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Sprints: “The breaks I’ve taken from music were the most difficult times of my life”

Poignant and political, embittered and abrasive, Sprints are a band right at the heart of Dublin’s ever-growing punk and post-punk scene, a gloriously stark evisceration of politics and exploration of the personal.

For frontwoman Karla Chubb, who’s been part of the Dublin music scene in various guises for years, the band represent a whole lot more than just the music: they’re a deep-dive into the issues that strike her, and a form of stark, loud therapy best performed on a stage. That outlook has unquestionably made lockdown a little difficult, though not so difficult it’s prevented the launch of several new singles as the band await a return.

Their penchant for mixing spoken word segments with their music gives Sprints a calm-meets-storm effect, a distinctive style all their own.

“Our music is made to be performed live and we write it as an emotional outlet, on stage is where we really let loose,” Chubb says. “It’s weird not to play. Live can also be a real trial space for music, you test it and see how the audience reacts, and it’s a gauge for whether you’re writing the right stuff. Without it, for me there’s a lot of imposter syndrome.”

The writing has continued throughout lockdown, though not in quite the same fashion as normal.

“I do write in quite a solitary way some of the time,” Chubb explains, “but we’ve become so much more collaborative in recent years. We can express what we’re feeling through music, chords and riffs. The trap I wanted to avoid was writing about lockdown, really. It’s an obvious topic, but not an interesting one, I’m just sitting in my bedroom working.”

Odd Numbers: “I could easily spend a couple of hours searching for old soul or jazz samples to flip”

Odd Numbers is the stage name of Odhran O’Brien, a Carlow man currently working hard in the sparkling North Dublin Irish hip-hop scene, where his debut album ‘The Golden Éire Tapes Vol. 1’ serves up a shiny collaboration with many of the scene’s stars.

O’Brien’s role is in laying down the beats, with the likes of Hazey Haze, Local Boy, Sea High and Wallfella offering the lyrical backdrop. The result is a little like a compilation, held together by Odd Numbers’ consistently memorable backdrop.

“The idea was born from my goal of working with as many artists as I could” Odd Numbers explains. “I love collaborating with other people, not only because I can tap into their fanbase and connections, but because they can bring a whole new energy and feeling to a project. It also challenges me to create styles and sounds that I wouldn’t normally consider so I’m inadvertently levelling up my production skills in the process.” 

“Everyone involved in the project are artists that I’ve held in high regard for their creative output. A number of them are friends that I’ve made through gigging, while others are just dominating the scene in their respective areas.”

“Aside from the features, I really owe it to the Arts Council for bringing this project to life. It’s been a tough time for everyone involved in the music industry recently but they’ve been monumental in supporting independent artists like myself. It fills me with pride knowing that they saw promise in a collection of underground rap tunes.”

O’Brien is particularly taken with the local hip-hop scene in Swords and other areas of Dublin, and hopes to work towards expanding what’s going on.

Baba Music: “As a woman I have found you have to fight and fight to be heard”

Lyndsey Putt Photography

Siobhan Lynch – or Baba Music, when she’s performing – is keen to be an icon for social change, and that filters through to her music. Self-examining but also socially conscious, she writes music that reflects where her heart sits, and explores her impact on the world, and the world’s impact on her.

In new single ‘Keep You Safe’, for example, Lynch reflects on the vulnerable and how she can be there for them, pouring her beliefs into the words she delivers.

“‘And they try to shame the skin you’re in, until you shed. Black, white, fat, trans, perfect 10, they’re afraid’… I love these lyrics from the new track ‘Keep You Safe’,” Lynch tells me. They came to me really quickly after writing the melody.” 

“As a woman I have found you have to fight and fight to be heard and listened to. We are always too fat, too skinny, too loud, too quiet. The list goes on. So for me, accepting that this might be a fact of life gave me a certain freedom, I could let myself off the hook a little, everything wasn’t always my fault. Unfortunately it is a way of the world, not to say that it’s right or should be tolerated but to think in those terms, makes it easier to keep fighting to be heard…”

It’s not just the single that will reflect these beliefs. As Lynch moves forward – both back towards performing live, and with the production of a record she hopes might appear some time next year – she will continue to address her own realities deeply within her music.

“I find it difficult to write about anything that hasn’t affected me, everything I write about are things I’ve heard, seen or felt.” Lynch says. “I am an extremely curious person, I go to counselling once a week and I love finding out about what makes me feel a certain way, or why I might behave or react in a certain way and that really helps my writing.” 

Siobhra Quinlan: “It’s fascinating to me that mythology and folklore continue to be echoed throughout popular culture”

Performing under the name sfiiinx, Siobhra Quinlan is a real rarity in Irish music. While she finds her roots in plenty of mythology, using her music to tell spectacular tales, she takes her grounding in classical techniques, straddling the gap between contemporary chamber pop and classical performative arts.

As she works towards her LP ‘The Magma Chamber’, Quinlan joined us to reflect on her style of music and its place in modern Irish culture, and talk about new single ‘Changeling’.

“It’s fascinating to me that mythology and folklore continue to be echoed throughout popular culture, rendering time or eras irrelevant, as we find traces of ourselves or our stories in archetypes or myths,” Quinlan said. “I also find it fascinating that mythology serves as a framework for us to project the complexity, ugliness and beauty of existence onto, which appeals to me as a medium through which one can exorcise their demons.”

“‘Changeling’ is threaded together by a few different fragments. One of those is the myth of Philomela, which to me, is the most brutal and disturbing of myths. Philomela, has been raped by her sister’s husband Tereus. He then cuts out her tongue to silence her. Unable to speak, Philomela weaves the truth of what happened into a tapestry, which is how her sister learns of what has become of Philomela.” 

“The myth continues to darkly tangle itself. The sisters are then liberated from their human existence, and transformed into birds – Philomela, a melodious nightingale, finally, singing freely. Woven with this thread, among other things, is also another myth of sorts in that I found out nearly a decade ago that the meaning of Síobhra is not just a “fae” but a “changeling.” Which I was initially not so cool with, but I have since embraced.”

“I’m not certain that there is a great market for this stuff in Ireland,” Quinlan says. “And I’m not entirely sure where my music will end up finding a home, but it’s not something that enters my mind when I’m creating my work. Whilst it’s certainly not the most industry-savvy approach. I’m comforted by knowing that I’m never playing to the gallery, or bending my musical language to piggyback on to a certain genre, style or audience.”

Ailbhe Reddy: “I choose to put myself out there”

Every so often, an album comes along that’s dripping with beautiful personal stories and perspectives, and captures hearts. Ailbhe Reddy was a regular on the Dublin music scene, but not a star member, when she released her debut album ‘Personal History’ last year.

A slow-builder of a record, it evokes emotional takes on her own life to tell stories, and captures something of what it is to be young and slightly vulnerable and facing into the world. Nominated for the Choice Music Prize last week, Reddy missed out on the win, but will have gathered plenty more love for her delicate performance for the event, highlighting some of the album’s finest moments. There’s no question she’ll be emerging from the current crisis, ultimately, performing shows to much larger audiences than when it all started.

“It was my first album obviously, so I suppose I don’t have a frame of reference,” Reddy says looking back at her debut record. “Releasing during a pandemic was tricky. I had the album finished in September 2019, so the world I released it into was very different to the one I envisioned.” 

“We spent the first few months of lockdown having deals taken off the table and tours cancelled, so by the time I released Personal History I was just excited to get it out into the world. It was just before another major lockdown so I was lucky enough to be able to go for dinner and celebrate a bit!”

“I really loved all the messages of support I received from people and hearing about how people connected to the music in different ways. I’ve always said that you can put out the most personal song in the world, but once other people hear it they project their experiences onto it and it becomes a bit less yours everytime you play it.” 

“I have definitely tweaked a few lyrics to hold things back,” she says of the more personal side of her music. “Not for myself, I don’t really mind because I choose to put myself out there.  But I would definitely take out anything that identifies someone else too clearly, as other people don’t choose to be part of someone else’s songs, so that always seems a bit unfair!”

Sam Wickens: “My music is always a face to face meeting with some sort of demon I’ve had rummaging around in my head”

Sam Wickens by Nathan Magee

Sam Wickens new EP ‘Watson’ was never meant to be. The Bangor man’s new record was originally something deeply personal, never intended to see the light of day. Now, it’s out in the world, and the way Wickens has poured his heart out is the strength of it. Having won comparisons to the likes of Jeff Buckley and Death Cab For Cutie, Wicken’s heart works best when it’s on his sleeve.

“The EP started as part of a passion project,” Wickens explains. “I began writing and recording a few songs to get some therapeutic release from them. I was in a terrible place and needed to try and work out thoughts and problems I was having at the time.”

“At the start of 2020 I was in such a better place and returned to these songs and had an overwhelming feeling that I had to share these stories and experiences, we finished recording the songs and they just created a body of music that was so tightly knitted together.”

Single ‘Murky Waters’ is a particularly poignant one for Wickens, in that it sees him bare his soul with total transparency. “My music is always a face to face meeting with some sort of demon I’ve had rummaging around in my head. I find that the entire process is incredibly helpful towards coming to terms with what the song was about, especially through the video process as it becomes a lot more in depth to the visual scenes and that can stem a lot of thoughts towards the original mindset of when I was writing the song and it was quite raw.”

““Murky Waters is the realisation that I was raised and put through terrible circumstances. Constantly feeling alone through every obstacle that was placed in front of me. Traumatic events seemed to follow me no matter where I ran, I started to believe that I was some sort of gatekeeper, that my purpose was to absorb the terrible things so others didn’t need too.”

“I love the visual side of things, I have released a music video for ‘Strange.24’ and one for ‘Murky Waters’ and that has been an incredible experience to be a part of. I love tattoos and have many but I only get writing tattooed on me, my girlfriend is a Tattoo Artist so I see a lot of the work that goes into drawing and designing which is incredible to witness! I find Mixed Martial Arts is a creative output as well, You get to be creative in the way of what Fighting style to use, when to mix it up, how to be unpredictable and follow a rhythm then change it.”

Brídín: “I’ve learned very quickly not to take the little things for granted”

SLIGO NATIVE Brídín is the product of generations of music. Born into a trad-loving family, the harpist engaged with more modern sides of music once she got to studying at UCC. Now finds herself in the relatively unusual role of a modern harpist, producing a sound that would be unrecognisable to many trad fans, utilising modern studio and stage techniques to play with her sound.

“When I was studying music at UCC, I learned a lot about all different genres of music,” she says. “That’s where my mind was musically opened. I went on to do a masters in performance at UCC after and that’s when I started writing my contemporary pieces, with my loop pedal and effect pedals. I’m not trying to be ‘contemporary harp’, I just write what I like to hear, and it turns out to be contemporary. I’m so glad people are liking it so far.”

“I’m a fourth generation Irish traditional musician, so the mainstream of music I was surrounded by was Irish traditional music, choral and pop,” she explains.

“I was surrounded by music growing up luckily, because of my amazingly musical mother, Aileen. Mam would take us around playing music in different places and we’d teach ourselves tunes at home. I still love and play lots of traditional Irish music.”

On the ‘Ocean Of Stars’ EP, Brídín does dip lightly into trad elements, but quickly reveals far more substantive modern leanings. A track entitled ‘The Salmon’s Tale’ is closest to her childhood roots.

“I think my music has its own life, with little flavours of different genres.”

Rory and the Island: “We’re just hanging in there, writing music.”

IF THERE’S one man whose 2020 might just sum up the wider feel of this year, it might be Donegal singer-songwriter Rory Gallagher (no, not that one). Known by his stage name ‘Rory and the Island’, Gallagher has fashioned a career as an alternative, self-propelled artist whose music touches on folk, occasional balearic beats, pop, cover songs, and even popular off-the-wall Donegal GAA anthem ‘Jimmy’s Winning Matches’.

Rory and the Island are named for the singer’s big adventure: he upped sticks and established himself running a bar, ‘The Island’ on Lanzarote, where he performed nightly for years, established a following spread across Europe, made up of his bar’s holiday guests. There were five albums in amongst it all. Before that fronted popular Dublin indie-punks The Revs.

In 2018, though, he packed that up as unsustainable with a young child. This year, he looked to set up a music bar in Edinburgh, his partner’s hometown. All set to move in, the coronavirus hit. The rent became unsustainable, and Gallagher ended up back in Donegal, a little lost.

“Lanzarote had run its course,” Gallagher recalled. “It gets a bit groundhog day after a while on the Canary Islands, and it starts to grate on you. You accidentally drink quite a bit of alcohol. We were done, so we moved back to Donegal in 2018.”

“I had a bit of a cult following, so I did gigs to 100-150 people in places like Manchester, Limerick, and so on. It was a lot of travelling, so we decided to do something more stable, and that was where Edinburgh came in, with a place called The Wildcat.”

“We’d signed a five year lease, and moved over at the start of this year. It was all set up, with PA, lights, and so on, and then covid hit before the official opening. After a couple of months we had to let it go. We’d have been in a hole by 60 or 70 grand. It was a communal disaster, I felt, lots of people handed their keys back. It was a weird year, and we’ll have to deal with it all later. At least we didn’t buy the place.”