A chat with Hayden Strong, of Manus Lux Tattoo

You know when you meet someone, even just briefly, a friend of a friend, and you’re left thinking damn, that person – they leave you feeling curious, happy, interested, a mixture of all these things, about your own life as well as themselves. That’s what it was like meeting Hayden, 26 year old SF based tattoo artist with an attitude towards life so relaxingly positive that I got thinking about why we feel almost surprised when we hear people saying how happy they are with where they are in their lives in any given moment – no complaints, entirely content. Why is that unusual? It shouldn’t be, because it’s what we all thrive for. Anyways, that’s a vain for another post.

Before parting ways (glass of wine at my favourite wine bar, Fools Errand, finished), I asked Hayden if I could have a chat with him some time, do an interview for the blog, and he agreed. So I visited Hayden at the studio, Manus Lux, which means ‘light hand’, beautiful name, yesterday, and not only did I get to sit down for a chat with Hayden, I got a tattoo – myself and Hayden designed it together, and Hayden drew it up in a matter of a few minutes (no easy task, as the design included two of the hardest things to draw – straight lines and a hand). It was exhilarating, deciding on, designing and getting a tattoo all within a few hours, and while some would argue that it’s irrational and impulsive, it didn’t feel like it. It isn’t a random design, it very much means something to me – a floating violin bow over an open palm hand – and it is clear from his work that nothing about Hayden’s art is rushed.

@haydenstrongart

Why tattooing?

“I’ve always been an artist – painting, drawing, traditional art. I went to art school for a little bit but it’s just so expensive, it didn’t work out, so I left that. That was in New York City, I was living there, learning traditional art, but I saw the writing on the wall with money, it’s so hard to make a living in this country as an artist, at least a traditional artist. So I saw tattooing as a good way to support myself – it’s a good job, it’s pretty cush, pretty plush y’know – it’s hard in a lot of ways, like taxing mentally, but physically it’s pretty good. I don’t have to break my back all day to make a living.”

@haydenstrongart

You get to make a living from doing what you love.

“Exactly, and it means so much to the people getting the tattoos – it’s cool dealing with that interaction all day. Most jobs you’re dealing with such a minimal interaction, like thirty seconds, ‘hey how are you doing’, and that’s it – but even if it’s just a little tattoo, we’re getting beyond that, I at least get to know a little nugget of their life. I really appreciate that part of it and the impact it has on people.”

And I imagine it isn’t a nine to five job, you make it work around what suits you?

“I’m pretty flexible. What’s cool about my shop is I just pay rent, whereas in a lot of tattoo shops it is more strict, like you have to be there at exact particular times. I still do like to hold hours, to be there and be available for people if they wanna come in and talk, but yeah, if I really need to take a day off it’s not an issue at all. I definitely don’t like waking up early too, so it’s good because I can sleep in until eleven everyday if I wanted. I don’t start work till noon – I’m never going to be in before that.”

@haydenstrongart

Have you ever tattooed yourself?

“I have. I have what I call a junk leg, it’s just experimental, like my first tattoo I did on there, and I’ve just been layering like crazy abstract black shit all over it – it’s fun to have a leg that you’re not as attached to, like a lot of my other work is really nice and refined but this leg is just like crazy experimental stuff.”

Have you ever regretted a tattoo?

“Not really. I’ve blacked out some stuff, so I have stuff covered up with just intense black, but I don’t regret anything. Every moment has led up to right now, so I can’t live with regret.”

Every moment has led up to right now, so I can’t live with regret.

@haydenstrongart

You just turned 26, happy birthday, and you were telling me that you feel the mid to late 20’s are the best years – why, and how so?

“I would say 25, 26, 27, like those are the best years. I wouldn’t say 23.”

How do you know, if you’re not done them yet?

“I just get a feeling – you get these blips of self awareness, like there was one very hard at 23, I got this blip of reflection, like a separation from my own ego and self – you realise something about your life and where you’re at. I got a lot of that at 23. When you’re 23 you develop this sense of respect for all the adults around you, and you’re old enough where you’re not like 18, when you can’t and are too young to relate to 30 year olds, but at 25, 26, 27 you’re in that nice golden period where you have enough experience with your job where you’re not clueless but you’re also still very young – and you’re still getting better looking everyday, you’re not yet on the decline.”

Have you longer-term plans or goals, are are you totally and completely content with where you’re at and are heading right now?

@haydenstrongart

“I think tattooing is good for now, for where I’m at in my life. I mean, long term I definitely want to keep pushing other artistic projects – I’m not single-facetted. Tattooing isn’t the only way I express myself. I wouldn’t say it’s how I express myself at all; it is a big part of my art but I have so many other projects.”

What are they?

“Basically I use all of my artistic skills for whatever project I’m working on and that could be any scale of painting, what people would call traditional art making, but it also translates to building stuff, so furniture and woodwork. Beyond that, bigger design projects on any scale – it’s limitless, it could be anything.”

@haydenstrongart

Do you think doing some kind of design course is on the cards, or are you not considering going back down the education route at all?

“I might consider it some day, but I’m a little cynical about the art school industrial complex in the US – it’s a little bit of a money scam. I’d have to get a crazy scholarship to the best school ever. I would totally consider it, though – I’m keeping an open mind. I’m concentrating on the present and not tripping out about what’s down the line. I’m a multi-facetted artist – I’m not like ‘tattooing is everything’ – it’s a good medium to work in but it’s not the end-all for me.”

Any general life advice?

“Find the right mentor. Listen to them, and be open to the process. Find something that’s going to work for you. Try and get over your fantasies as quickly as possible. Be ambitious, but be realistic too. There are a lot of fantasies pushed on kids by their parents, parents trying to live vicariously through their children, but you need to find something that’s going to work for you.”

Be ambitious, but be realistic too.

@haydenstrongart

A chat with Orla Gartland

For my last interview as Byline Editor of University Express, I had the opportunity of a brief but lovely chat with Orla Gartland ahead of her Cork gig in Cyprus Avenue in April. I saw Orla Gartland perform in Cyprus Avenue way back when in 2013 for the tour of her EP, Roots, so this was a nostalgic interview for more reasons than one.

Hi, Orla! How are you?

“Good, thanks. Currently sat in Manchester facing up to 2 weeks of neglected admin. Rock & roll.”

You are currently on tour with Dodie. How is it going?

“Really well, thanks. Dodie’s crowds are the best I’ve played to. I’ve learned so much about touring & feel more confident now about my live performance than I ever have before.”

You recently released a new single, ‘Why am I like this?’, it is a heart-wrencher in the beginning, and then picks up for the chorus (reflecting your bubbly self), and so relatable. What is behind this song – the thought process that brought about its creation and what you were expressing through it?

“THANKS! You charmer. The verses detail a couple of brief, regular real-life moments where I wish I’d acted differently, where I’d said or done something else in the moment. That’s me all over. Springsteen once described his song-writing with ‘The verses are the blues, the chorus is the gospel,’ – I wanted to try that with this song – the verses are specific to my own experiences, but I think the chorus line is something that rings through for a lot of people (especially the overthinking anxious types.. hey).”

You talk about moving to and living in London in a lot of your songs. How was that transition? What about it was daunting (if anything), and in what ways do you feel it was good for you?

“It was daunting but the best thing I’ve done. London is big & sprawling & terrifying but if you’re cut out for it I think it makes you work hard & fight for a career that you love – being around so many creative people really helps. I think if I stayed home I would have sat back and been content being the Most Talented Female Artist In Drumcondra, North Dublinwhereas now I feel more ambitious than that. I’m not quite set on world domination, but I’ve worked hard these last few years in London & built a great team around me – I guess the idea of a long career in music doesn’t seem so out of reach anymore.”

Patreon is something you use, a platform where fans can pay money to artists to receive extra content – in what ways has Patreon benefitted you? Do you feel it is important?

“Yeah, it’s a great platform. It works off the concept of patronage, an idea that’s been around a lot longer than I have. I run my Secret Demo Club on patreon – it’s a place where I send around original demos made in my bedroom to about 1000 people, who naturally are the people who care about my music most. So as well as a way of testing new songs out I can use the funds to tour and release more music without the need for a label – it’s a pretty revolutionary model for independent artist.”

It was the tour following the release of your EP Roots back in 2013 that I saw you perform in Cyprus Avenue. How do you feel you as an artist have changed since then, since Roots, and also your music – in what ways do you feel it has developed? What is the same, if anything, and what has changed, if anything?

“Ah cool! The core elements have remained the same – guitar is my main tool for writing & performing, I’d like to think the song-writing has remained honest & true to my character.. naturally I think I’ve just grown up as a person and with it I’ve had a chance to hone my live skills & my writing skills. I’ve learnt to produce my own music which has really helped me refine my sound, too – back then I was proud of the songs themselves but confused about what kind of artist I was. I feel a lot more set on that now.”

What are your plans for the future? Can we look forward to more music soon?

“Yes! My next single is coming the first week of April, and I love it. That song and my last single ‘Why Am I Like This?’ are part of a project I’ll be announcing soon!”

Orla Gartland, photo by @emilymarcovecchio via instagram

Published in the 2018/2019 University Express, Issue 10, by Byline Editor, Ciara Dinneen.

A chat with Tim Wheeler of Ash

Having recently released the seventh studio album of their 26-year long career, Islands, in May, Ash are still around, are still touring Europe and Asia, and still going strong on all fronts. If you haven’t heard of them, Ash are a three-piece rock band from Northern Ireland whose endurance and consistency has won them the quit-but-firm position as one of Ireland and the UK’s most loved rock bands. Giving a whole new meaning to the concept of never changing, Ash have remained steadily on their particular wave and style since day one. Delighting their fans with yet another trustworthily great album, described as “an open-hearted set of songs dealing with love and loss, friendship and betrayal, identity, salvation, redemption and rebirth… all the important stuff” and promised to be “the strongest, most exhilarating long player” of Ash’s career, Islands certainly delivers, reaffirming the trio’s status as one of the most idiosyncratic and singularly thrilling guitar bands to originate from Ireland.

We got to speak with Ash frontman Tim Wheeler while the band were in Milan on their tour back in November. Although Ash’s album came out in May, their touring was a little later than it usually would be after an album release, it being the beginning of festival season.

You guys played at a few Irish festivals this summer. Which one was your favourite?

“Electric Picnic, that was really fun. We played on the Friday this year. We only played there for the first time last year on one of the smaller stages, but this year we played on the main stage so that was great! We played a festival in Belfast, The Biggest Weekend, and that was on a Titanic slipway – that was cool because that was like a punk band show.”

You originate from Northern Ireland, but where are you all based now?

“I’ve been in New York for thirteen years now. Mark lives there too, and we’ve got a studio in Manhattan as well. Rick lives in Edinburgh, so we get together whenever we need to.”

You guys go way back. How did Ash come about all those years ago?

“We started in school. Myself and Mark started a band when we were twelve years old. It was a heavy metal type band, we were trying to be heavy metal… We struggled with that for a few years and then we discovered more alternative rock stuff like nirvana in ’92, so we started ASH with Rick then. So, it started in school and we’ve been playing ever since really! We were fifteen when we formed, and then we were seventeen when we got a record deal and started getting away and touring the mainland, and then it all kicked off in ’95 when we brought out ‘Girl from Mars’ – that’s when we started touring all over the world.”

Do you think the music industry has changed much between now and then, at least from your experience? Do you think it’s harder nowadays to make it?

“I think so, yes. I think there was more of a music industry, as in there was more money, I think in it that would help bands and young artists to develop. I think now you have to be quite clever and economical. Touring when you’re beginning is really expensive – you can lose a lot of money. We’re lucky that we had different companies to support us back then. Having said that, there is a way – you can promote yourself on social media, you can do a lot more stuff yourself these days that you would have needed record companies and press agents to do for you back in the day. It is probably harder to sustain yourself as a young band these days.”

Do you think streaming sites like Spotify have made it harder for artists to make money out of their music and what they’re doing?

“I think Spotify is starting to bring more money into the industry, just that it doesn’t necessarily go to the artist. It’s definitely better than no income coming in. As opposed to people downloading for free, at least it’s still bringing money in. It’s probably the next best thing to when people bought a lot of records. People are willing to spend a lot more money on vinyl nowadays and that can help a bit, the way vinyls have come back.”

Who were your influence back when you guys were getting started with the band? Once you got signed to the label and started working in studio, what material were you drawing inspiration from?

“When we started out as ASH we were really big into Nirvana, Pixies, Teenage Fanclub, all that kind of scene. Then we started getting into more classic stuff, like when we started working with our first producer Owen Morris he got us into Bowie a lot, The Beatles and Beach Boys as well. I like a lot of punk stuff like Ramones, Buzzcocks, Undertones… so we’re kind of like a hybrid of all that stuff; pop song writing with punk and alternative rock energy.”

At what stage in the bands career did you go from national to international and start touring all over the world?

“After we got signed we started touring all over the UK and Ireland, with maybe the odd weekend in Europe. And then as soon as ‘Girl from Mars’ hit and we left school – it was a hit two weeks after we left school, pretty much – at that point we did our first US tour, and Japan and Australia. From then on we toured Europe a lot as well.”

You toured the States with Coldplay in 2002. How was that?

“That was good. Coldplay were actually really big ASH fans from when they were at university. When we first met them they were really big fans, and then we became friends and they wanted us to come on tour so we did! That was just as their second album came out – they were getting really big at that point. We did a lot of support tours in the States that year, we were really trying to break the States so we spent the whole year pretty much supporting people.”

You supported David Bowie at one point too! David Bowie, Coldplay, Moby – was this year of touring with these artists a highlight for the band?

“It was good, but we definitely prefer when we’re headlining and touring on our own success as opposed to supporting people to be honest, but it was good fun! Maybe some of our shows in ’96 when we were at our peak or in 2001 when we were at another peak, when 1977 went to number one in the UK and when Free All Angels went number one, the tours of both those albums were our peaks – those are probably the best times really.”

You guys are known for the particular attention you pay to the lyrics in your songs. I wanted to ask you about your song writing process – what is your approach, and if you had to give advice to aspiring song-writers, in terms of dedication and attention to lyrics, what would it be?

“I have a lot of different approaches. I guess it’s often best if it is something that came from personal experience in the lyrics, y’know if it rings true and there’s a bit of real feeling in there, even if it is disguised a lot… Sometimes I write a lot and realise later what it is I’m trying to say, or sometimes my feelings will come out in the lyrics a lot. Say like ‘Girl from Mars’; I wrote that not long after breaking up with my first girlfriend and I think it was the loneliness and sadness I was feeling about that that somehow came through in a song about a girl from outer space, y’know – it wasn’t literal at all but I think there was some real feelings in it, that went into that song. I think don’t be afraid to take chances and write some weird shit because it’s way better than being boring – take risks and don’t be afraid to look stupid.”

You guys released albums in 2012, 2015, 2016 and 2018. Will we be seeing a release in 2019?

“I think so! We may have a new single, possibly, and I think an album out in early 2020. Half-way through recording the album already but we’ve been doing so much touring it’s been on hold for six months. If we hadn’t been doing so much touring it would be finished already… We’re looking forward to getting back to the studio and finishing it up!”

Originally published in University Express 2018/2019 Issue 9, on Tuesday 12th March 2019, Byline Interview by Byline Editor, Ciara Dinneen.

An interview with Wild Youth

I had the pleasure of speaking with Conor and Dave of Wild Youth the day before they headed off on a European tour with Kodaline. Very excited about playing in many cities, Conor explained how he was looking forward to Paris the most, “My brother got engaged in Paris and I’ve never been. He always talks about it, so I can’t wait to see Paris. I’ve also heard that Lisbon is one of the coolest places in the world.” Bands on tour move around from place to place fairly quickly, but the guys were hopeful that they would get to spend a few hours in some of the cities at least. “In some cities you get maybe two or three hours in the morning,” explains Conor, “and then maybe two or three hours after soundcheck to go out and get coffees”, to explore a little bit. Conor and Dave joked about going to the Eiffel tower and then going to put a lock on the bridge; “Conor and Dave [on a lock] haha”.

I wanted to know how Wild Youth came to be. Dave explains how himself and Conor have been friends since they were teenagers, “We’ve always been in the same circle. We always wrote music and played music.” Dave and Conor were both in a band, but not the same one, for a while. It was when each of the bands the guys were in started breaking up that Conor and Dave, while on a night out together, decided to go back to what they use to do together; “when we would just sit in the house and play music and see what happens, so we just did that,” explains Dave. “Then we were approached during our first ever gig together. We were playing at a fundraiser in school in Dunleary that same week we decided to play music together. One of the speakers was a music manager and he approached us. He was like, ‘you guys are amazing, I’d love to work with ye’,” but the two guys explained how they weren’t really a thing, just friends playing music together.

But at their second gig together the two lads were approached again, “Then we were like ‘fuck maybe this is actually something’, so we put our head down then and started writing songs”. All of their favourite artists were bands, “we always wanted the electric guitar, drums, and everything”, the whole band ensemble, so they approached Cal; “Cal came to rehearsals and he just fit in perfectly,” explains Conor, “then Ed came along and the dream just clicked straight away.”

It was during a rehabilitation period after a bad accident that Conor get really into his music; “I played a bit before; I played bass guitar and piano before, but when I had my accident I was house bound and couldn’t leave for a couple of months, and it was actually around that time Dave used to just call up. We would watch music documentaries, mess around doing covers and try write songs on piano. It was great for me because it kept me occupied, kept my mind off everything, and it got us so much tighter and closer as musicians and writers. It’s funny because back then Dave was playing guitar and I was playing piano, but now in the band I’m playing piano and Dave is playing the guitar!”

Wild Youth

The origins of Wild Youth is undoubtedly organic. Conor and Dave explain how they were just two friends enjoying playing music together; “There was no big plan or intention to be a big band – we were just doing it cause we loved it, and it just mapped its way from there”. They believe that “forcing it” just doesn’t work – “we never got into it because we wanted to be famous. We just did it because it was genuinely just our favourite thing to do all day; to just go into my front room where we had the piano and play songs all day.” You can definitely tell the difference between a band that are doing it for the love of it, and a band that are pushing themselves for the sake of making it big; “People can see through things easily.”

I was curious to know what kind of music, what artists and bands, these guys were listening to and covering in those days. “Kings of Leon, Arctic Monkeys, Arcade Fire, The Script, and some old school stuff like Prince, Bowie, The Beach Boys… a bit of everything, Mumford & Sons too, a very eclectic, big giant pallet of music. We don’t really have just one particular genre that we love.” Dave spoke about how they would have to know a wide range of stuff when they used to busk; “When you’re busking you do everything you can. It’s great because, now, it gives us so dynamic when it comes to writing and being in studio, the fact that we never stuck to one particular genre when we were messing and writing. We did so many different genres; we incorporate Bee-Gee’s harmonies with Prince guitar on top of a Script piano melody, or whatever! It gives us dynamic when it comes to writing, that we’ve got a broad knowledge of music and instrumentation.”

Conor and Dave revealed that Wild Youth are currently working on an album. Are there more singles to come before the album’s release? “We’re going to release a new single in January, then we’re going to do an EP at the end of January, and after that EP maybe there’ll be an album or another EP and then an album, we don’t know, but we’re going to go with the next single and the EP anyway, and decide from there.” There is no doubt that these guys have lots of material up their sleeves, that’s just there and waiting to be released – very exciting news for all Wild Youth fans. “Everything is in really good shape. We’re so excited about how our new stuff is sounding. We really feel it showcases who we want to be, and who we want to continue to be as a band.”

I asked Conor and Dave to tell me about their favourite gig, but I may as well have asked them to pick a favourite song; “We have honestly the best time ever when we play on stage so we look forward to every single gig we do.” As they are from Dublin and have fond memories of going to see some of their favourite acts in the likes of The Academy and Workman’s, if they had to answer they would probably pick a local venue. They’ve played Cork many times, “We supported The Script there”, and say that the crowds here are always insane (up the rebels), “but we’ve never played our own show there.” So naturally, the guys are excited to be headlining their own Irish Tour and to be playing these places as the main act for the first time.

Taking a different approach to this question, I got the guys to describe their dream gig: “Red Rocks, or else the Hollywood Bowl in LA. Or Croke Park of course, that’s always been the dream since we started the band.” When it came to deciding who would support them, the lads were hesitant and didn’t want to seem egotistical, but I encouraged them that they could pick anyone, dead or alive – describe your dream gig, no matter how apparently improbable; “Kings of Leon, Imagine Dragons.. can we have a few people play with us? Make it like a Wild Youth Festival? We’d have The Script, we’d bring The Beach Boys back, would definitely have Imagine Dragons playing, Anderson .Paak, King Princess, Maggie Rogers… this would be an unreal festival! Arctic Monkeys, Niall Horan, we’d have them all”. Hell yeah it would. Can we make this happen?

To round off a great chat with Conor and Dave of Wild Youth, I asked where they would like to see the band in 5 years’ time. “We’re super ambitious, without being cocky. As we said, we never got into this for fame or anything like that, but we’re super driven and we want to try play the biggest music venues all around the world. We love playing live, we talk about how we map out the stage, the lights for shows, and everything we want to do and achieve will be possible on the biggest stages so that’s always been our goal and our aim – to not ever take our foot off the peddle, and to not stop writing music, making music, to not stop touring. We’re not the kind to take a two-week break after a tour; as soon as we finish a tour we are like ‘when’s the next one? When are we back in studio?’. We just wanna keep going all the time. We just hope that in 5 years’ time we’re still as close as we are now, playing the biggest stages.”

Wild Youth

Some Quick Questions:

Favourite current artist: “We love King Princess at the moment. Hozier’s new single is absolutely stompin’, like, all over that like. The 1975’s new stuff is great. A Star is Born soundtrack is sick, phenomenal.”

Least favourite current artist: “I don’t know. I like what I like and I don’t listen to what I don’t like. I don’t linger on it too much; music is a choice for everyone, it’s not my place to say [what’s good and what’s not]. One thing that bugs me is current pop songs; y’know the one’s that start off as a nice song, and then goes into like a dance song, this clubby kind of house – it’s no one in particular, it’s just a certain style. Other than that we love all genres, we really do.”

Other hobbies, apart from music: “I love fashion and clothes. We love movies, we’re movie addicts; our favourite thing is to go to the cinema. We love coffee. I love computer games. (Conor reveals that Dave is a computer game addict.) I’m a nerd when it comes to computer games. Right now I’m obsessed with the new COD. I don’t leave the house unless I have to, for the band.”

Favourite Netflix series: “Making a Murderer, Ozark, any kind of crime-thriller. One with Jessica Biel, can’t remember what it’s called. 13 Reasons Why, as well, very eye-opening. Makes you think about the times you saw stuff in school, you ask yourself what if I had said something or done something, asked them if they were ok… There is stuff that you see in it that you’ve seen in real life in school before, people acting a particular way – it does go on.”

Originally published in the 2018/2019 (Volume 22) University Express, Issue 4, by Ciara Dinneen, Byline Editor.

The rise of whenyoung band

Originating from Limerick, this trio have made their mark on the music scene both in Ireland and the UK from the great city of London which they now call home. University Express were lucky enough to get to see whenyoung on the last date of their UK and Ireland tour in back in November in Cyprus Avenue, Cork. Chatting before their set, Aoife Power (singer & bassist) and Andrew Flood (drummer) revealed that the three were well and truly wrecked after a thoroughly enjoyable tour, and that they were looking forward to getting to head back to Limerick for a bit after their set in Cyprus Avenue. The appearance of guitarist Niall Burns signified that it was time for the three to hit the stage.

Despite being at the end of a long and tiring tour, whenyoung pulled off an energetic and highly impressive set. It was clear that they love what they do, constantly connected, smiling and interacting with each other, and with the audience, while performing, encouraging the audience to dance and thanking them for coming along. Aoife’s voice strikes a unique balance between rock-power and angelic delicacy, Andrew and Niall showcasing impressive technical skill and energy while never overpowering Aoife – each bringing their own vibe that blends so nicely together.

Before the show, we sat down with drummer Andrew to ask him a few questions.

How did whenyoung come to be?

“Limerick is a small town – we got to know each other from hanging around town, through mutual friends and house parties. There was a place called Costello which we used to always go to, and we still do when we’re back. This music was a bit different and the crowd was a bit different. We had a shared love of the same music, so that was our in.”

Had you a very musical upbringing?

“We all kind of grew into a love of music. I would have played a bit when I was younger, Aoife played a bit of traditional music. It wasn’t until we were teenagers that we found bands that we loved, older bands like The Clash or Blondie, and other bands around at the time like The Libertines, The Strokes and The Killers. It wasn’t until then that we made our way in music.”

When did ye start playing gigs?

“It wasn’t until we all moved to London within six months of each other – moving to London and not really knowing anyone, not really having a big plan, we found our arts studio and just started playing together and writing songs together. After a few weeks we booked a gig wherever we could find one – that’s how we started out really.”

Was the move to London a tactical one, for the purpose of starting a band?

“No. Niall moved over first, he always wanted to go. I took a break from university because I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to continue what I was doing, and came over and just never went back. Then Aoife came over a fee months later. Myself and Niall where already playing together so we were trying to get Aoife on board – it wasn’t really premeditated, it’s just the way it happened for us.”

Have ye an interesting story about how ye got one of your first major gigs?

“Aoife used to do gardening for the manager of Florence and the Machine, and she had a café/record shop so she gave us a gig there and started managing us for a while then. It was after that we hit a good streak and started getting good gigs and stuff!”

Biggest musical influence?

“Patti Smith. She’s someone we always come back to as an inspiration. Not just for her music, but for her whole ethos, her poetry, her writing and literature and everything.”

whenyoung’s latest single ‘Pretty Pure’ was released by Yala! records, the recording label of Felix White, formerly of The Maccabees, and Morad Khokar, music publicist. “It was amazing, because obviously we’re big fans of The Maccabees,” explains Andrew, “but also just the fact that as an independent record label they’re so incredibly supported of new music and are such an important part of the UK scene at the moment.”

‘Pretty Pure’ was a one-off single with Yala! records, however, as whenyoung have signed with Virgin TMI. “We’ve just released ‘Given Up’ as a single [with Virgin TMI], and that’s going to be part of an EP,” Andrew reveals. This EP was released on the 9th November. “Our first big release with Virgin, and we’ll be going in to record our album in November too. We’ve been ready to record an album for a while, we have a load of songs, so now that we found our producer and have got a label we’re really excited to go in and actually record it!”

Sounds like whenyoung have done a lot in the last year, and that there is lots more to come. Definitely a band to watch.

This interview was originally published in the 2018/2019 University Express Issue 7 on Tuesday 29th January in the Byline Interview section by Byline Editor, Ciara Dinneen.

You just can’t Uppbeat the Irish music scene – an interview

Originally published in the 2018/2019 University Express, Issue 8, on Tuesday 19th February 2019 – Byline Interview by Byline Editor, Ciara Dinneen (that’s me).

Ireland, it seems, is currently moving through an experimental development in regards to its music scene, producing an increasing number of artists that are veering away from the more general singer-songwriter vibe (there is nothing at all wrong with this genre, of course, but it did become the typical for a while), breaking into an interesting blend of hip-hop, rap and techno music that is contributing to the creation of a new, uniquely modern Irish sound. While many deny rap music’s place in an authentically Irish music scene, it is no surprise that rap has become a genre through which Irish artists are increasingly expressing themselves; when we look back to our root traditions of sean-nós and story-telling ballads, one cannot deny the close connection to a rap style of musical expression.

One such artist is Uppbeat, undoubtedly a name to watch in 2019. Originally from Mayo but currently living in Dublin, Finn, the man behind Uppbeat, began writing at age 11, inspired by his parents who are both painters; “because I’m really bad at any other form of creativity, I tried writing. I used to listen to a lot of punk and rock music and eventually that developed into rap. When I started listening to rap, I said to myself ‘shit I should try that’, because I used to write just pop songs. Now I’ve moved even beyond rap – I don’t know what you’d call it.” In his latest works, most notable the hit-single ‘Tsunami’ and the EP Enter Aquarius, Uppbeat displays a unique blend of rap and an intensely atmospheric vibe.

Having heard and loved Uppbeat’s ‘Tsunami’, and been excited by hearing about Uppbeat’s release of his EP Enter Aquarius, which so successfully delivers on its promise to take you on an intimate journey through the thoughts and feelings of a young person in Ireland, I was anxious to talk to Finn about his music and what Uppbeat has in store for the future. Describing the EP as “a little glimpse inside who he is as an artist”, Uppbeat explains the meaning behind the name, Enter Aquarius; “I am an Aquarius, so the EP is basically me giving you a glimpse of who I am and where I am from. It’s an introduction to Uppbeat, what he is and what he sounds like.”

You address aspects of growing up in Ireland in your music. What is it exactly you address, and what is the message you are trying to get across?

“A lot of Irish artists are tackling a very specific side of things, like one certain path, whereas a lot of the music on the EP, [Enter Aquarius], is relatable to anyone in Ireland. Like, ‘Irish Blood’ is talking about a lot of people in situations they feel they can’t survive, like in college with issues like housing, and obviously mental health, all that – basically a very mainstream person’s experience of life in Ireland. It’s not too in depth or in detail, it’s just your average day to day stuff. The EP was more music driven, it wasn’t that conceptual – I had a lot of the songs already done before, then I just pieced them together as an EP. The main idea was to capture the majority of Ireland in one vibe as opposed to one very specific walk of life.”

Where did you record the EP?

“Most of it is recorded in a studio in Swords, in North Dublin, which is run by producers Chilli and Shortcut. I stumbled across them this year – they’re absolutely incredible. ‘Tsunami’ was recorded by a guy called Tunde (mixedbysimba) – he records a lot of the urban, hip-hop stuff in Ireland, he’s based in Tallaght. One or two of the tracks were recorded with a guy called Kreo Ghost, he’s from Waterford. So between those three places, but most of it was recorded in Swords.”

What do you think of the music scene in Ireland currently?

“I absolutely love the Irish scene. I’m a fan of so many of the people in the Irish scene. I think it’s such an extraordinary scene compared to any other scene at the moment – I actually think it will be on the same level as say the UK or America; it’s got its own sound. Very few other places in the world actually have as many artists that are as developed as ours, look at the likes of Jafaris, Kojaque, Chasing Abbey and Rejjie Snow, people that have already made it, they’re all not just semi-okay artists, they’re all very, very good artists; I’d call them all top-tier artists. They’re creativity is extraordinary. In Ireland there are very few average artists; everyone is at a very high level. Their exposure may not be, but their actual music and videos and everything is top-tier, I feel.”

It is so true that the music scene in Ireland is really kicking off and seems to be going somewhere new and great…

“I think it’s in a really healthy place and that it’s going somewhere incredible. There is so much to it; it’s not as basic as it looks from the outside. There are a lot of stories. We even have an Irish drill scene, which is like the rawest strain of street music coming out of the UK. There are so many niche scenes within the Irish scene and that’s what I think it making it a healthy one; it’s not just the one sound, everyone has a completely different sound, and that’s healthy. I feel like that’s how you know a scene is going to grow. Like, there’s only about two or three sounds coming out of the UK, whereas in American there are thousands of different sounds, and the same in Ireland; there are about four or five, six, maybe ten different sounds coming out of Ireland and it’s good to see that.”

Do you think streaming sites, such as Spotify, are making it difficult for artists to make a living?

“I think Spotify is a great thing. It’s actually so easy to get your music out there on Spotify. Yeah, it is rubbish that Spotify only pays like 0.006%, but also if Spotify wasn’t there, there probably wouldn’t be any way to monetise it, so at least it’s something. One of the amazing things about Spotify is that it is so easy to discover new artists and people are actually looking for new artists. In terms of making money, that’s more of a gigs thing; that’s across the board, not just in Ireland. So it’s definitely more of a performance-driven industry than it is sales and streams.”

It’s so great to hear how positive you feel about being an Irish artist in Ireland.

“I actually feel blessed. This is the perfect time. We are so lucky to be making this music at this time in the world, because it’s only just becoming a cool thing. Like, obviously we were here before, and it was cool then, but it’s becoming so much more so; people are actually looking for new artists and loving what is coming out of Ireland and I think the Irish scene really is going to become something that people look to. They already are, like blogs wise, there is a lot of exposure coming in for the Irish scene. We just need to keep delivering and keep actually stepping up to that mark. I think we’re in a really great place and that it’s just a matter of about two years before things are at a really high level.”

Have you ever received any negative feedback, claiming that rap isn’t an authentically Irish thing and asking you why you’re doing it?

“I think that’s absolutely mental, like. We’re writers. Irish history, and going back to Irish mythology, we’ve always been writers, so I think the fact that we make rap music couldn’t make more sense. The amount of poets and the amount of different creative writing artists, and there are other amazing artists in Ireland doing others things too, but we are champions for our writers. Obviously we didn’t grow up with a culture of it in the same way that America has, but we have our own culture. If you go to Limerick, for example, it’s just a bed of culture when it comes to hip-hop; if you go there on a night out you’ll bump into someone, just a lad, chilling there, rapping or spitting bars or whatever. There definitely is a huge culture here. In terms of feedback I get, nothing too bad. Obviously it’s not all positive. Everyone around me is involved in what I do, so there isn’t anyone in my life that would be negative about it. You do get shit, like, but that’s all part of it.”

Apart from Irish traditions, are there any other cultural influences that you experiment with in your music?

“Something I find really interesting and what I’ve been playing around with a bit recently, and you can probably hear it on the EP as a lot of people would say that my accent on the EP is very African sounding, are the tones of voice that are in say afro-beat music or scat style. It’s very similar to sean-nós singing; it’s all in the same space vocally. That’s another thing I find very interesting: if we actually use that whole tonality of sean-nós singing over hip-hop music – I think that’s something that could be played around with as well, if it’s done properly. Blues is another thing: blues is huge in Ireland, and hip-hop comes from blues. It’s all connected! Where I grew up in Mayo it’s all blues bands, rock bands, and it just makes sense that that progresses into hip-hop, we’re just a few years behind the rest of the world.”

Hip-hop is incredible, but some of it does get a very bad press…

“As much as it is great, a lot of hip-hop is still incredibly sexist and homophobic; it just isn’t really saying anything. You get this over-saturation of everyone talking about the same thing and it really pushes certain stigmas and makes them stronger, which isn’t great.”

Who are some of your favourite current artists?

“I really love J. Cole, Flatbush Zombies, I love a lot of the UK scene. I literally grew up on grime, since I was about ten I’ve been listening to grime. That was a really interesting scene to see grow. A guy called Yela Wolf, he’s from Alabama, he’s incredible. On an alternative buzz, I also like the Horslips, they’re an Irish band, they’re absolutely incredible. I like so many people. Like, Irish wise I like nearly everyone on the scene. I actually don’t think there is anyone I don’t like in the Irish scene. Mura Masa is amazing, probably one of my favourite artists. FKJ, too.”

Dream collaboration?

“I don’t know why, I have a weird thing where I really want to collaborate with Lana Del Ray. I just think she’s really cool. Mura Masa would be very high up there; I’d actually love to make a whole project with Mura Masa. I’d prefer to go with people that aren’t just straight hip-hop artists, but on the hip-hop front A$AP Rocky would be really cool person to collaborate with. Yela Wolf would be amazing as well. Phil Lynott would be really cool, from Thin Lizzy, he’d be very interesting”

Who is your least favourite artist at the moment?

“To be honest, I don’t have a least favourite artist, because everything is way more than you think it is. Like, if you listen to say mumble-rap you might think ‘this is shit’ but it’s not, it’s genius – the way they can tap into tones and certain sounds, even though the artist is mumbling, it’s genius. I think it’s really ignorant when people in music are like, ‘oh all you’re doing in rap is this’ or ‘all you’re doing in country music is this’, but there is so much more to every type of music so you can’t ever right it off as shit. Obviously there is music I don’t like, like I don’t like music that promotes toxic shit. That’s something that’s really draining.”

A chat with Bee, from the Tullamore Trio ‘Chasing Abbey’

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?

“For sure.”

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.

A chat with Dawn Williams, co-curator of the Naked Truth; The Nude in Irish Art.

From July until October 2018, The Naked Truth art exhibition ran in the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork. Perfectly timed with the curating of University Express’ special edition magazine, Sexpress, I took the opportunity to interview the woman who co-curated this exhibition for the magazine as I felt it fitting. Here is the conversation I had with Dawn Williams, with a friend of mine with a far more extensive knowledge of art than myself.

This interview was originally published in University Express’ 2018/2019 edition of Sexpress magazine.

It was a miserably wet Tuesday morning when myself and my good friend Thomas Daly met with Dawn Williams in the Crawford Art Gallery to talk about the Naked Truth: The Nude in Irish Art exhibition, which ran in the gallery from 13th July – 28th October 2018.Curated by Dawn and London-based Irish art historian William Laffan, the exhibition was highly successful; the gallery were up five thousand visitors a month in comparison to figures from last year since the running of the exhibition. Our chat with Dawn was fascinating; we learned about the motivation behind the exhibition, interesting facts about the art, and had some very interesting discussions about the representation and reception, both historically and contemporarily, of the naked body and the nude in Irish art and in Irish society in general.

The idea that there was no real history of nude in Irish art, an idea which was coming through contemporary scholars, was the main motivation driving this exhibition as Dawn and William believed this was simply not true. “When you look at the facts,” Dawn explains, “you’ve got the likes of Robert Fagan, Daniel Maclise and James Barry from the 18th and 19th century who were lorded in England for being the best artists to depict the nude and the naked – that got us thinking.” Noticing that there hadn’t been an exhibition on the nude in Irish art since the one curated by Brian O’Doherty in 1971, Dawn says “We got our thinking caps on and started researching.” Dawn went through some of the many instances of the nude being represented in Irish art throughout history, right through to the contemporary, “You can go back to the medieval works such Sheela na gigs; we have a male and a female Sheela na gigs [in the exhibition] brought from the Cork Pop museum… we have Amanda Coogan, and other emerging artists such as Pádraig Spillane to prove the crux of the exhibition, which is to assert the existence of a history of the nude in Irish art.”

Dragana Jurisic ‘100 Muses’ (2015) © The Artist, courtesy of Caoimhe Lavelle

As Dawn explains, “It’s not that there has been a lack of representation; the exhibition is just a small sample of how the Irish artist and indeed artists all over the world have used the naked and the nude in their practice.” Rather, it is a lack of celebration of Irish art that features the nude or naked body. I asked Dawn what she thought of this rejection of the nude, traditionally, and what it said about Irish society. Was it a comment on the conservativeness of Irish, Catholic society and its tendency to turn away from the sexualisation of the body, and thus the nude? “That’s a big question,” says Dawn, “It does of course raise the question of why there hasn’t been this thematic [presented in exhibitions] in such abundance before, and yes that is probably down to the restrictions placed on society by the church and State.”

It is no lie to say that there was a stigma placed on nudity and the naked body in Irish society, but I wonder if this stigma still exists in some way. Is it still a problem and something we need to work on as a society? “I think it depends on how you contextualise the representation,” explains Dawn. “For anything, the context is always an important thing. Of course I would hope that we’ve gone beyond the body being shamed. We all have them, and it’s strange that we still don’t have the language to talk about our bodies and how they function. There is still a lot of work to be done, but it’s always to do with the context and how you mediate discussions around the body and sex and sexual behaviour or bodily functions.”

A lot of thought goes into curating an exhibition; careful consideration of factors to determine what works you select to feature in it, but also the very particular layout and order you display the works in. Dawn explains why they selected the works that they did, and the reasoning behind the non-chronological ordering of the works in the Naked Truth exhibition; “We wanted to select works that were either important within regard to the artist’s overall body of works or that were particularly relevant to theme. The way that we’ve hung the works is not chronological, and that’s important in order to create dialogs and, for want of a better word, juxtapositions between the centuries. As you come into the exhibition you’ve got Robert Fagan’s 1886 Portrait of a Lady as Hibernia, and on the flipside of that you’ve got Patrick Grahams 1982 portrait of My Darkish Rosaleen (Ireland as Young Whore), both showing these themes of using the woman as a sort of mythical mother of Ireland or a bastardised version of a woman to offer the same political standpoint within the work, so it was important not to have a chronological layout.”

Robert Fagan – Portrait of a Lady as Hibernia © Private Collection.

What is the message, the bottom-line note, that you wanted to send to the public with this exhibition, the reaction you hoped to evoke?

It was interesting to hear from Dawn as a curator herself what they were hoping the reaction would be from the public. Every exhibition aims to display or portray a particular message or evoke a particular feeling or thought, and this exhibition undoubtedly had many implications, both intentional and unintentional. “The reaction has been incredibly positive,” reveals Dawn, “We see families with younger children, we see teenagers – it’s brought a younger demographic in. We see people talking about the body. A woman came to me after seeing the exhibition to say that she doesn’t feel so body-conscious anymore. I didn’t think the exhibition would have that kind of an impact – it gave me gooses bumps; this woman looked at various different woman and men and thought about herself, how she evaluates and criticises herself, and she walked away feeling quite free of those constraints afterwards. If you can do that to just one person, your job is done.”

This brings up the idea of the idealised body. We see it in media and in the fashion industry all the time. Even in art, there seems to be idealised body trend throughout the centuries, but many artists have attempted to challenge this idealised form in their work. A striking aspect of this exhibition was undoubtedly how raw and real the body was represented. What this exhibition seems to have achieved, perhaps unintentionally, is a more realistic, honest and raw representation of the real body. As Dawn explains, “While you do have Hibernia, the idealised creature, there are many instances of how bodies truly are – there is no ‘norm’, there really isn’t, and there’s certainly not an idealised form presented here as much as there is in media.”

This idea of an honest portrayal is suggested in the title of the exhibition. I asked Dawn why the exhibition was called the “Naked Truth” – the word ‘truth’ being key to my interest. What does ‘truth’ mean in the context of the exhibition? “It’s called Naked Truth; The Nude in Irish Art because it was important to have the word ‘naked’ and ‘nude’ in the titles; there are discrepancies and different meanings when these two words are applied in different contexts. The word ‘truth’ is there as the crux of the exhibition is to assert that there is a history of nude, naked painting and sculpture in Irish visual art, to assert the truth that it does exist.”

Thomas brought up the point about British art critic John Ruskin being horrified by his wife’s naked body on their wedding night when he discovered that she had pubic hair, explaining how this was a pointing out of the difference between ‘naked’ and ‘nude’, a difference John Ruskin clearly did not understand. “If his only reference point was art historical women painted,” Dawn suggested, “and the idealised Greek and Roman forms, sculptural forms, then there is a complete lack of pubic hair in all of those. Quite naïve, possibly.”

Amanda Coogan ‘After Manzoni’ (2000) © Amanda Coogan

I pointed out how this reminded me of the way in which the modern-day porn industry has skewed the expectations of young men, and even women, when it comes to what the bodies of the opposite sex will look like and how sex and sexual acts should or will go. It’s interesting how art back then had the same impact. “There’s nothing new about sex,” explains Dawn, “and how bodies are perceived and misconstrued and so-called idealised. But then you look at Ruben’s work in the seventeenth century and what’s become referred to as the Rubenesque body – a much more rounded, voluptuous, and, in some ways, honest figure – that was the form to be admired. Then you go to the nineteen twenties and it’s all a kind of androgynous look. Bodies come in all shapes and sizes, and it seems as though, if you wait long enough, your body will be in fashion. It fascinates me, and also irritates the hell out of me as well.”

There seemed to be a strong theme in the exhibition of a kind of defiance or rebellion against particular conservative or constricting aspects of society. There is a strong element of feminism, with pieces that challenge the ‘male gaze’ and very little pieces depicting the ‘male gaze’ (depictions of woman in historical paintings, often painted by men for men, where the woman is made an object, with an averted gaze never looking directly at the viewer). Some pieces offer comments on religion and Catholicism with religious iconography,  and at times a strong sense of homosexuality is depicted. This echoes a powerful statement by Alice Maher; “when you reclaim imagery, you take the power back”. As outlined in the exhibition booklet, “Maher’s delicate watercolours all challenge mythological representations of ‘the docile sexuality of the gender’, positing instead a more complex, experiential, self-aware embodiment of the naked female.” Thomas asked Dawn if perhaps they felt responsible for defining this kind of a perspective on these works.“I think redefining is too strong a word,” said Dawn, “We’re not setting out to do that – all we’re trying to do is encourage people to look at and consider each perspective. I think Dragana Jurisic’s piece 100 Muses is a very powerful piece in terms of not being the male gaze because it was devised by a woman artist and inviting woman to come forward and negotiate their own poses, choose their own format. She left it for a year before asking permission for those works to be shown in public. She gave each individual a year to consider, which is generous and proper – seven of those women declined, which is why you’ve got 7 gaps in the 100 Muses work. But she still honoured their presence by having those gaps there. That work is a very strong work because its woman on woman, and all the women are looking directly at the camera – they’re not doing the ‘male gaze’.”

Some would say that Ireland, at least traditionally, has a different and distinctive, attitude to the nude and the naked body in comparison to other European countries, or even other countries around the world in general. Thomas points out how there seemed to be, not a rage but, a sort of undercurrent of anger in a lot of the pieces, an almost punk attitude, particularly in the more contemporary works, stemming from the oppressiveness that has been present in Irish society for such a long time. “Think of Nell McCafferty in Mark Daniel Duffy’s piece, standing there proud and defiant,” Thomas says. Dawn agrees that “there is a defiance but, at the same time, it is a considered one”. She explains how it took Nell McCafferty, Irish journalist, playwright, civil rights campaigner and feminist, weeks to decide to be a model for Mark Daniel Duffy; “she just phoned him up one morning and said ‘right, I’ll do it but I’m doing it now and you have to bring coffee’… in the painting there’s a coffee cup lid, and that Duffy calls his own self-portrait.”

Daniel Mark Duffy ‘Portrait of Nell McCafferty’ (2008) courtesy the Artist and Private Collection

On this subtle point of rebellion, we also discussed in depth the series of large-scale photographic works, grouped under the title Icons, by Billy Quinn, which deal with broad issues of sexual orientation and sexual abuse and were created by Quinn to honour friends of his who had died from AIDS. Interestingly these pieces have been accused of a mockingly anti-Catholic tone in the way that they seem to feature some very prominent and powerful religious iconography, but, as Dawn explains, “Billy Quinn, in his writings about this amazing work, expresses how even he was surprised about how iconographical it was, how much gold there was, how much it did look like an icon from a Church. One of the reasons why Billy Quinn created his series was that he was fed up of his friends not being treated as humans because they had HIV or AIDS. It was a way to literally expose these people as humans.” Raising eyebrows and being described by Jack Meehan, national treasurer of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, in an article for The Irish Echo, an Irish American newspaper, as “basically pornography masquerading as art”, these works were first showcased in New York in the early 1990’s and were apparently shocking even there, “which is kind of mad because you think of that place as a liberal place, so it’s not necessarily an Irish thing.”

“What’s more shocking about those Billy Quinn images, in particular that image [one of the images in the series, Billy],” explains Dawn, “is not the image but probably the text; what’s written in the text reflects back on the image and makes it even more shocking because of what you’ve read.” Underneath Billy is written: “Aids pushed me…It pushed all of us into the realisation of our own mortality”.

The naked body is a universal image. It says something about all aspects of society; it deals with the objectification of woman in art through challenging of ‘the male gaze’ as is done by Dragana Jurisic in her 100 Muses series, it deals with issues of health as in Billy Quinn’s series in honour of friends who had died of AIDS, as well as offering subtle comments on religion as we see coming through in Quinn’s work and William Orpen’s 1916 The Holy Well, and much more. The Naked Truth; The Nude in Irish Art exhibition is an excellent example of the many comments that the naked body and the nude have to offer on a personal level and on a societal level, and beyond.

“It’s not just about representation; it’s about how you feel, the context, what you bring and what your own histories are when you see a work, and what questions the work asks of you. A work should ask you a lot of questions if it’s a really good work – that’s my own point of view.”

Dawn Williams

A chat with Clodagh.

Clodagh O’Sullivan, an artist under the name Clodagh, is a dear friend of mine – we go way back to early secondary school days – so it is strange to find ourselves where we are now: years on, both in college, and at a stage in life where I am the writer interviewing my friend, Clodagh, the musician, who has just released her first single, ‘Grey Clouds’ (read my review here).

I met with Clodagh yesterday for a catch-up chat over tea (which was beyond lovely, but that’s a point for another post), and we took the opportunity in the end to put aside our personal relation for just 20 minutes or so to conduct a professional (well, relatively professional) interview. Here it is. Enjoy.

Who is Clodagh? How would you define yourself, your music and what you’re about?

Clodagh is me as an artist and I like to let the music define itself, but for me it’s all about just understanding what it is to be alive and as I am releasing my music I feel so vulnerable, like an open book, but it’s also very liberating to share my story. I am not very sure about myself as a person, but I am sure of my music; it gives me a voice and what I want to say with that voice is that where ever you are on your journey it’s totally ok, this is where I’ve been and this is where I’m going.

When did you get really into music, as in, where does your love of music stem from?

I never really got into music, it’s always been a part of my life. I went to school in the countryside and I remember the trips to and from school singing at the top of my lungs with my Dad and siblings and it grew into a passion from there. I started performing with The Contradictions and knew from there music was going to be my life no matter what.

During secoundary school, Clodagh was in a four-piece band called The Contradictions with friends Katherine Scott, Tara Murphy and Ciara Dinneen (myself).

Define your music in a general sense… How would you define/describe your own music, and what genre do you feel it fits into best?

I’m useless when it comes to genres but I would say atmospheric, maybe even experimental if I was to try and put a label on it. I was terrible at music in school because I didn’t understand it and when I did I fell in love with the weird and wonderful world of chord progressions and harmony; my music is basically me delving further into the possibilities of music and writing my story over it. It’s the perfect combination of using my head and heart together to create.

“I like to let the music define itself … I am not very sure about myself as a person, but I am sure of my music; it gives me a voice and what I want to say with that voice is that where ever you are on your journey it’s totally ok, this is where I’ve been and this is where I’m going.”

Clodagh, on her music

Song-writing is your thing – talk about your process when it comes to writing songs – where do you begin? What comes first – the lyrics or the melody?

I spend a lot of my time on the train and I use that time to read poetry and write lyrics. I use my weekends to sit at my piano and sometimes with my guitar and mess around until I find something I like and then go to my notebook for inspiration. The two processes are separate for me but always find a way of working together.

Clodagh

Talk about some of your biggest musical influences. What artists have you looked up to, and which do you continue to look up to?

I grew up listening to Irish music, the likes of The Dubliners and The Chieftains so they would have been influences of mine. ABBA was always on in the background. I wish I could say The Beatles and Queen and the likes but I didn’t discover them until I was older.

What music do you listen to in your own time?

Tom Odell would be at the top of my list. I’m always listening to The Staves, Lianne la Havas, Lisa Hannigan, Wyvern Lingo, Heathers, HAIM and Jessie Ware as well. Who else? Sigrid is releasing some good stuff at the moment, as is Billie Eilish. And I’m really getting into Maggie Rogers right now.


Which do you prefer; performing live or recording in studio? If you had to choose to do one over the other for the rest of your musical career, which would it be?

I’ve always been very awkward performing, but I do love the response you get to see in the audience, having people there listening in the moment. At the same time, I think, you get a better sense of exactly what you want people to hear when you’re in the studio – you have more control and more freedom.

What are your hopes and plans for the future?

I’m gonna keep releasing music no matter what so keep an eye out! I would also love to teach music, share my passion with people. I’m very much trying to live in the present right now so the future is mine to make one day at a time so all I can say for certain is I aim to keep music as big a part of my life as it is now.

What advice would you give to anyone with a passion for making music and song-writing?

Just keep doing it. Educate yourself on the industry, knowledge is power and as my business teacher once said “Don’t be a dick”. I would also say to mind your mental health, I personally find it easier to write when I’m in a bad place which of course isn’t a good thing. You have to find the balance.

“I’m very much trying to live in the present right now so the future is mine to make one day at a time so all I can say for certain is I aim to keep music as big a part of my life as it is now.”

Clodagh, on the future

You can listen to Clodagh’s newest single ‘Grey Clouds’ on Spotify here, and find out more about Clodagh and her music on her website at clodaghosmusic.com.

A chat with Laura Misch

An absolute beauty with a sweet nature that resembles in ways the powerful delicacy and gentility of her voice, Laura Misch is a London-based musician who works from her music room at home in which she creates an experimental sound even she cannot yet define. Laura, sister to the also highly-musically-talented Tom Misch, is currently working on her music, and fans of Laura are waiting patiently for an album that we hope is on the horizon. We have enjoyed the release of three singles since Laura’s album Playground was released in May 2017, ‘Lagoon’ in February 2018 and ‘I Adore’ in August 2018. Laura’s newest single, ‘Hibernate’, was released on the 11th January this year.

Delicate, pure and wholesome in character, her music embodies that same timid softness that she does, while also exemplifying a note, albeit a soft one, of resolute power and strength. I had the pleasure of corresponding with Laura through email, an interaction in which she so openly told me about herself and the personal music projects she has produced thus far, and the ones she continues to work on. I want to publish the responses here exactly how I received them: with no upper case letters and some smiley faces throughout.


Laura Misch

Introduce yourself! How would you define yourself, who you are and what you’re about!
hey! my names laura, i make diy music and art at home, been making sax soundscapes and songs for a couple of years now and doing an experimental one woman show. 

Where did your love and passion for music begin?
from copying people around me, family and friends – i see it a bit like cooking, just something you can do to nurture yourself and others. 

What instruments do you play? If you had to pick, which instrument would be your favourite?
sax is my main, the others i like to experiment with, see what sounds i can make by recording note by note. freezing time is an important part of producing for me so i am very grateful to tech and DAWS. 

Talk about some of your biggest musical influences. What artists have you looked up to, and which do you continue to look up to?
this changes all the time as i find a busker on the street as inspiring as a house hold name, but certainly bjork, i resonate with because i feel like she’s so vulnerable. 

What music do you listen to in your own time?
mostly instrumental, recently lots of nhils frahm, jon hopkins and rival consoles. 

How would you define/describe your own music, and what genre do you feel it fits into best?
This q always stunts me, i have so much unreleased music that i think its hard to define and im not sure atm as its very much a baby project, i think in a year i will be able to define it :)))) lets ask this q again then plz!

You record and produce your own music from home. Why so? Do you feel this allows you more control over the finished pieces? Would you be open to signing with a record label or are you happy and want to continue doing your own thing?
so right now ive got cabin fever from spending too much time at home so i would say mainly its because it makes it sustainable, i cant afford to hire out a studio at this stage, certainly it gives you a degree of control, but also it takes control away as you don’t have access to the equipment that would give you optimal control, but i always try and just use the tools i have around me or can borrow of friends. i think the label question is a complicated one as it really depends on the people you are working with and what the project needs. im open, but also happy working independently for now. 

Which do you prefer; performing live or recording yourself at home? If you had to choose to do one, over the other for the rest of your musical career, which would it be?
haha they are so different! they are like two sides of a coin for me and balance each other out. if i had to chose i would record my self performing live at home?! to squeeze in both 🙂 

What are your hopes and plans for the future?
to keep refining, till i find the right tool kit, and create a sonic and visual language that enables me to express in the most authentic way. 
– and then to collaborate more! don’t want to hermit forever.

end of interview

Laura Misch (right) playing with brother Tom Misch (left/centre).

It is always a wonderful feeling to hear back from artists who you love and admire and to get the opportunity to speak with them, or correspond with them in any way at all. I’ve said it before; I am and always will be so grateful for the opportunities that being involved with student media and the University Express (formerly UCC Express) newspaper in UCC has opened up for me.

Here’s hoping that I keep my foot in it, journalism and interviews, in some way or another when I graduate – maybe this, ciaraday.com, will be it.

Ciara D. 30/1/2019

This interview was originally published in the 2018/2019 University Express, Issue 5.