Having ended a year-long transitional hiatus from releasing music with the release of ‘Ask You Twice’ in September this year, alternative Irish songwriter ORIAN follows up with ‘Grateful’, a thoughtful and poignant track about letting those close to you in. I chatted with ORIAN/Joey Ryan about the new track, musical anonymity, moving from cork to bustling Berlin, and some Irish artists he can’t stop listening to at the minute.
Hi there, let’s jump right into it. You’ve been a musician for some time now, but what made you start making music to begin with?
Hi! Yeah, so I kind of grew up in a musical family. My parents weren’t professional musicians or anything but my mum played some piano and my dad played a bit of Irish trad. So I started learning guitar when I was seven or eight and when I went to secondary school I really got into hard rock and heavy metal and I was playing in a couple of bands and stuff. I got a feel for playing on stage and then suddenly playing music kind of took over.
I started doing my solo project under my own name back in 2012, I went to university in Cork and I released my first album under Joey Ryan and then it kind of just grew from there, then I moved to Germany in 2016.
I love Berlin, it’s one of my favourite cities in the world! Was there any particular thing that drove you there from Ireland? Do you find that living there affects your creative process?
Yeah, I was actually thinking about this the other day… I think something that really impacts me about living in Berlin is how big it is, how anonymous I can be..
It’s not that people recognize wherever I go back home, but as I said- I lived in Cork which is a really really awesome place, but also quite a small city, so everybody knows everybody and it’s very easy to know everyone’s business. Whereas in Berlin; it’s just that bit bigger, there’s more anonymity in that way. There’s also a really great Music and cultural scene over here. It’s a little bit more out there than the scene down in Cork which I was used to… so I guess I kind of just wanted a bit of a change.
When you mention anonymity, I can’t help but think of you moving from using your own name to a synonym like ORIAN to make music. Obviously your face is still linked to the music, so it’s not total anonymity, but does it feel more mysterious or anonymous to you as a songwriter?
The main reason I changed the name was because I kind of got to a point where I felt like performing as Joey Ryan just was like a little bit…. I didn’t feel like I could be super honest when I was doing it. I was always a bit afraid that people would know what or who I was singing about. The thing is with a name like ORIAN, it’s not very clear whether I’m part of a group or if it’s a solo act. Before that people always used to ask what band I was in, and something about explaining that I was a solo act under my own name made me want to sink into the floor a little. When they ask now I can just describe ORIAN as more of a project, I don’t have to get so personal about it.
You’ve been making music under one name or another since 2012, that’s almost a decade, and in that time your music has also spanned over quite a few genres… how would you summarise your musical journey?
It’s definitely unexpected. I think if we were able to rewind time and interview 16 year old Joey he definitely would have not ever thought that I would be writing more indie mainstream music. I would have thought that I would have gone down the metal route a little bit longer but collage really opened up my mind to different kinds of music. I did some jazz stuff there and explored my more artsy side, and after studying, while making some folk stuff, I realised that the music I was making and what I was actually listening to (The National, Arctic Monkeys, U2) were totally different.
“I kind of struggled for a little bit and then I came to the conclusion that if I’m not writing the music that I’m listening to I’m doing something wrong. That’s sort of when ORIAN was born.”
Out of your own back catalog of music, do you have a particular favorite song?
Yeah, there’s a song from my last album as Joey Ryan (Fall Through the Night) called ‘Ten‘ and that was the first time that I wrote a song about me. How I felt about my life. I was going through a lot of struggles when I wrote it, like deciding where I wanted to go, If I really wanted to leave my security and my friends behind to go to Berlin- and for the first time ever I didn’t really hide behind anything. I was very open with the lyrics and I think that song is like a turning point for me in a way, the moment I began to stop being afraid of exposing myself. The song is really personal, I had a very serious heart condition as a baby and had to have an operation a couple hours after I was born so I have 10 stitches on my chest-that’s where the title for the song came from, the whole song feels like a retrospective look at my life. I don’t necessarily think it’s the best song I’ve ever written, but it stands out for me- it allowed me to get to where I am with my writing now.
And with your latest release, ‘Grateful’ who are the biggest inspirations for that track?
I was really kind of trying to go for a War On Drugs meets Bon Iver kind of vibe. I know it’s a little bit more polished and poppy than both of those artists, but I think the kind of atmosphere I’m trying to go for at the moment is more sorrowful indie with a lot of emphasis on the vocals. I have a couple of artists across loads of genres that I have always seen as major inspirations like Bruce Springsteen, Metallica, or Justin Vernon. I can kind of hear subtle bits and bobs from all those artists in ‘Grateful‘ , no matter how different they all seem. I finally was able to create something that is (to my ears at least) tipping my hat off to all those artists whilst dressing it up in my own kind of sound.
Are there any Irish names on your playlists at the minute?
Definitely. I think my favourite group to come out of Ireland in the last while is Inhaler. I saw them play last year, and I’d never heard of them before and thought they were awesome, then someone turned round to me like “do you know that singer is Bono’s son?” which made me even more interested because I’m a massive U2 fan. They absolutely blew me away. I’m also getting really into Orla Gartland’s music, I think she’s way cooler than I could ever imagine or hope to be- she’s very talented. I love listening out for Irish music.
‘Grateful’ will be featured ORIAN’s upcoming EP, which will be available in the first half of 2021.
Interview by Sam Dineen