Interview Music

Orian – “I discovered acoustic soft music to ease the pain and help the soul”

Enniscorthy native Joey Ryan has been residing in Berlin since 2016 where he has been working hard building up an impressive back catalogue of soothing indie and, dare I say it, ever so catchy pop songs. But the metal and alternative fan is keen to show he has even more sides to offer - starting off with the first of five planned new singles released last Friday, "Ask You Twice", which you can check out below. Joey kindly took time out to chat about his career so far, Berlin and the changes in direction he wants to take his music.

Hi Joey, how are you keeping?

Not too bad and yourself?

Good, good, thanks. Let’s start at the beginning with a cliched question in how did you get into music?

I’ve always been into music since I was young. I started learning the guitar when I was seven. My Mum and Dad were always really into music. They play a little too but not in any proper capacity. Like, Dad tips away on the oul fiddle and Mam used to play piano a bit but there was always music in the house and they were always listening to Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan, Nina Simone or Johnny Cash. So I got a really good upbringing on what I consider still to be really good music. We always just had certain traditions like when we in the car going somewhere we would have music on or during the Sunday roast there’d be a couple of albums thrown on on the record player. So I’ve just always been surrounded by music and I guess I just took to it. Then when I went into secondary school I became obsessed with heavy metal which still is kind of true to this day. I formed a metal band and took it quite seriously, probably too seriously really, and then I had my first girlfriend and then she broke my heart six weeks later – as it goes – and then I discovered acoustic soft music to ease the pain and help the soul.

Berlin was a place with more possibilities for me than back home.”

Then I went on to UCC and did music there, did a masters then in musicology. When I was in Cork I had always gone in to college to get better, to expand my learning but like, I also just wanted to become a singer songwriter down in Cork. I was really influenced there by the likes of Mick Flannery. Him doing folk rock and just doing really well for himself. So I kind of went down that route for a while and that’s how it all started.

Image by Paul Tobin

How did you end up making the move to Berlin in 2016?

When I was in Cork I got in touch with a booking agent over here in Germany, Triona Cummins, and she offered to book a few gigs for me over here. And I’d always heard that Irish artists have done well out in Germany and so I wanted to give it a try. Triona would book me out here for a week or two every six months for a couple of years and then one of the times I came over the tour was cancelled ‘cos all the buses and trains in Germany went on strike and there was no way for me to get around. So I was in Berlin and I had a week to do nothing and Triona kindly gave me her apartment for the week and an old friend of mine, Paul, had just moved here and he showed me around and I felt like, that Berlin was a place with more possibilities for me than back home. I had finished college by then, was teaching music and playing bars which was great but like, I didn’t wanna be doing that for the rest of my life and needed a change.

I grew up in a place where you gotta play it safe – I don’t wanna live like that.

Lyric from 2019 single “Tryin'”

And how is it getting into the scene for you in Berlin now as an independent artist?

So yeah, I’m independent but have a great support system in my manager and distributor. I’ve been working on my own since 2014 but Berlin is a really good place to be an independent artist because there’s a lot of really nice venues you can play. But I also think it’s very difficult here too ‘cos it’s hard to make money here as a lot of venues just won’t pay artists. This is a recurring theme here among musicians that because there are so many musicians who wanna play that the venues either won’t pay them on purpose or only offer these “pass the hat” deals. And a lot of musicians don’t agree with that. But of course there are some really nice venues too that do pay and there are some just really cool venues that we regularly play too. There is a good scene, a lot of cool venues with open mic nights too to get you to meet people and it’s a good spring board for other places in Europe.

Orian’s new single Ask You Twice – Artwork by Anny Wong

The remix for Tryin did rather well on Spotify, almost 170 thousands plays thus far. Does that add pressure to these upcoming singles or help?

I don’t know! I mean, the remix for Tryin is not really the kind of music I like nor the kind of thing I listen to. I did it with a really cool producer here but we kind of pushed it in a really poppy direction and it just happened to do really well. I don’t even really consider it part of my catalogue as it were. It was done with a label in Sweden and the reason it came out so poppy is the label in Sweden wanted it that way and then as a result (of that) it’s had so many streams. But what does that mean exactly? As it didn’t exactly make me any money, think I got about twenty euro for it. It looks good but what does it mean?

Tell us about your name Orian.

Yeah, it’s the Irish name for (my surname) Ryan with the Irish pronunciation but just without the proper spelling!

That wasn’t a conscious decision then to change the style of music when you changed from performing under Joey Ryan to the moniker Orian?

I think with Tryin’ there is the remix and then the proper version and that was my first single as Orian and what happened basically was I was doing the Joey Ryan thing for six years, had done two albums, had an iTunes number one single in Ireland back when iTunes was a thing and that was all going fine but I just wasn’t listening to that kind of music anymore and I really wanted to try something that a bit different. I was talking to some people who were working with Universal Music here in Germany and they were advising to go a bit more poppy and I think what happened was I probably listened to them too much and I don’t regret it as it was an exciting thing to do but that’s kind of why I changed the name ‘cos if I decide that that’s something I don’t want to do any more then I can go back to being Joey Ryan without tarnishing that!

“the new stuff has a more indie and 80s vibe

I also feel more comfortable when it’s not my name on the record cover. Or when people ask me am I in a band and I say it’s Joey Ryan, “oh that’s me” and that just makes me super uncomfortable. I don’t know why but it just does. Whereas if I say Orian most people don’t know that’s just my second name as Gaeilge. I have a disconnect which allows me to experiment a bit more or care as much about what people think. ‘Cos you always want people to like your music. It’s been a bit of a journey though. I have had to rethink things after the singles last year (Tryin and Holding On) as they were maybe too poppy. I think the new stuff is still poppy but has a more indie vibe, we have more synths and an 80s vibe to the songs coming.

The lyrics are still heavy, dark even. Even if some songs are “pop” in nature.

Dark is appropriate. I think that’s cos I’m a huge fan of metal. And dark indie stuff like Cigarettes after Sex, Future Islands, Bon Iver, The National. This stuff is all super dark. Oh and Phoebe Bridgers. She’s dark as hell but I love her. I like to keep my lyrics nice and serious. I don’t like to write about love I guess.

Image by Paul Tobin

It feels like pop can be a dirty word but on the other hand pop hits aren’t easy write either. And deserves it own resect too.

That’s the thing. It’s very hard to write a real pop song that’s like gonna make hundreds of thousands. If it were so easy everyone would do them!

Any gigs on the off that restrictions are easing in Berlin?

I was supposed to have a few gigs in November but they got cancelled. So right now, unfortunately no. I think for me, I was content in so far as I did a big German tour in February before COVID went down and I did fifteen shows so I was able to mentally say “you know what, I did my tour for this year”. Normally I wouldn’t do two tours that size anyways. Next year will be difficult though but we are gonna try cos I wanna play and I miss it so much.

Orian performing an acoustic version of Tryin at The Famous Gold Watch, Berlin.

Finally “Ask You Twice” is the first fo five upcoming singles. So does mean there’s an album?

I took a year off to figure out what it was I wanted to go for. I stopped working with some of the label people to go for a direction of music that I myself would like to listen to and then when I met my new manager he was really supportive of that. He said “just go away and write some songs, and don’t care about what genre they are” and I worked with my friend Roman who’s a producer and we have a very similar music taste. We are both huge metal fans! Out of those sessions came this specific sound. And Ask You Twice wasn’t just produced by Roman but also Joschka Bendner who co-produce dit and Roman finished it with the vocals and Joschka had just a really nice approach to the production that was very different to what I’d done before and when we were in the studio he really added all these cool layers that made it sound so interesting and had such a cool atmosphere. He really brought the vocals out.

So yeah, it’s gonna be an EP with these five songs and the sound is gonna become more apparent as the singles get released as an indie guitar led sound but with big emphasis on the vocals and the atmosphere of the songs. We started writing more songs so hoping towards an album maybe but who knows, may be just the EP. Let’s see how it works out.

We wish ÓRIAN all the best with Ask You Twice and his upcoming singles and will let folk know here once they’re out!


Cover Artwork by
© Anny Wong

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