#YMXINTERVIEW | In conversation with Irish pop talent ROBERT O’CONNOR

Following the recent release of single ‘Over (Before It’s Begun)’, once again a collaboration with Peruvian EDM producer Skynem GT, we sat down with Irish pop talent Robert O’Connor to find out more about his artistry. Here’s what he told us:

YMX: Can you tell us about yourself as an artist? Where are you now, how you started, and what are your goals. 

ROBERT: I’m a singer/songwriter, though my style isn’t comparable with many of the male singer/songwriters coming out of Ireland right now. I’m missing the acoustic guitar! I got started properly in 2008 when I released my debut album ‘Distance’. It was self-funded and self-written, and I released it while I was studying journalism at college here in Dublin. In 2011 I released an EP, ‘Resistance’, which was well-received critically but it was a difficult time in the industry and it didn’t reach my expectations commercially, so I sort of retired from making music and became a writer and social media manager for a few years for a few different magazines and online publications. In 2017, the website I was the editor of closed down and I had a moment of clarity around that same time, that I really just wanted to make a comeback and release the kind of music I wanted to make, even just as a hobby – a passion project I suppose. So that’s what I did – and I’ve had much more success doing things this way – I recorded and released four singles in 2018/2019 in a Nashville-inspired country style, and I’m really proud of those songs, and over the past year I’ve been experimenting, making more EDM-leaning pop/dance records with some underground producers around the world, most recently with Peru-based Skynem GT, who I’ve now released three collaborative singles with. He originally won a competition to remix my single “Real Good Fight” last summer, but we had such good chemistry we decided to rework another one of my singles, which ended up eclipsing the original entirely, and here we are now, continuing to work together. I like to think I will continue to reinvent and evolve. I want to release a larger body of work in the coming months to showcase this new style I’ve embraced.

YMX: Some of our readers might not be familiar with you yet, how would you describe your sound? 

ROBERT: I would say at its core my music it’s pop – there are catchy melodies and plenty of hooks, but not at the expense of substance, the lyrics are story-telling a lot of the time, and you can still feel the country influence in that respect. In the past year, I’ve indulged myself a lot more and my influences I grew up on are now really starting to show up in my own music, and that has excited me a lot. I think there’s a nostalgic quality to my music – vocally I’m a little bit ’80s, stylistically a little bit ’90s, and then there is a newness to the production – but I think it’s still a little bit niche.

YMX: Who have been your biggest influences so far? 

ROBERT: They change every year but if we’re going all-time influences here I’d say: Fleetwood Mac, Coldplay, George Michael, Pet Shop Boys, Arcade Fire, Madonna. In more recent times I love anything dream pop – from Tame Impala to Wild Nothing to Still Corners, and electronic acts like Goldfrapp, Royksopp, Ladytron, Metronome. I’m bursting at the seams with influences. I also listen to a huge amount of instrumental music – and I’m a long-time listener of Ibiza chill out collections like Cafe Del Mar.

YMX: You recently released a new single, ‘Over (Before It’s Begun)’. Can you tell us how that project came about? 

ROBERT: My single “Over (Before It’s Begun)” was a song I had laying around several years, with a previous version already out there in a more indie style. I wasn’t a fan of the production on the original version but felt that at it’s core there was a great song – lyrically and melodically – so when lockdown happened because of the pandemic and I didn’t have any brand new material recorded, and my listeners were rapidly rising as a result of my previous single “Older ’20”, I decided the only thing to do was to get another single out, and give this song another chance to shine. Working with Skynem GT again was a natural choice since we work so easily together and also because our previous efforts had been well received by listeners.

YMX: 2020 has been a hard year for everybody, but the music industry and arts in general took a heavy hit. How did you guys cope with that, musically speaking? 

ROBERT: There were lots of things that I had wanted to do since I came back to music that I had never had the time for – so once the pandemic hit I made a list and literally made it my job to work through it. I had worked with several labels and distributors over the years, and that made for a very confusing situation when looking at streaming data, not to mention tracking royalties. So I took back all my releases and re-released everything independently, even remastering some and adding bonus tracks and remixes. It was super time-consuming, but so rewarding. I haven’t written as many new songs as I expected, but that’s probably because I haven’t had much social time or many new experiences to stimulate me! I already have several tracks written that will likely become future singles, so I’m pretty happy with how I used the time. The only real negative was that I had been playing with a live band and we were really enjoying that, and obviously that’s no longer possible right now, but I remain very optimistic that we’ll be on stage together again in the near future.

YMX: Do you consider important working together in a team, or do you prefer working alone? 

ROBERT: I like to work alone when writing my lyrics – I don’t think there should be a committee involved when you’re songwriting, it’s got to be personal for me. When it comes to music, I like to collaborate and challenged a little bit, to get the best result for the song. For instance, on my single “You Found Me”, I wrote an entirely new chorus hook and melody in the studio after my producer Stuart Gray told me that he thought my chorus should be the pre-chorus! Of course, I had my little internal freak-out because that’s how I’d written the song, but in the end he was right, and most of the compliments we got about the song were for it’s anthemic chorus, which were inspired by seeing Coldplay live and admiring how their big choruses sounded in a stadium setting.

YMX: What are you looking for, in terms of promotion? What do you think could be helpful to promote your music around? 

ROBERT: For me, promotion in 2020 should centre around getting my streaming numbers up, as well as my social media numbers. If you aren’t reaching listeners through their phone, you’re not reaching them at all. So in some ways I’m constantly on a promotional cycle now, releasing singles every few months and doing as many interviews as possible both with blogs and on radio. I’m conscious of creating my own content for the likes of YouTube and IGTV too – video content is so much more engaging when it comes to new artists I think, you want people to get to know you.

YMX: What does playing live represent for you? a way to make yourself known or a way to express yourself? 

ROBERT: Well, I don’t think it’s the best way to get known these days – especially not playing smaller venues and open mic type nights. You might pick up a few new fans, but I think it maybe makes more sense in this era to develop your fanbase through drip-feeding music, videos and engaging social content, and hopefully building up an appetite from people to see you live. For me the live gigs are purely a fun thing to do and when they are smaller gigs you just sort of see them as a live rehearsal, practice for something bigger in the future, and bonding time for the band.

YMX: Finally, what are your plans for the future? (releases, gigs etc.) 

ROBERT: Right now I’m working on two new tracks simultaneously. Sonically they’ll fit in with what I’ve been doing over the past year, but they each have their own identity and set of influences too. So with that in mind, I’m looking at some kind of EP with all five tracks presented as a package – it’ll be an immersive experience, more than you can achieve with singles, and it excites me more! Since 2018 I’ve only released singles, and I haven’t released an EP since 2012, so this will be refreshing for me.

A recommended listening! Discover Robert O’Connor on Spotify: