interview: singer/songwriter -- Niall James Holohan
Niall Holohan is a singer/songwriter who hails from Dublin, Ireland. We talk to him about music and Ireland ... www.nialljamesholohan.com
How did you get started in music?
I'm sure the world is well aware of the fact that every Irish baby is fully expected to hornpipe out of the womb and indeed, man ..there's a history of serious music appreciation in my family ..so I imagine you're more interested in how I got into performing ..and that all started with a voltaic kiss from an Apex 170 Pencil Mic in a place called the Kell's in Boston ..I was singing backing for my older brother who was a student at Berklee at the time ..so I was singing rather unreliable harmony and operating a shaker. We play'd a police tune .."So Lonely" I think and prob'ly some U2 as well as my brother's own tunes. It was my first time singing on stage. I was shitting myself all day thinking about and all the way through it as well with the result that I sounded rather like Ian Curtis. I fell off stage naceuos ..but like being on the Viper or something ..I just wanted to go off and sort my self out so I could come back and do better ..make it through ..become oblivious ..and be the best. That was 1995 and I was fifteen and had been writing words for a few years previous so when I got back ..I got together with my best mate Cian who could play guitar long before I could ..and we started to write what I suppose you could loosely call 'songs'.
Ireland in general has a very deep musical tradition. Does this buoy you up?
Yeah ..you take it for granted when you're growing up here but when you travel a little bit ..you realise that the extent of Irish influence ..in general ..not just in music ..around the world ..especially considering the size of the country ..it's remarkeable. When it comes specifically to music too ..it's the same story and ..yeah ..I like it. It's a challenge and it helps to be Irish when you're abroad sometimes for sure. Most people are glad to meet an Irish musician ..they must think we know where the party is or something. It's often a shock when I don't diddle-ee-aye for them but fuck that. That's there problem. Yeah ..the only other nationality I've seen welcomed around the world with simular savor and zest are Jamaicans. They must think they know where the other party is! ..Ha!
Can the musical tradition be oppressive?
Honestly ..no ..the only oppressive thing that goes with the territory here as far as I'm concerned is the kind of ridiculous notion that you're not drinking or being seen in the right place. You know, the clique-ey shite that I'm sure is not specific to Ireland but rather ..goes on the world over. I do like to go see a lot of bands in the better venues here but there's a lot of these guys in bands who's only friends are musicians and once the gigs are done ..they sit around talking about amps and leads. A lot of musicians are dreadful bores ..crashing fucking bores even ..and any one musician I would consider a real friend is one in spite of ..not because they've play'd a specific place or managed to wrangle a chat with someone or other. So ..no ..besides that ..O so universal of clubs ..when Ireland's musical history is not a help ..it's a challenge but never a hindrance. How could it be? ..Although ..now ....having said that ..a lot of our better acts seem to have to go away and have some notable success before they get any relief or recognition at home. So ..the tradition is perhaps more oppressive on Irish audiences and business folks alike and their myopia, in turn ..is perhaps the reason for there being no breaking culture here and ..yeah ..perhaps oppressive to musicians. There is a trap you can fall into here which I've often caught my clothes in which is to say ..you know ..ahh ..I can't get airplay ..Bono's a shithead ..it's not his fault, you know. That's as thick as the folks who aren't giving you your say and just like every misgiving ..there's a lot of pandering middle men on the way to blame and two nice guys at either end, I imagine.
To this outsider, Ireland presents poetic lyricism mixed with a great, almost institutional harshness. James Joyce might have blamed the self-satisfied lace-curtained bourgeois! ... Does this view have any base in reality?!
Well man ..to this outsider ..in Ireland ..Irish people certainly do have a way with words and I think it's well documented that it's most likely becasue English isn't strictly ..our language ..and Irish folk tend to be less careful and grammatically correct with things that aren't their own which leads to interesting bendings of the regulations ..not to mention the wonderful downright brazen delight in breaking them. Unfortunately ..on the other hand ..I still think this is a peasant country in that a lot of folks still have to look outside themselves to manipulative strangers in order find out what they're SUPPOSED to think and feel rather than pulling themselves up a personal point of view and deciding for themselves, you know? ..according to thier experience rather than that of a million lemmings.I have written that I thought class was a British thing and I still hate to hear anyone from this country refer to themselves or others as 'working' class. That's a term from a era that a lot of people died to end and it's ..it's usually so-called republicans that throw that term around as if it were a badge of honour and meant something like "salt of the earth" in some exotic language. Joyce did get at the grasping heart of Ireland at the time and wrote about many things but for me ..the fact that people still suffer under the weight of the institutions THEY alone uphold still rings true here. It may not be the Catholic Church anymore ..but it's something else instead. I sometimes worry ..do folks think that it's an imperative part of being Irish to suffer? ..and so they go find anything ..something to suffer beneath?? ..it's an important question these days I think ..but who knows? ..and who cares as long as you know you can always leave?!? ..I know I can fuck off all the trappings of being an Irish male in Ireland and so and live in Maowi or somewhere ..I'd still be Irish ..I just wouldn't be suffering as such. I've done my best to lose what I can of what people expect of me ..being an Irish man and all ..but I'm a fucking musician too ..so what do you know ..you think you're on step five ..and then ..no. The the reality remains ..that 100 years ago Joyce maintained ..you've got leave Ireland to be a successful Irish man ..and a lot a lot of people still have to.
"Whenever a soul of man is born in this country ..there are nets flung at it to hold it back from flight" - James Joyce 'Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man'
But ..hey ..this existential question of being dissatisfied in your place and feeling trapped by your surrondings/inheritance/heritage/tradition is a universal one and surely not exclusive to these shores. Otherwise ..you prob'ly wouldn't have heard of Joyce to ask me the question in the first place.
For someone starting out in Dublin, what are the usual steps that people take?
Depends what you want to do.I wanted to play for people so I went out and found out where the songwriter nights were and signed up.From there ..you'll hear of others and things will move and move on but you know ..who says you've got to play live,you know? ..my cousin Gerry Nobody's (www.gerrynobody.pro.ie) peformed live once or twice in the past couple of years at most ..and he still gets folks interested in what he's doing.If you're serious about doing music at all ..the F.M.C. is something you should definitely check out (www.fmc-ireland.com) ~ A free information service for musicians run by the some of the nicest people I've had the pleasure of meeting these past few years.
One time when I was in Dublin, in the newish modern concert hall in Temple Bar there was a session in the cafe for singer-songwriters.Is that still going? I think it was a weekly thing.
Not that I know of.Must be gone.Unfortunately ..a lot of these nights have short life-spans for once reason or another.Mostly because publicans with P.A.'s have the nerve to call themselves promoters and as soon as someone gets good buzz going ..they want a piece.There are still a couple of really good ones going though. The Ruby Sessions ..the proceeds of which goes to help to homeless in Dublin is the best run and my favourite.
You've had a couple of trips to the USA -- one to the big Austin event. How was that for you?
Austin was great -- A real global industry event. The first I attended last year ..which really placed things in sharp relief for me in the same way as receiving advice from countless artist and music business heads simultaneously would.Everything I came into contact with out there was useful but I was running around like a headless chicken which is what you have to do when you're going there without backing.I enjoy'd that part of it too and my showcase was full. A lot of the contacts I made there will really come into effect when I make my long promised 'commercial debut' later this year and I did get an invite back for 2005 but I want to wait till I have something under my arm to make the trip again, you know?
When you're putting together your own songs, is there a conscious mold you use to make them your songs?
Well ..you see ..it's kind of like the anonymous smell you get in the elevator in your apartment building daily. It's different every time ..and it's a laugh trying to suss what's it's going to be this time ..what will work. That's where the analagy sputters out I'm afraid.No ..I've no set formula ..and in fact ..as soon as I did ..I almost certain that every admirable idea or tune I tried to force though that niall-by-numbers tube would come out completely fucked up and unsuitable for anyone over the age of four. For me ..it's about getting out of my own way in order to let the song happen ..about being there ALL THE TIME until ..when you're looking out the window at the gifted latina cooking in her flat across the way and not really minding what you're doing ..something happens ..something genuinely unconcious that's beautiful and then you'll have something that the little bit of craft you actually can apply will clean up. That method is madness incarnate and it means I write a lot alot of crap stuff to get to good ones but it works for me. Plus ..I steal a lot from other people! Ha!
Who do you like amongst Irish acts these days?
Jinx Lennon's a Dundalk songwriter I play with alot who is just ..an event.Of course .. my cousin Gerry who I mentioned earlier on has been an influence and who's stuff I love to listen to quite often.Juno Falls and Republic of Loose are two serious fucking bands who are battling it out in my mind for the best live act I've seen here ..and long may that battle continue ..ehh ..let me see. Guy called The Mighty Stef is great ..there's a girl called Alyanya who's just in the midst of putting demos together ..she's spellbinding. My good comrade Chris Morrin and his Mucky Kids are a come-er.Lots of shit happening here ..as always.
Anyone from elsewhere?
Sure ..but ...ah ..as I'm not down in the sewers in other cities,so to speak ..they are obviously going to be more recognizable.Yeah ..Tom Waits is a hero of mine as you know ..and the Futureheads are my favourite band at the moment.O ..a great guy I met on a recent jaunt to London ..called Jeremy Warmsley. He's himself and he's great.Anyone who's themselves on stage ..I like ..and those don't number as many as you might at first first think. Nellie McKay. Brittish Sea Power. I liked Razorlight's single though I'm not sure about that band. Something's wrong with that picture. hmmmm
What plans do you have for upcoming music?
I'm scouting out a location and personel to make my long-promosed 'commercial debut' and I'm not sure when it will be out but it will be definitive when it finally surfaces so if you come across a great band who mabe are lacking in the frontman/songwriting capacity and would like to raise their profile in the meantime ..put them in touch with me. There will be a couple more trips to London to meet with the boys who are my face over there and I might even be playing a few shows!! ..it's at that stage where it's all business but it's all the same animal and I've educated myself and learned to enjoy it.If I didn't ..I'd go play covers in bars,you know? ..There is also a very big big showcase that's being set up for me by PROTOTYPE ENTERTAINEMENT in New York in July. Between now and then ..you'll find me here ..seeing what kind of free p.r. I can get for myself in the run up to the big recording session.
Thanks a lot.
.. was a pleasure man.
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