Originally published in the Byline Interview section of the 2018/2019 University Express, by myself, Ciara Dinneen, Byline Editor, on Tuesday 18th September 2018.
From traditional trad trio to hip-hop, urban pop group Jonathan, Ronan and Ted grew up in Tullamore playing music together. Although coming from a traditional background, the guys spent the majority of their time listening to hip-hop and rap. In 2016 they began to work on making the kind of music that they loved and listen to. The result is Chasing Abbey, a unique blend of pop and hip-hop with a subtle yet distinctively urban-Irish influence. Jonathan spoke to the Express about the beginnings of Chasing Abbey and what this dynamic plan on achieving in the next few years.
Where does the name ‘Bee’ come from?
“Bee is my childhood nickname, so that’s where it comes from.”
Yourself, Ronan and Ted make up the trio that is Chasing Abbey?
“Yeah! Ronan, Ro, and Ted, Teddy C!”
I read somewhere that the three of you used to play trad together, so you come from a musical background.
“Yeah, we started off as young lads. Our families are Irish traditional sort of families in the music scene so we were brought up in that. I suppose it’s kind of the thing in the midlands, or in most places in Ireland really, that if you want to play music the first thing you play is trad, so you have your tin whistle lessons here and there, and there’s always a session or something going on, so that’s how we started. We actually met each other through that, and all happened to be in the same school, so it went from there.”
At what point did you decide to start pulling away from the traditional scene and start writing and creating your own style of music?
“I’d say it was around 2014. We were in cover bands together, so we were playing music together for a good few years before we started working on Chasing Abbey. We pulled away from all the cover bands around 2016. It was probably the start of 2016 when we said “ok we’re playing folk and trad, but when we go home we’re listening to rap and dance”. We felt we needed change, to start making music that we would listen to, so we cut involvement with other bands and the ‘ceoltas’, we got in a room for a year, bought a whole load of instruments and equipment and just started making music that we’d actually listen to ourselves. We didn’t actually know that we were working towards Chasing Abbey at the time. We hadn’t decided before we did all of this that we were going to form a group called “Chasing Abbey” and do all this sort of music. We just got into a room for a year and made tunes, and then Chasing Abbey just happened.”
Did you find that year of creating stuff difficult because the style is so different to what you had been playing before?
“Well, it was full of life; that year was full of energy. We had been stuck in this bubble of banjos and guitars and stuff, and the possibilities are endless. We had a lot of equipment available to us, like synths, so we could make any sound. It was a very interesting year. We never found ourselves bored. I suppose it was hard because we had to get used to all of the software and stuff, because usually we’re playing a physical instrument, but it was definitely a very exciting year. We still use a lot of the stuff that we wrote in that year today!”
The technical side of things must have been difficult to get used to, especially when you’re just so used to playing live…
“I did a year in music tech in LIT, so that helped us out a bit.”
Do all three of you work together with every aspect of your work, or would each of you have your own specific aspect that you’re best at and are responsible for? So, the tech-guy, the melody-maker, the lyric writer?
“An idea can come from any one of us; any one of us can come up with a lyric or a melody or something. It’s definitely very much a group effort, but when it comes to finalising stuff, I supposed I’d be on the programming and tech side, beats and stuff, while Ro would be on melody, and Ted would be on lyrics. A lot of the lyrics and stuff are co-written, there’s no set way, but when it comes to signing off on things, y’know…”
I read a bit about how you came up with the name Chasing Abbey, and it’s really interesting. Tell us about that.
“When we were in that room together for the year a lot of the tunes we were making were very pop, and so we started referring to that audience as “Abbey”. Abbey is genderless, ageless, and all that. It’s a nickname; we nicknamed the audience we were making tunes for “Abbey”. For months, whenever we made a tune, we would ask ourselves “Would Abbey like this?”. That’s how we gave a track the go-ahead or how we would decide if we should scrap it and start something else. That went on for ages, and when it came to picking a name, we had come up with loads of names but nothing was sticking, and everything was very new to us, all the names were very new. When one of us said “what about Chasing Abbey?” that felt very real because we had been referring to Abbey for so long, so then Abbey became like a symbol for ‘the dream’; Chasing Abbey, chasing the dream.”
Who would be your favourite popular artist at the moment?
“Kendrick. I speak for us all there.”
Who would be your least favourite popular artist at the moment?
“Ooh. Right, umm… I don’t know. I couldn’t tell you. I actually just don’t listen to anything I don’t like! If the other two were here (Ro and Teddy C) I’d probably be more quick fire but, no, I can’t answer that!”
What has been your favourite gig so far? The one that is most memorable.
“Our favourite gig of 2017 was 100% Indiependence. It was crazy. It was our first packed tent at a festival. We’ve played at festivals before, but only to half-filled tents y’know? I can’t remember what act it was, but whatever act was on just before us in another tent was literally just finishing before our scheduled time, and just a few minutes before our gig we were sat at side-stage being sound checked and all, and there was not one person in our tent, and were thinking “aw this is going to be terrible”. We had geared ourselves up and said “ok look, this isn’t going to be great, let’s just take it as a practice”… The next minute we turned around, the other gig had obviously just finished, and there were hundreds of people rushing into the tent! The tent was full. It filled up in that 5 minutes. It was the craziest feeling ever. Longitude as well this year was definitely another highlight so far. We have our Irish tour coming up this year so I’d say that’s going to top it.”
A lot of artists would agree that generally it’s the audience that makes or breaks a gig.
“Oh yeah, exactly, and the audience down south are just crazy!”
You’re all from Tullamore. Are you still based there?
“Yeah, we have our studio here in Tullamore. We’ll be here. We won’t move. We’ll go to and come back.”
Heart is there? In Tullamore?
Where would you, Chasing Abbey, like to be in five years’ time?
“We’ll make an album next year, then tour that album, and then (in five years’ time) we’ll probably be on a tour of the second album, a worldwide tour. In five years, that’s exactly where we’d like to be. Making tunes and playing gigs, that’s all we want to do.”
If you were lucky enough to have pocketed tickets for Chasing Abbey’s sold out gig in Cyprus Avenue on Thursday 20th September, it’s the first gig of their Irish tour so get ready to party because it’s going to be a great one.