RGM INTRODUCING – WE INTERVIEW DUBLIN DUO ONEMAC PROJECT
Hiya folks thanks for joining us in the virtual RGM lounge today, grab a brew and take a seat.
What made you decide that music is a thing for you?
James: It’s not so much that I consciously decided that music was the thing for me, it was more like a natural evolution within. It became something almost as important as breathing. I couldn’t live without it.
Michael: It was a subconscious decision in some ways. In school when teachers would ask the class what we wanted to be when we grew up, I would always say that music was my first love. It was quite common for the teenage me to end up being the DJ at any house party I was invited to.
Despite having a successful DJ career where I was Ireland’s “Young DJ of The Year” at 19, I only stayed as a DJ for a few years before turning my back on it as I was getting little or no joy playing the same songs over and over. However, I never fully left the music business behind me, and in recent years, I finally discovered that my true calling was songwriting. And here I am now, better late than never.
Introduce us to all of the members and your musical history.
James: I’m James O Connor a singer, songwriter, guitarist and human trumpet if the opportunity arises.
Michael: I’m Michael MacMahon, songwriter and former DJ. I can sing but I would not classify myself as a singer. As for instruments, I’d say I’m a dabbler in that I can usually bang out something half-recognisable but after that, I leave it to the musicians.
What was life like for you before music?
James: I’ve always had music in my life in some capacity. From an early age, I remember singing and dancing to music my parents were playing or when I was singing in school. I can’t remember a time when music wasn’t a big part of my life.
Michael: My earliest memories even as a baby were of music. My mum had a fiddle and could play harmonica. I remember her telling me that as a baby when music came on the radio, I would rock like crazy in the pram. As soon as I was old enough to reach the radio, I was constantly searching for music I liked. To this day, I love to explore new music.
What was the first song you heard that steered you into a music path?
James: One of my earliest memories of being blown away by a song was when I first heard James Brown “ I Got You “ (I Feel Good) I was about 4 or 5. It completely captivated me and made me instantly move around. It definitely had a huge impact on me at that time. It still makes me feel good.
Michael: As I said earlier, I have always searched for good music, regardless of genre or how old it is. Good music is good music. Buddy Holly was an inspirational songwriter and a huge influence on me.
I was amazed to discover that when Lennon and McCartney wrote their first songs, they referenced Buddy Holly as indeed did Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards. So yes, Buddy Holly was an inspiration. As for the first song that blew me away, look no further than the Beach Boys, “Good Vibrations”. Sheer genius that made me realise that music didn’t have to be sterile, it could be exciting and expansive.
Where do you feel you currently sit within the music industry?
James: I think I sit comfortably on the stool by the door, I can watch the room while still knowing exactly where the exit is in case I have to leave early. 😂 I find great comfort in singing playing guitar and writing songs and not so much in the workings of the commercial industry. As long as I enjoy listening and playing music everything else is a bonus.
Michael: Like most new artists, I think we sit somewhere in the background trying to be heard above the noise. It’s so hard to compete with the big labels who seem to run everything based on algorithms where every artist is packed into a specific genre or market, but having said that, in eighteen months we have amassed more than half a million streams on Spotify and currently have almost 6,000 monthly listeners.
So we are making progress. We have recently been negotiating with some top music supervisors in the U.S.A. and Canada regarding using some of our songs in upcoming TV Shows and possibly in some movies, so that’s very encouraging. Fingers crossed.
What’s the biggest thing you have learned from someone else in the industry?
James: I always look to the greats of the music industry, I watch what they do and one thing is for sure they consistently try to write good songs. In a conversation with Don Baker, he told me that there are many ups and downs within the industry but whatever you do always keep going.
Michael: Two things stand out. On a personal level as a young aspiring DJ, I remember being told by Pat Egan, a well-established DJ, “Don’t say something unless it’s worth hearing, and if it’s worth hearing, make sure it can be heard”.
On songwriting, in an interview by Leonard Cohen, he said that he revisits and reworks songs over and over until every word fits as perfectly as possible into the song. Suddenly, I realised that I didn’t have to get the song 100% right the first time out. It’s okay to edit.
Tell us Two truths and a lie about you.
I was an extra in the Jimi Hendrix biopic
I accidentally swam in shark-infested waters in Australia
I played onstage in the National Concert Hall
I once sang a few songs onstage with my older brother’s group
When on tour, along with a few other crew members, we lifted one of the crew who was slightly worse for wear, along with his mattress, into the elevator and sent them down to the hotel lobby, all while he was fast asleep.
I brought the Boomtown Rats in my disco van to London and The Netherlands to play their first gigs outside Ireland
If you could wish for one thing to aid your career what would it be?
James: I think having an established artist cover one of our songs would be a huge boost and would shine a light on all the material that we have that deserves to be heard.
Michael: I agree with James. Having the quality of our songs highlighted by an established artist would be a huge boost.
Do you ever worry about people taking things the wrong way or cancel culture? Discuss….
James: I think cancel culture has gone too far to be perfectly honest about it. I understand that people are not entitled to be nasty to others or cause hurt intentionally by deliberately using derogatory language or trying to annoy others.
We don’t ever engage in that sort of behaviour which has always been wrong in my eyes. When I was going to school we were told to show respect and be mindful of others. Nowadays I think people are way too easily offended when they really should be able to rise above what they hear and move on with their lives especially when it comes to art or comedy.
Michael: There is no doubt that society as a whole needs to be more tolerant, especially in terms of recognising the rights of others. But in many cases, this has gone too far with some people seemingly looking for something to be offended by.
Words uttered without intent to hurt or offend, should not be a problem. There is a fine line between what is and is not acceptable but banning books is the start of the road to ignorance. Live and let live. There is no room for hate but plenty of room for love and who we love is nobody’s business but ours. Regardless of colour, creed or beliefs, we are all human. This is a subject that we deal with in a number of our songs.
Do you sign up to any conspiracy theories? If not, why not?
James: I don’t sign up too much at all unless it’s absolutely necessary and there are consequences involved like the TV license for example. Human beings are one big conspiracy theory it’s hard to know what they will get up to next.
Michael: Not a chance. The internet has made so much information freely available and we are free to read and/or believe whatever we choose. The problem is that if we live in a bubble, we only hear the opinions of the people in the same bubble.
As we wrote in a song from our upcoming 2024 second album, “We’re living in a wilderness of mirrors where nothing we see is what it seems”. I know sometimes I can be a fool and that’s okay, but I don’t want to be somebody else’s fool 🙂
What was the worst experience on stage?
James: I think letting the guitar bounce off the ground because the strap came off is possibly the worst thing that can happen mid-song.
Michael: I was playing a DJ gig in front of a pretty rough crowd when a fight started. Some guys jumped onto the stage and to our surprise stood in front of our gear to make sure nobody could damage it. It was scary but a good outcome for us. One of the guys told me that the row was not with us so they would make sure we didn’t come to any harm.
Tell us something about you / each member that you think people would be surprised about.
James: People always act surprised when I tell them I’ve never watched the movie Dirty Dancing. I don’t like Science Fiction or Fantasy so that usually gets a bit of a reaction
Michael: My life is a fantasy so I guess James doesn’t like me 😂 But seriously, given that I write lyrics, people are surprised to learn that, outside school, I only read three books – Lord of The Rings (trilogy + prequel), Dune (trilogy), and The Long Valley. So I suppose you could say I’ve read 8 books.
What makes you stand out as a band/artist?
James: I think in the case of Onemac Project the fact that we come from two different backgrounds makes it seem like it wouldn’t work but it does. The difference in age along with the styles of writing combine to bring a unique sound and style of music that can’t be defined in one particular genre.
Michael: I know the “unique” label is bandied about too much but I think it suits us. We can’t be defined by genre, style, sound or image. We use the tagline ‘Music Without Limits” for a reason. We vary our writing process and sometimes we can’t remember who contributed what to each song.
What we write depends on taking an idea or maybe a lyric or melody and developing it with no preconceived idea of how we want it to sound. As we say, “Let’s roll the dice and see where it lands”.
I hear you have new music, what can you tell us about it?
James: The new album, “The Hermit Speaks” is currently available on all streaming platforms. It’s an eclectic mix of songs that cover many lyrical themes such as love, loss, revenge and loneliness it’s quality songwriting and well planned out. It’s a piece of work that captures characters’ lives and moments in time. It cannot be pigeonholed into any particular genre and that’s the way we like it.
Michael: When we set out in early 2022 to write and record an album for a 2023 release, we didn’t expect that the synergy would be so good. Eighteen months on from the start of the process, we have 55 minutes of new music on The Hermit Speaks, a 14-song (13 tracks) album just released, enough songs written and recorded for a second album in the first half of 2024, and enough in production to release a third album around about September 2024. As James said, we cover a range of topics from some very dark and personal to a few light-hearted and fun tracks. Eclectic? Yes!
What was the recording process like?
James: Recording was a very smooth and efficient process, some elements were remotely done by our team of musicians and engineers. My guitars and vocals were all recorded at the Onemac Studio where Michael and I live in close proximity.
Overall there was no stress involved in any of the recordings and no time constraints whatsoever. We worked at our own pace and finished each track before moving on to the next. Anything we needed to revisit we went back on and when everyone could agree we signed off on the tracks to be mixed by our engineer Chris.
Michael: Despite the darkness of Covid, we found a silver lining in that we built our own recording studio. We had previously spent two days in a big recording studio working on some of our first songs but with our own studio, we have fantastic freedom and we use it. Without time constraints, we were able to try many new things and if they didn’t work, no problem.
All the songs on The Hermit Speaks were recorded in the Onemac Studio. We found a great group of high-quality players in different locations to be our virtual band members. Daniel is a 20-year double bass session player out of New York, Marvin is a really funky bass player who fills most of our electric bass needs, Jordan is a professional drummer with a purpose-built drum recording booth in Canada and Andy is a classical musician who plays keys with a rock band and has a fantastic recording facility.
They have become an integral part of Onemac Project. More recently, we collaborated with Erik Sjøholm, a Madrid-based singer-songwriter on writing and recording. He spent three days in our studio and features on three of the tracks on this album and we have another 14 in the bag for future albums.
What was the biggest learning curve in writing the new tunes?
James: For me, I wanted to focus more on the musical direction and structure of the songs rather than the lyrical content, I wanted to break out of any style I had developed up to that point in my solo work. Taking another approach is always important to allow the music to lead you in a direction it wants to go, without trying to constrain it.
Michael: To be perfectly honest, the learning curve was a gentle one. Everything just fell into place so easily. I had admired James’s solo work so it was something of an honour to work with him. But once we got together, he was so supportive and encouraging I never felt under pressure and we happily shared ideas that worked for the songs we were writing.
And as we both alluded to, the fact that we had our own recording studio, there was no pressure on us so we wrote, we recorded and we had great fun doing so.
Would you change anything now that it’s finished?
James: I don’t think I would change anything, but there’s always a thing with musicians and singers that they can be very self-critical about their parts of the song. I try not to focus on that afterwards. I always do the best I can at the moment and all that to be captured in the recording. It can always be performed differently in a live setting if I really want to change things up a bit. The important thing is to record the song at the time the best way you can.
Michael: No! Cutting down from 32 songs that could have made the album to the 14 that did, was a real pain but, having made the final decisions, I am more than happy with the end result. I’ve played it for a few industry insiders and some went so far as to suggest that it’s good enough for award consideration. That would be nice.
Is there anything else you would like to share with the world?
James: I would like people to listen to these songs and take some meaning from them for themselves. I hope they will connect with the lyrics and music on some level and that this in turn leaves a positive impression on each individual. We took a great deal of time to put these songs together so that they would add to the world some piece of creativity that wasn’t there beforehand.
Michael: Many of the songs come from deep inside and to be honest, I often write lyrics that I’ve no idea where they came from. When I read them back, I sometimes do a double-take and ask myself, “Where did that come from?”. Having said that I recognise the time in my past where some lyrics came from. That can be a bit scary but liberating also. Hopefully, the songs will resonate with the listeners and they can, in some way, connect with us. That would make it all worthwhile.