Brí

First Published October 2020

BURYING HER HEART IN HER SONGS

Photo Credit: Molly Keane

These are intense times we’re living through right now. And Tullamore singer/songwriter BRÍ has managed to perfectly capture a flavour of what so many of us are feeling most days in her captivating new single, BURYING. Released last Friday, Burying is Brí’s third single, following on from her critically acclaimed and beautiful debut Low Supply and the follow-up, Polite – which was also greeted with open arms and hearts by the Irish music scene – both of which were released last year. Brí possesses a voice of the most exquisite and tender quality, which instantly draws you into her music, as if to share a secret whispered from her very soul. And in a sense, that’s exactly what her songs are. 


With the deft touch of a true artisan, Brí’s songs entwine the reflections of her own life’s journey with moments of time that we have all experienced in our own ways, but will feel an instant kinship with through her words and melodies. That’s no easy thing to do. But when it’s done as well as Brí can do it, what’s conjured up in that space of time is a world that becomes a better place for at least as long as the song plays. Burying is a song that we’ll all be hitting repeat on for some time to come, and the world will be a much, much better place for it. 


I had the pleasure of catching up with Brí towards the end of last week. In fact, as it just so happened, it was the day before the official release of Burying when we spoke. I began our chat by asking Brí how she was feeling knowing that in less than twenty-four hours, Burying would be officially a part of the musical landscape of the world? What’s the day before a single release usually like for her? 


“I suppose today I’m mainly focusing on replies from different people I’m hearing back from, which is great. I’ve got a few nice reviews already. And making sure all of the links and everything work, and run smoothly. But yeah, it was different recording this time, because I was recording it during the first official lockdown, when was that…? Back in March time, was it? April? I recorded the vocals at home in my house, which I had never done before. I kind of recorded them as guide-vocals, and I didn’t think I would end up using those vocals at all. Then when I was able to actually visit Daragh in Astakalapa Studios in Wexford, he worked his magic on the rest of it, and my guitarist, Aidan [Mulloy] added his guitar. And I kinda just said, I think the vocals are good! [laughs]. Somehow! The same ones I recorded from home. So we were delighted with that.” 

Was it a kind of a nervous day for Brí? Or exciting? Or perhaps one with a lot of tiredness in it, just wanting at that stage for the following day to arrive and everything to go according to plan? 


“I probably would be a bit nervous. I’ll probably enjoy it more once I know that everything is out, and all the links are working. I’m probably a bit of a perfectionist as well, I put a lot of work into doing my own PR for it, and giving it its best chance by sending it out to all the right people. I’ve got my coloured-coded Excel spreadsheets that I’m keeping an eye on [laughs], and once that all goes smoothly I will be excited, yeah. Once I finish work here this evening I’ll be able to enjoy it, because I’m amazed at the response so far which has been really affirming, which is nice.”

Brí has described Burying has being a song written almost in reaction to the way the world has turned today, in that everything needs to be seen as being ‘left’ or ‘right’, every issue has to be either black or white, and in many cases now, quite literally so. And that ‘have to be’ part can be quite forceful too. So Burying, while it’s not a political song, is most definitely a statement song. And very, very definitely a very personal song for Brí. I asked her if that was fair to say…


“Yeah. And it’s actually funny, because I didn’t have that in mind at the time when I wrote it. But it’s become that for me. It was an experience I had when I was writing it, I feel that there’s certain people you meet in your lifetime that they have a lack of tolerance if you see something in a different way to the way you do. And they need to convince you to see it their way. I’ve just always thought that was wrong. I like hearing peoples’ opinions. But I find that in today’s world, it’s sometimes hard to share that without feeling that you’re against one another. I really dislike any feeling of tension or argument, it just makes me want to get out of the situation and bury my head in the sand, and just go, ‘Yeah, ok, I agree.’ Because with some people, it’s just not worth having certain conversations with, I guess. And it’s just me learning that. Every time I listen to Burying now, for me it’s a mix of strength and weakness, because I know that sometimes checking out of a situation is a sign of weakness. But also there’s a bit of strength in it. I really wanted – and I was insisting [laughs] – on having tribal sounding drums [on the single], as kind of like an inner-strength, that I’m also feeling a little bit above having those kinds of arguments. Conversations don’t necessarily need to turn that way when you’re talking about controversial things or issues.” 

I would have to agree with Brí here. Sometimes staying out of some conversations or arguments on social media is an example of inner-strength, because you’re taking the decision to look after your mental health by not allowing yourself to become dragged into some of that stuff…especially of late.


“There’s a lot of people sharing strong opinions and views that I would agree with as well, and I’d say good for you, you’re standing up for what you believe in. Sometimes it can be seen as a negative, maybe if there’s a silence, that you’re on the opposite side. But for me, personally, I just think that everybody is entitled to believe what they do. It’s great that people are sharing their opinions out there, but it’s also ok if you do want to stay quiet on some of your own views. That shouldn’t be seen as a negative either.” 

So the way the world is right now had a very real influence on Brí writing this song. But I wondered if how this whole year, the way it’s been and the way it’s going, had affected her songwriting at all? 


“Yeah, and it’s funny actually, because overall I’ve found that I’ve written less because I’m not having as many experiences out in the world [laughs]. None of us are doin’ a whole lot right now [laughs]. So no, I haven’t been writing as much. But one of the first songs I wrote during lockdown had this strange kind of peacefulness. There was a lot going on in Dublin at the time and I had to move home again to Tullamore, and I hadn’t lived with my parents in about ten years. So suddenly, it was very quiet. I think a lot of people noticed around that time that there were no traffic sounds, so you could hear the birds singing again. I wrote one song that was very peaceful and happy. And I barely can write happy songs! Usually I would write a song because I’m going through something, so just to kind of let it out. So that was one song. I’ve written a couple based on the past, like memories of certain things if they’re triggered, rather than things that are happening to me right now. That’s probably the main difference.”

Burying is a gorgeous song, no doubt about it. Equally so, there’s no doubt that Brí has made an astonishingly beautiful video to accompany it. It stars – and stars is the word, because this is one very special performance – the fab dancer Lisa Hogan, and was filmed in Tullamore’s Charleville Castle. I asked Brí to talk me through that process that goes into making a video for one of her songs, and specifically, to how it led her to Lisa on this occasion…


“I really wanted to hear those tribal sounding drums in the song, and I could just see a dance every time I thought of a music video. So I really wanted there to be a dance to it. So first of all I was asking a friend of mine, Sorcha Fahy, who had been teaching dance before, to maybe teach me a dance. I had done a bit of it in college, but I wasn’t that confident so I was thinking we could work together on one. But she actually recommended a friend of hers who is a dance teacher, and that was Lisa Hogan from Birr. Originally we only went to the ballroom of the Castle to use it as a rehearsal space, and she was teaching me the dance. But I was just amazed at her doing it. So I said could she please be in the video instead! [laughs]. And she said he’d love to, so I was delighted. When I sent the video to our videographer – Alan, of Aldoc Productions – and he was looking at the background. Originally, we were actually planning on doing it at the beach, to go along with the photos I had taken and with the sand idea. But he said that room – the ballroom in the Castle – is beautiful, and I said you’re right, it would be crazy not to use that room. So we ended up doing it there. And Lisa is just…amazing! She must have done twenty or thirty takes of the video and she wasn’t even out of breath! I don’t know how she did it, she’s incredible. She’s a choreographer and dance teacher, and she just interpreted the music perfectly and came up with the whole thing herself. She kept asking me if there was anything I’d change, and I was just like, ‘No! You’ve nailed it!’ [laughs]. She was amazing.”

Brí has covered all the bases creatively on this release. There’s the audio aspect – of course – with the track itself. There’s the audio/visual element with the outstanding video starring Lisa. And, there’s the visual side of things to which Brí had briefly alluded to, a magnificent photoshoot she did with photographer Molly Keane on Killiney Beach in Dublin. As an artist who obviously puts a lot of thought and planning into her career and her image, I wondered how important is that image to Brí, and how it compliments her music? And also, how much of her focus goes into taking care of that through her social media? 


“That’s a good question. I think it’s something I’m starting to get better at. I suppose it depends on the song and if certain ideas come into my head that are really strong. This time I really felt that way. I felt I needed a long flowy dress in the wind, like on a cloud day. And luckily enough we got one, you can’t always bank on a cloudy day in Ireland [laughs]. They just turned out beautiful, and I just felt really lucky that they turned out the way they did. It’s definitely something that I really want to keep improving at. I think recently, I’m taking a little bit more care. But I wouldn’t say I’m the best at planning the old Instagram and having all the right photos in order, or anything like that! [laughs]. Sometimes I’m quite spur of the moment. Ya know, I mightn’t have thought I was going to post that day, but then I’ll just have a thought and decide to post a photo. But I would like to put a little more thought into it as I go on. I’m trying to keep similar themes. I suppose I think of the long, flowy dress as a kind of feminine frailty almost, that I want to keep running throughout the rest of my songs.” 

Having mentioned Lisa and Molly – who are clearly hugely creative in their own rights also – does Brí feel that, as an artist, she has – and maybe even needs – a certain kind of community of creative people that she surrounds herself with as much as possible in life? 


“Definitely, yeah. I think once I moved to Dublin, about seven years ago, once I moved there I really felt a support system coming together. I started going to songwriter nights and meeting creative people. And I just found that, as a whole, they were such an accepting kind of person, everyone I met. They were all so accepting of who you were, and happy for you and the things you wanted to achieve, and in helping you along the way. So I’ve learned a lot from other artists. And as I did my first two releases, I got to know various people like photographers, like Molly Keane who is amazing. And videographers like Alan at Aldoc Productions who is just so good, too. The biggest part for me was finding Darragh Nolan of Astakalapa Studios, I just feel like we’re a great team. He’s very patient and understanding when we’re working through what I’d like out of a song. And he also adds so much of his own creative ideas. There’s so many people. Aidan Mulloy, my guitarist, has been amazing. Whether it’s an unpaid open-mic night [laughs], or a big gig in Whelan’s or wherever, he’s up for it and he’s there with you. And he’s so talented as well. It’s a huge help. I’d say to anyone who might be trying to start out, to try and surround yourself with as many creative people as you can.” 

Burying is Brí’s third single, following on from her debut, Low Supply, and then Polite. But was that always the plan Brí had for the order of things? 


“I probably should have had a plan like that [laughs], but the truth is, no, I didn’t [laughs]. I actually didn’t know what I was doing when I first started. The first song – ‘Low Supply’ – I think I had written it only a year or two before that, and it was probably one that I was hearing that people liked the most when I was playing it ‘live.’ So I decided to go with that one first. ‘Polite’ then, was kind of quite catchy and again, a lot of people would ask me to play that one ‘live.’ So I decided to go with that one next! I actually didn’t have an original master-plan, and it’s only now that I’m trying to bed down which songs are coming next and how I’m going to wrap them up. I’m trying to figure that out at the moment actually.” 

Speaking of master-plans, as far as ‘live’ music as we knew it goes, the rest of 2020 can be written off. And the cold, hard truth of it all is that we have no idea what 2021 is going to bring for the prospect of ‘live’ music either. For Brí as an artist, how hard does that make it for her to plan ahead for her career? And on that note, what is she planning for 2021? 


“Yeah, well at the moment, I’ve taken a step back from my ‘live’ music plans. I’ve just seen so many friends of mine planning gigs and then cancelling them, and rescheduling them. And it’s pretty stressful for them at the minute. I’m lucky in that I’m working away at something else as well, so I can manage without the ‘live’ gigs for the moment. I’m focusing on recording at the moment. I wasn’t a big fan of the live-stream gigs, so that was one thing that I didn’t really jump on with everyone else at the start of lockdown. I think I did one of them, but it wasn’t the same atmosphere at all of having people around you and getting that feeling from the crowd. So yeah, I’m holding off for now on booking anything. But I’m hoping to get a lot more of my music out there, and to have that to promote on a tour hopefully some day.” 

For our last question, I wanted to take Brí back in time to the reasons why she first began writing songs. Who were the songwriters that had inspired her, and could she remember the very first song she ever wrote? 


“Yeah, I can. I was sixteen, and my late aunty Kathleen passed away. My mam is American, so we would have spent every other summer over there visiting her. And at the time, she would have been the closest person to me who had passed. So it was my first time really feeling huge emotions of loss. It felt like there were so many emotions that they needed to spill out into something else, rather than just be held in me. I was following a Taylor Swift documentary, I was a fan of Taylor when I was younger, and she said something like she just tried writing a song some day and she was able to. And that stayed in my head. I was a huge fan of Laura Marling at the time as well, and Birdy, they would have been my biggest influences at the time. So I just wrote a song kind of describing how it felt losing my aunty at the time. Then when I listened to it back, it was just so cathartic. I just couldn’t believe the relief. It was like it was bubbling over, but once I wrote the song it was somewhere else. And I could visit it, rather than it staying in me. So that was really nice. It was called ‘Picture Frames.’ The idea was that you had the picture frame, but the photo wasn’t there anymore. So it was all missing the face.” 


BURYING, the brand new single from BRÍ, is out now, and available on all platforms. Check out Brí’s YouTube channel to see the amazing video – starring Lisa Hogan and filmed in Charleville Castle – that accompanies the song. 

ENDS

George Murphy

First Published October 2019

MORE HIS OWN MAN THAN ANYONE’S KING

George Murphy is a man who has already been famous in so many ways. But more than anything, he’s always been his own man. And that’s why he’s now more his own man once again, than anyone’s king. 


As George, now an ex-High King, prepares to bring his new project, The Rising Sons, to the Tullamore Court Hotel in December, I had the pleasure of spending some time in his company recently for a bit of a chat. Joining George and The Rising Sons on December 28th will be The Wrafter Family Band, and it was with a memory of the Wrafters that our conversation began…


“Amazing family, so much talent there in those young children. I remember them opening for us a few times in Tullamore when I was with The High Kings, and they were just so impressive. The children, obviously, being so young, but also the way the whole family, all five of them, connect so well together on-stage. I’m delighted to have them coming back to open for us when the Rising Sons come down to Tullamore.” 


Moving onto The Rising Sons themselves, George told me how the band came to be…


“Well basically, while I was playing with The High Kings I was kind of missing the music in a sense. It was the same show every night, and it was the same four or five songs that I was singing. It became very momentous and very repetitive. I was missing just havin’ a jam and playin’ with players who wanted to just play off the cuff, play raw, and play whatever kind of curve-ball is thrown their way, ya know. So I put the word out to start a session in my local bar and just said any musicians around the area who want to come and join, are more than welcome to. So soon we had loads on vocals, and a whistle player, and a banjo player, and a mandolin player, and a bodhran player. Then after that, a guy came down with an electric guitar and a bass guitar. And I was kinda thinkin’, jeez, I don’t know if I want electric and bass. That’s kinda takin’ it in a new direction! [laughs]. But I said, look, let’s see how they play and if they’re any good. And it just so happened that they were! So there ended up being about fifteen of us. But I mean, look, I’m not going to be taking fifteen people out on the road! [laughs]. It’s just that about fifteen people make up the session. So I’ve kind of hand-picked the musicians out of the group; so the fiddle player, the whistle player, the banjo player, the mandolin player, the bodhran player, the electric and bass guitarists, and they’re ALL comin’ out on the road with me. So it’s still gonna be a big, kind of eight-piece band.” 


George continued, “Now I don’t know, some of the venues down the country mightn’t warrant having all eight of us, we might even have to tighten that down again. But in an ideal world, I’m lookin’ to hit people with a wall of sound, and all of these people who helped me create this band. We were just calling ourselves the Thursday Night Sessions, but one of the songs we were asked to play was House of The Rising Sun. And we were in the middle of playing that when one of the lads turned around and said to me that would be a good name for the group, just change sun to sons. It was a great idea and a great concept, and the rest is kinda history now. The lads have been getting great attention from it already. One of the lads that’s involved in the session wrote a song called The Drive For Five, for the Dubs goin’ for five-in-a-row. And RTE came out and filmed us doin’ it and everything, we got loads of exposure online, too. And that didn’t even really have anything to do with me. I was involved, I was playin’ in the background, but that was all. It was just that the session itself started growin’ legs, and people were askin’ who are the Rising Sons? Where did they come from? How did it all start? So I’ve just been using some of the attention and the profile we’ve been gettin’ from it to bring it on from strength to strength, ya know.” 

Just briefly touching on George’s time with The High Kings, even though he was missing the music as he said, and it was the same set and same songs he was singing every night, was it still an experience that he can look back on and say he enjoyed? 


“Ah yeah, I did enjoy it. I mean, for me, it wasn’t ticking a lot of boxes that I would consider myself to be musically. It was too polished, too prim and proper. And look, maybe that is necessary when you’re taking things to a bigger stage, that everything is perfected. But I just prefer the idea of things being raw. I like that I could be at a show and somebody will shout up a song, and regardless of whether it’s on the set-list or not, if I know it, I’ll play it! I like being spontaneous on stage. I like playing with musicians who are spontaneous. And the show [with The High Kings] just wasn’t that. In fact, that’s the best way to describe it. It wasn’t a gig, it was a show. With it being so polished, and prim and proper and all the rest of it, it just wasn’t what I wanted. I mean, the experience of travelling around and seeing big audiences and everything, that’s always  something that I will hold in high regard and look back on fondly. But I’m in a happier place now, musically, playing with the Rising Sons than I ever was with The High Kings.” 

George began his career as a solo-artist, then became part of a band with The High Kings, and now is back to being a solo-artist again…although also kind of still being in a band with the Rising Sons! Does he feel a little bit like things have come full circle, or more so that he’s now entering a brand new phase in his career? 


“It’s kind of…well it’s a little bit of both. It does feel like it’s come full-circle, because I am going back out on my own. But I also feel like, with these new lads, well look, I wouldn’t be takin’ them out with me if I didn’t think they were good enough. They’re more than good enough. People have told me – management, friends, family, the rest of it – to just go and hire session musicians, ones that play professionally for a living. And it would be very easy for me to do that. But that’s not what I want to do. Because the lads who helped put this together are school-teachers, electricians, carpenters, some of them are even retired. The bass player is older than my father! So it’s not your typical line-up of people. They’re not professional musicians. But in my opinion, they’re good enough to be professional musicians, they just never went down that route. They stuck to their day-jobs. I want to shine a light on these people and let people see that just because you don’t take music up as a full-time musician, doesn’t mean that you’re not good enough to be standing on some of the best stages around the country.” 

Now George isn’t just back in the spotlight for music lately. He’s also been threading the boards as well, with a part in Dermot Bolger’s Last Orders. In fact, on the day we spoke, George was about to head back on-stage for a matinee performance as soon as we finished our chat…


“Well acting, believe it or not, has always been something that I wanted to do, in some ways even before singing. When I finished school, I was only seventeen. I was in college studying theatre, and from there I was hoping a career in acting might take off for me. But then all of a sudden the audition for You’re A Star came around and I ended up getting offered a record deal. And I never really went back to the acting. But it was always something that…it was an itch that went unscratched, if you will. So from time to time I would audition for certain plays and certain movies and things like that, and a couple of times I was offered roles. But I had to turn them down because it clashed with a music tour or a gig that I was doin’. So thankfully, having finished with The High Kings, my schedule was empty, I didn’t have anything booked in, I didn’t have anything ready to go. This play was on the horizon so I auditioned for it and I got the part. And in a lovely way, it’s acting as a nice platform to promote my music. Because I’d be pulling in a different kind of audience from the Abbey stage that will get to see me sing a few songs and do a bit of acting. So when this finishes I’m straight into the thick of it with the music tour. The timing all worked out well this time. If it was a thing that I had gigs while this was on, I would have had to turn it down. But thankfully I didn’t, and it was a nice situation that allowed me to take the part.” 

I wondered if he gets the same buzz from acting as he does from music? 


“It’s different. I mean, I don’t have a very big part in this play. I’m the barman, and most of the acting is going on in front of me. But the action is happening in the bar, so I’m in the background pulling pints. But every now and then they turn around and say something to me, and I say something back or whatever. A lot of it is acting in the background, but it’s made me hungry for more. It’s made me want to be more in the thick of it, to be more in the conversations. But because it’s a musical as well, they turn around and they ask me to sing a couple of songs. And there’s a full ‘live’ band on-stage, and I get to get up and sing with them. So it’s a little bit the best of both worlds. But it’s different in terms of when you’re acting you’re showcasing a different side of your skill-set.” 

George released a new single back in September, Universal Soldier. I asked him to tell us a little bit about the song…


“Myself and my manager, Pat Egan, we sat down and we said look, if we’re going to have a tour coming up, we should hang it on the back of a song. We should put something new out. So I toyed with the idea of releasing one of my own songs. And some of them were good, and Pat was thinking yeah, maybe we’d go with one of them. But then we got onto the subject of war, and how some great war songs were written back in the sixties that are still every bit as relevant today. And a whole new generation of people that wouldn’t have heard these songs yet, should maybe have an opportunity to hear them. Especially with what’s going on with Trump, and Brexit, and in Syria, I just think that politics and war is something that’s very much on the tip of everybody’s tongue at the moment. So I wanted to bring out a song that would display that. And I think ‘Universal Soldier’, even though it’s fifty years old, is as relevant today as the day it was written.” 

ENDS

Scotty McCreery

First Published October 2020

SEASONS CHANGE, CLASS REMAINS

When it comes to ways to burst onto the music scene and introduce yourself to a global audience, there aren’t many better ways to do that than by winning a show like American Idol. That’s exactly what SCOTTY McCREERY found out back in 2011 when he was the last man standing on the tenth series of the show. Since then, the North Carolinian has established himself as one of the greatest country voices of the modern age, and that’s something that can be stated without any exaggeration, and probably with pretty much unanimous consent. 


It’s not just the power and the beauty of Scotty’s voice on a song by song basis that proves this, either. All four of his albums to date – Clear As Day in 2011, Christmas With Scotty McCreery a year later, followed by See You Tonight in 2013, and most recently, 2018’s Seasons Change – back it up, and all four have debuted at #1 on the Billboard Country Albums Chart. That most recent collection, Seasons Change, contains what is easily one of my favourite songs of the last couple of decades in the shape of Five More Minutes, which made history for Scotty when it topped the Billboard chart in 2018, making him the only country artist in Country Aircheck/Mediabase history to achieve that feat without the backing of a record label. 


Scotty has just released a brand new single, and as with everything the man has put out there over the course of his career, YOU TIME is class. And as well as the song itself being brilliant, the even better news for his fans all over the world, including those here in Ireland, is that You Time is also taken from Scotty’s forthcoming new album. And lord knows that after the 2020 we’ve all been experiencing, the news that there’s a new long-player from Scotty somewhere in the not too distant future is the tonic we all need. I had the very real pleasure of spending a little time in Scotty’s company recently, and we started our chat with You Time. The lead-off single from any collection is always important, of course, so I asked Scotty why that honour went to You Time this time? 


“Well thank you for the kind words on the song. Ya know, it’s just a song I fell in love with the minute we wrote it. And we wrote it, I guess, early last year, early 2019. We were super busy on the road touring, and my wife is a paediatric nurse here at a hospital in North Carolina, and she was busy at work, so we weren’t getting a lot of time to spend together. That’s where the song kind of came from. And just listening back to it, it just felt very me, very us as a relationship. And it felt like a good representation of the new album. And for that new album, we’re working away at it. We’ve got a lot of it finished, but we still have a little ways to go. I wrote half the songs, and half of them will be outside cuts. Hopefully the middle of next year, it will be ready to go.”

Staying on the subject of albums, Scotty’s latest is Seasons Change, a #1 in its own right and continuing a remarkable run for him, as all of his albums have hit that top spot. Seasons Change also contains three #1 singles for Scotty; with In Between, Five More Minutes, and This Is It all featuring. I loved his choice of the song Seasons Change as the album’s title-track, though, because I thought that really hinted at the fact that when the album came out back in 2018, Scotty was in a place in his life where acceptance, expectation, and his love for what he does were all in close to perfect balance. Would that be a good read on how things were at that time? 


“Yeah. When we wrote that song, ya know, it was coming out of a pretty rough year for me professionally, which affected things personally. 2016 was a strange, tough year for me. But all of a sudden in 2017 we kind of pulled ourselves up by the boot-straps and got going again. And really the momentum, and just the feeling of everything started feeling good again. So that’s where that song came from. We took that energy and ran with it on that album, and a lot of the songs were written after we got ourselves goin’ again. But yeah, ya know, I feel like sometimes when life throws things at you, you can either sit there and mope and be sad, or you can pick yourself up and say, ‘Well alright, let’s get goin’ again.’ So that’s what we tried to do.” 

One of those #1 singles from Seasons Change, the glorious Five More Minutes, won Scotty an N.S.A.I. (Nashville Songwriters Association International) Award for ‘One of The Top Ten Songs I Wish I’d Written.’ That’s definitely one of the best-named awards I’ve ever heard of! But far more importantly, the song that won it – Five More Minutes – is definitely a song I wish I had written, too. I asked Scotty if he would mind taking us back in time and behind the scenes to the moments when that song was first coming to life…


“Yeah, absolutely. And I appreciate you sayin’ that. Again, Nashville, ya know, I love that town for the songs that get written there. So to get that kind of award was very cool. But yeah, when we wrote ‘Five More Minutes’, I was in Nashville with a guy who has produced my last couple of albums and has been a mentor to me over the years, Frank Rogers. And another one of my favourite songwriters in town, Monty Criswell. I had just lost my grandaddy Bill about two weeks prior to that, and this was one of the first songs that I’d written since then. I just showed up to the write that day and started talking about grandaddy to Frank and Monty, just the type of guy he was, and if I had just a little more time with him how I’d love to play another round of golf with him, that kind of thing. I think it was Frank that said, ‘It’s just like you wanted five more minutes with the guy.’ I said, that’s exactly right, and that’s the song we’re gonna write today.” 

Would Scotty find that, as a songwriter, he’s someone who tends to put a lot of his own personal life experiences into the songs he writes? 


“Yeah, ya know, I think for me, that’s kinda something that I enjoy. I enjoy writing about my life, and expressing myself and what I’m going through, through music. Some songwriters can pull things out of thin air, and imagine something, and come up with an incredible song. But for me, I struggle with that. So I’m much more of a  – if I live it, if I love it – that’s kind of what I write about.” 

Scotty had mentioned that 2016 had been a strange year for him personally, and it’s fair to say that 2020 comes into that same category for pretty much all of us. One thing Scotty will definitely remember from this year is the remarkably serendipitous turn of events that saw him as the last artist to play the Ryman Auditorium before operations were temporarily suspended there, AND become the first artist to welcome a ‘live’ audience back to the famous old venue as well. The world, in so many ways, literally changed in the time between those two performances. Did it feel that way for Scotty when he finally got back on stage? 


“Yeah, that was a night I won’t forget. Ya know, for me, any time you get to play the Ryman – the Mother Church of country music – is a special night. You can just feel the history the moment you walk in there. I got to play it in March to a sold-out crowd, there was an interview there, people were standing, it was an amazing night. And it was the first night that I saw people, like, starting to elbow-bump instead of shaking hands! And I was like, oh…this is kinda gettin’ weird! [laughs]. Then all of a sudden, the next day was shut-downs and everything, that was strange. But getting to go back and welcome a ‘live’ audience to such an historic venue, it was amazing too. It was different! It was a sold-out crowd again, but it was a much smaller crowd, everybody was wearing masks, you couldn’t see them singing or smiling. But just to have humans in there with us, and to play ‘live’ music again, to feel the beat of the drums and the energy of the guitar, that was just a moment I won’t forget after taking off for so long.” 

Does Scotty have any idea when he’ll get to be back on stage in front of an audience again? 


“There are still some shows on the books for me this fall and this winter, if they happen. I’d probably be surprised at this point. I’m not too sure. I think for a normal, ya know, thousands of people kinda show, that’s a ways away. But there’s options for a drive-in shop or something that we can work with.” 

Back in 2011, Scotty won the A.C.M. (Academy of Country Music) New Artist of the Year Award. And just the day before I spoke with him, I’d had the pleasure of talking to Tenille Townes, this year’s recipient of that same honour. If Scotty could sit his 2020 self down with his 2011 self – or indeed, with Tenille, for that matter – what words of wisdom would he pass on for surviving life in the music business, having come through everything he has and made it back to the very top again over the last few years? 


“I love Tenille, first off. She’s an amazing artist, and very deserving of that. For me, if I could go back and talk to myself, I think I would just say enjoy the moment. Enjoy the time you have on stage, and writing songs, and making albums and stuff. I think I was maybe just a little caught up in making sure that everything was so perfect…I wanted my show on stage to be perfect, my album, every little thing, instead of kind of just sitting back and letting things happen, and enjoying the moments. It’s a special time. Starting out as a new artist, and everything is so new, just sit back, smile, enjoy it. And kinda be a sponge around all the veterans that you’re around too, because they’ve been doing it for so long.”

Scotty lost a very dear friend – Yamir – in a tragic accident a few weeks before we spoke. He paid an emotional tribute to him by performing a beautiful rendition of Vince Gill’s timeless classic, Go Rest High On That Mountain, on his Instagram. After offering my sympathy and condolences, I asked Scotty if he’d like to share anything about the kind of person Yamir was, and also, on songs like Go Rest High On That Mountain, are there favourite country songs like that one that Scotty would turn to in times of pain or sorrow, ones that always bring him some sense of comfort to hear or to play? 


“Yeah, absolutely. You know, I think that’s the power of music, it’s tremendous. It can make you stand up and bounce around and dance, and smile and be happy, but it can also bring you to your knees. So ‘Go Rest High…’ is one of those songs. There’s a bunch of ’em. ‘Movin’ On’ by Rascal Flatts, too. Music is something I always turn to. Yamir, he was one of those guys, his smile was contagious, everybody loved him. He had a rough upbringing too, so he could have gone either way, with how it was a struggle for him growing up. But he ended up just being the best, salt of the earth kinda guy. I learned a lot just being around Yamir, so it was ough to see somebody get taken away so young, and senselessly. He was a great guy, tough to see that happen.” 

Staying with songs and songwriting, while I know that You Time and a lot of the next album was written in pre-Covid times, I wondered if Scotty had been doing much writing since this all started? Has Covid had any knock-on effect on his songwriting? 


“Yeah, for sure. Like I said, we’re still working on this album, we’ve got some of it finished but we still have a ways to go with some of it as well, so we’re still writing songs and finding songs to finish out the album. I’m not sure it will be such an obvious effect of like talking about wearing masks and quarantining and stuff [laughs], but more the not taking for granted the days we have on earth, living life to the fullest, and the appreciation for life, I think, will definitely show up on this album. That’s kind of what I’ve taken out of all this time at home, really looking back and remembering how things were. I think once we get back to normal, I won’t take for granted the days on the road where I’m kinda like, ‘Aw man, I’m bored today’, or ‘I wish I could go home.’ No, I’ll be enjoying the moment. That will definitely show up.”

Scotty is a big, big golf fan, and he and some of his friends enjoyed some success out on the course back in June, something which he shared with his followers on Instagram. How good did that feel, I wondered, the chance to get back out and enjoy some golf with his friends after not being able to for a while? 


“[Laughs] It felt great! It’s luckily one of those things you can do outdoors. And for me, I socially distance very well in golf, because I’m always hitting my ball in the woods anyway! [laughs]. So that’s a pretty easy thing to do [laughs]. But yeah, we had fun, and I’m hoping to play some golf in Ireland, that’s always been a bucket-list thing for me!”

Earlier in the week we spoke, Scotty had what he called his Elvis Presley Tuesday. And sadly, just the day before we spoke, the great songwriter Mac Davis, who wrote In The Ghetto for Elvis, passed away, adding to some of the other great writers and artists like John Prine and Joe Diffie who have taken their leave of us this year. I asked Scotty who were the songwriters and artists who have been most central to shaping his love of country music, and inspiring him as a writer and performer himself? 


“My goodness, there’s a lot of them to pull from. And yeah, it’s been a tough year losing artists and songwriters. It’s been a tough year all around. I grew up listening to more of the classic stuff, guys like Randy Travis, Ronnie Milsap. And Elvis was obviously a huge influence on my life. I dressed up like him for Halloween, and sang all his songs in school! He was obviously a big guy for me. Songwriting wise, I mean, I’m writing with a bunch of the folks that I love. Brad Paisley is a guy that I grew up listening to. Allen Shamblin, there’s a guy who wrote a lot for Randy Travis, and who I’ve had the chance to write with. Every time I get the chance to write with him, it’s a really cool experience. Luckily, there’s still a lot of those kinds of guys who are still around that I can sit down and write with. But unfortunately we’ve lost a few of them this year too, and that’s sad to see.” 

When Scotty gets to meet someone like Brad Paisley, and to sit down and write with him, because he would have been someone Scotty looked up to, how long does the weirdness – for want of a better word! – last before he gets over the fact that he is actually in a room writing with Brad Paisley? 


“It took a while, for sure [laughs], just because I’m such a fan. And I still am a fan. He took me out on my first tour in 2012, and we got to go January through December playin’ shows with him, and gettin’ to meet his family, and meet his road-family. He’s always just been super cool to me. But, I mean that is a thing when you get to meet your heroes, and it’s pretty obvious, I think, for them to see that I’m a fan cos’ my jaw is on the floor [laughs]. Luckily, I really haven’t met any of my heroes and after that been like, man, I wish I didn’t meet him. Everybody’s been so kind and so cool.” 

Like almost everybody who planned on hitting the road in any direction or for any length of time this year, Scotty has had to reschedule a lot of tour dates. But, God willing, we’ll be seeing him on this side of the world in 2021. But his shows in Dublin and Belfast next May will, somewhat astonishingly, be his very first in Ireland! So as we ended our chat, I asked Scotty why he’d been keeping us waiting so long?! 


“[Laughs] Aaaw man…if it was up to me, I’d have been there every year for the last ten! [laughs]. Ireland is a place I’ve wanted to go for so long. You know, we didn’t even get overseas to play any shows until last year, I don’t know what that was, whether it was logistics or whatever. But it wasn’t for the lack of wanting to go! The McCreerys, my side of the family, is from over there, I think, Northern Ireland. So we’re excited to go. I’ve never had Guinness! I’ve been holding off, I want to have my first Guinness in Ireland! And hopefully get to play a little golf too, and get to meet and talk with a lot of amazing folk. I can’t wait!”

~ YOU TIME, the brand new single from SCOTTY McCREERY, is out now and available on all platforms. Scotty plays The Academy in Dublin on May 9th 2021, and The Limelight in Belfast (which is sold-out) on May 11th. 

ENDS

Tenille Townes

First Published October 2020

THE SACRED, THE SPIRITUAL, AND LEMONADE

Singer/songwriter TENILLE TOWNES is an extraordinary artist. And she is such, because she’s also an extraordinary human being first and foremost. The same kind of empathy and awareness for the well-being of others that saw Tenille begin her Big Hearts For Big Kids project long before her name was ever seen in lights or known throughout the country music world, is found in her writing. Somebody’s Daughter and Jersey On The Wall – both of which have topped the charts in her native Canada, and also claimed the prestigious Single of the Year prize at the C.C.M.A. (Canadian Country Music Association) Awards, in 2019 and 2020 respectively – are perfect examples of this. 


In the last few weeks alone, Tenille was honoured with the accolade of New Female Artist of the Year at the A.C.M. (American Country Music) Awards, where she also joined country mega-star Miranda Lambert, together with Maren Morris, Ashley McBryde, Caylee Hammack, and Elle King, in picking up the award for Musical Event of the Year for the song Fooled Around And Fell In Love. Not long after that, Tenille had further reason to smile in what has been a trying year for everyone in the music business, as she was named the winner in the Female Vocalist of the Year, Songwriter of the Year, and Music Video of the Year categories – with the last two both coming for Jersey On The Wall – at the C.C.M.A. Awards. That’s a heck of a few weeks! 


And yet, despite being inundated with media requests from literally all across the United States, Canada, and beyond in the days following those successes, Tenille was more than happy to give some of her time to chatting with OTRT. Which takes us right back to our opening lines today. As well as being an extraordinary artist – part of which, no doubt, involves being an absolute pro – Tenille is an extraordinary person, well aware that she has fans all over the world now, and ready to acknowledge them. For a little context there, let me just share with you the fact that it’s not unusual for some artists, a lot closer to home too, to refuse interview requests after their first couple of singles gain them some attention, because of their “busy schedules.” 


Having already been a fan of Tenille’s for some time, the opportunity to finally spend some time in her company was a real pleasure. In fact, I joked with Tenille that I should perhaps be addressing her as Miss Female Vocalist of the Year, given the events of the few days before we spoke when that was one of the awards she took home from this year’s CCMA Awards. I asked Tenille if she could describe what it felt like to be the person at the centre of nights as magical as the ones she had recently experienced? 


“[Laughs] Thank you for the congrats! I mean, it truly is just like…it feels very surreal, like a movie or something! It’s just so wonderful to have the community of Canadian country music believing in this music, and wrapping their arms around it. I grew up watching and learning from that industry, so to have really have them believing in this right now, and just knowing that that song – ‘Jersey On The Wall’ – really made its way to people, really means so much to me. I’m just really grateful to wake up every day and get to do the thing I love most to do.” 

I asked Tenille if she ever goes into nights like the A.C.M. or the C.C.M.A. Awards with any sense of expectation as to what might lie ahead? How does Tenille prepare for nights like those? 


“That’s a great question! I don’t really know how you’d prepare, I just was excited to be there! To get to play the show this year was very different in the sense of not being all together as a community. Usually with the Songwriter of the Year and the Video of the Year it’s like we’re all at a big gala event the night before the televised show, and they give some of the awards out early. So you’re just kind of sitting at your table with your team, and just going, ‘Oh my goodness, are they gonna call my name?!’ And it’s so exciting [laughs]. And you get to have some dinner [laughs], and just be together with your people. So I really missed that this year. But I’m so glad that the C.C.M.A.’s still found a way to really push through and make it happen, and still bring everybody together. And yeah, the award for Female Artist of the Year was entirely a surprise. We were getting ready to tape the performance and they were like, ‘Annnnnnd we have some news for you…!’ [laughs]. I just was like, oh my goodness! So very cool! [laughs].” 

Did that throw Tenille off a little bit or anything, finding that out at such short notice, literally just before she taped her performance? Or did it end all the more to the excitement of things? 


“I think it’s a little bit of everything! Definitely extra adrenaline [laughs]. Oh my goodness, I mean, how do you emotionally respond to that? It’s something to be so excited about, and thankful for. You want to say all the right things, and really, more than anything, just soak in the moment. It’s a lot like a dream. And it’s a crazy reminder to be like, ‘THIS is real life’, and I don’t want to miss any part of what this feels like.” 

At this year’s A.C.M. Awards, Tenille had the most unique of moments, performing her song Somebody’s Daughter – which won the C.C.M.A,’s Single of the Year award last year – on an empty stage at the famous Ryman Auditorium, because it is, after all, the year we’ll never forget! And it was the same night Tenille followed in the footsteps of artists like Maren Morris, Ashley McBryde, and Kelsea Ballerini by being named as New Female Artist of the Year. It must have been the most emotional of moments for her…


“It was, absolutely. I mean, it’s so surreal to have been a part of that show at all. And finding out about that award, I found out through a Zoom call when Keith Urban showed up on the screen. I was just like, ‘What is happening?! This is crazy!’ [laughs]. I was so emotional and so thankful. And the day that it was announced Ashley McBryde called me, and Lauren Alaina called me, just this little community of people who were all like, ‘We’re just glad you’re in this spot.’ It meant the world. So stepping into that performance, I was really imagining that embrace of the community that’s pulling up a new chair to their table! That, just in itself, was emotional to me. And then getting to play was so fun. And, very strange in an empty venue! It really is missing the most beautiful and the most important part, which is the community of people who come to shows for that shared experience of live music. It was very, sort of quiet and weird. I sometimes experience this during soundchecks, where you know, you step out into an empty venue and there is a sort of sacred, spiritual part of that because you can imagine the people who are going to fill those seats. And to me, especially in the Ryman, it’s picturing my great-grandmother in there. And all the angels that are really kind of filling the space. Even though it was empty and missing people, there’s a lot about that experience that really didn’t feel empty at all.

Tenille has described her debut album, The Lemonade Stand, in the most beautiful of ways, calling it, “a gathering place, where people can come and be filled up.” What I love about that, is that she clearly doesn’t see her album as being simply all about her, but rather about what she – and her music – can give and can do for other people. Firstly, I asked Tenille if she considered that to be a fair observation, and secondly, I wondered which albums by other artists give her that feeling of being somewhere she can go to fill up when she needs to? 


“Thanks! That’s an excellent question, so cool. To me, that’s really what music is, a place where we can realise we’re not alone in something, and be comforted and lifted up. And it is about where communities can meet up, it’s always going to be that anchor. I’m so glad that this album is kind of an introduction to what I hope is a lot more of that feeling. And I mean, I feel that from so many different records, especially having been on the road this last little while – well, it’s been a while now [laughs] – but the most recent tour with Miranda Lambert, listening to her music makes me feel like, you know because she ‘s talking about things that are real and are true, so her art is a place where I can find pieces of myself. I feel that when I listen to Shania, that’s what I grew up listening to, or to ‘Joshua Tree’ by U2. I would listen to that with my dad and it kind of felt like a piece of my soul, like I could just come and be there. And I think that about Dolly Parton when I hear ‘Coat of Many Colours.’ I imagine listening to that in a motor-home driving around with my grand-parents. I think music is just like a big invitation. It’s opening a door to a space that you can just walk into and not be alone in.” 

Even though I’d only been talking to Tenille for a few minutes at this stage, it was already very clear to me that she’s a very spiritual person. And another thing that I really love about Tenille is that all the while she’s been putting her heart into building up her career, she’s also been putting her heart into building better lives for others too, by way of her annual fundraiser, Big Hearts For Big Kids. I knew this was something that’s very important to Tenille, so I asked her to tell us about the Big Hearts For Big Kids project…


“Thank you for asking, I love getting to talk about this. Big Hearts For Big Kids was like a concert fundraiser that I started in my hometown after hearing about our youth shelter and the kids in our community who needed a safe place to turn to. Home wasn’t a safe place for them. It was just kind of alarming to think about kids my age in my own hometown that were struggling with that. I wanted to do something to help, and music is my outlet for that. It’s this thing that really does bring people together. We rented this hall and decorated it, invited people to come and bring some auction items, but the night of our first event the shelter had to close due to lack of funding. It was like, wow, we’re really supposed to do this today. It was amazing, that night people showed up and we raised like thirty-thousand-dollars. I was just blown away. Every year we’ve continued that event and helped to keep the shelter on their feet and those doors open to youth who continue to come and find the guidance and love that they need to keep going. It’s been just remarkable watching that. It makes me so excited about where Big Hearts For Big Kids can go next. This year we weren’t able to go back to my hometown and travel, and do the event in our traditional way, so we did one here in Nashville, a live-stream where anybody from anywhere in the world could tune in and watch! And it was really special, both to benefit the shelter in my hometown, and for planting a seed for something here in Nashville with Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee, Troop 6000, which helps young girls without permanent housing here in Nashville. So that was just a really fun event. We had performances by Luke Combs, and Dierks Bentley, Brandi Carisle, and Lori McKenna, so many of my friends and heroes. It was a really wonderful evening and one of the highlights of this year for me, for sure.” 

Right now Tenille is part of something called the American Currents; State of the Music exhibition at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. I wondered if she could tell us what anyone who is lucky enough to get along there will see of the girl from Grand Prairie, Alberta? 


“I believe there is the outfit that I wore for my Grand Ole Opry debut, and some hand-written lyrics from ‘Somebody’s Daughter.’ I just can’t even believe that that’s real! I’ve visited the Hall of Fame so many times, and I feel inspired every time I go in there and I find little pieces of history. It just always kinds of…I don’t know…it just fills my soul up. So to be in there is insane, that does not seem like real-life! [laughs].” 

Tenille is an award-winning songwriter, who has #1s to her name, and who has everyone from iHeart Country, to Bobby Bones, to C.M.T backing her as country music’s next ‘big thing.’ But everything I’ve just mentioned starts with a song. So what I wanted to know was when Tenille is at that stage, is there a certain way that songs tend to come together for her? 


“I think, for me, it’s really just kind of about listening to whatever I’m supposed to write that day. It’s very much like being a vessel. You’re just catching what’s coming through. But I love to write from the observer perspective, I love to tell stories and kind of process how I feel about the world. I’m doing a lot of writing in this time, at home right now, writing over Zoom with all my friends. I’m really grateful to be able to be creative in this time. I’m just kind of digging into my own emotions, and thoughts, and loneliness, ya know, or celebrations in this season. I’m just really trying to have music be my safe place to communicate that. Ideas really come from anywhere and everywhere. Conservations with friends, or a movie I’m watching, or a book I’m reading. Just kind of whatever is pulling at my heart!” 

Has Tenille’s songwriting spark stayed with her throughout everything that’s been happening this year? 


“I think it was very difficult, especially in the beginning of the shutdown. It was a strange time to feel inspired and creative. To me, writing songs and tapping into that creative space is a lot like a practise. Even if I’m writing songs that are just exercising that muscle and helping me just, you know, feel good in the day [laughs], to me it’s been like a piece of my sanity and a bit of a lifeline. I’ve really kind of continued that practise through this whole time and I’ve written a ton of songs this year. And it’s really brought me a lot of peace in a very heavy-hearted time.” 

Would Tenille be an everyday writer? 


“I think in seasons for me. It’s hard for me to step into that space when I’m on the road, or when I’m focusing on Big Kids With Big Hearts or some kind of project, I like to really jump in with both feet. So this past season of putting out the record, but really kind of just being home, has been an opportunity to jump into writing with both feet. So it has been every day for the last while, for sure.” 

Tenille had mentioned her Zoom call with Keith Urban earlier in our chat, when she thought she was going to be doing an interview, but instead, he appeared on her screen with the news that she had won the A.C.M. New Female Artist of the Year Award. During that chat of theirs, Keith asked Tenille who her first call would be to after they finished talking and she replied that it would be to her parents. I wondered if that had happened, and how did they respond to her good news? 


“Oh it was, and they were just so excited! They were in the car driving, and I wanted to make sure that both my mom and dad were there. And they were like, ‘Yeah, we’re here, what’s goin’ on?’ So I was like, well, Keith Urban just called…and they were like, ‘Ummm….what?!’ [laughs]. They were so excited, there was lots of cheering, and lots of emotion. It was wonderful to share that moment with them, even across the distance.” 

Tenille was meant to be over here in Ireland back in March for C2C, which unfortunately didn’t happen this year. But hopefully next year it will be back, and hopefully Tenille will be back, too. When the world settles back down again is more international touring something Tenille would like to see on her schedule? 


“Oh my goodness, I will be on the first plane that I possibly can to come and see you guys! [laughs]. I was so looking forward to seeing Ireland on this past trip, I have not been before. It’s one of those bucket-list places in my heart to travel to in the world. I was just devastated that we couldn’t get there in March. But I promise that we’ll be back as soon as we possibly can.” 


THE LEMONADE STAND, the debut album from TENILLE TOWNES, is out now. 
ENDS 

Jo Petit

First Published October 2020

ADDICTED TO THE MUSIC

If you haven’t been feeling at least a little bit stressed out from time to time this year, then I applaud you. And I also need to meet you so that you can let me in on your secret, because if you’ve been livin’ stress-free in 2020, you’re among a very small number, that’s for sure. Most of us, and I include myself in this grand and somewhat sweeping statement, have been stressed out to some extent most of the time. And it’s hardly a remarkably candid confession or revelation to say that it’s not a cool feeling. However, if you’re someone like singer/songwriter JO PETIT, part of what you do is find ways to make life cool. Even in 2020 and with all of its seemingly unending stress! 


In fact, not only did Jo turn the stress he was feeling earlier this year into something cool, he turned it into a song! And there was only ever going to be one name for it…you got it…STRESSED OUT. Born in Mauritius, but now living in Dublin, Jo has a wealth of talent and experience to pour into the creative side of his life. From supporting pop giants such as Westlife, Boyzone, and JLS, performing at venues such as the O2, the RDS, and even Trafalgar Square, and rubbing shoulders with some of the biggest names in pop and rock history at times, Jo has learned to take almost everything in his stride. But this year has been different…


I had the pleasure of catching up with Jo last week, and I began our chat by putting it to Jo that his new single has pretty much perfectly summed up how everybody has been feeling these past few months, to which he replies with a good-natured laugh, “That’s what it’s all about!” But, he’s done so in a very cool, chilled out, and fun kinda way. I asked Jo to tell me how he came to write Stressed Out


“Basically, what happened is I had a beat, because I do production as well, and I knew that was cool. That was August, I think, last year. But I’d put it aside for a while. Then the lockdown came, and it was really, really stressing. Because all of our bookings and everything were going [Jo also fronts one of the country’s most in-demand weddingand corporate event outfits, The Dream Band], everything was being cancelled. So then I started to feel really stressed out, ya know what I mean. Obviously I wasn’t working, so I was like, you know what, I’ll do a bit of production, that will take my mind off things. Then just before opening up, one of the last sessions I did was that song, I was just singing, [sings] ‘I’m so stressed out…’, you know [laughs]. It took a few little changes to get it right, but yeah, that’s how it came about.”

Stressed Out was produced by Billy Farrell, a man whose name is well-known on the Irish music scene. So how did Jo and Billy cross paths, and what made Jo think Billy was the man for this particular project? 


“Well, I had the beat, you know, and I had put it aside. But then I started writing, and it started with one song, then two songs, and before I knew it, I had about ten songs written. And I actually didn’t know Billy Farrell at the time. I’d always comment on his posts and say something. I knew he was a producer, yes, but I didn’t know to what level, to what extent. I messaged him and said I had a couple of songs, and would he mind having a listen and telling me what he thought about them. I used to write for a company in the UK, co-writing, you know. They put the ideas out there, and then I can pitch something from there. But this was my first time writing from scratch. So I was thinking they were probably all rubbish [laughs]. But all I wanted was an insight of what he thought. So Billy said, yeah, send them over. Between that time of sending it over and hearing back from him, I checked out more of his work, and I was like…Oh…My…God! This guy is just gonna trash me! [laughs]. He’s gonna chew me up and spit me out, that’s what I thought, because I didn’t know who he was [laughs]. I started to feel a bit like I probably should have just shut my mouth! [laughs]”

Billy, by the way – just to offer some context as to why Jo was thinking that maybe he should have kept his mouth shut – has worked with artists like Bonnie Tyler, Brian Kennedy, The Corrs, and Westlife. 

Jo went on with his story…“But then he came back to me and he was like, ‘Jo, those songs are great.’ And I was like, whaaaaat?! He said yeah, really good. I asked him what did he think of the lyrics, because I’d never written a song from scratch on my own, and he said yeah, they were really well put together, well constructed. I had 80% of the production done already. So as the song is now, that’s the way I originally produced it, we just changed a few sounds, like the drums, made it more modern, changed the rhythm a bit to give it that more tropical vibe [laughs], that feel-good vibe! So we started from there.”

While Jo may well have been impressed with Billy’s bio, there’s a few big names that stand out in his own one as well. Try Lenny Kravitz, Whitney Houston, Chris De Burgh, and Paris Hilton for size! 


“I was born in, and grew up in Mauritius, where they’re are loads of high-profile, big-name hotels. And I used to sing in different ones. And I love what I do, so I would work seven days a week! Even if I had three days off! I’d call somebody up and ask if I could come in too, that’s the way I was, I wanted to learn. I would have been seventeen or eighteen at the time. So over time, I was getting better, and obviously getting involved with bigger bands. I’m a quite powerful soul singer, so I was going with these bands to do massive shows, funk and soul, and I loved it! At that time I was doing acoustic trios and part-time with bands too. There was a hotel called the San Geran, which was a massive hotel, and this is where all the celebrities would be going to. One time we were gigging there, and I noticed a familiar face! [laughs]. And I was like, I know them from somewhere. And I was asking the musicians and they said, oh, he’s here every year, and I thought then well that’s why he looks familiar. I probably saw him last year or something. But it was Chris De Burgh! [laughs]. We ended up exchanging a few words, and I met Rosanna Davison at the time, she was young herself too. The whole family. We started chatting, and it became a kind of every night thing, going in and saying hello. But back then I didn’t know he was from Ireland. And I met Whitney Houston out there as well, at the same hotel. Then, I was performing at the launch of the Hilton Hotel in Mauritius, and the Hilton family was there, including Paris. And Lenny Kravitz was performing on that night as well. I’ve also performed for the Prince of Dubai, too.” 

I suggest that Jo is obviously not a man who gets nervous in front of a famous face? 


“Well, it helps when you don’t know them at the time! [laughs]. I’ve been very lucky with those types of things. Once, I was just doing my thing, and this guy comes up to me and he says, ‘Hey man, you have a really good voice.’ And he looked like a rocker guy, you know. Then somebody said to me, ‘Do you know who that is? That’s Lenny Kravitz!’ That blew my mind! I actually felt nervous after that [laughs]. I went to say goodbye to him later, to say it was nice to meet you, you know, and I was literally so shaky! [laughs].” 

As well as being a solo artist with his original work like Stressed Out, Jo is also a part of The Dream Band, as previously mentioned. But before The Dream Band…came the boyband! Once upon a time Jo was a member of the Irish boyband The Boulevard, supporting the likes of Boyzone, Westlife, and JLS. I wondered how Jo looks back on those times and experiences now, and how much did he enjoy them at the time? 


“I absolutely enjoyed them, I wouldn’t change a thing. It was difficult at the time, because it’s not a nine-to-five job, it’s a twenty-four hour job, seven days a week, flat-out. Between rehearsing, keeping fit in the gym, all of that. It took literally every minute of my life. That’s the part that I probably would have changed if I could have [laughs]. But I really wouldn’t change a thing, because I learned so much from it. I’m somebody who’s very observant. If there’s a situation I’m in, I’m gonna learn from it. So that time taught me a lot of things. Observing the managers, the way they work. It wasn’t only the music for me, and the fans and the screaming girls, it was observation. How do they work? What are they doing? Why are they doing that? That taught me a lot for my career up to now. Now I’m able to manage certain situations better. And if I hadn’t done that, I probably wouldn’t have been able to approach certain people. After that time, I went to Scotland and worked with some extremely good songwriters and producers, through my experience in The Boulevard.” 

What was the most important thing Jo learned from back then, from observing everybody and what they were doing? 


“Professionalism. Professionalism. There’s nothing else I can think of that was that important. It might have been that people would manage a certain situation in such a professional way, that I would have thought, oh my God, this is something I need to remember. And even now, The Dream Band, which I founded, I founded based on those experiences of that time. So I know how to manage my own business on a much more professional level than if I never had the experience of being in The Boulevard and doing everything I did in that time.” 

This has been a crazy year for everyone, and it’s still really crazy for most people in the music business because any kind of normal – nevermind the normal we knew – still seems so far away. As an artist, and a creative person, and also just on a purely human level too, how has Jo been dealing with the strangeness of 2020? 


“Well…2020 is definitely a year I’m pretty sure everybody will remember! [laughs]. Especially artists. Because everything – all the bookings we had, everything that was set in stone – just literally…I mean, you would think that the entertainment industry is one that cannot break. Because as long as there’s music, we’ll be working. And then reality kicks in and says look, everybody else is now back working, and we’re not?! We’re not untouchable. There’s lessons to learn there. And it would be better for Stressed Out if there was gigs and I could perform it ‘live.’ That would have been great. Because with The Dream Band, we do a lot of weddings and corporate, and we travel all over Europe performing. You could put the song in your set to let people know it’s out. But there’s absolutely nothing. It’s a stand-still. The song is out…but now what? [laughs]. So yeah, it’s had a major impact on that side of things. Musicians are addicted to what we do. And not having that is hard. Not even talking about just paid gigs. Like sometimes, you’ll just do a gig for fun. And not even having that hit…that’s why so many musicians I’ve been talking to are stressed out. Actually, I was talking to one who said he was out of his mind, and I said yeah…that’s a good line for Stressed Out [laughs]. If you think about it, this industry is so big. There’s the musicians, but then the P.A. Hire, rehearsal rooms, dancers, singers…it goes on and on. That impact is just so huge. But at the same time, I don’t think the people who make the legislation have thought about it that way. They’re like, ok, no musicians are working. But what about the rest? What about event-planners? Venues? Everybody else is this huge industry that’s now just at a stand-still.” 

Well one thing that Jo has been able to do, thankfully, is put together a video for Stressed Out that’s every bit as cool as the song itself. And indeed, at the time of our chat, views of the video on YouTube had already gone well past the 100,000 mark. Jo told me all about putting that side of things together…


“We were obviously planning that in advance, but then the government said we were going to shut down for a month or two, and then everything was going to go back to normal. So we were planning to have a bunch of people at the beach and have a real tropical vibe with it. So myself and the director, we had designed a full set and started getting people involved, we needed about fifty people there for the end, all clapping and dancing and singing the song. And we were going to do a bit in a venue as well, on stage, you know. There was a whole plan going ahead. But then, about ten days before we were due to shoot the video, they announced that the lockdown was not going away, nowhere was opening, no weddings happening, no groups of people meeting, and all of this! [laughs]. So we had to literally strip everything then to the bare minimum. But it was very enjoyable. We were like, ok, cool, let’s make it like a kind of scenario where you wake up and the minute I leave the apartment that we hired, from that time until going to the beach, it’s just me trying to get away from all the craziness! It still works! There’s just a lot less people involved. Because we couldn’t have done it the way we planned it, and then have everybody see that we’d done it at a time when people were not meant to be together that much. This is why we ended up really stripping it back, and having less people in isolated places.” 

To bring our chat to an end, I asked Jo what’s next on his schedule for 2020, in as much as it’s even possible to plan anything right now…


“I’m just hoping that we will see more consideration given to the events industry. Up to now, there’s been no thought or emphasis on it. I think they just need to consider the thousands and tens of thousands of people who are out of work right now in this industry. Music, at the end of the day, and entertainment, it’s something that people look forward to. If there’s a show, people plan weeks in advance. Even musicians as well, knowing that something is coming back, that would lift our spirits. We were meant to have a gig this week, but then they were saying that Cork might be locked down, and that’s where our gig was. We’re literally working on a day-to-day basis not knowing what’s happening. For 2021, I just hope that everything goes back to some kind of normal [laughs]. So that we can go out gigging and promoting. Because what I’ve found out is that it’s so hard to promote anything if you’re not able to go out and show it to people. Ok, I can do so much on video, so much on Facebook, but then…there’s nothing else I can do. And then it’s destructive for the art itself. Because you start questioning yourself, am I doing the right thing? Because it still costs money to do a song.”One thing is for sure, though, and that is that no matter what happens, Jo will remain addicted to the music.

STRESSED OUT, the brand new single from JO PETIT is out now, available on all platforms and to request from radio

ENDS