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Emiji: “meditative music, being quite cinematic, was perfect, even though the audience may be super niche”

As a member of the increasingly impressive Difussion Labs, but you could be forgiven for immediately associating Emiji with their glorious array of hip-hop acts. That’s not the case, at least not on latest release ‘My Journey’.

The Polish-born, Dublin-based artist has instead written an extremely mellow, trippy ode to his love of psychedelics, a pathway, he feels, to improved mental health adn well being. Blending his experiences with chill out meditation and yoga, Emiji is an advocate for how alternative routes can change your life. As well as his music, he’s also quite a serious drone photographer.

I caught up with Martin to uncover what he’s all about…

First of all, can you tell me a little bit about your musical background?

I am pretty much a self-taught pianist, who took time to practice and study music theory and composition in my free time. I’m also a producer, and a trained engineer. I come from hip-hop, funk, house and jazz background musically, although I love neoclassical, cinematic soundtracks and psychedelic music.

Diffusion Lab seem to be everywhere at the moment. How did the project come about for you?

It was around 2015-ish, when I met Ivan, I knew Chris for years, and DFL was only at the very beginning. When I came to Ireland, I called Chris to see what he was up to and he introduced me to Ivan and told me all about the plans for DFL. After a short talk, we started working together. It’s been a journey, definitely.

Is there a real collaborative feel behind the Diffusion Labs acts?

I believe collaboration has a lot of meanings in music and in general. I actually had to learn to communicate and collaborate, as I’m a bit of a “loner”. I feel that DFL is a collaborative project and artists do help each other and other artists, as much as they can. It’s a lot about the vibe in the studio, and writing songs together.

Tell me about your own project – what is the story behind it?

Martin Emiji (Or simply Emiji) is my “other”, more personal side, where I explore more neoclassical, ambient, textural, and cinematic music, and a bit of digital art and photography.

After years of working on so many different styles of music, I wanted to go in a totally different direction. I tried to compose some classical stuff around 2007-2008 but it wasn’t even close to ‘good’. I wanted to explore my deeper and darker side, more mellow and sad, but also the side that appreciates life more, after my first psychedelic experience. This kind of music seemed like the perfect fit for that.

TYG: “The hostel have my guitar in storage, in case it’s used as a weapon”

TYG’s road to the world of music has been an unusual one. The Dubliner has always had a passion for writing and melody, but developed his sound and met people to record with during his time at Dublin music college BIMM. Simultaneously, as well as releasing singles this year, he’s made progress in his long-term recovery from addiction. The pandemic’s hit at the wrong time, however, and he’s found himself without somewhere to stay.

Now, living in emergency accommodation with his guitar under lock and key, he’s taking one of the more unlikely routes into a half-paced music, as he struggles to get his life back on track. A series of singles released this year introduced his sound – a brutally honest, folky take on life – but his latest addresses specific issues in his life straight on. 

‘Lord Do You Hear These Prayers’, out this week, focuses on things like sometimes feeling like giving up is just easier; a feeling of being beaten down but fighting on. It opens “living on the doll, living on the breadline,” and is about “clothing yourself and how you survive.”

“I released my first song at the start of this year,” he tells us. “That was basically down to meeting a lot of great musicians in BIMM, where I spent a year doing a CPD course, and they said they’d help me release a song. They really helped me make it reality.”

“The latest single is about addiction. It’s quite different to the other tracks I’ve released. I’m not literally quoting people, but I definitely use people I’ve met and places I’ve been to paint a picture.”

“I was in treatment for addiction and renting a place, so I was in treatment centres and then in recovery houses, sober houses,” Tyg says of his situation earlier this year. “I got clean and I’ve stayed clean. When Covid hit, I had moved from the recovery house to my own place. The landlord pulled out, and I’d already handed the keys back to the recovery house, so I couldn’t get back into my old place.”

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.”

Bitch Falcon: “in a sense, it’s nice to take a breather away from the ‘rat race’ of music”

Blending a grungy rock style with a full on wall-of-sound live set up, Bitch Falcon stormed onto the Irish music scene a few years ago with stonking, hard-hitting singles like ‘TMJ’ and ‘Clutch’, too heavy for substantial radio play, but capturing the heart of the rock scene.

Having taken five years from their debut singles to releasing an album, ‘Staring At Clocks’, though – a time period that has seen the band undergo a line up change and a solidification of the style – Bitch Falcon’s debut full-length feels like a considered launch.

“We feel like we’ve really solidified our writing process ahead of the album,” vocalist Lizzie Fitzpatrick explains ahead of the release, referencing the various styles the band take on board, including a growing poppy edge before joking, “we’ve gone soft.”

“You can hear a little bit of [new-ish member] Barry’s black metal on some of the album tracks,” drummer Nigel Kenny continues. “There’s some interesting guitar picking on there from some of his ideas, so you might hear a little bit of that.”

“We recorded the album with Deaf Brothers, at the Meadow Studio out in Delgany,” Kenny says. “They did the No Spill Blood albums, BATS and so on. It was recorded over ten days and then sent to Alex Newport in Los Angeles, who’s a Grammy nominated mixing artist who works with The Mars Volta and so on, established bands we really like.”

“That helped develop the sound, Alex put a particular vibe into it which we really like. It made a huge difference in terms of capturing the craziness and allowing it to be heard in the way we wanted.”

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…’.”

Dubh Lee: “Sonically, I was inspired by Led Zep’s The Lemon Song”

I interviewed Dubh Lee, below, via email. It’s something I’ve done a bit more recently, as absent the choice to talk face-to-face amid the covid crisis, I’ve found people are putting more time and consideration into written answers, but rarely do you receive answers as full and complete as the below, which give a real taste of the lively blues singer’s story so far (so I thank her for that!).

Her style is one that mixes blues, folk, and teenage rock influences into a distinct sound, one that grew vocally out of time busking on the streets in Germany and has slowly but surely established her on the Irish music scene.

Like everyone else, Dubh Lee has had a weird 2020, but topped it off with a beautiful single called ‘Carousel’ part of an EP recorded in Wicklow earloier this year. Here’s what she had to say…

Congrats on the new single. How was it releasing the track into this kind of situation?

Thank you! Honestly I’ve been chomping at the bit to put out some music this year so I enjoyed releasing the track immensely. I intended to have a whole EP out by the end of 2020 but the recording process got delayed due to COVID complications.

Carousel was recorded for the EP back in March before the first lockdown and I was excited to share it with the world so I decided to put it out as a single on November 20th in order to end this strange and trying year on a more positive note. Usually I’d plan a couple of gigs around a release but obviously that couldn’t physically happen this time. Other than the lack of a single launch gig the process was the same as usual – lots of time spent in front of the computer sending emails, posting updates on social media and the likes.

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.