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WE INTERVIEW ROBERT O’ CONNOR AHEAD OF HIS NEW EP

Hi mate, thanks for joining us again, so how have you been since the last time we chatted?

The last time we spoke was at the end of my last EP cycle, and I remember saying to you that my next chapter was going to be big, brave, and bold. At that stage, I had already recorded the first single from this record and I knew that I was going down a more retro route, whereas ‘Transcendence’ was very much modern EDM, and less of a risk in many ways. I’ve been busy since then, recording this EP with Gareth Shortland who has been my collaborator on the project. I like to work with only one or two people on a record, I always think the saying “too many cooks spoil the broth” is so true.

Luckily, myself and Gareth are very much on the same page musically, we have known each for a few years now before collaborating and we discuss other artist’s music on an ongoing basis over Whatsapp. In the past, I’ve gone into studios cold, not knowing a producer, whereas there has been a real sense of warmth and familiarity in working with Gareth, which is ironic given we recorded the entire EP long-distance, with him in the UK and me in Ireland. I’m four singles deep into the campaign – it’s funny how by the time you release an album or EP now, most of the tracks have been heard already by your listeners, but it’s just how things are done these days!

The music industry is the hardest industry in the world to progress in, how do you feel you are doing?

I always wish I had more time. More hours in the day, more days in the week, and more months in the year, to dedicate to the hustle. We all know the industry is ageist, it’s not exactly a secret, and like I say in my new single “One Way Ticket”, “The clock is still ticking you know/just stop hesitating and go”, which really is what I’ve been doing the past five years. I’m hyper-aware of time and using it wisely. The reality is, independent artists often have to work other jobs to earn a decent living. Making and releasing music is an expense, and I don’t have anyone else footing the bill. Most of us at this level as well as being the singer and songwriters, are also social media managers, bookers, publicists, and managers. It’s a lot of man-hours, especially when you’re planning a release and executing the campaign.

I’m satisfied that I’ve managed to release two EPs since 2020, and this is my twelth single since I made the “comeback” in 2018. I think I’ve made things more difficult for myself by changing lanes musically with each era, for instance, I had built-up some country radio support with the initial run of singles in 2018, and then when I shifted to EDM I had to sort of start again and build-up support. The transition between the last two records has been less of a challenge, and I actually feel like perhaps making retro pop this time has given me more of a niche.

We set up RGM USA and many other countries in the world to share music with America and the UK, good idea?

A brilliant idea. I think about how I struggled to promote my music in 2012 with my ‘Resistance’ EP. Streaming didn’t exist, people were downloading everything illegally, and if I wanted press coverage I had to pay a publicist three grand to maybe get me some exposure – there was never even a guarantee! As much as social media can be draining if we’re overexposed to it, I’d take the 2022 landscape over 2012 any day. As an independent artist, I can build a campaign and engage with my followers online on various platforms. I can reach thousands of new listeners through Spotify playlists, rather than having to pay a publicist to bribe a radio playlister to play my latest single. I don’t have to wait to be invited on a TV show to promote my EP or to talk about my creative process. I can do it on niche blogs that cater to the taste of my listeners, or even simpler than that, I can open Instagram and go live and chat directly with my followers. I would never have taken that hiatus if things were then how they are now!

What advice would you give other artists starting out?

I would say to not rush, but to have a plan. Be specific with your goals, and be realistic – taking small steps every day is better than taking a giant leap and then being disappointed when you fail. Things are very different now to when I started releasing music, so a lot of what I did starting out the first time around would have no relevance now at all, but I think regardless of the landscape changing, and the multitude of apps available to us, there are still certain principles you can apply. Quality control is important, to me at least, and I think you shouldn’t just jump on bandwagons for exposure – not every trend is going to suit you. Knowing who you are as an artist and how you want to express and communicate that is wonderful, and that can change from project to project, but being authentic to yourself is invaluable. Lastly I would say, be careful who you let into your inner circle, not everyone adds value. Throwing money at the situation is not always the answer. If you can do things for yourself and you have the time to do them, I encourage that. Knowing how the industry works from every angle will make you stronger, even if you do end up signing a major deal down the line.



You are really prolific with your music, what drives this?

I think the fact that I took a five year hiatus from music between 2013-2018 and had a lot of regrets about that lost time continues to drive me. I would get to the end of a year back then and even though I was pursuing other interests, I’d feel a sense of failure or loss. For some of us, music is just a pivotal part of our being, and we have to express ourselves through it. It’s not enough to be a listener, we want to contribute, even on a small level. When I returned in 2018 I was armed only with a few country singles but I believed them to be my strongest work to date at the time, and the goal was just to re-learn the industry and release those singles independently – I had no long-term plan and there was no audience waiting with bated breath, or anyone pushing me behind the scenes. 2018 was really intense, I would spend hours upon hours every day sending my music to radio stations and blogs all over the world, but the hours paid off and my three singles that year really transcended anything I had done before, and that motivated me to keep going. When we faced the first lockdown in 2020, my first thought was that I didn’t want to take another indefinite break from releasing music, so I started to rework some of my back catalogue as part of a collaboration with Skynem GT, and that led to my transition into making EDM. Honestly, there’s never been a long-term plan in place, just the drive to keep going.

Talk me through the thought process of the new EP.

In 2020, while we were in and out of lockdowns, I started to inspect my back catalogue, and I found a song called “Save You” that I had written for my first album. Originally, the track was built around a Chicane sample, and I had recorded it with the intention of it being the closing track – it was quite epic and dramatic. Anyway, the independent label I was working with at the time couldn’t clear the sample for use, so we scrapped the track altogether. It didn’t fit the vibe on any of my subsequent records, but towards the end of the ‘Transcendence’ era I felt I wanted to move away from the modern EDM sound to something a bit more ‘90s-leaning, but I hadn’t started to write songs in that style at the time. I wasn’t 100% sure it was going to work, so I decided to record a demo with the help of my guitarist Gavin Sheridan, who set-up a mock studio in his living room, and I recorded a vocal to a version of the track produced by Skynem GT. I sat with it for a while and felt that it just didn’t reach the energy of the original I had recorded many years before, and a big part of that was it didn’t have that thundering trance production, so that’s where Gareth Shortland came into the picture. He produced an entirely new version of the track, and I went back to Gavin’s living room and recorded new vocals, and that’s the version you hear on the finished EP. I am not one for random singles, and after the success of ‘Transcendence’ especially, I wanted to create another EP where there would be a strong sonic identity, so I encouraged Gareth to work with me on another single, which would become “Been & Gone”.

I had written the lyrics and melody for that song and Gavin wrote a guitar line during a band rehearsal one night, and we performed it at a gig the next night. It had a sort of stripped-back Fleetwood Mac feel to it. I sent Gareth some reference tracks, one was a Goldfrapp track from their ‘Head First’ era, and the other was a Chicane track, and he came back with this ethereal Scandipop instrumental that ticked all the boxes for me – I knew at that point that I’d found my producer for the next era, I just had to convince him to do a full EP with me! It was Gareth’s idea to look for a suitable cover for the project to sort of pay homage to the eras we were inspired by – we listened to some lesser-known ABBA songs but I felt too anxious about tackling any of their work, so we went ABBA-adjacent, and recorded a version of Agnetha Fältskog’s “The Last Time”. On the same day we recorded “The Last Time”, we recorded an original track, “Separate Ways”, which is kind of the older, more sinister sibling of “Save You”. It’s a trance track, but the lyrical content is darker, and the synths have a sort of Moloko quality to them. We were looking for one final song to round-off the EP, and I presented a few of my ideas that I had laying around to Gareth, but he felt the songs were too “country” at their core to work for this project, and then one day he presented me with an instrumental demo that took my excitement to another level entirely.

I wrote a lyric and melody to the instrumental that same day, that’s how much I wanted to secure the demo for myself, and it became “One Way Ticket”, an incessant, sugary electro pop anthem. Someone in my life described it as “a high speed train roller disco”, which I thought was so accurate. Before I’d even recorded it, I knew it had to be the lead single for the EP – every so often a song comes along that you believe deserves to be heard, and you are willing to pour every ounce of energy into making that happen – and this was one of those songs. In the three weeks since its release, it’s become my most streamed song on Spotify.

What was the recording process like?

As I said, the first single “Save You” was recorded during a winter lockdown, so I laid down vocals for that in my guitarist’s living room, and then Gareth worked his magic on them remotely. That’s probably the song with the heaviest vocal effects, it has that ‘99 Cher quality! I reached out to fellow artists for suggestions when the time came to record vocals for “Been & Gone”, and I eventually chose to work with Richey McCourt, and it was the best decision I could have made. His studio is such a haven, and Richey himself is not only a master of pop hooks, but such a pleasure to be around. It can be very exposing going into a studio and singing a song no-one has ever heard for the first time, but Richey put me at ease, and during our session for “One Way Ticket” particularly, I felt really on top of my game. Once we had vocals recorded, Richey would do some refining and then send the sessions to Gareth, who would then continue to build and mix the track. In the end we decided that Gareth would also take care of the mastering, and a couple of the songs that had already been released as singles had some extra magic sprinkled on them for the EP.

What was the biggest learning curve in writing the new tunes?

Writing “One Way Ticket” was definitely the biggest surprise of this era. “Save You” was pre-existing, as was “Been & Gone”, albeit in different forms, and “Separate Ways” was a pretty standard writing process for me. I hadn’t collaborated in the traditional sense on the songwriting front in quite some time, so when Gareth presented me with the instrumental demo for “One Way Ticket”, I wasn’t entirely sure how I’d approach it, but I think with all the excitement I just operated on adrenalin. I wrote the lyrics and melody on a bus journey, which isn’t uncommon for me, but this time I had the instrumental playing on repeat in my Airpods and was trying to stay in the zone.

I loved it and felt such a sense of achievement when I had a completed song that I felt was up there with my best. I had two lines written in my iPhone notes, “Cause you know that you’re outta time/Is this what you want for your life”, which I had jotted down randomly in the gym one day, and that was the catalyst for the song. I’ll be hounding Gareth now for more unused demos, I have the urge to do it again!

Would you change anything now it’s finished?

I always have deadlines in my mind, and I knew I wanted to release an EP this winter, which would be two years since ‘Transcendence’. That meant I had to draw the line with recordings a few months ago to be sure everything was ready and to create a campaign around it. While I was doing all of that, I found myself still in a songwriting headspace, which is kind of unusual for me because usually it’s a very distinct on-off switch between creative and business modes – so if there had been more time, there would have been a couple more songs for sure, which I suppose would have made it an alum. As far as the outcome of the EP is concerned, there’s nothing I’d change – I think it’s a solid body of work with a wonderful flow and story arc. It takes in elements of trance, electropop, Scandipop, and the inclusion of the intro, interlude and outro makes it feel like a proper record, rather than just a string of singles thrown together. Those details and finishing touches have always meant more to me than anything – as a listener, and now as a creator. 

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

No, I am hyper-focused right now on ‘Severance’, it was released just yesterday after-all, so I would say if you’re an ‘80s or ‘90s kid with a soft spot for the music of those eras, give this EP a listen – it’s just 25 minutes and it’s all killer, no filler! I’m a quality control Nazi and there isn’t a detail on this record that I haven’t analysed within an inch of it’s life!

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