This edition of Under The Street Light with Dave McMahon focuses on Kilkenny born singer-songwriter Gary O'Neill. Gary has recently released his second EP "Gracefully With Haste" and had a very successful launch night in the Unitarian Church, Dublin.
When did you first realise that you wanted to be a musician? When I went to see Foy Vance back in 2013. I was just after dropping out of college, slightly confused and a wee bit lost. I genuinely came out of that gig knowing exactly what I wanted to do. Call it an epiphany, if you like!
How did you get started? I had been playing in bands in my teens. Most notably a band named Alka Jessie. We formed in my hometown of Kilkenny, made an album or two. Never really thought much about pursuing it at the time.
Who did you listen to when you were growing up? Mostly my Dad's influence. I was brought up on a healthy dose of Thin Lizzy, Tom Petty, Clapton; the likes. Went through a bit of a metal phase through my teens, before going full circle and yet again building foundations around my Dad's softer musical side of David Gray, John Denver and James Taylor before branching out myself into the more spacious songwriting crafts of John Martyn, Nick Drake, Ben Howard and of course, Foy Vance.
When and where did you play your first gig? When I was 16 I played at a Gay Pride Festival. I'm always gonna love claiming that as my first ever show. Ever!
What has been your favourite venue to play? Cleere's Theatre, Kilkenny. Many a fond memory playing there as a young lad, getting my first taste of how awesome a feeling it was to entertain a crowd.
What has been your worst concert experience?
Probably my second ever gig. We played in a spot in Kilkenny named the Pumphouse on a mad hectic Saturday night. I was only 16, so we shouldn't have really been there in the first place. We were a 3 piece acoustic act who played right after an adrenaline pumping, head banging 4 piece named The Tinny Whites. They tore the roof off the place. We were left to follow, and the deeper we got into our already dreadful set, all the gear stopped working. I'm pretty sure at one point all that was working was my vocal mic and a tambourine.
What was your favourite concert that you went to see? Foy Vance, The Sugar Club, March 7th, 2013.
You recently released your second EP. Was it any different from releasing the first one? The first one was done in a day and a half at a mates house. The songs were written, recorded and released all within a week. At the time, I felt I had to capture something there and then, but looking back I probably should've taken my time. This time round, I got a fantastic backing band behind me, we rehearsed, got the songs into good shape and live tracked them in a top studio - Sun Studios in Temple Lane. It certainly took way longer than the first time, but I felt like the whole process was a massive learning experience.
Why have you gone with a full band on the second EP?
They're all good mates of mine. They were willing and available, and I wanted to invest in something worthwhile. I mean, I may never have the chance again where a group of amazing mates AND musicians offer to come on board and offer as much input as they did. If I wanted to make a solo EP in an abandoned shed in West Cork or something, I could do that alone. But this time around, I thought I'd go for something big while I had the chance.
How long had you been working on the EP before the release? 6 months, nearly. It didn't feel like it took that long at all. It was only the final two months when things really took shape. Before that, there was a lot of long gaps between rehearsals and meet-up's. The guys were so busy on their own individual schedules it was hard to get everyone together for a rehearsal. So much so we'd nearly go a month without any movement at all. I was still gigging around Dublin a lot though, so I didn't feel like it was becoming a hinderence or anything.
The launch night was held at The Unitarian Church in Dublin. How did the night go for you? Way better than I expected. Aside from dying with the flu, I was genuinely surprised with how smoothly it all went. The turn out was fantastic, which was a real shock. I had been self-promoting the arse out of it for a month, and I wasn't sure if anyone would show up. Seeing family, friends and even some strange faces there - I was buzzing for it before the gig had even started.
Do you have plans to release a third EP or are you working on an album?
Yeah, I already have plans to release another EP before the year is out. I've got a rake of songs in the bag I'd love to go back over and see if they're worthy of another record. It's more of a personal challenge I set for myself to release something before 2016 than a necessity. No harm, sure.
How much do other musicians influence your music? To a great extent. Seeing what's happening around Dublin lately is a real eye opener. It's like we've created an underground bubble movement and everybody's invited to join the momentous march. I've made some close friends just from playing around the niche'd circuit, and it has had an impact on my songwriting, for sure.
Who has caught your attention on the Irish music scene recently?
Basciville, Callum Orr, Mongoose, David Keenan, Eoin Martin. All of whom I've had the pleasure of meeting and/or playing with. They've got some mighty-fine chops and I think they all have successful careers ahead.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
My launch night, for sure. Everything about it was perfect - aside from my throat infection, of course!
You have played in several different countries already including America, do you have any plans on more musical jaunts around the world? For sure. I always saw myself moving around a lot. So I guess it's only fitting I play tunes as I do so, right?
Who do you currently listen to?
I've been binge-ing on this guy called Will Stratton recently. I've also been drawn to David Keenan's music. He supported me on the launch night, and I had been listening to his stuff for months prior to that. Shocking nice lad, too.
What are your top 5 albums of all time and why?
1 - Foy Vance - Joy Of Nothing (an album I had been waiting on for aaages. I had been listening to so much of Foy Vance's early records and releases prior to buying this album, and this record was seven years in the making. It's also the only album I've ever bought on pre-release)
2 - Thin Lizzy - Wild One (old, nostalgic memories growing up as a kid. Always had it spinning in the car. Probably my Dad's favourite record, too)
3 - Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago (really blown away by the intimacy and stillness of that whole album. Such a raw feel to it, fantastic record)
4 - Ben Howard - Every Kingdom (the first time I was ever blown away by the songwriting aspect of someone's guitar playing over the song's themselves)
5 - Aretha Franklin - Amazing Grace - Live in LA, 1972 (a live recorded album with James Cleveland and the South Carolina Community Choir, I spun this LP on my record player back home a while back and nearly cried my eyes out. It's hauntingly beautiful, I had goosebumps from beginning to end. Probably the most powerful record I've ever listened to)
Whats the best advice you have been given in your career? "Fake it 'til you make it" - from an old pal who passed earlier this year, Rich McMahon.
What do you have lined up for the future?
No real plans. If I can sing for my supper and dance for my dinner 'til I'm 93, the future doesn't look too bad for me!
You can check out Gary's new EP "Gracefully With Haste" on his bandcamp page at this link: http://garyoneill.bandcamp.com/album/gracefully-with-haste-ep