Robert O’Connor releases the Skynem mix of his most recent single ‘Real Good Fight’. In the lead up to this release, Emma Mages caught up with Robert to discuss his EP and this re-vamped version of the song.
What can you tell us about the song and the remix? How did it come about?
I actually held a remix contest that I posted to my Instagram page and quite a popular producer posted it on his Instagram as well. When I posted it, only a couple of entries came in and then when the producer posted it, maybe 50 or more entries came in. It was actually a crazy day because the private messages…I’ve never seen anything like it.
They were all sort of underground bedroom producers. It turns out sometimes those are the best kind. I had some really interesting mixes come in over a period of 3-4 weeks. The last one that came in was this Skynem remix which is made by a guy called Jordan Arteaga. He sent me clips along the way and I was sending back feedback. He’s in Peru so we had like an 8-hour time difference, it was crazy. It was the weirdest collaboration I’ve ever had. I was so involved, despite the fact that we’ve never met we managed to have this creative connection. When it came down to choosing, the whole point of it was that I was going to release a remix CD for the single with 3 or 4 remixes, but when I heard Jordan’s remix I thought this is too good to just bury on an EP, I think it deserves a little bit more air time, and for me to go ahead and actually talk about this remix. It’s so commercial I think.
Where does the inspiration come from when coming up with a new idea for a song?
Sometimes it’s really quick actually. I find with the songs that resonate most with people like ‘Second Chances’ last year, this one is one of those quick songs where the melody and the lyrics came together and you question afterwards, where did it all come from? But I think this one is really about having a deep belief in yourself and the ability to be who you want to be, live the life you want to live and overcome the obstacles and the struggles. When I listened back to it when I was recording it in the studio I thought that it’s actually quite spiritual. Not religious, but I suppose there’s a positivity to it, taking your hands off the wheel and allowing some sort of higher power to take control or guide you. It’s kind of acknowledging I suppose that there is a path there for you.
What made you want to pursue music?
Well that’s the million-dollar question I think. For as long as I can remember it’s just been a huge part of my daily life. When I was much much much younger, as early as I can remember, I listened to records instead of watching TV, so I was much more musically inclined. It held my attention and so I would just sit there and listen to my parent’s LPs. I would listen to records like Blondie or The Bangles. I loved just getting lost in it. That continued when I got in to my teens. It reached a new level and I became a lot more interested in pop culture and the music, but also the industry itself. I started exploring more genres so I become really interested in dance music and indie music. I remembered when I discovered Coldplay, I was watching MTV back when it was a proper music station. I saw one of their music videos, I think it was ‘Don’t Panic’ or ‘Yellow’ or one of their early ones, and that kind of really was a big moment for me. I didn’t see myself as being a singer at that point, to know that’s what I wanted to be, but I definitely knew that it touched me in a way that nothing else did.
How would you describe your style of music and what other artists do you compare yourself to?
I think it depends on the day you ask me and what single I’m releasing at that time. That’s quite a difficult one for me, but I do think about that on a regular basis. With this latest single, it was what it was, it was an experiment, a moment. I brought in a lot more dance influences. I will be listening to people like Wild Nothing and a mixture of old school electronic acts. So, quite experimental dream pop. I listen to a lot of just instrumental music. I think that fell in to this particular release. Overall, generally I would say that the previous singles are definitely country influenced. I was listening to a huge amount of new music coming out in Nashville, and I still am doing that. This single that’s out at the moment stands out a little compared to my other releases. Generally speaking I listen to a lot of the country bands like; James Barker Band, Sam Hunt, Chris Stapleton, The First Aid Kit. Then I have the bands who I never stray away from; Arcade Fire, Fleetwood Mac, Coldplay, The Cure, Petshop Boys. So, again straying back to the electronics. It’s quite a spectrum and I do go through phases where it’s one or the other. I think a lot of it comes out in the music, so I think that’s why some singles will be more country and the others pop and EDM I suppose.
Who are your top 5 artists on your playlist right now?
My number 1 right now is actually coming to Dublin later in the year, and that would be James Barker Band. I am listening to Tame Impala, I saw them earlier this summer. I’m listening to the new Lana Del Rey stuff and it’s really great. I think that she’s completely doing her own thing. I’ve always liked her but I think that this new stuff is becoming more and more experimental. She really doesn’t acknowledge radio or what people necessarily want her to do, she’s completely doing things on her own terms. There’s another band called Swimming Tapes, some of them are from Northern Ireland and some of them are from England. They have sort of The Smiths, summery vibe going on. I actually like the new Brett Young album as well so another country one in there. So, yeah, it’s quite mixed.
If you could choose anyone, who would your dream collaboration be and why?
I think I would really like to collaborate with an electronic act actually, as opposed to just hooking up another vocalist or another country or pop act. I would love to guest vocal on something. Since I started putting out this new electronic remix, some producers are coming to me saying ‘would you be interested in experimenting with any electronic collaborations?’ This is something I’ve always thought about. I think maybe someone like, you know, The Sound of Arrows or, you know, one of those electronic sort of acts.
What advice would you give to other independent artists?
I think the most important thing is to be really sure and confident of your product before you start playing it for anyone. A mistake that I’ve made is if I have a contact with radio for instance, and they are saying ‘if the single’s finished, do you want to put it out this week?’ I’ll rush things and get a final master and say, ‘right let’s go’ and then a week later you’re thinking ‘I really could have waited around for this’ and I could have worked on it a little bit longer.
I think it’s really important to take your time and that’s a hard thing to do in an industry that’s so fast moving and you’re afraid of being left behind. You look at acts and you think ‘oh they’ve left it a long time’ and I’m very conscious of having a steady stream of singles. If you go away for 6 months all of your work is almost undone. Like sure your track is still there on streaming but you need to create a digital presence for yourself. That would be the second thing that I would say to up and coming artists.
Last January when I decided to come back and make music, I sort of cleared my entire digital presence and did it again. I spent many many months trying to work it up, and I’m still doing it now. If somebody Google searches your name, there has to be a certain presence, that you’re talking to blogs, that you’re on the radio and you’re doing interviews. Not just the country you live in but elsewhere as well.
If you look at me, I live in Dublin which is just a drop in the ocean, I’m still trying to use the internet to my advantage. I think the other thing would be to stay true to your brand or flavour. It’s important to ask for people’s opinions, but you could also nearly ask too many people. Your brand becomes diluted, or your sound becomes diluted. For me, I don’t bring too many people into the studio, I don’t play the track to too many people. I want to create something that’s distinctly good.
Is there anything about the music industry you would change?
Yeah, I think the transparency at national radios is an issue. We used to have things like pay to play and stuff like that, but now they say that’s sort of gone. But I think there are other things in its place. The same with Spotify and Apple Music. Just getting a playlist and a level of visibility of how things are done. Spotify have gotten a little bit better at it in the sense that you can submit your single for playlist consideration.
What worries me a little bit at national radio in the UK and Ireland, is that it does feel that there are the same 12-15 artists. Even on the Irish radio they’ll say ‘we’re playing all Irish artists’ but then they’ll play all Irish acts that are signed to Sony or Universal. That’s not really the wide range that needs to be playing.
There needs to be independent acts on there because otherwise we have no way of finding our public. You can post your single on social media or you can have them on streaming but it’s just this sea of music and how do you get people to know about it? It’s not just some fluke that someone happens to land on your new single. You have to find outlets that will push your music forward, like what you guys are doing with Essentially Pop. Those outlets are so important because you’re taste makers, you’re not just doing what every blog is doing, because blogs are equally as guilty who are just posting from some PR agents. I’m messaging you things directly and if you like it you post. whereas there are blogs out there where they say ‘well I don’t know. You didn’t come through PR, we don’t know you’ so it goes in the trash.
What’s the future looking like for you and your music? What have you got planned next?
Well the remix single is coming out on the 23rd and the full remix EP, which actually has 5 or 6 remixes, some of those came from the contest and some of those came from producers that I was already working with, that will come out on the 30th. Then definitely at that point it’s move on from this single that I’ve been doing all this summer, which wasn’t really the intention, but it’s nice to have this luxury of having a new version of the song as well.
Definitely move on to the live scene again. We’re starting to book gigs for September. So, I have a live band now which I didn’t before, so that makes a huge difference. I thought about this a few years ago and I’m thinking about it on a more serious level as well now because I’m actively making music, I would really like to make a live record with my band, and bring together the older material that we’re already playing on the set and then some of the newer songs from the last year, and potentially 1 or 2 brand new songs that we would write together, and just package that up in to some live record experience I would say.
I’m on an audio and visual level so I think the next things I do will be a little bit bigger, interactive and to try and take the presence to the next level. Show people the band and show that side of things.
The Skynem mix of ‘Real Good Fight’ is now released and can be watched via Youtube. Robert’s EP is out on the 30th so be sure to follow all his socials for more updates: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Make sure you also show your support by streaming his music through Spotify.