DAITHÍ’S MUSICAL evolution, from the exuberant, breezy, early singles like ‘Chameleon Life’, to the brooding, ambitious, art-pop he now creates, has been one of the great artistic journeys in modern Irish music. Ahead of next week's Róisín Dubh gig, he reflects on an extraordinary 2018, and the creation of his finest songs to date.
“The work that has come out, I’m really, really proud of it,” Daithí tells me as we sit for the interview on a Thursday morning. “You also get to an age where you care less about the numbers and the perceived success, you’re more thinking about what you’re putting out and can you stand behind it. what’s the legacy here? I’ve been getting more people sending private messages or pulling me aside, and going ‘This is really important to me’. If you can do that for somebody it’s an amazing thing.”
Although County Clare born and raised, Galway will always lay claim to Daithí given it was here he first began to make a name for himself as an exciting, imaginative, new talent in indie/electro pop/electronica. These days, however, Daithí divides his time between Galway and Dublin.
“I have an apartment in Galway and then I do a lot in Dublin,” he says. “I didn’t move to Dublin for any career reasons, I realised I could do what I’m doing anywhere. I did it more for social reasons, to try somewhere different. I’ve been in Galway for seven years, so I wanted to do something different, and a lot of my mates are in Dublin, I wanted to do a few years trying things with some of them.”
While he may divide his time between one side of the country and the other, in terms of identity, Daithí is a proudly fixed point on the map. "I am a west of Ireland man at heart,” he declares. “My parents still live in Ballyvaughan so I’m down there a good bit as well. I’m still knocking about the west. That is the one thing - Dublin is great for being so social, so many people around, but you miss the west of Ireland atmosphere, you notice its absence. I grew up by the sea, so you feel a bit more at home when you get back, there is an actual emotion there. I’ve been doing a lot of gigs in Achill and places like that, and going, ‘Yeah, I could see myself living here’.”
Identity was at the heart of Daithí’s music in 2016 and 2017 with tracks like ’Mary Keane’s Introduction’ and the Home EP which explored and celebrated traditional Irish culture, heritage, and expression, and showed it as being complimentary to a form of music - and by extension a modern sensibility - that is resolutely internationalist, and technologically engaged.
Yet, this year saw a new development, a turn towards the personal, engendered by the emotional turmoil of the end of a long relationship. Daithí decamped to the south of France, put social media on hold, and buried himself in creating new music to make sense of it all. The result was the L.O.S.S EP, and arguably his greatest song to date - ‘Take The Wheel’, with vocals by Bell X1’s Paul Noonan.
An ambient soundscape, full of echoing, ghostly, drones, it is underpinned by four gently shifting, rising, falling notes, before Noonan intones, "And the words rain down like confetti..." As the song progresses, it is punctuated by stately, solemn, piano chords, and Noonan poignantly declaring, "I take heart in your love...such as it is”, before it drifts into silence, it's beauty and depth lingering long afterwards in the mind.
“It’s the first song I’ve written that has no drums on it,” Daíthí says. “There’s not a single kick drum, it’s way slower than I’d usually have anything go as well. What happened was, I went to a house in the middle of rural France for a month, wrote a whole pile of songs, and set up a studio. I got this big load of inspiration, that just hit at the same time, and I came out with 11 or 10 tracks.
“‘Take The Wheel’ was a funny one because I had it set up in my mind as the interlude between two other tracks. It was only about a minute long. When we started talking to Paul Noonan, I sent him five tracks I thought would suit him well, and he picked up on the interlude. He sent me a phone recording, playing the interlude for that minute, then reversing it back, and playing it again, three times, and he sang the entire song from start to finish over that.
'Sinead White and I have written a lot of songs together before, but this one was much more personal, and she was nervous about saying something very personal, but scary is good sometimes'
“When I heard what he had done I thought it was incredible. When we went to his studio and recorded his vocals, he added this whole extra thing - I didn’t write any of the lyrics or vocal melodies. So what you get is this completely unique song I’ve never come close to writing before. I’ve been using it as the introduction to the live shows, so it’s this slow building powerful thing.”
Also noticeable is the song’s invocation of Jesus in a manner neither cynical nor ironic, but more akin to reverential. Along with Villagers new album, The Art Of Pretending To Swim, featuring Conor J O’Brien’s declaration of having "found God again”, these are noticeable aberrations in an increasingly secular Ireland.
“I was talking to Conor from Villagers about that recently, and said ‘It’s interesting that you’re doing this as well’,” Daithí says. “He has a thing that, as a gay person, he wants to reclaim the whole thing. It’s so part of our culture. You’ve grown up with it. It’s so entrenched with us, so instead of throwing it out and completely removing it, it’s like taking it for yourself, and using the things that are entrenched in your culture, and delivering it in a completely different way, that’s not tied to the original stigma. When you say ‘Jesus take the wheel', it has two meanings and people have some relationship to it.”
The emotional aftermath of a break-up also formed the basis for Daithí’s most recent single, the excellent 'Lavender & Orange’. “The tracks are based around the idea of loss and recovery,” says “Daithí. “My thing was to give the vocalists free rein to do what they wanted. It was interesting to see something written based on my own feelings, and they were able to take that and fly with it.”
Sinead White takes the vocals on the danceable, melancholic, electro-pop of ‘Orange’, which, despite the downbeat subject matter, shows Daithí’s pop sensibilities in superb working order. “It was quite strange when Sinead and I wrote that one," says Daithí. "We’ve written a lot of songs together before, but this one was much more personal, and she was nervous about saying something very personal, but scary is good sometimes.”
Tandem Felix’s David Tapley sings on the more piano based ‘Lavender’, which featured an unusual inspiration - sports pundit Eamonn Dunphy. “The instruction was, ‘There’s no way I can write about loss for you, you have to deal with it yourself’,” says Daithí. “David wrote the ‘Lavender’ lyrics about a break-up he had, about how the thing he missed was his friends who were also friends with that person, and he completely lost that connection.
“When we went to the studio to record, we got this really dry, very set, vocals, which was perfect for the song, and then I wanted to add overtone voices, kind of like a choir. David was reading Eamon Dunphy’s autobiography, and he said, ‘Why don’t I sing passages from this book? And find passages that could mean something else?’
“So he was flicking through the book finding phrases. You can barely hear what he’s saying, but the consonant and vowel-scape sounds does add to the track and enrich it. I never saw anything like it before, him reading though the book and me just looping it over and over, but it was great, working with a new vocalist coming at it from a different angle, and trying something I’ve never tried before.”
Daithí reveals more singles on the way ahead of the new album, due out in 2019. “I’m going to have a lot of tracks out before the album, as I’ve seen a lot of people release an album and it’s ended up being a waste,” he said. “People might listen to the singles but barely listen to the tacks that are only on the album. I’m enjoying collaborating with vocalists, but also with video and film-makers too, if you do it as these selections with a video each time, that’s really great, as you get little projects that turn into one big one at the end, and pull together at the end, which is great. There are slower and faster tracks on it, it’s a very varied record, they all have this same theme, and I’m very excited to get the album out there as I’ve had these in the bank for so long.”