‘Sad music makes me happy for some strange reason’

The film-maker, musician and producer Myles O’Reilly shares his Spotify playlist

At least 15 of the songs on the playlist are in my DNA at this point. They define the way I hear things. Added to that are new artists that breathe life, and give me different landscapes to admire.

I’m a folk-music man through and through, and I was from an early age. The likes of Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car and Joni Mitchell’s Blue aren’t in the list, but as soon as I found Irish artists that had that spirit, that’s when I started filming and documenting music in Ireland.

Lisa Hannigan’s Lilleisher Fast Car is her Big Yellow Taxi. It was such a pleasure that her first song on her own was that exquisite and full of feeling, and so her. When I first heard it, I was a musician working hard at it in Dingle, and five years later I was filming Lisa sing that song in a beautiful location in Glebe Gardens, in west Cork. It’s like she drew me into it. She’s certainly one of the reasons why I started filming music, because I had an opportunity to follow her around a bit. So that song started everything. It’s an important song for me.

Lisa O’Neill, Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh and Séamus Fogarty are three Irish acts that I thought had star quality 10 years ago, when I started filming artists. I feel I caught something unique that nobody had seen, and being able to give that to the world was lovely. It was really satisfying when people start reacting.


My favourite song from Lisa is Gormlaith’s Grieving. She’s brilliant at surprising people with song structure, like Joni Mitchell. The first-time listener goes on a journey where everything’s new and nothing’s familiar. The lyrics are formulaic, so she’s saying normal things, and yet she constructs the music like you’re being brought through a landscape. I love that.

When I met Séamus Fogarty, 10 years ago, he was doing tiny pub gigs to three people, and even then he was so, so, so impressive. I filmed one of those pub gigs when he was in Fife, where he met one of his heroes – I forget who it was now – who was affiliated with Domino Records, the label he’s signed to now. That’s some journey.

When it comes to discovering new music, I use Shazam a lot. I don’t often go back to the songs I’ve Shazamed, so every few months I’ll have a beautiful list of completely new music that I instinctively knew I’d like straight away. I also discover music through Spotify’s Discover Weekly. People complain about Spotify for the obvious reasons, but every week it suggests about 20 songs, and out of those there will be one artist that I value enough to save to a playlist.

For example, there’s Monika, who’s from Greece. She started about 10 years ago with a traditional folk Greek music backdrop, and it eventually led to a big landscapey ambient sound within the folk-music structure, which interests me greatly. Folk music is essentially storytelling, where the lyrics have a message and cultural relevance. I like that the backdrop is allowed to change and mature with time. And I like that folk music can resonate as a city would, like electronic music does so often.

Danielle Baquet-Long is another new artist. She has an interesting story: she died in 2009, when she was only 26, unfortunately, but she’s an ambient-music artist who started her career with a music-technology background in college, and then she went on to do music therapy.

It’s only after she died that her husband, who also played ambient music, brought her music to the world under the name Chubby Wolf. He keeps releasing an album of hers every year, because she made that much music – it was the stuff she was creating for her music-therapy classes. She’s one of the most-listened-to ambient-music artists now in the world, and it’s sad that it happened after she died.

I understand that Marissa Nadler also comes from a folk-music background. There’s a folky allure to her lyrics and the way she constructs the songs, but the backdrop is completely different from anything in popular folk music, and I find that very interesting.

I do like experiencing new and unusual music. I get a thrill out of not knowing what’s going to happen. I have some friends who absolutely hate that. If they don’t know what they’re hearing, they’ll instantly compare it to being dark or sad or depressing. In the playlist, there’s a lot of what people might interpret as sad. Sad music makes me happy for some strange reason. It might seem sad, but it’s in a melancholy, beautiful, grieving kind of way. It can be cathartic to have a good old cry to a song. – As told to Shilpa Ganatra

Myles O’Reilly produces Tá Go Maith by Rónán Ó Snodaigh, which is released on Thursday, August 5th