Sunday, 15 November 2015

Interview: Gary O'Neill plus E.P. - Gracefully With Haste

Gary O'Neill Musician Dublin
Photo: Dave Uzell

Gary O'Neill - Vienna

Info: Kilkenny man Gary O'Neill is a Dublin-based singer-songwriter who is establishing himself in his new home city with a full-on involvement in hosting residencies and his own live performances. During the summer O'Neill released his sophomore E.P., Gracefully With Haste, and since then has been tirelessly showcasing his material on Dublin's live circuit and beyond. I had the pleasure of picking Gary's brain regarding his experiences to date and an imagined encounter with Mr. Ed Sheeran below, but first, an introduction to his music...

The new E.P. opens with the folk country sounds of 'Vienna' (above), a sweet bouncing piece of Americana with rhythmic acoustic guitars and harmonies that traverses The Boss and Van Morrison. 'Treasure Chest' starts out like a locomotive at full pelt before drawing down to O'Neill's softly sung yet mildly gravelly vocals, a recurring trait, he manages to provide a musically upbeat backdrop to his ballads. 

Jazz hands open the swaggering and excellent 'If You Don't Mind', a multitude of styles are happening here with bluesy guitars and funky beats, a definite favourite for me on the E.P.. I can't shake the musical alignment with Van Morrison once again on 'In Search of Something New', specifically the Belfast legends Saint Dominic's Preview and Veedon Fleece period, thankfully O'Neill doesn't share Van's intolerance for happiness! Gracefully With Haste ends with the beautifully bare and honest 'Hannah & The Cobblestones', lyrically strong with nice melodies and harmonies it suitably caps the 6-track recording on a high note (pun acknowledgement) and convinces the listener that O'Neill is a serious songwriter who doesn't take himself too seriously.

Remy: How did the whole Gary O'Neill journey begin when it came to writing your own music?

Gary: I was involved in a few bands in my teens. I started off making buckets of that clich├ęd, spotty teenage-noise in my garage. It was only when I started with a band, Alka Jessie - at around 15/16 years old is when I started writing songs for the band. I wrote an album or two with those guys - and we’re all still musically involved with each other today.  

R: You moved from your hometown Kilkenny to Dublin in 2013, at a time when 
Dublin is buzzing with acts, shows and venues like never before, do you think 
the tide has yet to touch Ireland's smaller cities and towns?

G: Honestly? It’s hard to call. I mean, small towns are on the way out, traditionally. All the young folk seem to be urbanizing and moving to the big ‘shmoke’ - be it here or abroad. But with that said - a few friends from back home have started doing wonderful things for music in Kilkenny. Not so long ago there was no real platform for music, but now - thanks to Colin & AJ - there’s loads of open mic/acoustic nights/new venues going around. So that’s great to see! 

R: You're music is firmly in the singer-songwriter tradition, rather than ask 
the tired question of inspirations from the past, who would you consider to be 
the most authentic contemporary song-writers, or ones that you would admire?

G: BAH! You’re dead right - there’s a question nobody like answering! It’s hard to pin it down to just a few people with the volume of music I listen to everyday, so I’m glad you re-phrased the question. For me - I’m actually influenced mostly by what goes on in Dublin. There are plenty of people I’ve met in some dingey, smelly underground open mic who’ve really snatched my musical heart up. You meet loads of folk like that around the ‘circuit’ - and I find it’s a lot easier to be inspired when something magical is happening right in front of your eyes. Callum Orr, the Basciville duo, David Keenan, the girls of Mongoose, Eoin Martin, Daniel O’Sullivan, Colobe - guys that I’ve all met through playing music who I’d now consider good mates of mine because of it.

R: Your second EP, Gracefully With Haste was just released this summer, the 
six track is ponderous and uplifting in many ways, would you're writing be more 
influenced by positive themes as opposed to drawing inspiration from painful or 
sombre narratives?

G: Ah, thanks! It all depends, really. Writing songs, whether they’re good or bad - is like second nature to me. I’m obsessed with it. It’s like every one of my emotional outputs is penned on some paper or plucked on a guitar. The EP is a mixture - most of the tracks are heartache-y break up songs while the rest are maybe close to the opposite. I dunno - songs I write just depend on what mood I’m in, and most of the one’s I keep are the ones that come most naturally. Which is why I’m terrible at talking about the depth of my songs, because they’re usually just written in some moment or state of mind that can only be conveyed through a tune. I try not to dwell on it too much, whatever comes naturally works best for me - because I feel when you think too much on the expressions and meanings of your own songs - you get a bit obsessively introverted, and that can be no craic.   

R: You recently mentioned one of your songs was inspired by the Sean Penn 
directed film Into The Wild, were you moved to pen the track immediately or 
had you been thinking about the films storyline for a good while before 
deciding to write it?

G: Yeah you’re right - I wrote a song recently called ‘Alexander Supertamp’ - and it tells the story of a young buck who came from an extremely wealthy family of whom’s values were centred around money. Basically, as the film goes - he cut off from everyone, everything - and went on a one man expedition into the wild. He had nothing, materialistically speaking, but was swamped by the joy of nothing and had a bloody great time. I watched the film, went straight up to my room and wrote that song start to finish - which was kind of cool. I’m not usually instantly stricken by something - but that film just hit me. The soundtrack was written by Eddie Vedder and it’s unreal too, so that could have helped? Anyway -  the guy’s fake name was Alexander Supertramp, hence the title of the tune!  

R: Your involvement in music doesn't end with live performances and writing, 
you're also involved in other projects and residencies in Dublin, tell us a bit 
more about that, and what would be your ideal line of work within the music 
area if you had to pick one as a day job to support your craft?

G: Well wouldn’t it be ideal if the craft could support itself, whaaat? Ah no. I’ve got a few residency pub gigs at the weekends and I work part-time in a burrito joint. I recently started a new music night with a buddy or two in a place called The Front Door on Dame St which happens every Wednesday. I’m involved with a Crimbo charity gig we’re running in The Button Factory on December 20th and I have plans to merge a few new groups over the coming months just for fun. It’s always nice to jam. I started a part-time songwriting course in BIMM too, so that’s opened my eyes and doors to a lot. I’m kind of drawn into the idea of professional songwriting now just speaking to some lecturers of mine who make a decent living from that. I started working at a few festivals this year as an Artist Liaison Officer, which is basically just the guy who makes sure all the acts are looked after at whatever festival - so that’s cool too. We’ll see. But for now I’m happy out rolling burritos and playing Oasis every Friday. 

R: Finally, if Ed Sheeran walked up to you just after you'd come off stage and 
told you you were a sell-out and don't have a note in your head, what would 
your response be?

G: I’d probably just laugh and buy him a pint. Whether it’s Ed Sheeran or some sloppy blaggard in the pub of a Friday night telling me how useless I am because I didn’t play Christy Moore, I’m kind of neutral to it all. I’m happy out. And as long as I’m enjoying it, nothing else really matters - does it?

To find out more about Gary O'Neill and his tunage and upcoming live shows, see below.....

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