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My Pilot: “the perversity and commercial suicide of releasing a seven-and-a-half minute song with a really weird middle bit quite appealed to me”

Neill Dougan’s My Pilot have, over the years, been both a solo project and a band, a deeply personal vehicle that rarely appear live, but have gained ample kudos for Dougan’s inventive and sometimes leftfield songwriting. It’s been a long, long road between his earlier EPs – the most recent release was launched in 2015 – and a return with the album ‘Team Dangerous’, part of an ambitious project that could expand into a trio of records.

In this deeply personal interview Neill – who I used to work alongside at Alternatiev Ulster, though I’m not sure we ever met – talks about the themes behind his music, the family barriers that have delayed its production, and why he’s donating a portion of his profits to charity…

Let’s go right back to the start – tell me about the roots of My Pilot, and what you set out to do?

There was no big plan, really. I had been playing guitar since my early teens and once I got to a certain level of proficiency I found myself being way more interested in making up my own songs than learning other people’s songs. I’d also always harboured a secret hankering to be in a band but (bizarrely, looking back on it) I was always faintly embarrassed to admit to it.

That’s probably something to do with the environment I grew up in, which was a small town where I always felt creative endeavours were viewed as vaguely suspect in some way. Anyway, I was living in Dublin and at some point I just realised that there was no point being behind the door about it, and there was no point sitting on all these songs and doing nothing with them. Like I had written literally hundreds of songs at that point, though most of them were pretty bad. So I just decided to go for it.

I was also quite lucky timing-wise in a way, because the whole home recording boom was taking off around this time which made recording a lot more accessible to rank amateurs such as myself. My brother Connor was also a big inspiration as he got right in at the start of home recording and was making music that I was blown away by from the word go (he records under the names Defcon, AI
Messiah and Deathbed Convert and is on Touch Sensitive Records).

So I started recording songs, and had no more grand a plan than just to get some songs out on CD (people still bought CDs back then) and see what happened. I didn’t sell many but enough people seemed to like what I was doing to give me sufficient encouragement to try and make it a proper band.

How does today’s My Pilot compare to the solo version of all those years ago?

It’s pretty much the same insofar as the recordings are all me. In some ways I really want to move away from that and record as a band but in other ways it’s just easier to record on my own as I can work to my own schedule and essentially do what I like. But there’s a downside to doing all the recording yourself as well, as it’s a kind of isolated, hermetic experience and although collaborating creatively with other people isn’t something that really comes naturally to me (I’m kind of awkward about it) I have realised over the years that when it’s right it’s really rewarding and fulfilling.

The obvious difference is that once it became a proper band we were able to actually play live, which I’ve always had mixed feelings about (I’m not a natural performer) but again when it comes together properly is a pretty incredible feeling. The typical live set features songs that, oddly enough, aren’t on the album, and which are essentially band co-writes, borne out of riffs and tunes that we came up with from improvising together in the practice room. Because those are songs we wrote collectively, I want to record them collectively.

I’d also like to think that, although I don’t really consider myself a “producer” in any meaningful sense (like, if someone else asked me to produce their music I’d probably have to refuse as the way I work is embarrassingly basic and idiosyncratic), the new recordings are much better produced than the early stuff. They almost sound professional.

I understand the album’s been on the backburner for quite some time. What should we expect from it?

Yeah it’s taken a long time, much longer than I would have liked. I alluded to this in the press release that I put out when the new single came out when I said that some real life stuff happened that kind of prevented me from properly focusing on music for a while. I’ve been humming and hawing about how much I should say about this because there are other people involved who have a right to privacy and to not have me blabbing about their lives.

But I talked to my wife about it and ultimately decided that I could maybe, in my own small way, try to be an advocate for the person and the issues involved. In fact, my wife told me it was my job to talk about it. So, to be specific, my youngest son (I have two boys) is autistic and has some considerable additional needs. For example he’s completely non-verbal (or pre-verbal I believe is the preferred term) and when he’s going through a bad patch my family’s life is essentially put into crisis mode, with all hands to the pump to help him through it. And even the ordinary, day-to-day challenges of raising an autistic child can be significant. And I love him to bits, needless to say, and he’s great in many ways, but any parent of an autistic child will tell you that it’s not without its challenges and moments of heartache.

And I would also say that in terms of my own mental and emotional state I’ve spent a long time over the last few years struggling with trying to come to terms with the situation I found myself in, because everyone who has children has certain hopes and expectations for their kids and when you have a child with additional needs you find yourself having to recalibrate those, in some cases quite significantly.

So that is essentially the reason why it has taken me so long to get new music out. And on that note, I’ve decided that I’m going to donate 10% of any vinyl and cassette sales of the album to a charity called My Canine Companion, which has been of great help to us.

Sorry, that didn’t really answer your question but I wanted to mention it as I have been wrestling for a while now with how much to say about that if I was asked about it. To actually answer the question, I think there are some really poppy, catchy moments on the new album and also some weird glitchy psychedelic moments. There’s properly polished stuff and some scratchy, lo-fi moments. Some of it is quiet and folky and some is pretty noisy. Basically a bit of everything I like.

Garrett Laurie: “Chords sounds like colours to me”

Delving into areas ranging from queer identity to mental health, Garrett Laurie‘s latest EP ‘Can I Play Too, Or Is It Just For Boys’ is the follow up to ‘Barbies with Betty Finn’, released back in 2020. Recorded using Voicenotes, it has an unusually raw 80s vibe that manages to be simultaneously introspective and exploratory.

The EP came out in September, and since then I’ve had the chance to chat with Garrett about the stories and themes that he draws together on the EP, and why he chose them. I find him in articulate mode, as he examine his music and how it relates to society more broadly…

First of all, congrats on the new EP. It has some fairly stark themes in it, reflected in the title, of course. Can you tell me a little about these?

I think the title pretty much summarises the themes and sonic direction of the EP. Most of the tracks are layered and full of harmonies, ad libs and doubled vocal parts over instrumentals my co-producer and I
crafted really carefully. I wanted to create a layered cinematic world to echo the sentiment of the EP title- questions about identity and sexuality and how the two are connected…and also the unwritten rules within gender identity that still exist even today.

Are the tracks on the EP generally an exploration of your life experience, or looking more broadly at the experiences of a community?

They’re about both. When writing, I usually begin with my own experience and think about how it relates to queerness and gender or even just general unfairness in the world. I have to consider other people’s experience in my writing or I feel guilty and self indulgent. I like the idea of someone coming across my music and relating in some way – there’s a sense of purpose and all of my favourite artists write in that
way too.

Do you think the arts scene has become more accepting of differing identities in recent years?

I think it is getting better, especially in the past two or three years maybe. I don’t think it is all the way there yet though. I still pick up on that ‘boys club’ mentality in the music scene unless I’m in a creative space specifically targeted toward people in the LGBTQ+ community. There are so many quiet expectations people have when you’re a queer artist; that it’ll be used as a gimmick, or as the signifying trait of your music. There are so many creatives now who defy this though, so I try to focus on that.

Can you tell me where your musical style is drawn from – what are the key things that play into the way you construct melody?

One of my favourite things in music is when a sad melody or riff is included in an uptempo song, where if you slowed and stripped back the song that sadness might seem much more clear. I gravitate toward that
naturally in my music as those are my favourite moments that I’m always conscious of while writing.

Are you consciously looking to great vast cinematic soundscapes?

Sometimes. I think leaning into that too much is tempting though and I often have to pull back as I come to the final few mixes. I usually have abstract cinematic moments and visuals in mind from the very early stages of a new song. Chords sound like colours to me so whatever tone I’m trying to capture, I usually use that as a guide too.

Rory and the Island: “I can see the sunshine having an effect on next year’s writing already”

Rory ­Gallagher , photo by Tom Honan.

Rory Gallagher (who, for reasons that I’d imagine are obvious, doesn’t perform under that name) has had an unuusal career. Originally from Donegal, for whom he wrote the iconic GAA track ‘Jimmy’s Winning Matches’, he built a solo career as ‘Rory and the Island‘, the island being a reference to where he usually played, his own bar in a Spanish island resort.

Rory did, eventually, step away from the island to set up in Scotland, only for Covid to put a wrench in his plans for an Edinburgh live venue. Instead, he’ll shortly be back in Lanzarote doing things the way he used to. First, though, there’s an Irish tour to enjoy, and a celebration of the fact that while it all appeared to be going wrong, Rory made the most of the last few years instead. I caught up with him ahead of the release of the new EP ‘Centre Comes Together’. He plays Opium, Dublin, on December 10, as well as several other Irish gigs in December and January (tickets here).

First of all, last time I was talking to you, you had just had to abandon a venue project in Scotland. How’s the fall out been?

Well, 2020 seems like a long time ago now, i think we are maybe pushing it to the back of our minds as much as possible too! Haha, so I am well over it at this stage. It led me down such a different path with spending more time on my writing and opening my eyes to the world of online music performance . In January 2023 we will be opening a little music bar in PDC, Lanzarote and i will be broadcasting gigs into it live from my living room here in Scotland … so i will never learn!

Did you ever settle back into life in Ireland, musically speaking, and how does your experience over the last few years link in with your move to Lanzarote?

Yes, I have been selling more tickets and performing more than i ever did before as a solo artist, so I cannot complain, I had to re-adjust my mind as I had become so soft… In Lanzarote everywhere seems to be just a 15 minute drive away so i got such a shock to my system in my early 40s having to drive 4 or 7 hours to gigs again. It’s strange that now I quite enjoy it and I get a lot of things sorted in my head when I am just driving.

How did those lockdown online shows help move you forward?

It got my music across to a lot more people, when they were literally a captive audience! The likes of my spotify went from around 500 listeners a month in 2019 to 15k by 2022. I think it also helped me more in the talking/presentation side of the show as those lockdown gigs are kind of like hosting a radio show or something similar at times, lots of requests and shoutouts.

Obviously the world of Spanish island music has been a huge part of what you do over a long period. Do you anticipate a change in your style of music again once your back?

I can see the sunshine definitely having an effect on next year’s writing already, although it really is hard to predict life, I had a breakdown and wrote some of my darkest material in 2010 when i was in Lanzarote. Sunshine really is a state of mind.

Bright Falls: “‘Dusk’ is a divorce record”

Thurles outfit Bright Falls tackle their fears in latest single ‘Come Of Age’, with debut album ‘Dusk’ just around the corner. Their mix of influences, which includes grunge and The Grateful Dead, make for an inventive and varied rock sound with a nice spattering of mellotron along the way.

I talked to vocalist Eddie McCormack ahead of the album’s release, and he went in-depth on the story behind the album…

First of all, congrats on the new record. Tell me about the story behind it…

Thanks. The idea for ‘Dusk’ came from a song that I had written in 2019, which we had recorded and released in 2020, called ‘The Widows’ Homes’. After writing that song I just wanted to tell more of the story. I felt like that track needed a beginning and an end in the form of a full LP.

Dusk is a ‘divorce’ record told from the perspective of someone who struggles to come to terms with the break-up of the relationship. So it’s a journey from nostalgia to heartbreak to the fear of being alone and eventually finding clarity. A lot of this was inspired from other break-up records like Springsteen’s ‘Tunnel of Love’, ‘Kanye West’s ‘808’s & Heartbreak’, and Turnover’s ‘Peripheral Vision’.

Can you tell me a story or two from the tracks on the record – what are they about?

The opening track ‘Dusk’ is about the early days of the relationship, It’s basically the protagonist being caught in a nostalgia coma and almost refusing to face up to the fact that the relationship is disintegrating in front of them. As much as it is about nostalgia it is also about confusion and desperation and hoping for reconciliation.

One of my favorite tracks from the record is ‘Settling’, this is where the character finally realises the relationship is finished. From here they go into basically a downward spiral. This song has a lot of angst. The protagonist is looking back on the relationship with a view that it was essentially doomed from the start. It’s really hopeless, maybe a little melodramatic too. But I enjoy that.

Do you feel the full length record builds on the story of Bright Falls, and how?

I feel that Dusk is much more representative of what I want Bright Falls to be. Our first release was an EP and it’s pretty much worlds away from what Dusk is. I have written hundreds of songs but this was the first time I actually wrote an album. The first release was definitely a learning curve for figuring out what I wanted to represent me as an artist. At the moment I am writing LP 2 and it’s going in a different direction from what Dusk is. But I guess that’s the fun in songwriting for me, being able to see your growth as an artist and expressing yourself in a way that’s true to yourself.

It’s fairly unusual to see an Irish act cite The Grateful Dead – how do they play into what you do?

That was for our track Come of Age that we recently released. Come of Age was written around the same time as The Widows’ Homes, so around 2019, and I remember getting into a lot more of The Grateful Dead in 2018, I Think I had American Beauty and Workingman’s Dead on rotation back then. For Come of Age I had this riff, and I felt like it was something Jerry Garcia would play and I tried to inject some of the Dead into that track… I’m not sure how much of a Grateful Dead vibe anyone gets off that song but they were an influence for sure when approaching guitar parts for that track.

Pastiche: “lockdown was a weird kind of blessing for an artist like me”

Pastiche is a Dublin-based pop singer who’s keeping her real name quiet, for now. Having stormed onto the scene with a series of lockdown singles, her early experiments with the fringes of the pop scene have a slightly offbeat feel, blending electronic leanings with punchy lyrics and a big, boisterous sound.

The journey has already taken her far enough to be booked into the iconic Academy venue before having played a single live show.

“It’s been crazy,” she says. “Such a rollercoaster. It was interesting trying to navigate releases in a fully online world when we were in lockdown. I released my first single ‘Chasing Down The Fame’ in November 2020, mid-pandemic, and just tried to work it out as I went along.” 

“I’m lucky to know a lot of people in the industry who really helped me find my feet, but if I’m being fully honest, lockdown was a weird kind of blessing for an artist like me. The whole world was at a standstill and I had all this time on my hands. It genuinely felt like I was working with borrowed time and so I could write, produce, plan, strategise and conceptualise a lot of work in a pretty short time.” 

“I do believe making the most of this helped me to achieve in just one year what a lot of new artists take years to do independently. Between my streaming and radio numbers and press coverage, everything I put all that time and energy into is really beginning to pay off. I was lucky enough to play an intimate gig in The Workmans Club as well as my sold out debut headliner in Whelan’s in November.” 

“I plan on doing many more shows in 2022 and next summer I’m going to hit the festival season hard! I am fully aware that things can change in an instant, but because I came up in this really weird time I feel able to navigate it. It’s unconventional but I’m not a conventional artist and I don’t plan on changing that anytime soon.”

Windings: “At the time of writing the album, things were gone a bit askew in the world”

Limerick rockers Windings have been on a particularly raucous Irish circuit for some time, but they refuse to stand still. Latest album ‘Focus On The Past 5’ is their latest evolution, a product of the band’s progression, but also of their broader context, and Irish society itself.

“At the time of writing the songs for the album, things were gone a bit askew in the world,” they say. “This was pre-pandemic, as we had this album written by late 2019 and ready to record for Summer 2020. This didn’t work out, of course. But that time was a heady time of turbulence, unrest, and righteousness. There was a feeling in the air that we were almost at some tipping point, I felt. This feeling is reflected in these songs. One of the songs, ‘This Is Fine’ was initially called ‘Rampant Disease’ until the start of 2020, which we then changed for obvious reasons.”

“It’s fair to say that this album represents the most collaborative effort of the band so far. All songwriting was shared, and there are even other members taking lead vocal duties on a couple of songs. This is new for us. We’re not really happy to stay in the same place as musicians. I mean, we’ll still probably be playing guitars, bass, drums and keys, but we don’t allow ourselves to do the same thing twice in terms of releasing new work. That makes us uninterested, and if we’re uninterested then our music will be uninteresting to play, and also to listen to.”

“Collaboration is very important in this band, as making music with other people is what we do,” they continue. “Pa has King Pallas, which has myself and Brian in it, as well as Jean Wallace and Marty (Anna’s Anchor). That’s Pa’s baby, and we just try to make the songs sound the best we can doing what we do. As individuals, we’ve worked in various capacities with Murli, Denise Chaila, Naive Ted, Powpig, Anna’s Anchor and more. Every collaborative project is a new door.  We’re musicians, we should be making music, otherwise what else is there?”

One particular collaborator Windings single out is Daniel Fox, a member of Gilla Band (until recently known as Girl Band), a collaborative star who is fast becoming a Dublin music scene icon. 

The Winter Codes: “we try to keep our music upbeat , catchy and fairly sing-along”

The Winter Codes are a folk duo fronted by Barney Murray, who also fronts Celtic punk band Blood Or Whiskey. Their new record, due out in August, is a tribute to the other member’s brother. David Walshe’s sibling Paul Walshe passed away a decade ago, and ‘Set The Darkness Reeling’ is a tribute to his memory.

Collaborations on the record include Daithi Meila from the Irish/ bluegrass band Jig Jam, folk singer Lisa Loughrey, and engineer Sean Montgomery. I spoke to the pair ahead of its release…

First of all, congrats on the new outlet. How does it differ from Blood Or Whiskey, style wise, from your perspective?

This album is way more folk-y than previous stuff. It is much less Punk and way more Pop influenced. It could be called Trad/ Pop.

I understand the whole record is a tribute to David’s brother. Did that make it emotional to record?

It did make it emotional for us, because I think that in the back of our minds we were thinking “what would Paul think of this?” I think that he would be very happy with the way it came out . We still miss him, he was a great brother and friend as well as being a brilliant musician.

Is any particular track on the record the most personal to you, and why?

The most personal track on the album for me is Friend In Tullamore. It is very autobiographical for me. I moved from Leixlip to Tullamore years ago and I feel that it was the town that gave me a second chance and maybe the song is my way of saying thanks for that.

What can we expect from the full length album when it comes out?

I think you can expect an album which is mostly original stuff from us with a few traditional songs thrown in. We try to keep our music upbeat, catchy and fairly sing-along because that is the type of music that we like to listen to ourselves. We put huge effort into getting the sound right and I think it shows when we listen to it now. The new single to be released along with the album is ‘Troublesome Girl’.

The Swedish Railway Orchestra: “It’s the SRO record I had the most fun making”

Rob Smith’s eclectic dance offering The Swedish Railway Orchestra face the challenging task of being a distinctly club focused act in a country where clubbing struggles.

Not that it’s held Smith back: with his latest album Dance to the Drum Machine on the horizon, he told us about some of the experiences music has already brought to him, including performing in Buenos Aires and Berlin, although this particular outfit simply doesn’t step into the live arena. His 2020 single ‘The Freaks Come Out At Night’ combines immediacy and vibrant beats, and was his greatest hit to date.

I caught up with Rob ahead of his latest release…

Dance To The Drum Machine is out in about a month. What can we expect?

It’s the Swedish Railway Orchestra record I had the most fun making. I felt on the previous album, the self-titled 3rd one, I put myself under pressure that I had to make a great album. This time around I felt more loose about it and the result feels like more of an album ideal to play at parties.

What’s your production process, and how do you experiment with your sound?

It really depends. I can be messing around with a synth and get a good sound and let that be the basis for a song. Or even just playing bass guitar and if I come up with a good little riff. Same goes if I’m messing with some vintage drum machines, I think to myself “oh, that sounds good. I wonder if I could build something around that?”. Sometimes it works, sometimes it really doesn’t. 

What about converting that sound into a live setting – how does that work for you?

The Swedish Railway Orchestra was always a project and not a live band. I set that out from the very start. I wanted it to be a project of music that was fun to make and fun to listen to. I didn’t want the pressures of travelling and playing, I had done that for years previously. This does make it a harder sell. It’s very hard to shift vinyl and CD’s if people can’t see this thing live. I’ve received some incredible offers to do it live over the years. Promoters looking to stick it on at some prestigious festivals, for example. So far I’ve managed to resist all temptation, but I’ve also said “never say never”.