We caught up with Dublin-based musician Robert O’Connor, following the release of the single ‘Over (Before It’s Begun)’, for a full in-depth interview. Enjoy!
Hi Robert, tell us about yourself?
I’m an Irish singer/songwriter, and I’ve released a series of singles over the past two years. I’m not inclined to stay in one lane – in 2018 I released three country singles, inspired by the music I was hearing coming out of Nashville, like Sam Hunt, Brett Young, Chris Stapleton, that sort of thing.
Last year I had been listening to a huge amount of electronic music, both contemporary and from the late ’90s, early 00’s. I released a single that was heavily inspired by that era and a bunch of experimental remixes. Since then, I’ve been collaborating with an EDM produced named Skynem GT, and we’ve released three singles together, and it’s become something of a creative partnership.
What is your songwriting process?
It’s quite haphazard – I don’t sit down with the intention to write a song. It usually happens at the most inconvenient moments. You’ve heard about people who sing in the shower, but I song-write in the shower!
I wrote my song ‘Too Late’ in the shower, I just started singing, and the verse came, I had to keep singing it till I got out so I wouldn’t forget it because you’d be surprised how quickly you lose a song that’s in your head. I also tend to wake up with lines in my head in the middle of the night, or just as I’m about to fall asleep – I think it’s something about the subconscious and tapping into that.
The other common way I write is when I’m on a night out and have had a few drinks, a lot of the real honest stuff comes then, that’s true of ‘Over (Before It’s Begun)’ and also ‘No Second Chances’, which I wrote at 5 am! Once I was in a meeting with a guy, and we had this crazy chemistry, like creative energy, and he said something to me that really sparked an idea – I couldn’t wait to get out of the meeting to start writing!
I wrote my track ‘You Found Me’ that day, it’s about a stranger seeing you for who you’re truly meant to be, even though the people in your life maybe don’t!
Tell us about your latest release?
My latest single ‘Over (Before It’s Begun)’ is sonically an Ibiza-style chill-out track, but at its core, it has country values – a strong storytelling lyric, and then a catchy pop top-line.
I think it’s a strong record that has sounded great on the radio any time I’ve heard it, I’m proud of it. Lyrically it’s about a relationship that you think is gonna go the distance, but then you get stuck in the friend zone! It was written very quickly in one sitting, both lyrics and melody, and I played it live a lot before I ever recorded it.
It’s universally relatable – and whether you sing it with just an acoustic guitar, or at a piano, or with all the bells and whistles of the EDM production, it stands up.
What message do you think your music conveys to your fans?
I don’t know what message my music conveys to my fans, but I think a lot of people who gravitate to it enjoy the honest storytelling of the lyrics.
I don’t love jumping on trends, and I’m not one for showy vocals, I like to keep it simple, but one of my big goals with my music is for it to be memorable, so I do try to come up with these catchy pop hooks and melodies. I think there are certain lines in my songs that resonate too.
A lot of the recent music I’ve released, particularly ‘Real Good Fight’ and ‘You Found Me’, speak to people about strength and resilience – about coming through something difficult against the odds, and being a stronger person for it.
Who are your musical influences?
My musical influences range far and wide, so it’s gonna be a long list – I think the influences you’ll hear buried in my music at one point or another are Coldplay, Fleetwood Mac, Pet Shop Boys, Morrissey, Brandon Flowers, Darren Hayes, Sam Hunt, Chris Stapleton, George Michael, Avicii, The Chainsmokers, Elbow, Arcade Fire, William Orbit, Madonna, Goldfrapp, Royksopp, Roisin Murphy, Jessie Ware, John Mayer, Simply Red, The Pierces, The Cure.
A real mix of classic and contemporary, but probably weighing heavier on the classic side. I also listen to a huge amount of instrumental music, particularly lounge and electronica, and I have done since my teenage years.
Who are your non-musical influences?
I’m a big fan of anyone who’s got the confidence of steel to see their dream through and make it a reality. I like that brash, showman bravado, even in sportsmen – so I’d be a big fan of people like Conor McGregor, Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, David Beckham, John Cena.
I find it hugely inspiring when people don’t listen to any of the naysayers or gatekeepers and have a sort of tunnel vision that leads towards their goals.
What’s the best gig that you have ever played?
I haven’t had my best gig yet! As much as I can enjoy a casual gig in any of the many venues I’ve played with my live band in Dublin, I dream of a proper spectacle of a gig with great production values, in a venue where you have the attention of the audience, with a great atmosphere.
Last year we played in a competition called the Crystal Skull Sessions at a venue called Sin E in Dublin, and that was a lot of fun, it was a full house, and we ended up getting through to the final round, so, for now, I suppose I’ll go with that one!
What is your funniest gig moment?
My funniest gig moment is only funny in retrospect. I never forget the lyrics to my own songs, but I’m more likely to forget the words to a cover we’re performing live. It happened last year after we had one rehearsal where we played Charlie Puth’s ‘Attention’ and I insisted on playing it at our gig the very next night even though we’d only tried it once.
Anyway, I came in an octave too high, and realised, sh*t, I’ve nowhere to go from here, I can’t reach those notes, so I panicked and kept singing the same verse, and was glaring at my guitarist as if he could do anything about it, at the time I thought he was playing it in a higher key.
It was a lesson to not be so cocky about being ready after one little rehearsal; it was lucky that it was a small enough gig, I’d have been mortified if it was a bigger audience. I think by the third time I sang the verse I was throwing in so much ornamentation it was almost unrecognisable!
What do you think are the biggest obstacles for bands/artists today?
I think the biggest obstacles are the same as they’ve always been – gatekeepers and payola. As much as it might seem that independent artists have equal opportunities to those signed to a major label these days, that’s not the case.
Not unless you are filthy rich, and can afford to pay radio pluggers, Spotify pluggers, a publicist, the list goes on. Trying to do all of those things yourself is frustrating because you are setting yourself up for failure if you expect to have the same outcome as someone who has a budget and/or a team.
I think if you’re on a tight budget and completely independent, you just have to be mindful of that, and be realistic with your goals, and don’t be too hard on yourself if you fall short of your expectations, as long as you’re putting in the work.
Another issue is the lack of transparency of how a lot of things work within radio and streaming playlists. Things have got a bit better with Spotify because you can now actually submit your single for playlist consideration, but of course, there are such vast amounts of releases every week now that they don’t have time to give feedback on your track.
I think because we can’t earn much from streaming royalties now, we have to work one or more jobs to afford to support ourselves and also pay for our passion projects, and that means fewer man-hours left to put into creating and promoting. So we as artists are more likely to suffer burnout, exhaustion, chronic fatigue, whatever you want to call it.
A lot of people look at making music as a hobby now, moonlighting as a live performer and recording artist, and then having a day job – that’s where I’m at, and that’s my choice because I’ve been in a situation for five years where I didn’t perform or record, and I missed it so badly that it’s worth having it even if it’s something you pay to do rather than being paid for!
What advice would you give to other bands/artists starting out?
For other artists starting out, I would say, spend plenty of time discovering who you are musically as an artist and what you want to say. The beauty of being new and not having released anything is that there’s no audience waiting on you, and you get to do it right from the very start.
There is so much out there; how are you different? Show that in your music, your branding, your social channels, and your live shows too. Give yourself adequate time before your first release to build up hype, and have a plan in place – whether it’s a spreadsheet or notepad, make a note of everyone you want to approach, don’t send blanket emails, do your research about who it is you’re approaching, and be as happy as you can be with your material before sending it to anyone, because once it’s out it’s out, and you have to be prepared for people to judge it, you want it to be the best you’re capable of at that point.
Try to avoid comparing yourself to others at your level and ahead of you, keep your head down and hustle hard, be sound to the people you meet along the way at gigs whether it’s the sound guy, the booker, whoever, you don’t get to be an asshole when you’re at the bottom of the ladder!
What are your hopes for the next two years?
Since 2018 I’ve just released singles, and I still think that’s a great way forward for new or unknown artists, because we can spend a couple of months promoting each song and then move on with something fresh, and it allows us to experiment too.
In saying that, having now released three collaborative singles with Skynem GT, I’m ready to release a larger body of work to house those, along with a few others. I want it to be an immersive experience where you press play and zone out for 20 minutes or so.
I want to celebrate the success we’ve had with these singles, because we’ve got so many incredible reviews and comments, and it’ll be nice to give the songs a chance to shine all in one place. When the time comes where we are allowed to go back out and play live again, I will go back out there with a different package, more representative of who I am today – and I want to film a show too, something special to look back on in years to come!
I’ve long had plans to do an unplugged record too, it’ll happen when the time is right, and that’ll likely be within the two-year timeframe!
FV Music Blog August 2020
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