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Interview with Pat Byrne (singer/songwriter)

Pat Byrne

Pat Byrne is an Irish singer and recording artist, currently residing part-time in Austin, Texas.
His style is described as "Roots Americana with an Irish twist".

Alexander Dorian had the pleasure to interview Pat at his first U.S. show in support of his new LP “Rituals” (Jan. 10, 2018 @ McGonigel's Mucky Duck, Houston, TX).



Alex Dorian: I've read on your Wiki page that you started out as a punk rock drummer. If you don't mind quickly taking our readers from that period up until the time that you won “The Voice of Ireland” in 2012.

Pat Byrne: My Wikipedia is kinda funny because after I won “The Voice” my friend hijacked it and edited it. It is true, he was in the punk band that I was in, thus he focused heavily on that period. When I was a kid I started out in the local orchestra, I played violin, clarinet and piano. I wasn't good at any of them so eventually I bought a drum kit and taught myself drums. I joined a local punk band as that was the only band in the area. I had so much fun doing that all the way through my teens, but got sick of lugging drums around the place. So did my dad, so he bought me a guitar when I turned fifteen and I just taught myself, one day started singing in my bedroom and worked up the courage to sing in public. From the age of seventeen I've been gigging in local pubs, and it has been the only job I've had since. Then it evolved into me writing my own stuff. As far as the “Voice of Ireland”, I've never been a fan of reality TV, it is not something that I enjoy, so I'm not incredibly proud of being on it, although it was a great opportunity and it worked wonders for my career.

A.D.: To be able to win against all these other people and go all the way to the top is quite an accolade.

P.B.: That's it! I'd failed badly academically, so my only option was to have a career in music. So kind of as a desperate attempt to have an easy access to lots of work I went on “the Voice”. Never thought I'd win it, thought that I'd maybe get some exposure and gigs out of it. I ended up winning it, which was unbelievable, it's the most fun I've had in my life. Obviously I was very humbled to have come first out of all those thousands of people.

A.D.: Did you consider yourself a singer/songwriter by the time you appeared on “the Voice”?

P.B.: I've been writing a little bit, but nothing good and I never considered myself a writer. I knew I was able to sing, but I've never considered myself a songwriter. I've only done gigs in bars covering songs to people. I was twenty years old and very much a young man, enjoying life, having some drinks. That's all I was at “the Voice”. Never considered myself a writer, so I went just to boost my gigs. But then after “the Voice”, because I won, I got a contract and was sent to London for four months to write and record an album with these amazing industry writers that write hit singles for Enrique Iglesias, Cher and all these huge names. It was a great opportunity to sit with people that have perfected their craft and have made lots of money writing songs for those kind of names. The album that came out wasn't my cup of tea, because it was basically written for me. I was mainly a singer/artist and they wrote the songs for me, I co-wrote on some of them. So I wasn't hugely proud of that album, although it sounds totally fine. I felt like I was singing other people's songs. So that tour didn't last long, and ultimately it was kind of a flop, the whole album and (the consequent) tour. I kind of lost a lot of confidence for a while and turned into myself and started doing the gigs I've been doing before – the weddings, the parties and the pubs. Sitting with those writers I kinda learned some techniques and started writing a lot myself. Spent five years keeping my head down, trying to lose “the Voice of Ireland” tag. That's a bit of a stigma, it is hard to shake. You'll always be “the Voice”, rather than just an artist, who writes songs and sings, which is what I like to be. I laid low for a few years, then last year moved here (Austin, TX) to write and record my own stuff, and now I feel like I am taking myself more seriously.

A.D.: What is the first song that you learned?

P.B.:“Folsom Prison Blues” by Johnny Cash

A.D.: What challenges did you face as both a singer and guitarist at same time?

P.B.: For me that kinda happened at the same time. I don't consider myself a particularly amazing guitar player, I see that as a way to complement my voice. Soon as I picked the guitar I taught myself chords and the only enjoyable way to play the guitar for me when you do 3 chords is to sing over it, so that's the way it happened. I never found it that difficult to do both at the same time, I was a drummer, and (on drums) you use everything at once, so I don't find it hard to sing and play, that came very naturally.

A.D.: How did you discover your singing voice?

P.B.: I never thought of myself as a good singer when I started. My voice broke when I was very young, so I've always had that raspy deep voice, and I leaned to sing a lot of Johnny Cash when I was younger.
I sang in public and people were complementary and honestly after I won “the Voice”, I considered that maybe I am good and I have something. Genuinely it wasn't until that happened that I thought that I was a good singer, generally I saw myself as being able to have some fun in a pub and get people singing. Getting that accolade from other people, being crowned “You're the Voice” makes you believe “ok, yeah, I am able to sing”.

A.D.: As you mentioned starting in pubs, you're from a remote part of Ireland, could you tell us us a bit about that?

P.B.: I am from a little village called Borris, County Carlow, in the southeast of Ireland. It is a very small rural community. I was the only singer, I sang in all the pubs, at all the Christenings, funerals and weddings. That kinda made me a well known figure from where I am from. I was lucky to be in such a small place, yet have so much work as I put myself through college and all the rest.

A.D.: Your bio mentions collaboration with Allan Downey from Aztlan, any chance the American audience will get to see that?

P.B.: It is kinda of a sad story. Aztlan are huge in Ireland. Aztlan's singer got cancer five years ago, they couldn't gig and all they've known was life on the road. When he got cancer, everyone had nothing to do. I met up with Allan, who was the drummer in Aztlan, and we just just gigged for fun. We made money, it was not an original project or anything, but he's a great friend of mine and we've spent four years doing weddings and corporate events together. I wouldn't call it collaboration, but it was certainly a good experience for me and I learned a lot about the business side of music. It is cool that I've played with him as he is a legend in Ireland.

A.D.: In your bio, you mention that “Rituals” is the first LP that you have full control of. What did you do different this time around, how would you compare that to previous releases?

P.B.: As I said, I was thrown in with lots of songwriters last time around, they pretty much wrote for me and with me. This time everything is me. I sat down for like a month, wrote all the songs, made demos on my laptop and then recreated these demos with great musicians in Austin and in Dublin. It pretty much came right for me. I can't say that for the last one, I am not saying it is way better than the last one, this is (more of) me and it came from me.

A.D.: What is the Pat Byrne sound to you? How do you describe what you do?

P.B.: My heroes are Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Van Morrison and Paul Simon. I like to make my songs fun, I like to have good lyrical content, to be musically credible and have integrity. That's what I try to do. Genre-wise I would probably call it Americana to Folk. It varies from song to song. There's a song that is very traditionally Irish - I love Irish music. There is a song that is a full on Pop, then there is a song that is more Rock.

A.D.: What made you move to Austin, TX ? What is the biggest difference between Ireland and Texas as you see it?

P.B.: I met Ted (my manager) in 2012. After “the Voice”, I was sent to England to do an album, and Ted lived in the same village I lived in, on the outskirts of London. I became great friends with him, his wife and daughter, cause we were blow-ins, he's obviously from here (Texas). We became good friends and we stayed in touch. January, maybe four years ago, I was traveling in the States, as I take every January to travel, being a quiet month for musicians. I sent a text to Ted, and he invited me to visit. I fell in love with Austin, actually got to sit in with the musicians I was playing with tonight in some bars. I thought I'd love to live here and play good music to people who love to hear good music. When I am finished, I go watch other amazing performers, and every bar is a great venue and everyone is super talented, so I made it my goal to move here. That's what I've been trying to put in place the last few years and now I think I am at a stage where I can fully move over. It is similar to Ireland as people here are so friendly and salt-of-the-earth, and they love their beer as we do in Ireland. The nicest difference to me is that people here really appreciate songwriting and love to hear what you have to say and give it the respect it deserves, whereas in Ireland you are more of a parody act in a bar to provide jukebox kind of entertainment for people to sing along and drink to. Which is fun for a while and you can make some money doing that, but longevity wise it is not the best for your soul, so that why I love it over here.

A.D.: What are the main themes on your new album “Rituals”?

P.B.: Quite a few themes. The title track I wrote from the point of view of someone taking the road less traveled, following his passion, loving what they do, didn't follow the route of going to school. I went to school but I was never a huge academic, there was a lot of pressure to become a doctor, a lawyer - someone that makes a lot of money. I wasn't good at that and I love music. I became a musician and I listen to a lot of people telling me “when are you gonna grow up and get a real job”? All my friends are accountants, lawyers, whatever. I never wanted that. Money has not been a driving factor for me. I've always wanted to be happy and do what I like. “Rituals” is about doing what makes you happy, you don't need to follow any kind of rules as long as you're happy and are able to survive doing it. There are some love songs on there. I suppose there is a bit about anti-establishment, I kinda have a song about hipsterism and conformity.

A.D.: What is your fondest musical memory?

P.B.: After “the Voice” I got to do a gig at Vicker Street (Dublin) and managed to sell out for one night. I have a lot of friends and family there and a lot of people I didn't know. I had an amazing band full of musicians that I've grown up watching and they ended up in my band and got to do that for a night, it symbolically meant a lot to me. That was the biggest gig I've ever done. It was a crowd of people that were there just to see me rather than have a party while I was in the corner. That and also recording this album, as I've never had a chance to do that before.

A.D.: How does a Pat Byrne song start? Do you approach it from lyrics perspective or start it on guitar?

P.B.: I normally sit on the guitar and mess around and if I find a riff or progression that I like, I'd turn on voice memo and spurt out as many lyrics as I can from the top of my head. It might be complete gibberish but I'll keep singing for maybe 20 minutes, but I'll listen back and pick out lines that I like and then the story reveals itself and I'll pick about from some of the lyrics that I've spouted and then it starts to take form. Then I'll lock myself with a sheet of paper and try to write the verses and choruses.

A.D.: What advice would you give aspiring musicians?

P.B.: Try not to compromise anything. I made lots of mistakes in that regard, signed some contracts that weren't the best decisions. Write every day if you can, keep writing until you get something that you like, both of which I am guilty of not following.

A.D.: Do you get nervous before a show? Do you have any rituals?

P.B.: I have a few drinks with the band, write set list and that's about it. I don't lock myself and do vocal exercises or anything. I really look forward to my gigs, they're the highlights of my week. Tonight is one of my favorite gigs as there was a full house listening to my songs, which I don't get all the time. I get nervous, obviously as you're exposing yourself with songs that you wrote, and it is a scary thing to do. Overall, I enjoy it so much, I have a drink with the band and get up there do to what I love to do.

A.D.: What's the gear you can't live without?

P.B.: I am such a bad person to ask about gear. I only ever have a guitar and tuner, the guys are always talking about favorite amps and pedals. The guitar I have, I love, it is a Maton, Australian acoustic guitar. It is great live, but not amazing when unplugged. I've never had a guitar that has been “my guitar”, I am still in search for that. I want to spend huge money on a guitar sometime soon. Honestly, I am not hugely attached to any gear. As a musician that is an awful thing to say. I should have a guitar I can't be without, but I am not. When I am here I play my manager's Gibson J45, and I love that guitar, but it is not mine. I am not that knowledgeable with sound, gear and such. My favorite way to perform is in somebody's room, unplugged with any guitar and attentive audience.


A.D.: So in other words, the voice is your main instrument and you always carry it with you...

P.B.: It is all about the raw materials, I don't think gear matters very much, if you have a great player on a guitar that you bought for forty dollars at a pawn shop, it's still going to be great. It doesn't matter if you spent four thousand on a guitar or a hundred thousand, you are what you are. It is all about what you've done in your childhood and earlier years, and the raw materials that you're given. Not that I have amazing raw materials, but that's what I value – to be able to sing and play a little bit, not think about gear very much.

A.D.: Your bio mentions that you went to University. What was your focus of study and did you finish your degree?

P.B.: I studied Maths, Music and Anthropology. I had the best time in college, made lifelong friends, met my guitarist Steven who is here tonight playing with me, had a great social life, was into all the events and entertainment, but I was never much of an academic, after two years I went on “the Voice” and that put an end to that.

A.D.: What has the digital revolution brought for you? Have practices changed, record sales, audiences, the way you sell music, etc.?

P.B.: It's a blessing as much as it is a curse. You have a platform in your pocket to promote yourself and you can do it anywhere, anytime. I utilize that as much as I can but also over saturates everything and it is very hard to be heard in a massive room of shouting people trying to promote themselves. Oftentimes you feel guilty about posting regularly on social media, I don't do naturally as I don't enjoy social media very much. So anytime I post “come look at me, listen to this” I feel a bit awkward. Spotify and things like that as a consumer of music is amazing, your knowledge expands so much at a click of a button. Shazam is a great tool, if I like a song in a store I can look it up instantly and then I am a fan of that band, something that wasn't possible 20 years ago. It has also made it very hard to make money selling original songs, so you have to be on the road a lot more. It is a double-edged sword, but I think overall it is definitely good for music fans and the evolution of music. It is sad that music is less of a commodity, it is harder to make a living doing it now.

A.D.: How about practices? Are you working remotely with musicians?

P.B.: At home (Ireland) I have a band who happens to consist of some of my best friends, so we meet regularly and have fun and have some drinks. I was on tour for three months before Christmas, I was playing with my best friends, my own songs and people who wanted to hear my own songs. We'll meet up maybe once a week for a couple of weeks until we had the songs done where we were comfortable with them, then rehearsal is really just gigging. The more you gig the songs in front of a crowd, the better you get.
Since, I've come here, we've only had one rehearsal, but the guys are so good they've listened and learned the songs off the record. This is the first full gig that we've done (January 10, 2019 at Mucky Duck).

A.D.: Tell us about your recording process – how did you record “Rituals”?

P.B.: It was all over the place. Our budget wasn't massive. Once I'd written a song I went to Rich Brotherton (guitarist and producer, Ace Recording & Robert Earl Keen). I somehow managed to meet him and he's just the best guy, a wonderful person, and he'd spend a lot of time in Ireland and he loves Irish music and Irish people and we just got along real well. We recorded, produced, mixed and mastered two tracks in his studio and then my visa ran out, so I had to go back to Ireland. I finished it at Windmill Lane, a studio previously owned by U2, it is a legendary studio. I got to do another four-five tracks there, once they were finished, I sent them to Rich and he put more guitar and mixed and mastered them. It was a lot of emails, phone calls, listening to mixes, saying I want to chance this and that, I recorded some of it at home. It was whenever I can grab a friend, for example I have a friend in Dublin who is a great keys player so I went to his house and he put keys I sent it to Rich and he added it in. It was by no means a conventional process, where I lived in a space for four months and just did it all there and recorded it. I'd go to someone's house, I'll come back to Austin, I'll do something in Dublin, it was quite stressful but it worked.

A.D.: So how long did the full process go from start to completion?

P.B.: I started writing in January, started recording in March 2018. I finished it October 2018 and released it in Nov 2018. It was really high stress to get it done. But I think we pulled it off, I am quite happy how it sounds, considering the time and budget constraints that we had. Next time I'd like to do maybe one or two songs at a time with a producer at a studio that I really like and take my time and get the songs just perfect. Although I am really happy with this one, as a musician you always try to grow.

A.D.: What does 2019 have in store for Pat Byrne?

P.B.: I am not sure what it has in store, what I hope...I've written bunch of new songs that I really love, and I hope I get to record as many of them as I can. I also hope to play as many festivals and meet some new musicians and songwriters and work with other people because it is my first year being an independent singer/songwriter, first time that I have something that I am really proud of. I finally feel confident approaching people as a singer/songwriter. On my last album I felt almost like a fraud because the songs were written for me. That's my main hope. In terms of commercially, I hope people would buy and listen to my music, I got more listeners and because of that I got more gigs. I'll be thirty this year, I always thought by thirty I'll be living in a mansion, when you're eighteen you think that.


For more info on Pat Byrne, please go to: www.patbyrne-music.com


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