Interview Music

Eoin Dolan – “Recording puts a microscope on your art, and it’s very unforgiving”

2020 had started well for Eoin Dolan. His single, Superior Fiction, was gathering great reviews and airplay and he was ready to embark on a tour, with a stop in Berlin along the way, before everything came to a halt. Dolan chatted with us a couple of months back in jovial form just as COVID-19 had forced everyone inside and gave the Galway man great time to focus on his gardening, reading and, luckily for all of us, a new EP - June Hope, released this weekend.

Eoin, isolation seems to be treating you well. You are maintaining that garden of yours well it seems. Focusing any of the new found time on new music since the tour isn’t happening now?

I’m in great form. This day to day living, with less pressure not to go anywhere and an opportunity to do music and reading, suits me. At the minute I’m recording an EP (June Hope) which is gonna be very different. More personal, a bit pop too. It’s not as politicised as my previous work.

While much of your music thus far has had different setting and characters that clearly don’t apply directly to you, they still feel heartfelt and personal.

My songs are partly fictionalised. I like to be imaginative and think we all have a touch of the Walter Mitty in us at times. I look for different strands – sometimes they’re more interesting. Seeing where the different threads end up and I might add certain truths in then.

Eoin Dolan is more likely to be found on his social media giving his followers gardening tips or classic Coronation Street memes than he is to be plugging his own art. On the latter, we suspect the Curb Your Enthusiasm fanatic may be acting a little tongue in cheek…

Digitalisation allows you to do your recording then from home?

I do all my recording at home, yeah. It’s controversial stuff but in a lot of ways I’d say digital, in a  lot of respects, is better. The advancements that have been made in recording technology are great. I wouldn’t have been able to record all the stuff I have done if it wasn’t for the development of digital recording. Analog is not available to the majority of artists and you need a certain knowledge too there that most might not have. Digital gives you a certain avenue to be really creative and I think that’s reflected now in Irish music and the standards have gone up massively. I think the talent has always been there in Ireland but people are given the opportunity now to record more as it was just too expensive before to record.

“The studio is an instrument in itself

Before you also might have had well-meaning sound engineers but they were maybe not necessarily great producers so you’d end up with material that doesn’t capture the character of a band – and I also believe that the more you record (yourself) the better you get at songwriting too. There are a lot of philosophies out there with regards to the purpose of a studio but I’d say that a studio can be used as another kind of instrument in itself that’s integral to the creative process rather than just there to capture the recording itself. Or at least that’s the way I work anyways. 

In your work thus far, I think digitisation has helped add atmospheric aspects to aid the settings, such as in Space on previous LPs, that you may not have got as easily on analog?

I do love the idea of tape and I think analog recording is really cool – I’m not condemning it! Maybe if I had the resources and the space to have all the equipment maybe I would use it, but being practical, I don’t have it so I think digital is great without condemning the older means of recording. Just comes down to the fact that the output of artists is improving as people are getting more opportunities to be creative. Look at the last 15, 20 years since digital recording became more affordable – you see more and more records being put out, more diverse genres of music. It’s interesting too cos nowadays a lot of the recording techniques are going back now, a lot of the plug ins even in a  digital format now will make it sound like it was when recording was analog!

Studios used to intimidate me”

Songwriting is a craft though, it takes time. It took me a while to figure out a style that I was comfortable writing in and performing in and getting my sound together. The writing part of it and learning an instrument is very similar to the recording in that you need to just practice it. Recording puts a microscope on your art, and it’s very unforgiving. I was lucky in that I studied sound engineering (in my mid twenties) and the teachers were good and so were the people in my class. Until then I was always looking at the studio as something that intimidated me. There for the first time, we would be at Windmill Lane recording students or young bands. They’re looking at us as the engineer then and us then seeing it from another perspective where I’m not as emotionally attached. I can then be objective and a lot more clinical just to get the best out of artists and getting their best work out of them.  I was seeing myself in these guys. You get so blinkered in your world view (as the recording artist) and it’s so difficult when you’re so blinkered you can’t stand outside and look at things objectively. One of our teachers, Niall, came in and I remember him saying the key to success is to make decisions quickly. You don’t have all day in the studio and if you can’t be decisive you’ll end up with a lot of unfinished material.

Irish Culture Berlin’s pick of five from Dolan’s immense back catalogue

You’ve always been a big guitar player but we don’t always hear them or maybe just not as predominantly on your recent work – is this intentional?

The majority of the songs I write are on guitar, though some on piano but I’m ruthless – I’ll get rid of a lot of stuff. Initially say there might be a lotta guitars, say rhythm, but if they don’t work – if it’s shit, I won’t mourn its loss. I’ve made that mistake in the past, regardless of how long has been spent on it, you have to cut it if it doesn’t fit. Be quick and say “that’s it, gone”. You can’t let ego get in the way. If the song is good enough, if it has a good melody, message or vibe it’ll carry that through another instrument too. 

If you go back to the sixties and Serge Gainsbourg, guitar isn’t the leading force. It has a great groove to it but it’s coming ‘cos the drums and bass are good. They are locked in and that gives everything the motion. The guitars are there, not as decoration but they’re also not there to drive the song. 

Serge Gainsbourg, with his dog Nana, as taken by Andrew Birkin. Dolan says too that his new EP, June Hope, is largely inspired by his listening to of early 60s’ French pop.

There are a wealth of Irish bands, particularly from the East coast having great success internationally the last couple of years. And in the last year the West coast and Galway seem to be rising to that too, with some incredible talent and labels such as through Citóg and Strange Brew.

The standard has gone up unbelievably. If you look at the Choice Music awards this year, for example, there are just some really really strong artists. The scene is small (in Ireland), even the population, to cater for what’s there. The standard is phenomenal. Sometimes even these bands don’t get the audiences they deserve. And now in the digital realm, there are so many youtube tutorials etc. to help bands (get their sound right and out there). We had bands in the past here that were so tight but they’d go into the studio and the record would sound shite.

But the music scene, the whole system is set up in a way that’s not meant to be fair in any way shape or form – this whole thing that if you work hard enough at it, it’ll work out – is malarky. It’s pure money driven. And connection driven. But even with connections it’s still money driven. Sure, I’d say even with my tour cancelled I saved money. ‘Cos the whole thing would be costing me more to play. And I’d say that’s the same for a lot of the bands out there. I feel sorry for bands who’d had the big festivals this summer, they’d have lost big income there. Then again, they’re often the bands with the money to begin with. They’re the tip of the spear for representing Irish music abroad but in some cases they’re not necessarily the best but just the ones who have the money. You need money to do it.

What I’d say therefore to young people starting in music is to get yourself a skill, one in music or video production that you can not only use for your own art but you can actually get work out of too so that you’re still involved in music too in some way.

Crater of my Heart taken from Dolan’s 2019 LP “Commandor of Sapiens”. Video by David Boland.

But does that not seem a shame that your music doesn’t (yet) reach a wider audience?

I just laugh at it, just find it funny cos I won’t ever pay for PR and I know that may mean I’ll never to get to the point where I could tour regularly but that’s fine ‘cos you can sink a load of money into PR too and get nothing and be just left feeling very angry. Whereas now, (how it’s set up with digital home recordings) I can just record here for the rest of the evening if I want and continue to do so ’til I die. Whether people listen to it or not, that’s fine.

For all the talk of digital, are there any plans or desires there to bring vinyl versions of your music out?

Yeah I have a good amount of stuff recorded on different albums (released on CD or on Streaming platforms) over the years. I plan on putting a “best of” compilation out later this year on vinyl. Again though, it’s just so expensive to duplicate. To make money back you have to be touring with it. But people are conscious that vinyl adds a certain levity to the whole thing. 

Speaking of touring, will Berlin be back on the cards whenever things allow it?

Most definitely. Will have to see how and when things pan out but will be back in Berlin hopefully soon.

The timely and aptly-named “June Hope EP” is out now and you can hear it here now on Spotify, or purchase it on BandCamp, or check out www.eoindolan.com for more updates on Dolan’s work. Dolan is also donating 100% of sales from the EP to The Melting Pot Luck – Galway, a non profit community group set up in the west of Ireland to help bring cultural exchanges between refugees, asylum seekers and locals.

Cover Image by New Pope.

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