Fiddle trailblazer turned pop-house artist Daithí Ó Drónaí talks to Robbie Byrne on life after his debut album, the genius of Spotify and overcoming the TV talent show jinx.
“I was about six when my aunt told me to choose an instrument; I chose the fiddle – which I hated.” After almost twenty years of mixed dedication to his family’s prized idol, Daithí has once again abandoned the instrument that once orchestrated his fame.
In person, the Ballyvaughan native is the mirror image of his music. Approachable, direct and vibrant, Daithí begins by commenting on the success of his June pop-house debut LP, In Flight. “I’m unashamedly proud of that album. We worked tirelessly to make sure there was no filler whatsoever, a decision that paid dividends with a slew of positive reviews.”
Despite the critical acclaim, In Flight failed to become a physical chart success, plateauing at no. 23 a week after its release. This, according to Daithí, was expected, as dance music fans of today favour online streaming instead of purchasing physical album copies.
“While physical sales were down, Spotify hits were astounding from the moment the album was released. Unlike many other artists I’m a huge fan of Spotify. It’s an amazing tool for the user and a great form of promotion for my live shows. Without services like Spotify, I wouldn’t have such a great audience at my gigs today.”
Still recovering from the previous night’s Castlepalooza event, Daithí prides himself in the belief that his shows are getting bigger and better since the release of his debut. “I always write with the live show in mind and seeing the entire audience singing back every lyric is incredible. ”
Unlike the plethora of Irish artists that have come and gone under the obscurity of independent labels, Daithí has gone against the grain and released his debut effort under the corporate alias of Sony Music; a move Ó Drónaí states perfectly reflects the albums tip to toe radio friendly flair.
“Sony was the perfect choice as I believed, like Sony, that we needed to write accessible music to achieve vital radio airplay.
“It was a clear sign that I had matured as an artist, gone beyond a desire to be obscure in everything I did. I had finally admitted to myself that I love the simplicity of pop music.”
Ó Drónaí also notes that there is a financial pressure to aligning with a big label: “signing for a big label like Sony Music is like a bank loan investment, but instead of repaying in cold hard cash, I need to recoup the money through album sales and live performance revenue.”
This has resulted in a better work ethic, making him more determined than ever to succeed in an already congested Irish music scene. Claiming there’s nothing to romanticise about the music business, Ó Drónaí cheekily notes that he’s essentially a 9 to 5 office employee who just happens to create a little music.
One element of Ó Drónaí’s debut that sparkles brightly are the quality of two relatively unknown vocalists: London based, Irish native, Raye, and Cork City based Senita, who steal the show on four of the LP’s tracks. Raye, who was discovered at an Icelandic festival by Cork’s Brendan Canty of Feel Good Lost was perhaps Daithí’s biggest risk.
“When Brendan came back to Ireland he told me about this amazing girl with the most astonishing voice. Still unconvinced I sent her the instrumental demo of what would become Chameleon Life.
“A few days later I received the murkiest vocal recording imaginable from what must have been her mobile phone. I was instantly sold. The lyrics were perfect, the melody was astonishing; she encapsulated the idea of a summer adventure beyond what I thought was possible.”
Nevertheless, In Flight’s construction process was not always so straightforward. After struggling with various producers and complicated digital equipment for the best part of 18 months, Daithí eventually invited one half of Young Wonder and production prodigy, Ian Ring, into the studio whom he worked alongside for over a year. The reaction was instantaneously positive.
“It was a huge learning curve, sometimes it felt like I was back in college and Ian was my tutor, but there are not as many people out there that I can identify with so easily. You explain how something has inspired you and almost instantly he is realising it through music. He really is a gift to the Irish music scene.”
Moving away from his respected career in electronica today into the menacing remit of televised talent shows, Daithí who appeared on Sky’s Must be the Music and RTE’s The All Ireland Talent Show, argues that all shows of this genre should come with a warning.
“What talent shows do best is to expose the artist, but that’s about it. In no way do these shows create a long-term music career. Before I appeared on The All Ireland Talent Show and Must Be The Music I had never played a fiddle in that manner before an audience, and while the experience was awesome with jets to London and limos across it, the drop back into reality was unnatural.
“I had to take a two year break from music. I needed to become a self-respected artist, known more for my own music than talent shows. So, for my return, a mate of mine, Gugai, got me two improv sets in the Róisín Dubh once a month.
“The reaction was mind blowing and it gave me a bigger thrill than either of the two talent shows ever did. It showed me that I could prove talent show snubs wrong.”
Today, Gugai, who gave Daithí his Róisín Dubh debut still acts as his manager, bringing us around full circle to the present day where Daithí keenly discloses what music may influence projects down the road. “Caribou and John Hopkins will be big influences, while you cannot deny that Disclosure have revolutionised how dance music has worked. Five years ago it would be comical to think that you could play what is essentially a garage house album on guitar.”
That for Daithí is what remains at the core of his music: danceable beats with soaring melodies. An irresistible recipe that is sure to unearth more followers as he expands his sonic canvas to the UK later this month.