Tag

interview

Browsing

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.” 

Josh Gray: “My journeys have been amazing so far, I’m really enjoying being present in the moment”

Josh Gray’s latest single is starkly appropriate, a vibrant lockdown anthem of a cover, borrowed to suit our times.

‘Hold On’ is a 30 year old single that originally knocked Madonna’s ‘Vogue’ off number one in the US charts, and perfectly suited to the mental anguish of the coronavirus and its social impact. Gray, one of a plethora of fast-rising pop acts, is the perfect man to deliver it…

I must admit I wasn’t familiar with ‘Hold On’ as an original (maybe I’ve been living under a rock!). What made you pick it out as a cover right now?

Hey! It’s quite funny, a lot of people have been thinking that I wrote it, it’s actually an original song by Wilson Phillips! The reason I picked it out as a cover was down to the message it tries to push out, that times are hard but it will get better. I think I speak for everyone when I say we’ve all been struggling a little in the current climate. We all have our own worries that are relevant to ourselves, so I want to try my best to send a positive message to as many as I could!

How has your personal journey been over the last few months?

It’s been quite mixed, I’ve been thriving in my writing and production!  I’m excited to share! On the other hand it’s been tough at times when it’s uncertain as to when we can get back out gigging again, but I think it’s been a great opportunity to do those ‘on the long finger’ things.

Is there any way to make our current circumstances into an opportunity as a musician?

Yes, it’s a great time to be creative and grow your skills as a musician! I never thought I’d be so far into production as I am so soon, but I guess thats what 10 hour days making music does to you.

Do you find the strange social circumstances we find ourselves in impact on your music?

I won’t lie, and say it hasn’t. I think it’s been tough on everyone. It’s pushed things out a bit but, it’s hard not to be out performing and engaging with people. Online outlets are great but for me you can’t beat the real physical thing. I’ve been very lucky though with all of the support with Spotify streams and some really touching messages of support from people I really hope to meet one day at a live show or just in general. With the current situation, I’ve learned to try and adapt and I think I’m still trying to day by day!

Soda Blonde: “It’s been a little less daunting and unknown this time around”

Soda Blonde, pic: Ste Murray

Born from the remnants of acclaimed harmonising pop-rockers Little Green Cars, Soda Blonde’s early career was unusual: not so much a slog in front of tiny crowds, but instant recognition of their ability, and no little local hype based on their previous work, resulting in mid-sized gigs from day one.

The four-piece are led by the vocally distinctive Faye O’Rourke, and produce spacey yet vibrant alt pop that nods to their past, but is less abstract and more engaged in social commentary. New single ‘Love Me World’, for example, is a personal ode to looking for acceptance and love through darker moments.

“I don’t think anything should feel easy,” O’Rourke says of the rebranded return. “It’s been a little less daunting and unknown this time around but it was a huge deal to pick up and start again. We have more control over the visual aspects of this project. That was always something that we wanted to harness more in the past, and with this new beginning we’ve been able to have a lot of fun with that.”

“The single is about acknowledging the darker moments of wanting to be loved by everyone,” she continues. “The idea of bending to fit within the zeitgeist in the pursuit of acceptance and love. Being judged certainly lies within that sentiment, but I think it’s more interesting to focus on what and why that happens.”

“I think what ‘fake’ we wish to portray says a lot about who we are and what we desire. I do think people have to be brave today to expose what they really think.”

Like most acts, Soda Blonde have struggled a touch with the lock down, though O’Rourke says there have been good and bad days. Virtual gigs – something the band did in support of the single – are not something they particularly crave. “The audience is 99% of the experience of a live show,” she says.

Dagny: an album a decade in the making.

Norwegian pop act Dagny – a singer who made her way in the world through singles and shining gems of short pop-songs – has finally, a decade in, got around to an album. It’s unsurprising, perhaps, that now that the moment for a longer record has arrived, the popular singles-merchant, who has nearly half a billion streams to her name, has found her way to producing something that firmly breaks her own mold, going gloriously popcorn to long-form and conceptual.

‘Strangers/ Lovers’ is being released in two seperate parts across 2020 – a benefit of the less format-focused nature of albums in a post hard-copy world – and documents the stages of a relationship, from meeting someone new to the intimacy and closeness of being together, and the strange alienation that comes if it falls apart again.

“This album is a two part album, and it’s because of the way I assessed the songs,” Dagny explains. “I had well over 250 of them to look at when I started a couple of years back. I landed on my twelve favourites. I played all of the songs to my guitarist, and he said it sounds like there were two sides to the story. That kind of split things up, and created a conceptual album, giving me the idea for what it would be. I was worried it would be seen as two EPs and not an album, actually, but I’m happy I did it like that.”

With the songs written over a long period of time, they were the ones that happened to fit together, augmented by some extras written late in the day to hold things together. “I knew what the concept I would draw out was at the end,” Dagny says, “which made it easier to tap into the emotions in the studio and draw it out. Before I was so much about singles, and for this I was thinking about the whole, the story, and how all the tracks fit together. That’s been a really exciting part of the album.”

“There were songs I’d love to have on the album but they don’t really fit. It’s about the whole idea of meeting someone that’s a stranger to you, then you fast forward a year and you’re the closest people and they’re the person you always go to. And then when a break up happens you go from lovers to strangers, that transition, that disconnect and not being able to call them anymore… I find that whole scenario kind of brutal and yet inspiring.”

“There are so many emotions I wish I could put in the album,” she continues. “I could have written three albums on the same kind of subject, but I don’t know if people would go for that. It does feel like the music world is more a free game now, people can just do what suits them, and I like that.”

Sophie Doyle-Ryder: “I find writing a form of therapy and always write about real situations”

Sophie Doyle-Ryder, photo by Ray Keogh

Malahide singer-songwriter Sophie Doyle-Ryder is only four singles old, but already drawing comparisons with the likes of Anne-Marie and Ariane Grande, having reached number 9 on the Irish radio play charts with her third single ‘Too Much’.

Her music is vibrant, atmospheric pop, and she’s well-placed to make an impact, having teamed up with Grammy award-winning producer Billy Farrell for latest single ‘Little Black Book’. I caught up with Sophie to see how her lockdown is going…

I guess given you were releasing music at the age of just 17, it’s clear that music is a huge part of your life. How have you developed your sound?

I feel I developed my sound by trial and error really. It’s all about trying new things and finding what suits you well! It may take a long time or a short time it all just depends! I find writing a form of therapy and always write about real situations; either mine or my friends’ experience.

Can you tell me a little about ‘Little Black Book’ and how it came together?

Little Black Book is a women’s empowerment song, it is one of my favourites by far! It’s all about being good on your own and almost using people to your advantage. Knowing that you have boys, but only if you want them! It’s so fun and cheeky, I love it.

How many tracks do you have behind the scenes and ready to go – are there EPs or albums on the horizon, for example?

I will release a few more singles before then. I have a good few tracks ready to go! However, it might be another while until an ep and album comes. I want to make it really special.

Have you reflected on your music and changed anything during lockdown?

I feel like I’ve found my sound more than ever during covid lockdowns! I’ve really enjoyed the creative process of music even more because I just feel so established as an artist.

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.

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.

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.