The Softboy records co-founder speaks on his recent release 'Roll Over!', which local Irish artists you should know about and working with a range of upcoming artists as a producer at the independent label.
What was the inspiration for your latest single ‘Roll Over!’ and sonically, what were your influences?
Me and my friend Brian Fallon (who’s the bass guitarist in my band) made a rough version of that instrumental in March 2018. I was working on some lyrics in my head one day and then one night, right before I fell asleep, “sorry there James, can I please have rollie?” popped into my head because it rhymed with the original shit lyrics I had written and I could not stop laughing. I made sure to write it down, went to sleep and then maybe a year later I came back and wrote the lyrics off of that line.
There were a couple of reference points for different sections. There’s a big breakdown in the last chorus where I was really excited about putting one of the rising octave synth lines like the one in 'Summer Madness' by Kool & The Gang. With the Sax section on the chorus (recorded by my friend Oisín Murtagh) I was aiming for a similar energy to 'Old Town' by Phil Lynnot; I’ve always loved that song and the slight cheesiness of the whole thing.
Me and Adam (Gaptoof) have been friends for a long time; his “Motorola” mixtape was actually our first ever release on Soft Boy. He’s always been sending me beats and we’ve always talked about doing a track and I’ve tried and tried over several but never found anything that stuck.
Anyway, with Adam’s most recent release on Soft Boy (“Looks Like Rain”) we put out the call just before Christmas to all our artist friends to get their features in before the New Year if they wanted to be on project, and he sent me on a batch of beats, one of which was called 'Dean Street', and the second I heard it I could hear myself in it, I had to keep it for myself. I asked Adam where and what Dean Street was, and he said it was just a street where his ex and him used to live, so I went off that as inspiration for writing the song. Usually tunes take me ages but that was all done and dusted in a couple of hours and I felt so happy, even happier when I heard Adam’s reaction to the tune.
"Through working with someone else, new sounds and avenues tend to open up that you can find something of yourself in."
I got an email from Richard Russel’s assistant telling me he was making a second album and would I come over for a couple of days to work on it. He had been a fan of Kojaque’s song 'Eviction Notice' and so wanted to see if we could do a song together. When I got over to his studio we had a listen to a couple of records and picked out a few bits to sample off them, loosely structured a beat, I played a little bit of guitar and then tried to write the lyrics based off of Richard’s idea for where this song would fit in the album, because the album was designed to be conceptually very linear. I was definitely out of my comfort zone being on the other side of the producer’s chair which is healthy.
How did you first get involved with Soft Boy records and what are you guys working on at the moment?
In 2015, my friend Kev (Kojaque) was starting to put out some music he’d been working on. I had been writing my own stuff as well and chatted to Kev about the idea of starting a faux-label with the purpose of making ourselves look professional and being able to have a third party to look after admin elements of the music and it seems to have worked for us so far. Me, Kev and our friend Stephen Byrne run the label now and work with about 10 different artists.
How has it been working as a producer for the other artists on the label and how does it allow you to create music you might not make for yourself?
I love being able to make instrumentals that I wouldn’t fit with myself as a vocalist; it allows me to experiment with other genres that I enjoy while staying in the background. Making hard beats for Luka Palm and getting him hyped is always a good little adrenaline rush.
How important do you think creative collaboration is for growth?
It’s an importance that I forget all the time, then remember almost instantly when I work with someone new again. You can easily get comfortable in your own process and workflow, even the type of chords you tend to play. Through working with someone else, new sounds and avenues tend to open up that you can find something of yourself in.
"So many of my favourite artists making music today are Irish ... we really seemed to have a thriving gig scene prior to that in retrospect."
If you had to pick two tracks which best describe your range as a producer, which would they be and why?
Maybe 'Air BnB' by Luka Palm & Kojaque and my own tune 'Coca Cola Sky'. 'Air BnB' is kind of a bass-heavy trap tune and then 'Coca Cola Sky' is much much gentler and the focus is all on the layers of instruments. I was happy with how that one came out in the end.
Being from Ireland, how is the music scene there and are there any local artists you would recommend?
Obviously, everything has come to a standstill as of the last few months but we really seemed to have a thriving gig scene prior to that in retrospect. So many of my favourite artists making music today are Irish and really exploring their own sounds. Check out Yenkee, Junior Brother and Maria Somerville. I can’t wait to see them all perform again.
Which artists inspired you to get into music and who is inspiring you today?
I think I was into everything guitar related when I was younger so lots of rock and indie bands, singer-songwriters and all that kind of stuff. Then when I got into hip-hop and production and sampling that led me to a lot of different weirder stuff. Hip-hop can be a good prism that way when you start looking at the source material for a lot of the beats.
If you had to recommend five artists to your listeners, who would they be?
What’s coming up for the rest of 2020?
My debut project 'Dog Person' comes out September 25th on Soft Boy Records. Other than that, I’m planning to write and record lots of new music and hopefully put plans in place to play live next year.