Irish singer-songwriter Conor Byrne finds himself, rather unexpectedly, back at his parent’s place in Tralee, County Kerry.
Until COVID hit, he’d spent a couple of years living in London, dividing his time between there and Germany, where a publishing deal saw him flown back and forth to write with local musicians.
“This wasn’t in the plan,” he laughs of the return to his childhood home.
The rural surroundings have afforded him plenty of time to hone his sound. Conor, who plays guitar and piano, began his entry into music by performing in school.
A solo career beckoned, evolving from busking and supporting Irish musicians to uploading acoustic covers to YouTube and Soundcloud. From there, Conor caught the eye of a producer in Vienna who encouraged him to write for dance artists. One such track, a collaboration with German duo Gamper & Dadoni titled Island in the Sun, racked up an impressive 30 million streams on its release in 2019. Numerous sessions followed. But it wasn’t the route Conor wanted to take as an artist in his own right.
The turning point came in 2019, when Conor wrote his first single proper, in the shape of “Bloodstream“.
“Bloodstream” ended up setting the template for the organic, acoustic guitar and piano-driven sound that has become Conor’s trademark. Rather than rushing into live shows, he made the decision to spend a year writing, amassing a back catalogue of songs that he could take on the road.
With 200 songs amassed, the next track introduced to listeners is Byrne’s soaring, contemplative ballad, “Growing Pains.”
“I had three weeks of writing in Berlin, then two in London,” Conor says of the song’s gestation. “It was the last session of five weeks. I was feeling wrecked by it. And that’s the session that we wrote it in.”
“I had the title,” he continues. “I was on the tube – that’s where I come up with titles and concepts on the way to sessions. And the guts of it just spilled out by the time I got to the studio. It just felt good. When I got back to Ireland, I listened to it in the car and got so excited. This was it.”
A straight-up piano ballad, the strength of the track is its restraint, managing to build without an over-reliance on production trickery. About the pain of drifting apart, be it from a lover or a friend, the song touches on the fact that “sometimes you just naturally grow apart. There’s nothing you can do about that, but it hurts. And we just played on that.”
Growing up in Kerry, Ireland, what drew you to music and the want to pursue a career in the industry?
Conor Byrne: “The live music scene in Kerry was always a big thing, my very first experiences playing live were in small pubs around my town. It gives you this kind of comfort blanket playing to smaller crowds you already know when you’re that early on in your career, and to be fair, I think 80% of my sets back then were covers.”
Which artists do you look up to as inspiration for your music?
CB: “I’ve always been a massive fan of Damien Rice, I had his album ‘O’ growing up and it’s what really got me into learning guitar and taking it seriously. His songwriting is also something I think I heavily took from in order to find my own voice in my early writing days. I love James Morrison’s early stuff, and Coldplay is still one of my go-to bands to listen to.”
Having already worked with some incredible producers & artists such as Gamper & Dadoni, as well as teaming up with Edd Holloway (Lewis Capaldi, Dean Lewis) for your debut single “Bloodstream” in 2019, how do you feel these experiences have impacted the direction you wish to take your music going forward?
CB: “I think every time I work with someone who’s incredibly talented or passionate with what they do, it impacts me and my music. Working with people I admire is something I love about this career, and you do get better at your craft when you have these moments or projects together with someone who’s a level or two above you. How I take it with me is I grow and improve, be it writing, melodies, or vocally I try to improve constantly, and working with these talents always teaches you how to.”
You signed a record deal with Sony Music/RCA Germany last year. Can you tell us how the partnership came to be?
CB: “It was so weird because it kind of happened in the early/middle stage of the pandemic when everything seemed at its worst and there wasn’t much people had to be happy for or to look forward to, and here I was ticking off one of my biggest life dreams ever. I had been talking to different labels for about a year at this stage trying to figure out the right fit and which team was the most passionate about/shared the same vision for my music. It honestly felt so surreal, the fact signing the deal happened during a lockdown made it that bit more surreal. I still was asking myself a few weeks on if it had really happened. The day I signed it was literally me and my team just hopping on a Zoom call with the label, we had a glass of champagne at 10 AM and then went back to being in my house after the call. It didn’t feel normal whatsoever.”
In the past year or so you’ve amassed over 200 songs – many written through Zoom. How did you find your creative process may have differed when compared to a typical year?
CB: “Yeah, the minute lockdown hit, my team and I didn’t want to stop the momentum of writing I was on, so went to writing on Zoom pretty early on. I think for me it was something that kept me busy when the world was in a very mad and hectic period. The process of writing over Zoom is definitely worlds apart from being in the room with someone and feeling the music and vibe in person. It has a different aura and excitement when you write with someone in the room whereas Zoom does feel a lot less ‘magical.'”
You recently released your incredibly emotive single “Growing Pains.” Tell us the story behind the song and how it came to life. What would you say are some “growing pains” you’ve had to work through in order to become the person you are today? What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
CB: “Yeah, ‘Growing Pains’ is a special song for me. Every song I put out, comes from a place or experience I can relate to or have gone through. ‘Growing Pains’ was written about a real relationship I had, and I remember opening up in the studio the day we wrote it with the producer and team. I think that’s what made the writing process so easy; it was real and everyone in the room could relate to it.”
“At its core, ‘Growing Pains’ is a song about relationships and how they can change over time. Sometimes we have no control over growing apart and the pain that comes with it and I wanted to channel that into a song. I think I still go through “growing pains” frequently, any tough choice or decision with anything in life you go through I consider a growing pain.”
“The biggest lesson I’ve learned is to never judge your journey or your success off someone else’s, everyone’s journey is different and it only takes away from your motivation and creativity to think like that.”
You’re working on new music come 2022. What can we expect from Conor Byrne in the coming months?
CB: “Right now as things are slowly starting to open up again, the first thing everyone is looking at is live shows coming back, which I’m super excited about. It feels like I haven’t been on a stage in years!! So, I’ll be seeing all you guys at shows this year I promise! We have so much new music we’re getting ready to release and that’s going to be our next focus, as for an album it’s definitely going to happen at some point but I’m not sure when exactly.”
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