Patrick O’Laoghaire: the fine line between hurling and music
The Dubliner behind I Have a Tribe is a deep thinker and reckons there's little difference between making music and the world's fastest field sport
Patrick O’Laoghaire: “I have this curiosity about singers who sound really young and totally naive and innocent, and they also sound like they’re 100. I like that ‘somewhere in-between’ place.” Photograph: Alex Gonzales
Making music, explains Patrick O’Laoghaire, is a lot like hurling.
“I know that’s a mad thing to say,” he says, “but playing music and playing hurling, you get the same feeling. You train and you learn your stuff and you practice. But then, but then, when you’re playing you’ve no time to overthink it; it’s instinctual. I like that in hurling: you move a certain way, or you’ll kind of do stuff before you realise you’re doing it. Music is the same, for me.”
O’Laoghaire throws his head back and emits a laugh that’s as big as his bushy beard. When the Dubliner talks about songwriting, he makes it sound like a mystical experience, and is prone to well-meaning tangents to illustrate his point.
That will come as absolutely no surprise to those who have heard O’Laoghaire’s 2016 debut, Beneath a Yellow Moon. The record, several years in the making, demonstrated O’Laoghaire’s talent for storytelling, matched with a musical approach of solo piano and slouchy full band, succinct intimacy with sprawling, nine-minute mini-epics.
He laughs now at the stuff he was listening to as a child; he was the only kid in his class who was into Oscar Peterson. “Yeah, but at the same time, my first concert was Cher – so it was a case of anything goes. I remember going straight from hurling training once to a jewellery-making class, and trying to cover it up: ‘Oh, I’ve to go to physio’. But my focus was always, if you think you’d like this, try it.”
With school out, O’Laoghaire considered primary school teaching. But music proved a bigger draw. He studied classical at Dublin’s DIT, but it wasn’t until after graduation that he began to write the songs for I Have a Tribe. In the interim, he started playing live, making friends and impressing people on the Irish music scene, not least Conor O’Brien of Villagers (who played on the debut album) and Mary-Kate Geraghty, aka MayKay of Fight Like Apes.
Tinkering with the tunes
The idea of travelling with songs and giving them the space and time to develop is one that O’Laoghaire returns to time and again. He spent four or five years tinkering with the tunes before the impetus to record them professionally was sparked by a meeting with Scottish producer Paul Savage, who had worked with the likes of King Creosote, Mogwai and Franz Ferdinand.
“I have this feeling that I sing my song well, when I ‘know’ it, where you’ve played them different ways and been different places with them, and you just need to figure out what they are,” he says. “It felt a bit like it was time to say okay, maybe we’ll do these ones now. I knew I wanted to try something with Paul, and he was of the same mindset about mixing: leaving them a little bit of space and seeing what happened.”
O’Laoghaire’s voice is his USP: a combination of naivety and wisdom that incorporates everyone from Anohni to Leonard Cohen. The voice belies his 29 years and particularly suits his penchant for making music that is often the sonic equivalent of slow-cooking.
“I have this curiosity about some singers who sound really young and totally naive and innocent, and they also sound like they’re 100,” he says. “I like that ‘somewhere in-between’ place. But in terms of singing lessons and the curiosity of mastering something, I’m a bit wary of learning too much because maybe it sounds a bit too precious or fragile. There’s different ways to play with your voice.
“I’m curious about when you’re playing an instrument, you can see it – whereas you can’t see your voice. It’s that balance between naivety in your voice and having a bit of faith in it.”
Entangled with the songs
Beneath a Yellow Moon, released last May, was well-received critically, but largely overlooked by the Irish music-buying public despite great expectations for O’Laoghaire to follow in the footsteps of Conor O’Brien and James Vincent McMorrow.
“I’d be fairly entangled with the songs, so you can’t not be affected by it,” he admits. “The only way I can look at it is that we went on this sort of adventure – and maybe it wasn’t what I saw, or what I thought I needed. But you just do it, and you think, Well, that’s the work and this is the way it’s gonna go.
“To keep you going in a forward direction, you have a kind of humble hope that it’ll work out. I don’t want to sound like I’m lamenting my year or anything, but there’s a lot of stuff that I’d really love to do that you can only do if you’re [financially successful]. Like, I’d love to perform the songs with an orchestra.”
He sighs, tugging his beard. “On the other side, you’re singing for people you love and know. There’s a lot of ways to keep motivated, and there’s a lot of stuff out of your control. You can only keep going, really.”
His latest release is a reworking of album track After We Meet, featuring extra instrumentation and the vocal prowess of MayKay. It proves O’Laoghaire is not averse to risks, although that doesn’t mean that there is a deficit of ideas or new material in his canon. New songs are written and demos already recorded, so he is adamant that it won’t take five years for a second album. Following festival season, an EP release could be on the cards, and he is keen to get in some playing with the backing of a full band in 2017.
An idea of success
After that? In terms of ambition, O’Laoghaire doesn’t seem like the kind of guy dreaming of a house in Miami with a Lamborghini in the driveway. So how does he measure success?
He raises an eyebrow. “No, no, this is all a front,” he smiles. “I’ve a rake of classical music written that I’d love to give to someone doing a movie. And with my songs, you want them to live a certain way, you want to visit places with them – all of the usual stuff, I guess. You have this work and you want it to live, basically. It’s a funny one in this game. You can’t really plan anything.”
O’Laoghaire goes silent for a moment, trawling his brain for another tried and trusted sporting analogy. “I go swimming a bit. I’ll swim as fast as I can until about 2 metres from the end, and then I’ll just stop and let the momentum carry me.
“I think all I can do is just keep going. And if it happens, it happens. And if not . . . well, my brother said to me years ago: ‘Give it a go. And if it doesn’t work, at least you’ll have had a good adventure.’”
I Have a Tribe play Whelan’s on March 3rd and the Castlepalooza festival this August bank holiday.