Irish Songsmith Gareth Dunlop Chats About Poignant New EP
Gareth Dunlop is a poet. The Belfast-born singer-songwriter is prolific in his folk-tinged discography -- his original songs have been featured on major shows like One Tree Hill and Bones and he's even penned tracks for music legends from Faith Hill to T.I.
Some pretty solid accolades, huh? Gareth doesn't stop there though. He's also got a bunch of EPs under his belt. Today, he released his latest EP, Many Moons Ago, an unbearably short collection of wildly impressive tunes.
Many Moons Ago opens with "Devil Like You," a previously released track of Gareth's that throbs with dark energy, a sort of outlaw country vibe hosted in the depths of Hell. It's a creeping anthem built on ghoulish instrumental wails and intense percussion, made all the more enticing by our first taste of Gareth's distinct vocals, rich and rugged. Next comes "Can't Stand Myself," minimalist in its soft strums and slaps before an elegant piano rhythm joins in. Here, Gareth's voice is soulful and aching as he confesses "I've tried everything to let you go / But the moment I see your face, it takes control." It's a stunning song, gentle in its arrangement but devastating in both the lyrics and vocal delivery.
The halfway point of Many Moons Ago finds more emotional confessions on "Blind To The Pain." Above an acoustic melody that grows with earnest intensity, Gareth howls the raw hook over and over again, almost like a resigned mantra to himself. On "Way Back When," contemplative vocals lead above a pretty piano line, sparkling in a seesaw motion, rising and falling beneath Gareth singing pensive lines like "I see the love that I once knew / I see how it might have been way back when." Many Moons Ago ends soft but strong with the tender love song, "Dwell In My Soul." The acoustic line is beautifully stripped down, unadorned by flourish, instead following a simple folk rhythm as Gareth's wavering vocal riffs float like echos.
Gareth Dunlop is a force. His musical prowess would be unfathomable if it weren't for the proof of it, right here on Many Moons Ago. We're not surprised that he has talent, what with his lengthy portfolio, but we do find ourselves amazed by the quantity of his talent. He has the kind of technical, thoughtful touch that musicians dream about. His ability to conjure masterpieces is made easier by his fiery vocals and admirable multi-instrumental efforts, but where Gareth really defies all odds is his willingness to bare his soul and share his bruises. Perhaps this makes him less of a musician and more of a friend. Either way, we need his stories. We need his voice.
Listen to Many Moons Ago below and connect with Gareth Dunlop on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Read on for our exclusive interview with Gareth about the new EP, his favorite musicians right now, and a whole lot more.
The Music Mermaid: First, can you tell The Music Mermaid a little about yourself and your music?
Gareth Dunlop: I was born and raised in Belfast, Northern Ireland and have been playing and writing music for around 15 years now. I got started out like a lot of folks, playing cover songs in local pubs and clubs. After a shot-in-the-dark trip to Nashville in 2012, I signed with my first publisher and began writing songs for film, television, and for other artists.
As well as writing for other projects, I’ve also released my own music along the way. My first full-length album came out last September and I’m getting ready to start working on the next one!
TMM: You balance your time between Ireland and Nashville. How do the music scenes differ in each?
GD: The music scenes in both places have a lot of similarities. The talent is just as strong and the history of great musicians and songwriters is just as deep. Where Nashville really differs is the sheer quantity of songwriters as well as the massive industry supporting the arts -- almost every person out there is involved in the music industry in some shape or form.
Northern Ireland lacks a major music industry presence so I think there is more opportunity in Nashville for your music to be heard, but for the most part, the live music scenes in both places are thriving and the quality and passion is just the same.
I’ve been spending half my life in Nashville for the past 8 or 9 years now, collaborating with other writers and working with some great producers along the way and I love the work ethic of a music industry city. There are a lot of great and talented people out there who are willing to share their ideas.
TMM: Can you talk a little about the production process behind your upcoming EP, Many Moons Ago?
GD: This is the first project of my own that I cut entirely to tape. I knew going in that the process was different than recording digitally and could be restrictive in some ways, so that definitely influenced the production from the get-go. With recording to digital, you get the luxury of throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks, but recording to 2-inch tape needs a bit more planning and commitment to each part that goes down.
Everything was recorded in Nashville, Tennessee in the Blue Room Studios with Charles Yingling engineering. It’s a little softer and darker than previous stuff I’ve released and the production is held back to the bare essentials. I wanted to keep the songs as raw as possible and capture the performances as live as I could.
TMM: What is the songwriting process like for you personally?
GD: It changes from day to day. Sometimes I start with a melody or lyric, other times it’s a groove I’m digging or an instrumental thing. I try to write something most days. If I leave it for too long, I find it hard to start up the engine again.
I also get briefs for movies, TV shows, and other artists that are looking for specific songs written for their projects, and sometimes having those guidelines to write to is helpful and keeps a target on point. When I write for myself, it’s always a little more exploratory.
TMM: You also boast songwriting credits attributed for other artists. What do you enjoy most about penning for others?
GD: One of the most enjoyable things about writing for other projects is trying to put yourself in someone else’s shoes for a few hours. We all put emotions together differently in our own heads. Trying to put yourself in someone else’s head for a while is always interesting -- there’s an odd freedom of not having to be yourself for a while. You get to pull from places that aren’t your own but at the same time add your own perspective to it.
TMM: How does this new EP differ from last year’s full-length album, No. 79?
GD: In a lot of ways... No.79 was cut with my band in my home in East Belfast and this EP (Many Moons Ago) is more sparse. The album has a 5-piece band laying down grooves with high energy and the EP is pretty much just me, Charles, and a tape machine. I’ve always felt like my EPs have given me the luxury of capturing a snapshot of a vibe I’m feeling at one moment while the album shows more variation in sounds and styles.
TMM: Your music has been featured in a ton of films and television shows. Did you intend for your music to ever resonate on such a far-reaching platform? What’s it like to hear your work on the screen?
GD: I never had a plan for that... it kind of just started happening. My first gig as a staff writer for a publisher was with Nettwerk One Music and if I’m being honest, I didn’t really have a grasp on what a publishing company did then. I played a film and TV event in front of a room full of music supervisors, and my songs started popping up in TV shows. It was a real shock at the time. Since then, supervisors and directors have asked me to write songs for certain scenes and create music for specific needs. It’s always crazy to hear something I’ve written come on the TV. I truly never thought that would happen.
TMM: What has been your most memorable music moment so far?
GD: I’d have to say the most memorable moment so far would be playing a sold-out show at Mandela Hall here at home in Belfast a few months back. It was my biggest home show to date and being on stage with my friends, and playing to folks who have been supporting my music from the start, was a magical moment.
The Music Mermaid: Finally, what’s next for Gareth Dunlop?
Gareth Dunlop: I’m off on the road across Europe for a few weeks to open up for Michael Malarkey and to promote Many Moons Ago. After that, I have a few festival dates in July and August around Ireland... then it’s time to get stuck into the next record!
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Featured photo by Anthony Scarlati.