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Dashoda: “Each song appears to me to be exploring a symptom or cause of self-sabotage”

Gavin MacDermott is better known, at least until now, as a producer, but his new solo project, Dashoda, sees him break out of the production realm and bare a little of his soul.

A deeply personal electronic project exploring themes like self-sabotage, and referencing the likes of The Blue Nile and Talking Heads, it’s one of the more unuusal and memorable pieces of music to come out of Dublin in recent months. I caught up with him to talk it all over ahead of the launch of the EP ‘Never Enough’.

First of all, tell me about ‘Never Enough’ and how it builds on ‘Sultan’?

Sultan is just one piece of a five part picture, four songs and the visuals which accompany them. The picture is only something I understood in retrospect to be a document about my experiences with self-sabotage. There were clues in the lyrics, and I can remember certain aspects of the process which might suggest this too, but I didn’t realise all of this until it was suggested to me by a friend and I had some distance between me and the EP. 

So, in a sense, the final two singles are the full reveal of the picture. Each song appears to me to be exploring a symptom or cause of self-sabotage: avoidance, self defeat, anxiety, procrastination. These are broad themes and I have no answers, but I do hope that whoever listens to it will project their own meaning on to them.

Musically, I would have taken a lot of inspiration from 80s bands I got into when I was 18 or 19, like Prefab Sprout and Japan. I just loved the sound of Juno synths, drum machines, and chorused guitars. I’ve never really shook any of that. Around the time I started making demos in Ableton in 2014 I had heard Benny Smiles’ music. He had a track out called Somehow Yours Do, which I loved. I was starting to learn more about other Irish artists making this kind of music and it started to feel possible for me then. 

Fast forward to 2020 and Ross Fortune (Benny Smiles) asked me to rework a new single he was about to release. I then asked him he be interested in doing some additional production and mixing on several tracks I had, and these tracks became “Never Enough”. 

How has your work with Jackie come about?

I’ve known Jackie for a few years and I was a fan of her music before we met. 

I had the chorus for Sultan since 2018 but I was never happy with the verse. I played it for Jackie and she vibed with it so we set to work on finishing the lyrics and arrangement structure. 

Are there more collaborations on the EP, or any you’d particularly like to put together?

Yes, my friend Jake Curran co-wrote ‘Fooling Around Again’ and ‘Roy Orbison’ with me and ‘Looking For You’ was a co-write with Richey McCourt. There is some additional production by Ross Fortune and he also mixed the EP. Each of these collaborators had a different approach which was fun. I think one of the reasons for collaboration was the pandemic. Lockdown was an isolating experience so it felt natural to have a project that involved other people to escape from that, whether working remotely or during the windows where we could meet up. 

Ror Conaty directed all the music videos and Mark O’Brien was also a creative consultant for the visuals. I see the EP as an audio/visual project, when I started to work with Ror and Mark the EP had been recorded and the visual project brought a lot more depth to it, for me anyway. 

I think my eyes have been opened to the friendship and camaraderie you can build with others through collaboration, so I will certainly seek out collaborators for my next project. 

Aimée: “My main inspiration all comes from Sweden”

Dubliner Aimée’s latest single ‘Nobody Else’ is a positive, upbeat, poppy number, and a tribute to her boyfriend. It comes at a time of rejuvenation: Aimée’s career is on the rise, after signing for Universal and gathering a substantial live and online following.

She’s taking things slow, though, focusing on a return to live stages after years away, something that was never going to be easy, as well as a series of singles that are intended to stand alone, before she drives slowly towards an album. Her primary influence is in the current wave of Swedish pop, something she’s incorporated into her production process. But for now, it’s all about the shows.

“The worst part was the nerves, as it had just been so long,” she said of returning to the stage in recent months. “My nerves got the better of me to start with, but as soon as I stepped on stage it was like I was never off. It was great, such a good escape from life. I had so much fun, I think you could tell by everyone’s faces that it had been too long.”

The latest single ‘Nobody Else’ also required a reopening, as Aimée went out to the spiritual home of her music.

“With the single, I went to Sweden to finish it off and it was my first time meeting my producer in person, instead of virtually,” she said. “Finishing the song together was just the best. Swedish pop is my bread and butter, every producer, artist, anybody who is my main inspiration all come from Sweden, so it makes sense for me to go back to basics and go to what I see as the pop capital of the world.”

Such opportunities are linked to some degree, of course, to that sign up with behemoth label Universal.

“Universal have, from day one, treated me as the captain of my own ship,” Aimée told us. “I decided what I want to release, and I’m just so lucky that they’ve been so supportive. You hear horror stories about labels making artists make music they’re not passionate about. They back me 100%.”

Eleanor McEvoy: “I honestly do not know how new bands and artists are managing”

Eleanor McEvoy’s long career at the core of the Irish music scene has seen her take on several roles: a popular performing and recording artist, sure, but also a spokeswoman, particularly as head of the Irish music industry body IMRO, where she fights for musician’s rights. That’s been particularly pervasive recently, but it’s not been everything, and neither has her weighty early career hit ‘Only A Woman’s Heart’.

“There have been many, many positives,” McEvoy says of her personal experience over the last couple of difficult years, despite her concern for the wider music industry. “I had been constantly touring over the last thirty years with very little rest or timeout. I’ve always had a very strong work ethic, but during the pandemic, I learned how utterly vital it is to have down time in your life.”

“For the first time ever, I had dedicated time to create, write and record. It’s given me great clarity of thought and it’s put me in a very good place mentally.” 

A personal output of the downtime has been McEvoy’s new single, entitled ‘South Anne Street’. “South Anne Street has long been a regular haunt of mine from the days of the Coffee Inn and many numerous, brilliant pubs all around that area,” she says. “One day, a couple of years ago, at the corner of South Anne Street coming towards Grafton Street, I bumped into an ex-boyfriend from thirty-ish years ago.” 

“It was both very weird and very wonderful. We decided to walk a few steps away to Harry Street, over to McDaid’s Pub (where we would have gone in the old days), where we spent a lovely afternoon and then went our separate ways. During lockdown, that encounter with my ex kept coming into my mind, hence the writing of the song.”

It’s way back in the early part of her career, though, where McEvoy felt she was able to establish herself, a scenario she feels is denied acts that have followed in her footsteps.

“The biggest change is the lack of income due to the shift to streaming and the ridiculous cost of rent and housing in Dublin,” she says. “When I started out, I lived in a bedsit in Rathmines. My rent was cheap and it allowed me to establish myself as a freelance musician, singer and songwriter. I honestly do not know how new bands and artists are managing to do it now. It’s a travesty, we risk losing so much great talent.”

Niamh Regan: “It’s pretty surreal, to sing a song you wrote in your bedroom on national television”

Galway’s Niamh Regan has been, unquestionably, one of the rising stars of the Irish music scene over the last couple of years. Considered by many to be a ‘surprise’ inclusion on the 2020 Choice Music Prize shortlist for her memorable debut album ‘Hemet’, she’s gone from strength to strength, delivering a delicate and poignant form of folk with clever, nuanced lyrics.

Since that debut, Regan did, eventually, manage to get out and tour the record, and appeared on one of those surreal versions of The Late Late Show that lacked the traditional audience, performing to both almost no one, and half the country, all at the same time. She’s back in 2022, both with a series of tour dates, and with a new EP entitled ‘In The Meantime’.

“The four songs on this EP were written during the first and second lockdown here in Ireland,” Regan explains. “I was listening, reading and watching a lot more so subconsciously that would have influenced the shape of the stories and themes in these songs.” 

“More consciously I was intentionally trying to capture the atmosphere and thoughts around me during lockdown, dealing primarily with an appreciation for everyday and ordinary acts of love, frustration, lack of control and I guess worry and joy in spots, too.”

The debut single from the EP is entitled ‘Winter in Eden’, and centres on a collaboration with Ciaran Lavery, a Northern Irish musician whose vocal approach to music is as subtle and enchanting as Niamh’s. 

“Ciaran is a dream to work with. He’s one of my favourite lyricists and I really admire his work ethic and music so it was a privilege to co-write ‘Winter in Eden’ with him,” Niamh says.

Work with Lavery, perhaps, is part of the new-found confidence that has flooded through Regan since her career-boosting Choice Prize nomination.

“The nomination helped my own self belief in my music which has made my musical life all that more colourful and fun,” she says, though the normal route to market for ‘Hemet’ unfolded slowly, with the tour finally coming much later than the record. 

Fia Moon: “I bare my soul completely”

Fia Moon’s brand of pop is a beautiful blend: deeply personal and emotional in nature, her songwriting grabs elements of the pop of the 60s, focusing heavily on distinctive and breathtaking vocals, but not afraid to tell sometimes heartbreaking stories.

As an Irish artist based in London, Moon’s slow-rolling her early work, releasing singles infrequently and away from the hubbub that the music industry often demands. She’s made a conscious choice not to chase the “right now” that the scene can evoke, and instead to build a catalogue as she works towards an album when the time is right. It’s worked: just a few songs in, spread over years, Moon has a reputation for meticulous and beautiful quality.

“Like all my music, the single is quite personal,” Moon says of latest release ‘By Now’. “I wrote it with DAY_S the very first time we recorded a session, which I thought was unusual, we’d never met before, and we came out with this really personal song. We have a close friendship now from that day, and it means a lot.”

“It’s my first ‘all Irish’ collaboration, including the production, photos and video, so that’s been really nice,” she says. “I try not to think too much about the personal stuff. I think if I did I’d probably be terrified. It’s baring your soul completely, and the nature of my music means that I find it difficult to write in any other way. It doesn’t feel real, or natural. I try to take myself out of the equation once it’s written, and detach from it in order to release it. That doesn’t take away from the emotion. I couldn’t listen to one song, called ‘Falling For You’, without crying.”

Of course, loading that much personal emotion into music can be a huge positive, too. “I hope I can connect with people who’ve gone through the same thing through the music,” Moon says. “I’d like to build that, I hope people can find joy, solace and meaning in it all. Most of ‘By Now’ is one take, from a demo I’d recorded on my phone, except for a couple of lines in the chorus that I changed in the final production. Everything else is the first take, and that was an important part of maintaining the rawness and emotion of the song, which is about finding out my ex had a new girlfriend. I was surprised to find that it stung the way it did.”

“I can’t overthink these things,” she continues. “The more I overthink the music, the less the emotion works. I’ve come to the conclusion it’s best to let it be, to go with your first shot.”

Moon goes on to talk about the dichotomy of music and attempts to succeed in it. “There’s that strange balance of trying to get discovered on social media, but also remembering that the heart of it all is art,” she says. “Most of my songs have come out during the pandemic, and that’s been a bizarre time. It’s been challenging but it’s kept me motivated and given me something to look forward to during these times. There are certain limits, of course, but you can make connections, and when things do come back around, it’ll be that much more sweet.”

As for the future? “I don’t think there’s ever going to be a perfect album, but I want to put something out that communicates what I feel like at that time. I’m writing all the time, working with different people and figuring out who I want to do a record with. I want to have some level of consistency across it, especially with production and mixing and so on. The songs I’ve released are relatively different, so I’m just gathering and assessing as I go, until I feel like it’s time.”

My Twisted Heart: “‘Heart Leak’ is about those unwanted emotions we try to suppress”

Hong Kong born, Cork-based artist Po Ki Ching is an amalgamation of the music of his past; both an exploration, and a soulful outpouring of his constituent parts. Currently studying at UCC, Ching performs as ‘My Twisted Heart’ part of Cork’s Outsider collective, in a style that fuses emo rock and quirky pop styles.

“The music scene in Hong Kong is pretty much pop oriented, where most tunes consist of melancholy/hopeless romantic themes,” he says. “I grew up consuming lots of “sad-love songs” which has had a huge influence on my lyrics and the type of music I make. As for my time in Ireland, I have gone to different gigs and shows and come across music from so many different genres like Electronic, Hip-Hop and Jazz etc. This has broadened my horizon and allows me to experiment with different styles.”

Part of that has been in collaboration, such as in new single ‘Heartbreaker’, where another local artist laid down the beats that Ching works on. “The beat for ‘Heartbreaker’, which is composed by Fantom, is the absolute soul of the track,” he says. “I felt so excited when I came across this amazing beat. The beat is so lively and energetic, which also gives me an anime theme song vibe, it just clicks with me right away. The lyrics for ‘Heartbreaker’ are very simplistic, as I didn’t want to overshadow the beat with too much of my vocals.”

The emotional side expands into My Twisted Heart’s forthcoming EP, entitled ‘Heart Leak’. “The concept of ‘Heart Leak’ is about these unwanted emotions we try to suppress deep down, but eventually it’s simply too much for us to keep bottled up,” he says. “The sadness, the fear, the uncertainties slowly leaking out, making us more and more vulnerable. ‘Heart Leak’ has songs about leaving someone or something behind, fear of uncertainty, and the fear of letting go. Ultimately, the project is about turning pain into beautiful songs.”

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.