RGM Introducing, we catch up with Irelands – Robert O’Connor

Hiya mate take a seat, what made you decide to start as an artist?

What’s up! I left school early and went to LA on an actor’s convention. While I was there, as much as it was an amazing experience working with seasoned casting agents and other young talent, I kept thinking about how much I was looking forward to getting to work on music when I got home. So when I got back to Dublin I made my first professional recording, a song called “Ten Years Time”, and I knew that was the right fit for me right away. As much as everyone says it’s a massive uphill battle, I don’t think I ever really realised how challenging a career it would be, and that it would never really get any easier, despite an ever-changing landscape!

What is the unsigned scene in Dublin like at the minute?

Tedious! There are a lot of open mic gigs that anyone can play, and then there are the gigs that you see certain artists playing, but it’s sort of a mystery of how you get to actually play them – often you’ll think, It’s because you have to do a certain amount of hustling before you can get these venues, but then you’ll see some guy fresh off his first single getting the booking and it can be more than a little bit frustrating. Support slots are where it’s at if you wanna reach an audience, particularly getting a support slot with an artist that is likely to have fans who will also enjoy what you’re bringing to the table. Outside of the live scene, radio is also a very real challenge. There’s a bunch of community and local radio stations that are beyond amazing – so supportive and encouraging – and without them I might not even be doing what I’m doing now, but the bigger names again have this air of mystery around them. If you’re independent and don’t have the funds to hire a PR company or a radio plugger, you can forget about getting on any major playlists. You might get a spot play, if you’re lucky, and that’s the position I’ve been in – and while you’re grateful for it, you do feel a bit “what exactly is that gonna do for me?” The truth is, to be heard by the masses, your track needs to be in rotation. There’s also the sense in Ireland that a certain brand of pop/rock is favoured on radio above all other genres – a sort of Ed Sheeran-derivative style usually made my white middle class males in their 20s –  but I think that’s slowly changing with the emergence of some great urban and electronic acts coming out of Ireland. I suppose the way I look at it now is that Dublin, and Ireland, is a drop in the ocean, and with music consumption being predominantly digital now, we can find fans anywhere in the world – there are no limits for me, it just happens to be where I live.

What good bands are coming out of Dublin at the minute? 

I recently made an Irish playlist on Spotify called Entirely Irish, and I made it as an exercise for myself to try to find Irish-made music that I enjoy, because truthfully what I hear on commercial Irish radio a lot of the times I’ve been exposed to it, I don’t tend to enjoy. I discovered lots of great bands and solo artists, and it was amazing to me to then go and follow some of them on social media and find that actually, many were almost entirely unknown, with just a couple of thousand followers and no real hype behind them, and you just think “but they’re so good – how can this be?!” An act I found that I absolutely fell in love with on first listen was In Bits, who makes this beautiful ambient dream pop, the exact kind of music that does it for me, and I think, I certainly hope, we’ll be hearing a lot more from him – he’s just released an EP so I strongly recommend everyone checks that out. One of the more well-known bands on the playlist, Soda Blonde, are made up of several members of the now defunct Little Green Cars, but they’ve gone down a more electronic pop route, and it sounds very fresh and current. Finally, there’s an urban act called NONZUS MAGNUS, his track “Outta Love” is on my playlist, and I’m totally addicted to it – his voice is like honey and the production is just immaculate – I’m just loving finally having this sort of diversity coming out of Ireland.

What’s your favourite song right now from another band?

“Black Lagoon” by Still Corners. Ethereal shoegaze that sends you into a trance and gives you the chills. I was gonna say it’s kinda like Fleetwood Mac if they took all the drugs, but they did take all the drugs, so I’ll say kind of like Fleetwood Mac if they launched in 2020. When I’m in a period of listening to Still Corners, and I try to then listen to another band, I just feel really let down, and I go back to Still Corners records. It’s just the perfect crafted song, to be honest. Their minds, they’re special.

What support is out there for new artists in Dublin?

There’s a wonderful company called First Music Contact in Dublin, and the woman behind it, Angela Dorgan, is a godsend. It took me months to get a meeting with her, which was completely free by the way, but it was worth the wait. I remember her saying to me “Always ask yourself the Why”, and it has stuck with me ever since. Whenever I go to make a post on my socials now I think, “Why am I doing this, and what do I hope to achieve with this?” It sounds extreme, but you really do need to think about your reasoning for doing things, and not just rush through everything and then wonder why after the fact. The nice thing about Angela, and FMC, is that they aren’t about getting you to sell-out and find the fastest track to commercial success, they also want you to become the artist you were meant to be. At my meeting we even talked about my style of music, and when I spoke about making more commercial EDM, there was the question of was that something I personally enjoyed, which of course it is, but I respect the way they approach things and get you to really think about who you want to be as an artist and how you’re going to communicate that. I would recommend anyone books an appointment with FMC, regardless to what stage of your career you’re at – you will learn.

Who is inspiring you at the min?

2020 has been a great year for new albums from acts that I am a real fan of – earlier in the year Pet Shop Boys released ‘Hotspot’, the third in their trilogy of albums produced by Stuart Price, who is one of my favourite producers too, and I played that constantly for maybe two months – it ended up being my favourite of the three. I love that as a band they have done things on their own terms from day one, and their sound is so instantly recognisable, and even more so I love that they haven’t become a heritage act peddling endless Greatest Hits collections and Great American Songbook covers – my absolute pet hate in older acts. Then there was the Tame Impala album ‘The Slow Rush’, a career-best for him, in my opinion. I would go to the gym and listen to the album on repeat twice every day – it gave me this relentless energy, the production is do driving and summery, but then there’s also so many layers to it and you discover something new on every listen. I can’t say enough good things about Tame Impala in all honesty, the live show in Dublin last summer was what I imagine being on drugs to be line – it was just pure euphoria. I had never been a full-on fan of the Weeknd until hearing his latest album ‘After Hours’, which is just sublimely dark and brooding – and again I did my usual thing of listening to it constantly for weeks on end. I discovered it at the beginning of the global pandemic so it became my lockdown album! Finally, another artist who I hadn’t been an active follower of, Jessie Ware, grabbed me by the balls this week with her new album ‘What’s Your Pleasure’. I feel like Donna Summer has passed the disco torch to Jessie – she has this sensual voice, and whether she’s singing over disco, house, or R&B, it always sort of transport me to another world. I listened to the record about 12 times in two days – yeah, I get a little obsessive. Everything I listen to these days has some sort of electronic element, that’s the common denominator I have figured.

What was the most fun you have had on stage?

I haven’t had the live show I want to have just yet, and it’s not looking like I’m gonna have it in 2020 either, is it? After not playing live since 2012, when I came back to making music in 2018 I had a desire to go out and play, but it was decided that for the first 12 months I would release a string of singles and focus my energies on building my online presence and my relationships with radio and press, which I did. The task of assembling a live band that would take my songs into a live environment was one that would take some time, and so I didn’t want to be distracted doing it while also trying to promote a single, so I took three months at the beginning of 2019 to sort it out. I eventually found three great guys – Filippe, Veki and Gavin – and we bonded pretty quickly. They now have my back catalogue nailed and as I’ve said to them before, they actually got me to like some of my older material that I had long lost interest in – they brought the songs to life again, and into this new era. I mentioned last year that I would record an unplugged EP or album, and that’s still on the cards, it’s just not happening right this second now. I think when it does, it’ll be solid, and I’ve a confidence that many of the songs will sound even better recorded in that sort of “live” fashion.

What was the worst experience on stage?

Not being able to hear yourself is every artist’s worst nightmare I think. I’ve had that issue a few times where the sound engineer is having an off night, or there’s technical difficulties. It takes the enjoyment out of a performance, because you’re straining and then you’re stressed wondering what it sounds like in the room. Actually, worse than that is the very last gig we played last October, was one of those competition situations. It was the final round, and we had really enjoyed the previous round, at the same venue. On this occasion we arrived around 9pm and we were waiting to play, which is fairly standard, where they take names out of a hat and call out the name of the band. Cut to almost 1am and we were either the last or second last act to go on stage, and there had been one particularly obnoxious band on before us who played an excessively long set. Anyway, as a result, we played maybe three songs and we had just started our forth, ironically called “Too Late”, and within two lines the sound engineer called out “You’re finished”, and cut the sound. I thought it was so unprofessional – for the sake of 3 minutes – and it left a really bad taste in my mouth about the whole operation. 

If you could play any music festival which would it be?

Coachella please! Imagine being on a line-up like that, in the middle of the Colorado desert – it’s just unthinkable really, it’s a wild dream! I think the atmosphere would be incredible too. I’ve come to really love outdoor gigs – last summer I saw Lana Del Rey and The Cure within weeks at an outdoor venue here in Dublin, and it was just such a great experience being out in the sun with people who loved the same music. Previously I would have said I preferred indoor gigs because you tend to get a better sound, but there is an energy at outdoor gigs that’s hard to beat.

Best gig you’ve been to that you weren’t playing? 

There’s too many to mention – and all for different reasons. Of last year’s gigs, for sure Tame Impala – the pure energy and intensiveness of the show was just brilliant. I would love to see Roisin Murphy again – her live shows are always insane and she just gives it 100% every single time. She’s in a league of her own as far as solo female electronic artists are concerned, I think – I wish we’d give her more credit here in Ireland, and brag about her more often! I love a bit of nostalgia too, and me and my group of friends went to both the ‘90s Disco and the Steps shows in the last couple of years, and both were just some of the best nights I’ve ever had – pure unadulterated joy – and particularly with the Steps show, the production values were spectacular, almost like a theatre production, they really know what the audience wants and give it to them in spades. I haven’t completely abandoned country either though, I went to see James Barker Band at a really small venue in Dublin last year, and it was an absolute blast – we were front row and we got to meet them, and I got to fan-boy over them for longer than necessary!

Who would you like to duet with?

I’d be more a fan of featuring on a track by an electronic act – maybe Metronomy – I love his production style and how it always manages to sound like something you’ve never heard before. It’s hard to come by that originality. Yeah, I’d be pretty ecstatic if he sent me something to write on, or something to put vocals on!

What advice would you give your younger self ?

Take your time – rushing is where the mistakes happen. I released my debut album way too quickly, and that’s your introduction to the record-buying public, you don’t get to do it again. There are elements of the album I still enjoy, and I don’t think it’s a bad record, but I had spent a lot of money making it, and at the time didn’t have the budget to then promote the way it needed to be promoted – PR, a radio tour, music videos, all of that. So when it came out it was very much an anti-climax – all of the work I’d put in was building up to a release and then it was all over. It was three years before I recorded anything again because I was drained and I never felt like I got anything back from it I suppose. I was at college and working too at the same time, so I suppose it was treated as a side project – so that would be another piece of advice, focus, find what’s most important to you, and put all of your energies into that. None of us has the capacity to executive everything perfectly at the same time, and as artists also working, that can be what tips us over the edge sometimes.

What makes you stand out as from a crowded industry?

I think on a very basic level, being true to my voice – literally and metaphorically. My tone of voice is mine, I don’t mimic other male artists I hear on the radio – that’s a personal pet hate of mine actually, Dublin lads singing like they’re from London, the diction and pronunciation – it makes me cringe! I’m not a bandwagon hopper – while my style of music evolves from country to soft rock to EDM, at the core it’s always recognisably “me”, I think. There is an honesty and a purity to it, especially lyrically – I don’t collaborate on lyrics so there’s always a sense that they are 100% a product of my mind. I think it’s almost impossible to stand out given the sheer volume of artists now, with self-releases being possible, but I think you’ve a better chance of standing out being yourself than by trying to be someone else.

Right now, what’s pissing you off the most? (Can’t say the virus) 

Radio presenters with music shows on Twitter with “Don’t DM me music” in their bio. A lot of these radio presenters with major networks feel invincible I think, and like it’s not their job to break you, or listen to your work – but what I’d say is, it’s a new world fellas, we have direct access to potential fans on Instagram and Tik Tok, and your opinion is no longer as relevant as it once was. Be nice when you’re at the top, because there’s a great big cliff, and I think a lot of once bombproof radio stations are very close to the edge – they might just find themselves playing catch-up with the bloggers they frown upon in a few short years!

We recently reviewed your last single. How did you feel the review went?

From what I can remember, the last single of mine you reviewed was “No Second Chances”. I went back to take a look at what was said, but it’s longer online! From what I can remember, it was something along the lines of it not being the reviewer’s cup of tea, but that it was a strong country song typical of the genre. I don’t take reviews to heart – it’s great when you get a good one, and I’m lucky that I’ve had a fair few – but you have to remember they’re just opinions at the end of the day, and you can’t win ‘em all.

I hear there is a single bubbling, what can you tell us about it?

Oh it’s more than brewing, it’s ready! It’ll be out on July 31 and it’s my third collaboration with Skynem GT – a young electronic artist from Peru. It’s an unlikely combination, but I had said last year that I wanted to get involved in a partnership where I would write songs and collaborate with an electronic producer – a little bit like how Will Gregory and Alison Goldfrapp operate in Goldfrapp – and the universe delivered! It was kind of an accident, I held a competition on Instagram to win the opportunity to remix my single “Real Good Fight” and Skynem GT won with his submission, which was a tropical EDM version of the track. We released a single together, “Older ‘20”, in January, and it was a slow-burn success, we had big, big gains on streaming on both Apple Music and Spotify, particularly after the lockdown happened! With this song, we were conscious of not repeating ourselves, so this track is more EDM chillout, it’s very Ibiza poolside vibes, something you might hear in a cocktail bar. There’s a strong pop hook and one of my best lyrics I’ve written, but it feels a lot less cliché as a chillout track than if it were an acoustic ballad.

Whats coming up in 2020 for the band?

I’m taking it one day at a time, because with the global pandemic being an ongoing reality, we can’t plan too far ahead. There are new songs written and ready to be recorded, that will happen in due course, and as I said before the unplugged project with the band – I will do that when it can be executed exactly as I imagined it – a full show in the right setting to launch the record with, with all the bells and whistles. Before that though, myself and Skynem GT will get this single out and give it the push it deserves. I’m doing all the PR myself, so that’s time consuming stuff. We’re calling this single “the calm before the storm” because the next one is a big-time banger. We just have to figure the logistics or whether I’m gonna self-produce the vocal at home and make the investment in the equipment that would require, or whether I’ll go to a studio and have a vocal producer. We’re really excited about this partnership and the possibilities of what we can achieve together.

Is there anything else you would like to share with the world?

My Spotify – follow it! (https://open.spotify.com/artist/3cGgPditxbsHzV6v6jRAXC?si=359PUtUkQ3WDu1pGF0nS9Q)

I am very active in making themed playlists. They’re never random, I’m all about cohesive playlists that fit a mood – so there’s a chillout one coming, and there’s tropical, EDM, country, dreampop-specific playlists. I guarantee you’ll find several bands you fall in love with. Some artists make playlists like “My inspirations” purely to draw attention to their latest single, and of course you have to be self-serving in that way, but for me I just absolutely am passionate about telling my friends about new artists I’ve discovered – maybe I harbour a secret desire to be a DJ!