Here we are, ten years after, and looking back. The end of the 20th century brought some serious changes to Damien Rice’s life. As for the ensuing decade: towards the conclusion of this rare and enuxpectedly confessional interview, Hot Press asks the reluctant star what has been his personal high point of the Noughties.
The last ten years has seen the Kildare singer-songwriter selling truckloads of albums, repeatedly touring the globe, hearing his songs soundtrack hit movies, being romantically linked with an A-list Hollywood actress, and performed with the likes of Christy Moore and Leonard Cohen (“a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, gracious, eloquent man”). You’d think that Rice must be spoilt for choice of momentous moments. But he doesn’t hesitate before answering: “meeting Lisa Hannigan”.
The lowest point?
He smiles, wistfully: “Lisa Hannigan not wanting to talk to me anymore”
And what are his hopes and ambitions for the coming decade?
Rice closes his eyes and thinks for a moment before answering softly: “just to be kind”. He shrugs his shoulders: “I mean, I’m pretty clear at this point, looking back, I was a complete asshole on many occasions. Like, very clear”.
Rewind ninety minutes or so. Rice walks into the bar of a Dublin city-centre hotel to do his first proper interview in almost three years. There’s absolutely no swagger about the man. With his shock of unkempt hair, patchwork shirt and holey sweater, the lightly bearded 35-year-old (he’ll turn 36 in a few days) looks more like an impoverished eco-warrior than an internationally famous and possibly even wealthy musician.
He seems in good form, greeting publicist Dan Oggly with a hug and your correspondent with a firm and friendly handshake. “We met in Manhattan a few years ago”, I remind him. “Yeah, I remember”, he says, “backstage in Joe’s Pub”. Deciding that the bar is too noisy for recording purposed, we walk to the nearby Central Hotel. Along the way, Rice enthuses about a global warming lecture he recently attended. Ten minutes later, we’re ensconced in a quiet and dimly lit room off the Central’s upstairs Library Bar. The singer sips from a glass of still water and tells Oggly that there’s no need to wait for him. “This could take a little while”, he says.
There is something unusual in Damien’s resolve. A notoroiusly reticent interviewwee, he doesn’t have a new album or tour to promote. Aside from promotional duties related to a couple of Burmese benefit gigs he championed, he hasn’t spoken, on the record, to a journalist in at least three years. When his long-awaited second album, 9, was released in 2006, he declined to do any press interviews at all – much to the reported chagrin of his record label.
However, the singer responded positively to a Hot Press request to talk about the decade currently drawing to a close. And so it seems appropriate to start at the very beginning: where were you, Damien Rice, at millennium midnight? “I was in Dublin, Stillorgan, with a friend or two at some other friend of theirs’ party in their parents’ house around a bunch of people I didn’t really know, so it was kind of surreal”, he recalls. “Because you know, you have that big build up of “What are we going to do for the millennium?”. And in a way it was kind of the weirdest New Year’s I’d ever had, because I hadn’t planned anything because I was trying to wait until the best option came up, and then, you know… nothing much did!”
At the time, Rice had just recently turned 26. Where was his head at then? “I’m so blurry with the past”, he admits. “The memory I have was being very free but a little naive and earnest, you know. Probably comparable to the college student who doesn’t have any responsibilities yet, but doesn’t really know how that might change them when the responsibilities hit”.
Although he’d dropped out of an engineering degree at Trinity some years earlier, Rice hadn’t been idle. Far from it. He’d spent much of the mid to late ‘90 fronting Juniper, the rock band he’d formed while still at Salesian College secondary school in Celbridge with friends Paul Noonan, Dominic Philips and Brian Crosby. The band had signed a six-album deal with Polygram in 1997, but disagreements about their musical direction led to Rice departing the fold at the end of 1998 (Juniper eventually morphed into Bell X1). Disillusioned with the music business, he moved to Tuscany in the spring of 1999 and became a farmer for six months.
“I planted things to east”, he recalls. “I used to be fascinated because with my lettuce plants I could pick off a couple of leaves – I wouldn’t have to take the plant up, I’d just pull off a couple leaves – and then, because the sun is so strong and the soil is so good in Italy, a few days later those leaves would be back. You know, so you could constantly just trim”.
Man can’t live on lettuce alone, though, and towards the end of 1999, he returned to Ireland with the intention of giving music another shot. He’d been working on some songs during his time in Tuscany, and in early 2000 he set to work demoing them in Dublin.
While many of the songs eventually ended up on his debut album O, he says he can no longer relate to the headspace he was in when he wrote them.
“I had this sense about me at the time, and so if somebody did me wrong in a relationship then it was like “Grrrrr!”. You know, I’d pick up the guitar and I’d write about it, and it was fairly… you know, I look back at a lot of the songs and the person who wrote them, they are nearly all coming from the point of view of victimhood. You know, “How could you do that to me?”. And I just don’t really relate to that any more”.
Having grown up with two sisters (one older, one younger), he tells me that he was always good with women.
“I was fabulous [with women]. In one way. In that I had a lot of female friends, but that ended up being tricky in relationships as well – because I had so many female friends. I got on really well with women”.
Were you a player?
“No. Well… define ‘player’.”
Were you a ‘notches on the bedpost’ kind of guy?
“Not at all, no!” he laughs, looking aghast. “No, I was more of a relationship kind of person, yeah. I would go from one relationship into another”.
A serial monogamist.
“Right”, he nods. “Yeah, a little bit more like that… with an enthusiastic eye for beauty. I was easily distracted, but slow to get involved as well”.
But presumably quite intense once you were involved?
“Yes, very!”, he guffaws. “Incredibly, yeah. But then, isn’t it hard to gauge what you do relative to somebody else? I mean, I’m saying “yes, very!” because people told me I was very intense, but I don’t know that I was intense. Just people said, ‘Oh, you’re very intense’.”
He first met the beatiful and waifish Lisa Hannigan at a gig in Whelan’s in September 1999 (she’d just moved from her native Meath to study art history at Trinity). Sharing similar musical tastes and a whimsical sense of humour, they soon became friends and she began helping him with the recordings – providing a fragile and ethereal vocal foil to Rice’s bittersweet lyrics.
“She very quickly became my favourite human being”, Damien says unselfconsciously. Back when Juniper had been offered a record deal, Rice had contacted his second cousin David Arnold. “My grandmother, when she heard I was recording, told me about this second cousin I had who was a film composer”, he recalls. “I just called him for advice on something, and we got on really well, and then he said ‘Keep in touch’.”
Sometime in 2000, as the songs for I began coming together, Rice did just that. “Basically I had recorded a couple of demos and – because he was curious about what I was doing – I sent them over to him. And he said, “Well, if you want, I can get you some recording equipment”. And so he did – he bought me a couple of mics and some pre-amps, and gave me a couple of grand for expenses, and off I went”. Now that he had a mobile studio, Rice set about recording the songs properly. “We recorded all over the place. Which I liked: I was really particular at the time about where to record things. Like, I knew I wanted to record Eskimo in my friends’ apartment in Paris because they loved the song so much. So I took my little mobile studio and went to Paris. I went through the metro with all of these microphone stands hanging off me and recording gear, sweating by the time I got to their house, and just recorded it there, and then came home. So it was recorded in lots of bits and places, but basically houses, places I was living or friend’s houses. Dublin, mostly”.
Did you have any sense then of just how powerful the album was going to be? “No, not at all. And, it’s so funny, even going ‘no, not at all’ almost means that I’m agreeing with you that it was powerful. I don’t, ‘cos I don’t even have a notion about it being anything – except that at the time I felt like I was just making one record, that I just wanted to get this out of my system, make a record and then leave it at that, you know”.
What, make one album and then finish with music forever?
“Yeah, just leave the music – just make one record and be done with it. Because I felt like I didn’t fit within the music scene. And, at the time I remember notiving that the bigger songs didn’t work because I was recording at home in bedrooms and stuff – big songs didn’t sound good on the little studio. So the songs that came up as sounding good were all these slow, acoustic, mellow songs.
One day I remember I was sitting with Lisa and I discovered this new thing on the little recorder – it was an 8-track thing and I discovered a new function on it where you could play one song after another. So I lined up a bunch of songs, pressed play, and myself and Lisa sat in the garden and listened, you know. We were chatting with a friend or something, I remember not paying that much attention to it, but just realising that I had really enjoyed listening back to what had been coming out of the speakers. And that was the first moment that I realised “oh, we have a record”.
“Yeah, ‘this works’. And I remember being nearly finished so many times. I don’t know how many album celebration shows we had in the Temple Bar Music Centre”, laughs. “And eventually, the only song that was actually finished was The Blower’s Daughter so we put that out as a single in September/October, something like that, and then the album came out in February afterwards”.
Released on Rice’s own independent label DRM, the raw, angry and bittersweet O came out on the first day of February, 2002. To everyone’s surprise, it immediately debuted at No 7 in the Irish charts. I came out in the UK four months later, and in the US the following year. To date, the album has sold well over two million copies worldwide. Given that there was no record label creaming off the profits, it made Rice a wealthy man.
The singer still seems somewhat bemused at O’s massive success.
“Well, yeah, obviously it went a lot bigger than any of us had thought. Because I do remember a funny scenario where I was trying to figure out a payment for the band, you know, and I said to them ‘Do you want to get a percentage, or do you want to get payment?’ and so we sat down and tried to calculate how many copies we thought we’d sell. So we tried to figure out if I paid £100 a song, or something, would that be fair.
And Shane [Fitzsimmons], the bass player, who had been used to doing sessions for a number of different bands around Dublin, he said “I’ll take the money” [laughs]. And I was like, “Okay”. And then everyone else went on the percentage, and it was very funny… but we put him on percentage later one, as a token gesture. It was funny. So, nobody had any idea”.
What were your feelings at the time, watching your little indie album go multi-platinum?
“I wasn’t really thinking about it. I was so busy because I was the record label at the time, I was my manager at the time, I was doing everything – from organisins the in-stores around the country to calling the CD manufacturer to make sure there were enough albums”.
Was there a lot of high emotion?
“You know what, it was a lovely time because it was just exciting. It was new to us all. We had all put a lot of time into it. It started flowering, and we just got to play shows, and if just started building. And when it started building then people started being able to get a bit of money out of it, so people were able to give up their pub gigs and stuff. Everybody started getting really excited about the idea that they could perhaps make a living out of playing music.
And it was beautiful – it was a really exciting time. Really exciting, you know. Even though I didn’t realise what was to come. And had I, I might have prepared myself better, but I couldn’t. From what I remember, it was brilliant! [laughs]. But I could be just having these fond memories; I have the tendency to forget bad memories”.
Within about 18 months, Rice was being widely touted as the first Irish musical success story of the Noughties. He had a manager, foreign record labels and a permanently full tour diary. Not that he necessarily welcomed these developments. “I didn’t really want a manager, and I didn’t want a record label. I just didn’t want any of that. But when I did the first couple of shows in the UK I had a few promoters approach me, and I didn’t know who was the best. And then KCRW started playing it in America, and once KCRW started playing it, it started going into Hollywood. And then it just started spreading and spreading – and spreading”. His first sour experience was when his new UK label requested remixes of The Blowers Daughter and Cannonball.
“The came to me and said ‘Are you open to people doing remixes of your songs?’ and I thought ‘cool’. To me, a remix was a really artistic interesting take on the song, you know. And I was like, ‘Yeah, absolutely’. So they sent me back some remix from somebody in the States, and I was like, ‘This is terrible. It just sounds cheesy’. So then, they said ‘Oh we’ll try somebody else’. After about ten different remixes of different songs, I was like ‘This is awful, can you just stop this? Who is paying for this?’. You know, probably me. So I was like ‘Stop!’.
And I remember my management at the time going, “Will you just give us something that we can get on radio, because we just can’t sell this unless we can get it on radio”. And I remember at the time I wrote a contract with them, and I said, “Okay, if you never mention the word ‘remix’ to me again, then I will let you use this one remix”. And so myself and my manager wrote a little contract. And so they used the Cannonball remix. But I remember there was a bit of fighting, you know, it took a bit of clashing before getting to a comfortable place with that, because it drove me nuts. I felt like, “Why are people trying to change this? What’s wrong? Trying to sell it? Sell what? Why?”. To me it had already sold more than I had ever dreamt it would sell. And so I didn’t have a concept of beyound 5000″.
How many albums had you sold by then?
“It was probably a couple of hundred thousand. So that was the first time that… [pauses] I remember the band were really with me, and it was me and the band against the management and the label. There was a bit of that going on. But then slowly over time, I guess the management learned how to work with me, and me with them. We just learned to be clear with each other. And then the band problems started happening after that, you know”.
What were the band problems?
Rice shifts uncomfortably in his chair and grimaces. “It’s a very tender subject. Okay, so… I’m trying to remember where they first… I think where a lot of it stemmed from was that myself and Lisa were very, very, very, very, very close”. So you were actually in a relationship?
When did that begin?
“That had just kind of happened through the making of O. And so the record felt like a record of creativity and love, and just that whole sense of coming together with a bunch of people – and in particular with Lisa. We just worked really well together. I loved her taste. Whenever I’d do something and she’d comment on it, most of the time I’d just completely agree. We just were very, very compatible: in the studio, on the stage. But when that relationship changed it just made it very difficult because we never had the space from each other, to get used to the change”.
Needless to say, there were numerous pressures on the cuple’s relationship. Having toured the world almost non-stop for three years, the label began pestering Rice for a follow-up. He and Lisa began to seriously fight during the recording of 9.
“As I said, I had only planned to make one record, so then at the end of the three-year touring period since O had come out and – we were nearly four years, actually, and then we took a break, and then naturally everybody is going “Another record?” and in my head I was like – I had written a few new songs, but I hadn’t recorded in such a long time I didn’t really know what I wanted to do.
But we booked a few sessions, here and there, we went to a little house somewhere in the country and tried a few things out. None of it was good enough. So after time with me kind of not being happy with what we were doing, that made me a bit frustrated, and then the band got frustrated because they thought, “When are we going to make another record? Where are you going to finish?”. There was a sense of ‘You are never going to finish’.”
Under increasing pressure from the label, his band and his fanbase, Rice reluctantly capitulated and more less threw the second album together.
“I kind of got bullshit about it then, and just finished the thing, like, “What song do you like? Okay, this one. What do you like? This.”. And so there was just this thing of: one person liked this song, one person thought we should do this. So I just listened to everybody – the guy from the label liked one song, the manager liked another song – and just did these songs. And then it was like ‘Okay, everybody, you said I wouldn’t finish the record. There you go, the record’s finished’. There was a little but of that to it”.
He gets visibly agitated at the memory.
“It was a bit childish, but it was also a bit desperate”, he says. “It was that I was desperate to hold onto people’s love, you know? I was going “Don’t think I’m bad” or “Look – here’s an album. There it is, is everybody happy? Now we can go on tour! We can make some more money, and everybody can pay their mortgages, and everybody can be happy where we can go and work, you know, you don’t have to sit around and wait for me”. And, of course, now I regret that because I would take half of the songs that are on 9 off. I just don’t think it’s as good a record as it could be”.
I listened to it twice last night. It’s a very good album.
“Yeah, but just skip – skip – skip – skip. There’s a couple of songs that there’s no – it’s like, why did I put that song on?”
Is that why you refused to do any press interviews to promote the album? “I was a bit angry. Yeah. And just a bit… I had become quite self-obsessed because – I wasn’t used to this thing where all these people around me were working for me, so if Damien wanted anything, then Damien got it… And if Damien this then Damien that… And after a while of that, it’s very uncomfortable. You try to keep your feet on the ground, but at the same time the whole thing was just going, going, going. And so I had gotten to the point where I didn’t want to talk about myself anymore. When 9 was released I fount it really difficult to deal with being what people wanted me to be”.
What did you feel they wanted you to be?
“A musician who is super-happy to go out and promote himself and his music, and sell his music to the world. And be a bigger musician, and more famous, you know, and more money. And the more money I got, the more uncomfortable I got. The more fame that came along the more uncomfortable I became, and I am not famous! I mean, I can walk around anywhere. I’d be at one of my own shows watching the opening act and have a conversation with somebody about Damien Rice because they don’t recognise me. But even still, even with the little bit that I had it was uncomfortable – like the idea of signing an autograph to me, is just uncomfortable. I just don’t get it! I’m like, ‘I’m not that guy, sorry’. I’m just not that guy”.
Who are you then, Damien?
“I’m not the guy that wants to be famous and make loads of money and sell loads of records. I’m not that guy”, he repeats. “I don’t want that. I just want to be true. I want to be… I want to serve music. I want to be honest. I want to write stuff that’s honest, that inspires, that people can take comfort from, or fuck with, or, you know, whatever. And so any of the things that were the classic things you are asked to do on the road, which is like, meet-and-greets with people, and signings, and photo-shoots, and interviews, it’s just not me. It didn’t seem genuine. And I knew that I was in the head space at the time that if people started asking me questions I would just be a real… [pauses] I wouldn’t be polite. I knew I wasn’t in a polite phase, and I didn’t want to insult anybody so I thought it better not to do things”.
Were you drinking heavily at the time?
“No, I don’t really drink. I don’t really do drugs”.
Do you find that you obsess much about things?
“I obsess, yeah. I process, yeah… [draws deep exaggerated breath] I do that a lot. And probably how I escape is – I vented a lot on stage, and again, going back, was an asshole with the people that I love the most”.
By the time the 9 European tour began, he and Hannigan’s relationship was more or less totally on the rocks.
“I can’t remember, because it was a little on-and-off and on-and-off, it was like a classic scenario of… we were in each other’s company all the time, working together, resting together. You know, and then when we came off the tour we were haning out together, so it was just like full-on all the time. And so it was on-and-off as well. So, that just created a natural discomfort for the other band members. Whenever there was any fire with myself and Lisa, everybody felt this”.
Things came to a head before a show in Munich at the end of March 2007. Following an argument backstage, Rice reportedly fired Lisa minutes before they were due to perform. So what actually happened?
He takes a sip of water before replying: “Her and I just weren’t getting on, and I wanted everybody to get on again. I was such an idealist, in a way, that I just wanted everybody to be happy. I wanted to please everybody. Her and I weren’t getting on, there were certain issues, so I called a band meeting and said “Let’s have a band meeting, let’s sort this out”, because I’m a big sorter-out-er.
But then I think a lot of the band had grown kind of tired of “Oh God, another meeting to sort some shit out”, you know. And even though I didn’t like having the meetings, I felt better sorting the thing out than leaving it lie. And so that was all good, but then we had the meeting and I felt that… I just felt that Lisa didn’t contribute to the meeting at all and just… and I had held the meeting so that she could say whatever she wanted to change, or whatever.
So I went into her dressing room before the show, just after the meeting, and asked her what was wrong, why didn’t she contribute to the meeting? And she said ‘Well, what’s the point? You are just going to do what you want anyway’. At which point I just lost my head. I lost my head, you know.”
He shakes his head, regretfully.
“Instead of whether she was right or wrong, you know… there was probably an element of truth in what she said because at the end of the day there had to be one of us who made the decision. And, inevitably, it was me. But at the same time, you know, I felt like I was very open, but the problem I had at the time was just this explosive head, where I just COULDN’T HANDLE A FUCKING PROBLEM! You know? It was that energy, it was like “WHAT IS WRONG, NOW?”, you know, “WHO IS NOT PLEASED NOW?”. It was that energy in me at the time. So I just had an allergic reaction to it if there was something wrong with somebody. It just drove me nuts.
And, of course, when I went nuts then people went, “Oh my God, what is wrong with him? He is such an asshole”. So I just lost the head with Lisa that night, and shouted at her and sent her home, said I was sick of working with her, which, of course, now I realise – it was just frustrated love. I mean, I loved her and just didn’t know how to be around her and… just be friends, you know, just be friendly. So, again, it was a very sort of sad situation”.
How was the show that night?
“Terrible”, he laughs. “The worst one on the tour, probably. It was awful. The band were uncomfortable, everybody was uncomfortable, I was uncomfortable. The audience, then, were uncomfortable”.
Although the couple had had many arguments before, this one was different. “Whenever it happenes before, Lisa just left the tour”, he explains. “It happened numerous times, her and I would just get to an explosive place and we just needed space. Like I said, we never had the space to get over things. We never had the space to be away from each other and just appreciate each other and learn how to be friends. And so, that night the frustration came out kind of uncontrollably. Lost my head, as usual. Overreacted to something, as usual. But after the show I was very calm again. Very, very calm.
Lisa was the one who was mad after the show. And very clear that, you know, and I told her clearly that I loved her and, “Let’s just take some space. We are not getting on right now”. And I just wanted to save our friendship rather than fighting ourselves every day on tour, and end up hating each other. Because it was a long tour we had ahead of us. But she didn’t respond to any of that, and hasn’t spoken to me since. So…”
The 9 tour came to a close six months later, in November 2007. At the end of that month, Rice attended a nine-day seminar at something he calls “The School” in Los Angeles. He’d gone for counselling before, but this was different: “I don’t want to talk too much about it, but it was like a school for questioning your thinking. Like, a nine-day school, and it was the most incredible thing I’ve ever done, and I came out of that totally different”.
In what way?
“Let’s just say I went in the door cynical, frustrated, feeling like a victim to the things that had happened to me, even though I had been so fortunate in so many ways. A classic scenario for me would be somebody that I didn’t know going ‘Oh congratulations on all the success. It’s so brilliant, you must be so happy!’. And I was miserable, you know, and didn’t really know why, and didn’t really know what to do about it.
So, basically, I went in the door feeling like I was a victim to whatever had happened in my life. And then I played the victim because I didn’t know what to do about it. I didn’t know how to feel better, I didn’t know how to be better, I didn’t know how not to be angry, I just didn’t know how to be the guy that I felt I was before it all happened. And I came out the door of the school completely transformed, so clear that I had brought it all on myseld, that I had done it all. That I was responsible for, essentially, pretty much everything, and could have changed it at any moment had I really wanted to.
And I took responsibility, came out the door withresponsibility for absolutely everything I had done, and with a very clear mind, just a very clear mind. And yeah, just came out changed. But at that point it was… that bit too late”.
Did you try to contact Lisa when you came out?
“Yeah, yeah. yes, I mean, tried. Attempted, but…” (shrugs helplessly)
Hell hath no fury, I joke.
“Yeah”, he laughs. “And not so much, because I didn’t want to bug her. I got a pretty clear message that she didn’t want to… she hadn’t replied to any of the texts or emails, or whatever. I knew she was angry so I didn’t want to call her and put her under pressure, so I just sent her another email, and then something else, and then invited her to come back and do whatever shows she wanted to do, whether she wanted to do Marlay Park or the New York stuff, just come in for the big shows so that we didn’t have to spend too much time together.
I just put it out there through my manager because it was the only wat to contact her at the time. But just, you know, cherry-pick basically, was the term I used. “Just cherry-pick”. If there is something, anything, that you want to do, we all love you and we’d love to have you back.
But I think she had just drawn a line”, he continues. “She’s had enough and so she drew a line, and she quit smoking and she quit me. And… I get it. you know, I get it and I don’t. Because I’m different, because there’s nobody that I can think of that I wouldn’t want to speak to, that I’ve ever met, no matter whatever I’ve thought they’ve done to me or not, you know. I’m always open to conversation, but everybody’s different, and that’s brilliant”.
I’m getting the vibe that you’re still very much in love with her.
“I love her”, he declares. “I love her so much. And I love her so much that I love that she hasn’t spoken to me – because even in that I have learned so much over the last two years. I have learned to appreciate the friends that I do have, and not to fuck up anymore. And, you know, thanks to Lisa’s resilience, her and I are not fighting any more, so that’s a positive thing”.
You had a much publicised relationship with actress Renée Zellweger a couple of years back. Was that part of what pissed her off? “Oh, we’re getting personal now, aren’t we?”, he laughs.”Here’s the thing, I mean, I know you’ve spoken to Lisa so you know what she’s like as a character. I just happen to be in a really open space right now, and at the same time I want to be very respectful to Lisa, I hope you understand.
Renée happened before the big troubles”, he says, waving his hand dismissively. “It was just… I had relationships, Lisa had relationships. We were still on tour with each other and having different relationships, and… it was difficult because we got on stage every night and sang songs that were about each other”.
Of course, Hannigan has since gone on to have her own hugely successful solo career. Has Rice listened to Sea Sew?
Are some of the songs about you, do you think?
“Well, you know, that’s not for me to say”, he shrugs. “And how can you ever really know, because even if somebody tells you, how can you know they’re telling the truth? You know, I didn’t write it”.
Are you in a relationship at the moment?
“A romantic relationship? Oh my God, no! That’s one thing I’m quite clear about at the moment – that’s not for me right now at all”.
With success came money. Although 9 didn’t sell anything like O, presumably he could afford never to have to work again?
“I’m very good at surviving off nothing”, he says. “I was very good at living off nothing. And I probably have enough now that, if I invested it wisely enough, I could take out a little nothingness every week to live off. But money has never been my motivation, so therefore I wouldn’t sit on my ass just because I have money. Because I never wanted it, you know, never cared about it”.
Well, you must have quite a lot of it at this point!
“Yeah, which I stress about because if the dollar starts devaluing and I have money in dollars! It’s like, whatever”.
He tells me that there’s a part of him that actually misses being broke. He comes from a working class family, but money was always far more important to his parents that it was to him.
“Money was important to my Dad; well, not that money was important, but my Dad was looking for us to get financial security as, I suppose any father would, but I, being that little bit rebellious, then went for the opposite. The fact that I was arty-farty, and had not money… [laughs]
At the beginning, the fact that I had ten years of what he would call poverty, you know, I kind of loved it. I got a thrill out of that. Because I still did the things I wanted to do. If I wanted to go to Europe I found some way of scrounging enough money to get a bus to London, and London to Paris, and Paris to… And I did it that way, played on the streets or whatever. And, you know, when I’d go to Europe I had no money so therefore I had a genuine integrity when I met somebody on the street from playing, so happy to stay in their house because I had no money to stay anywhere else. Or staying in a youth hostel where you’d meet tons of interesting people; whereas now I just stay in a hotel where you meet nobody except the receptionist. And it’s hard for me to go and stay in a hostel now because I feel like I’m forcing it. It feels contrived. Or to try to meet somebody on the street, because it’s like I don’t need to play on the street. I needed to back then”.
Aside from your house, what’s the most expensive thing you’ve bought?
“I bought a sailing boat”.
“I wouldn’t call it a yacht”, he smiles. “I mean, you can sleep on it. I guess some people might call it a yacht, but… you know, I’m new to sailing, so it’s an old banger, really. If this was somebody’s first car, it would be the equivalent of buying some old Datsun or Volvo, or something. It was really cheap compared to what boats normally cost, because it had already done all its depreciation. But, it’s brilliant. I love it”.
Where do you sail?
“Mostly around Dublin Bay. I went down to Wicklow, stayed overnight there and came back up, that kind of thing. So, just getting used to that. And then eventually I’d like to do a tour in the Mediterranean on the sailboat. I absolutely love the water, and my head goes into a really nice space when I’m out there. And I love the idea of touring like that.
We had a chat before coming in here – global warming, all that kind of stuff, and I’d just like to be… I’m not into the do-gooder side of things, you know. If I want to go and do a sailboat tour around Europe – I just see it as an intelligent thing to do; you save on fuel, you get to be outdoors…”
You’re late for all your gigs!
“You’re late for all your gigs!”, he laughs. “And it will force me to have dates more spread out, so it will be less intense, so therefore each show, to me, will be that bit more special. You won’t make as much money, but then, that’s not my motivation. It makes total sense to me. What sounds more inspiring, exciting, interesting: go around on a tour bus, or go around on a sailboat? Go around on a sailboat! Without a doubt”.
Are you happy at the moment?
“Very… in three-quarters of me. Very happy. Very happy, very clear, very relaxed. And there’s just one little part of me that’s a little agitated, and it’s the part of like, you know when I get this knock [triple taps the table] from whomever, management, or whomever, it’s like, ‘When are you doing another record?’, it’s like ‘Aaaagh!’. I mean, I have fallen back in love with music. I feel a lot lighter, and I’m not writing about the same things anymore. It’s just coming from a different place, it’s not coming from a victim place anymore”.
Are you writing a new record, then?
“You see, there you go, you just said the words, ‘new record’. I happen to be writing at the moment, yeah, I’m writing. I’m probably in the studio most days, doing bits and pieces. This one I have been working on, which has been with a bunch of friends – actors, musicians, other artistic friends from around the world – and every song is a collaboration, so I have been co-writing with lots of different people. And then getting different singers, and musicians to play on the songs. The whole idea of the album is to just do something good with it, because most of my friends that I’m working with – a lot of them tour a lot, or travel a lot, or they’re actors, so, you know, I just thought, ‘Hey, do you want to do something?’. It was this simple idea of doing something creative, or using what it is you do to give something back”.
Ultimately, rhough, his musical career isn’t the first thing on his mind. There is something that is far more important to him. Far more important indeed. We have come full circle…
“I would give away all of the music success”, he says, “all the songs, and the whole experience to still have Lisa in my life. Like that!”, he tells me, snapping his fingers. “No question.”
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