Daithí Ó Drónaí: next stop, pop
Now that Ó Drónaí has rediscovered his love for pop music, the days of regarding him as just the ‘lad with the fiddle’ are well and truly over. He talks about his indie-trad-electro-math-rock progression and why the new album will be ‘pop from tip to toe’
“I love pop music. When that realisation hit, I started working on the idea of making tune that would sound amazing on radio”
On St Patrick’s Day, Daithí Ó Drónaí performed a gig in Dublin’s Mansion House on the same bill as Martin Hayes. Both are fiddle players from Clare, but that’s largely where the comparisons begin and end.
Ó Drónaí is effusive when he talks about the fellow from Feakle. He remembers being a seven-year-old going to see Hayes play and being blown away. His eyes glow when he talks about The Gloaming. He remarks that you can identify Hayes’s dulcet strings from the midst of seven fiddlers on a Tulla Ceili Band record.
But Ó Drónaí is very much aware that he’s his own man in such company. “The way I play fiddle is not accomplished at all. It’s more about the energy I put into it. There’s no finesse where I am coming from with the fiddle.”
Listen: Daithí Ó Dronaí - Have to Go
It’s a long, long way from Ó Drónaí’s Clare trad upbringing to the pop freak scene he’s part of today. Over the past 18 months, Ó Drónaí has become the go-to man when it comes to live shows that fizz and crackle. His tunes have become fully formed, radio-friendly monsters where the groove is firmly in the heart. The image of the lad with the fiddle which tarred him for so long is fast fading.
“It’s not about the lad with the fiddle any more,” the 24-year-old says with some relief. “I was sick and tired of being the lad with the fiddle; it felt like such a novelty. I mean, I love the fiddle and it’s such an important part of the live show and I’d never leave it behind. But I wanted to show people I could create songs as opposed to just fiddle pieces.”
At the start, though, the fiddle was there. Trad was always going to be on the cards in the Ó Drónaí household in Ballyvaughan (his grandfather is noted concertina player Chris Droney) and the six-year-old plumped for the fiddle.
Other instruments came along and he was playing bass guitar in bands with school friends when the time came to head to Rockwell College. Ó Drónaí thought he’d like Rockwell: “I mean, it was boarding school, I’d read the Harry Potter books”. But he soon found himself at a significant disadvantage in that intense rugby school.
Luckily, there were others with guitars and he fell into step with them. “I went through a hibernation period of two years just doing study, school and music. That’s where I learned how to write songs. I hated boarding school, but while I was there, I learned how to write music so it wasn’t all bad.”
In between school and bunking off to see The Cribs in Dublin, Ó Drónaí fell for the fiddle again.