and realising a dream, which is what the Olympia show was for me. It was finding a band, kicking up some dust around Dublin, and the collective encouragement of my tribe, and facing fear face on.”

“I was on tour in March. All summer was obviously cancelled, but the film bookends the story of this chapter of my life. The passing of Gar Kane, by bandmate, features heavily in the film, and I’m still reeling from that. I think it will help to keep my spirit of live music alive, and the story shows the collective graft from everyone involved. There was no big management company or label or anything, it was just word of mouth. People helped me a lot along the way.”

Nealo: “I think it’s unfair, for a lot of people, the way society is set up”

Nealo’s debut album ‘All The Leaves Are Falling’ is a snapshot of a left-behind side of society, a kind of personalised treatise in music that highlights the difficulties of working-class creatives while exploring his own perspective.

The product of years of work, it’s a step aside from the Dubliner’s usual style as he goes for a more expansive, punchy, expressive record, drawing on his own punk-roots and embedding his protest-message in a record that’s heavily hip-hop leaning.

“It felt different making this, I wanted to make it so that people would look at it and think it’s something different. I wanted to give a feeling for what I was trying to do, and tell my story, who I am and what’s unique to me,” he explains, before going into the way the album relates to his own history.

“It’s a little about that adolescent want for leaving somewhere, and then later coming back. About the hardships, and the people who have left, and who haven’t. There’s tragedy and beauty in that. I can’t quite put my finger on exactly what it is I’m trying to say, but there’s a message in there.” 

“So it’s about Clonsilla, essentially, which I love now, but when I was kid I felt like there was something big happening somewhere else, and I wasn’t there. I still get that today, sometimes, but I think I have a bit more perspective on it, too. When you’re young, everything seems like the biggest thing in the world.”

The record features a series of interludes that expand on the music, giving witty context. “I was a little worried the Interludes might be a bit long,” Nealo says, “but I put them in and they’ve been really popular. It gives context, a feeling of who I am I guess, and adds to the narrative.”

We Cut Corners: “it’s about the protagonist’s psychological unravelling”

After a break of over a year following the release of latest record IMPOSTERS, We Cut Corners returned to music determined – as they have been in the past – to convert their experiences gathered away from music into art.

New EP ‘Muscle Memory’ is, perhaps, a nod to the way the duo – teachers in their day jobs – continue to function in musical ‘shifts’, returning in productive periods to bounce onto the Choice Music Prize shortlist, or deliver the most vocally beautiful, rapidly-morphing songs that bounce from White Stripes-like rock to delicate, emotional ballads.

‘Muscle memory’, string-man with the Dublin-based band John Duignan explains, is focused very much on the idea of domesticity, psychology, and absence. 

“After the release of IMPOSTORS in 2018, we took about a year away from formal band duties to dwell in the domestic for a bit,” Duignan explains. “As is so often the case, those down-times are the most fertile in terms of writing and it wasn’t long before we were back sharing ideas over email and piecing together the current EP..”

“The title track is a pretty emblematic of the collection,” he continues, “detailing the protagonist’s psychological unravelling in the face of the physical absence of a loved one. Thematically, the songs on the EP are pretty disparate but there was definitely a sense of heightened neurosis that fed into their composition. Too much domestic time perhaps!”

The four-track contains a colourful variety of styles. On the title track, ‘Muscle Memory’, Duignan describes “taking a look at the country’s institutional past and the legacy that is still culturally palpable here. It’s a rally-cry against repression really,” while ‘Mystery Illness’ another stand-out, is “an absolutely full-on, unabashed, bare-faced love song. Having resisted the urge to even use the word love for the first four albums, it seemed reasonable to pen a tune where every line begins with ‘I love you…’.”

August Wells: An Irishman in New York

It’s been half a lifetime since August Wells vocalist Ken Griffin left Ireland behind for a new life in the big apple, yet in many senses his music’s themes still reflect an immigrant tale: songs of hope and loss, false dawns and changing faces.

New record ‘No More Operators’ sees Griffin and musical partner John Rauchenberger, a pianist, build on their emotion-laden earlier records with stark, dark, fragile tones.

“All my songs are derived directly from my life, so maybe the theme [of the record] is simply me and my perspective,” Griffin says. “I am always simply trying to refine my ability as a songwriter. We are always working on a number of songs at the same time, I prefer to have a lot of ideas going, so I don’t get stuck on one idea.” 

“When we have 10 or 12 complete we just record an album. Because we are independent and have our own studio we can do that at any time. For a record, we just pick the songs we feel work cohesively together, and the ones that feel complete.”

“Although all the songs were written before the pandemic,” he continues, “it is strange how applicable a lot of the lyrics are to this moment. I have always used, or at least tried to use humour in my songs, even at the centre of what might be a tragic subject.” 

“We all live with senses of dread, and fear and worry. We all live with dreams and hopes and wonder, but sometimes I feel being overtly positive can actually be very sinister and lead us to naivety and delusion.”