Every Monday we will be bringing you an unsigned singer or band as part of our Independent Music Monday feature. This week, we caught up with Robert O'Connor find out more about him…
Where are you from and how did you first get into music?
I’m from Dublin, Ireland. I’ve been interested in music since I was 5. I went to a stage school at that point, and then when I was 8 I took keyboard lessons and got my grades. When I was 17 I realised I wanted to sing and write songs. That’s when this all got started!
Who were your musical influences when you were growing up and who are your influences now?
When I was much younger I’d listen to my mam and dad’s records every day. Instead of sitting at the TV I’d sit at the record player and listen to albums like ‘Parallel Lines’ by Blondie. I loved the fusion of rock structures, pop melodies and I was also big into electro. Up until I was about ten I listened to a lot of ‘90s dance music. I got more into introspective pop/rock at that point. I fell in love with Coldplay’s ‘Parachutes’ and would watch MTV Select waiting to see their videos. I was mad into Dido as well, and all of the similar singer/songwriters that came after her. I really loved the honesty and simplicity of her songwriting. As I got into my 20s I found I sourced a lot of my music through all the American TV shows like HBO’s Six Feet Under - I actually discovered Sia there through her track “Breathe Me”, which I think is a phenomenal song. Now I find a lot of artists I love through Shazam, I have a playlist of a couple hundred songs from the app - from bands like Swimming Tapes and Few Bits to electro outfits like Bright Light Bright Light and The Sound of Arrows. At the absolute core of my influences I would say are bands like Fleetwood Mac, Coldplay, Arcade Fire and Elbow - I follow everything they do very closely. I recently got into modern country soloists like Sam Hunt and Brett Young and that really influenced the sound of my new music.
How would you describe your sound?
I would say my sound is a collision of genres. In my new single “You Found Me” the verses sound like an homage to the ‘80s - people have mentioned bands like Duran Duran and REM - I suppose that comes from the combination of the synths with my vocal. I think my vocal delivery is noticeably different to a lot of the recent solo male artists. I always think it’s really important to be authentic and it bothers me when artists adopt odd accents and dialects to impersonate their own favourite acts or to follow trends. There is a definite country influence on the new single, and it sort of slaps you in the face when the chorus comes in, it’s uplifting I think. I had dabbled with country influences before on my first album with my song “How Many Times (Can We Say Goodbye?)" and my cover of Shelby Lynne’s “Killin’ Kind”, so I think it was always there in my musical DNA, it’s just come to the forefront this time. If I could use one word to describe my music, it would be “nostalgic”, I think it has a wistful quality to it and it definitely borrows heavily from decades past more than it does from chart music today.
What is your latest single called and what was the influence behind it?
My new single “You Found Me” was written a year or two ago, and I knew when I wrote it that it would be the perfect comeback single because it really delves into the way I was feeling during the time in my life that I wasn’t creating music. I liked the idea of coming back with something that wasn’t a love song, but something rather more self-analytical. It’s quite a stream of consciousness in the way it's written. I knew I wanted the verses to be dark sonically to reflect the way I felt writing the lyrics, but the chorus needed to have a hopefulness because that’s where the lyrics change to being optimistic in tone. My favourite line is “You woke me up from the slumber, I was over this life but now I feel something under my skin”, because I think it sums up how we can feel totally hopeless one day, and the next something happens that can totally adjust our mindset. Together with my producers Stuart Gray and Steve Hogan, I recorded a couple different versions before we arrived at the final version. At one point it was a very brooding and sinister downtempo track, but to me it needed an explosive chorus and so I drew on my Coldplay influence to build a chorus that felt like a sing-along moment, you know, that moment when the song just goes off!
What’s your local music scene like?
I haven’t been active on the live music scene since 2012. At that point I was very selective about the gigs I would play, choosing alternative venues where I was able to get some quality slots with a decent running time. I had learned my lessons after my first album - when I would use promoters, who had to be paid, to get on bills with other indie acts that often were all at odds with each other musically, meaning you regularly had an audience who had no interest in the type of music you were playing. I think now the best way to get ahead on the live scene is to try to get support slots with acts that have a similar musical palette, that means you might stand a chance of gaining some new fans!
What do you have planned for the next 12 months? Any albums or festivals?
I have another single coming out in the summer, and it’s a special song to me. I am working hard right now to secure as much radio play as possible so that when it comes time to release the second single, I have more support from the media, and hopefully some more followers. I haven’t yet assembled my live band or booked any shows, but it will happen when the time is right. I have been very hands-on in the campaign this time, controlling everything from the songwriting to the cover art to the publicity and day-to-day management. When it's time for a live-show, I want to make sure I can stand out from the crowd by playing a set that’s distinctly “me”.
Is there anyone you’d love to collaborate with?
There’s so many - and the fact I like to genre-hop doesn’t help! In country, I’d love to collaborate with one of my long-time favourites, Shelby Lynne. And then to embrace my love for electronic music the dream would be to write a track with Pet Shop Boys and have Stuart Price produce it, that would just be wild. I promise this is the last genre - I’d love to make a moody downtempo track with either The Sound of Arrows or Royksopp, something with that glacial Scandinavian soundscape.
Any funny stories surrounding your live performances?
I would get anxious before gigs not because of my own ability or confidence but because I was constantly playing with different session musicians. They would have listened to the songs literally hours before the gig and because we’d never met before arriving on stage, there’d be no relationship there, and I think that’s why a lot of my gigs felt quite under-baked and clinical in the past. One time, the guitarist arrived and he was literally listening to my single in his earphones while we were playing. Another time, we were about to go on stage for a headline gig to launch the lead single from my last EP, and the drummer was nowhere to be found. It turned out he couldn’t find the venue and so there was me running around the streets of Dublin trying to find him and drag him to the venue. So no, not so much funny, more just, a lot of carnage!
What is the one thing that you want readers to know about you?
Everything I need the readers to know about me right now is contained within the 4 minutes 18 seconds of my new single “You Found Me”. It’s the Cliffs Notes version of my life the last few years.