With a background in journalism, we figured Dublin singer/songwriter Robert O’Connor might have a story or two to tell. We asked him six quick questions, ahead of the release of his latest single, ‘No Second Chances’, out on August 17.
EP: In a nutshell – what’s the Robert O’Connor Story?
ROC: Nutshells are really tough, especially when your backstory is as random as mine, but I’ll give it a go. In 2008 I released my first album ‘Distance’ through a distribution deal with Universal, while I was in college. Four years later I released a follow-up EP ‘Resistance’ independently with AWAL, and then I got experimental and worked on a remix project with DJ/producers like Matty Graham. After that was released in 2013 I basically exited the music industry and worked as a journalist for a few years. It wasn’t long before I realised that the media was almost as much of an uphill battle as the music business.
Last year, I was in Las Vegas at a Calvin Harris show and I thought “what the f**k am I doing with my life?” I knew I needed to make music again for my soul, even if it was just as a hobby. I decided I wanted to do it all on my own terms so I hooked up with two producers and after a few days we had two singles in the can. It was terrifying because I’d been out of the game for so long but it feels so good to be back. I haven’t hired a manager or publicist so I’ve been looking after the day-to-day business myself, just hustling, and I’ve never had so much radio play, and the reviews for both songs have been great! I only really get to think about that fact when I’m doing interviews, otherwise I’m just on to the next thing, rarely reflecting.
EP: Your most recent single, ‘No Second Chances’, is out on August 17. What’s the back story behind the song?
ROC: It’s a break-up song, but you can hear the indecision I was feeling from the very first line “I’ve got one foot in the bedroom, got one foot in the hall”. I literally didn’t know where I stood in the relationship and if I was going to close the door on it or not. The chorus is about how you can’t get your head around no longer “knowing” this person that you’ve been so close to while you were together. I wrote it in one sitting very quickly and I don’t remember even coming up with the melody, it just seemed to “arrive” in the same breath as the lyrics. I recorded the whole thing as voice note on my iPhone and I thought it was long gone but I found the file last week and I had a bit of an “I did it” moment, because for a long time it seemed like it might be left as a voice note!
EP: For such a small country and population, Ireland has had a massive impact on world music. What do you think is the reason for that?
ROC: I think whether it’s music or film, or even sport, the Irish are very passionate about their art or whatever their talent is – but I do think there’s issues at a grassroots level in terms of nurturing that talent, and getting support from the media, particularly with national radio, which is one of the reasons you have bands going to London if they’re really serious about making it. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve read about bands on well-known Irish websites recently where it’s all “Irish singer, who is based in London”, and I kind of think, what about those of us who are still here, working day jobs in Ireland and working on our passion projects too?
There’s a sense that you have to go away to come back, and if you’ve had some level of success or acclaim, then Irish mass media support is available to you, and obviously this is not a new development – would U2 be as monumental as they’ve been if they’d stayed in Ireland? With my new single I had a confidence I’ve never really had that this was a song that would certainly work on mainstream Irish radio – I had no doubts – but surprisingly it ended up being UK radio that embraced the song in a bigger way. Not to say it hasn’t been played in Ireland, but the response is certainly “quieter”, and a lot of the time DJs just won’t acknowledge the music you send in. Hopefully it’s just a matter of time, because with country being as big as it is here right now, I’d love to be part of that story.
EP: What and/or who are your musical influences? Why? And what about your personal influences – who has made you who you are today?
ROC: Genre-wise I would say my strongest influences come from soft rock, dream pop and modern country that’s coming out of Nashville. I am constantly discovering new artists, and I think I’d like to give them a shout-out this time rather than name-checking the obvious well-knowns. Right now I’m listening to Wild Nothing, Swimming Tapes, Few Bits, Geowulf, Work Drugs, Say Lou Lou – so it’s very much dream pop heavy – I’m very seasonal with music so that kind of music gives me the summery feeling.
On a more established note, I’m really enjoying this new All Saints record ‘Testament’ – they brought back William Orbit who I worship, that’s on repeat, and since all this Mamma Mia! fanfare I’ve gone back through the ABBA catalogue and I really think particularly the darker material they released towards the end like ‘One Of Us’, ‘The Winner Takes It All’ and especially ‘The Day Before You Came’” are some of the best pop songs ever written. I’m also loving the urban-country of Sam Hunt, he was one of the acts who gave me the push to go down that route. Who has made me who I am today? My mam & dad – and my family at large – I’m really lucky to have a super close-knit family. I have that Italian view on family, it’s the most important thing – and it’s always there no matter what else isn’t. I think on a less direct level, I’ve also been influenced personally by my idols – characters of strength who refuse to take no for an answer, whether that’s Madonna or Conor McGregor. I read artist and sportsmen’s biographies when I need that motivation.
EP: What do you think of the current state of the music industry – what would you do to change things?
ROC: I think the fact that it’s really difficult to make money from recorded music is a bit of a worry. Let’s say you spend a couple of grand at least to work with a good producer and you make a solid record, maybe you hire some musicians if you’re a solo act, and then you pay for whatever promo materials you need – a lot of the time you’re not going to see any of that money come back. But as I said I see this as kind of a hobby now – I’d probably spend the same if I was a golf-addict. If I’d had more money, I’d have spent that too, on videos, launches, more “material” to promote the work, but you work with what you have!
I think beyond that it would be nice to have some level of transparency with the major radio stations, maybe give us a proper way to submit our work. I’d like to see the likes of RTE really step up to the plate and encourage and support promising Irish acts, they have the resources after-all. It sounds like I’m hating on the Irish media, but I have to say the likes of you guys and some of the regional and local radio stations have been incredible since I sent out the comeback single early this year, and that’s what I’m focusing on most of the time…the support that is there. You guys are the tastemakers, getting in on the ground floor, that’s why indie blogs and stations are so much more exciting now.
EP: What question do you wish someone would ask you in an interview but nobody ever does?
ROC: Well I really had to think about this one! My first single had the line “where you gonna be in ten years time?” and no-one has used that and asked me where I’ll be in ten years time! I’m gonna be quietly confident and say I’ll be still making music and playing shows, because having had that five year break now, I know that without that in my life on some scale, I can’t find contentment. I wouldn’t mind eliminating all the other jobs in between though, so I think the ultimate aim is to just do this. I’ll be 40+ though, so maybe I’ll be thrown behind the scenes as a songwriter working in Nashville. I can certainly think of worse things and places to be!
Robert O’Connor’s latest single, ‘No Second Chances’ is out next week, 17 August. You can find out more about Robert online on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Soundcloud, as well as his official website.