RGM INTRODUCING – WE INTERVIEW IRISH ARTIST SANO HILL
Hiya Sano thanks for joining us in the virtual RGM lounge today, grab a brew and take a seat.
Let’s get straight to it, what made you decide to pursue a career in music and is it your sole career or are you juggling like many Independent artists tend to do?
Music has always been part of my life – I grew up in a musical family (my mother is a traditional Irish musician and still gigs and performs regularly) and music was always around me. I started writing songs also quite young, partly because I was never happy with the covers I was doing of other people’s songs! But also because it provided me with a way of making sense of whatever was going on in my life at a particular time. But like most indie artists, the reality is that it’s very very difficult to make a living as an indie musician so my day job (so to speak) is as a University lecturer, teaching and researching film which is a further huge interest of mine.
Introduce our readers to yourself and your musical history.
I’m a singer-songwriter based in Galway City in Ireland who writes and performs melodic acoustic rock songs on various themes connected with life, love and loss – and informed by my musical and literary influences. I try to bring integrity and emotional honesty to what I do both in composition and performance and hopefully it comes through in the songs.
As I said I come from a musical family originally from Cavan (a small rural county in South Ulster) and I have been writing my own songs as long as I can remember. I moved to Galway to go to University and have been here ever since and Galway has such a rich music and broader cultural scene – my music has grown out of that background.
Though I wasn’t recording or performing publicly for some time when the pandemic arrived it gave me the time to focus on bringing my songs together and reworking them for release and when possible I went back into the studio and brought together the tracks that are featured on my new album ‘If Not Now When?’ (the title of which is partly a comment on how long it has taken me to finally get these songs out there!)
What was life like for you before you chose to create music or was it always something you did?
It was always something I did – it’s always been part of my daily routine music, playing music or songwriting, sometimes as a way of working through things going on in my life, sometimes just for the sheer enjoyment that music can bring.
What was the first song you heard that steered you into a music path?
Now – that’s a question! Really really difficult to answer. Probably Van Morrison’s ‘Madame George’ – that is one of the most extraordinary songs I ever heard and I remember distinctly the first time I heard it and the violins in particular and the passion and incredible lyrical richness of that song – it just opened up a window to me that had always been there I think but that it gave me a way into songwriting as something that could begin with the everyday experiences of life and bring meaning and understanding to that.
Where do you feel you currently sit within the music industry?
I’m not sure I’m sitting anywhere within the music industry to be honest! I find that term problematic as it describes an impersonal infrastructure that unfortunately doesn’t really care that much about the emerging indie artist – contemporary music culture maybe? I’m a singer-songwriter creating distinctive songs written and performed with integrity and passion and hopefully connect with people interested in those types of songs. Does the industry care about that? I doubt it.
What is the most important lesson you have learned from someone else in the industry?
I suppose the piece of advice I have received and that perhaps works across most areas of creativity and particularly music is to write from what you know, that is, in approaching songwriting, draw on where possible experiences and/or emotions that are real and authentic. It will be evident in the songs themselves, and audiences are more likely to connect with a song, particularly performances (whether live or recorded) that have this integrity. That’s what I try to do in my songwriting and performances.
Tell us Two truths and a lie about you?
My first instrument was the piano accordion.
I have a life-long fear of teddy bears.
I am a supporter of Sunderland AFC
If you could hope and wish for one thing to aid your career what would it be?
To get more commercial radio and television airplay – I genuinely believe there is an audience for the songs that I have written and the challenge (like many indie artists) is to find ways to get that music to those people.
Do you ever worry about people taking things the wrong way or cancel culture? Discuss….
Not really – you can’t keep second-guessing how someone might or might not interpret your work.
The reality is you can’t control how a song or work of art will be interpreted ultimately – engagement with creative arts is always a subjective experience for those encountering work and in fact I much prefer that people bring their own interpretation to what they encounter in my songs rather than trying to place an interpretation on it for them – it will mean much more to a listener if they can connect through their own experience.
Also, it would be incredibly damaging to a creative artist to be constantly focused on what an audience might or might not think of their work.
What was the worst experience you ever had on stage versus the best?
Not sure really – I try not to focus on the worst experiences, only so far as they may help make better decisions in the future! I suppose bad experiences are where you are playing a pub gig for example and you’re trying to bring new music to listeners more interested in drinking and talking – I’ve had a few of those that I’d prefer not to repeat. And then other times on the good days, you connect with an audience who start singing your songs along with you – perhaps songs they are only hearing for the first time. That’s incredible. Those are the good days ☺
Tell us something about you that you think people would be surprised about.
Hard question that! Maybe the main languages we speak at home are not English but Irish and Finnish as my partner is Finnish and my daughter is being raised in these languages. So you may hear some Irish-Finnish compositions in the future (though I’m not sure what the audience will be for that given the limited number of dual speakers of those two languages!)
What makes you stand out as an artist?
I actually believe in what I do and sing! So much contemporary music is soulless, almost like advertising jingles, some familiar catchy melodies that skim along the surface of – well nothing ultimately. I’m trying to get beneath the surface of life, what it is to be human – to honestly describe and express human experience and emotion, the good, and the bad.
Sometimes that’s just noticing the little things, but realising that life is ultimately made up of a lot of little things, and they have meaning and significance too. ‘If Not Now, When?’ is about realising that we can very easily pass through life focusing on what happened, what might happen, or what we will do – and we end up missing what is happening.
Which is all we can really experience ultimately. Isn’t that what all great art is about?
You have a new album coming out, what can you tell us about it?
The album has been coming together for quite a few years now and it was really the pandemic that gave me the time, space, and motivation to finally get into a studio with proper musicians to realise the ideas I had.
The inspiration for the songs came partly from personal experience, partly from encounters and stories I heard over the years. There are two narrative arcs as such on the album; one is charting the emergence of an indie musician and his hopes, dreams and challenges, including around songwriting and building confidence to perform and connect with an audience. The second charts the ups and downs of a developing relationship and the two narratives are worked through the album as a whole.
What was the recording process like for you?
I have a very basic home studio in a shed behind my house in Galway and that’s where the initial ideas for the album tracks were worked out and some of the vocals were recorded. I did have input from a fantastic producer and multi-instrumentalist Larry Hogan who has a Dublin based initiative called DublinStudioHub where he brings together singer-songwriters with top musicians to realise their ideas, and he helped organise some sessions in Windmill Lane studios in Dublin.
It took several years though to bring all that together – and there were breaks with the pandemic where we couldn’t travel, get into studios etc. but eventually, it all came together.
I also had input in the final months – thanks to the support of an extraordinary music community New Artist Spotlight (NAS) – from a brilliant engineer Braddon Williams who has worked with top artists including Beyoncé, Billy Joel, Kelly Clarkson, and The Script, and was able to bring the album tracks that bit further in terms of the final finish.
What was the biggest learning curve in writing the new album and how long did it take?
Good question! Getting the mix right I guess. All my tracks begin with just me and my acoustic guitar so knowing how to balance and keep that acoustic rock aesthetic and sensibility while also bringing in additional instruments and sounds was challenging.
That process took about two years in total I think but hopefully, we got it right in the end!
Would you change anything now that it’s finished or are you happy to put it out in the world?
Look, are we ever 100% happy with what we create? I am very very happy with how it turned out ultimately but would I change anything? Nothing is perfect, but I hope my album is imperfect enough to connect with listeners who appreciate imperfections.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
I would just ask your readers: please give the music a listen, and if you like what you hear, help me continue to make music by liking/downloading the tracks where you stream, subscribing to my YouTube channel, adding my tracks to your posts on your socials, and (perhaps most important) share the music with others.
Maybe download some of my music through my Bandcamp page I also have a CD release of the album that can be ordered there. With almost no return from streaming, Bandcamp is critical for indie musicians trying to make a living.