Training Up My Soul EP out May 3rd

I moved to New York from Castledawson, Northern Ireland at the end of January 2011. I don’t think as a songwriter you could want to be based in a more inspiring place than New York. I know it sounds like a cliché but there is something about this place that makes me want to write music… literally every day. So a good friend set me a challenge. He told me to write four songs a week for three months. This was no easy feat. At times I would be coming home late from gigs, knowing that it was Friday tomorrow, and knowing that I still had one song left to write. But I did it. I stuck with it, and it was completely worth it. At the end of the three months I had a huge collection of songs to sift through and all I had to do was pick my favorite four to record.

This EP came through pushing my self to write. It came about through setting a goal not only to write as many songs as I could, but also to write each song better than the last one. This album was born out of lates nights and early mornings in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

When I had my pool of songs, I took my time to pick my best four. With those four in demo format I took a flight back to Northern Ireland to record the EP with a fantastic producer by the name of Michael Keeney. With the help of my big brother Ciaran, we assembled a dream time of Irish musicians. With these very talented individuals we sat in a circle and I told them that it was my goal to capture a very strong live performance of not just one track, but four. I wanted to make an EP that was a raw as possible, but still polished. This was going to take some effort. On piano is Michael Keeney, Ciaran Gribbin on electric guitar, Paul Hamilton on drums, and Conor McCreanor on bass.

The two days that I spent in the studio with these four guys is something that I will cherish forever. We just jammed the tracks over and over until something clicked and we knew that we could walk away, sit down and know that we had captured something special. I had never recorded like this before. I’ve always heard interviews with musicians and they say that you know when you have recorded “the one,” and I had always had an idea of what they meant but now I got it. There is no feeling like it. It is such a joy to record in this way because it feels so raw and organic. As you are standing in the room you can feel and you can hear all the musicians playing with the song, toying with the melodies, trying different progressions of notes. It creates this flow throughout the tracks that could never have been created had all of us learned how to play the songs to death. Even for me the tracks were new, and this meant that every take we did was slightly different. But it always came very natural in the end and we always knew when we had captured the best one.

This EP, born in Brooklyn, and recorded in Hill House Studios just outside Belfast, is without doubt my best to date. I am very proud of it, right through from the songs to the production, I could not be happier.

The Training Up My Soul EP will be  launched on May 3rd at 9pm in Rockwood Music Hall, and available that same night through all available online stores.

Artwork by my very talented friend EVE GILBERT. xo

Austin bound for SXSW

As I write this im packing my bag and stringing up my guitar.

I’m heading down to Austin, Texas in the middle of the night for the famous South by Southwest festival. I Spent all day tying up a few loose ends and trying to plan for weather that will be a little warmer than what we have been experiencing in New York lately. I’ve heard so many good things about Austin, and in the past week I think i’ve lost count just how many people from Texas I bumped into around NYC… never get tired of that accent. Its probably one of the few accents that are as noticeable as my own when Im listening to peoples conversations on the subway.

It was such a perfect week. On friday night I had the great pleasure of opening for Duke Special in the Mercury Lounge, NYC. It was the first solo set I had played in almost 6 months. I thought I was going to find it really uncomfortable to be up on the big stage by myself. The reality couldn’t have been more different and I was totally mesmerized by the responsiveness of the crowd. It really does make performing that little more special when you know that people really want to listen. As I rounded up my set with ‘Closing Doors’, a guy approached me at the front of the stage and told me that I could squeeze one more in if I wished. Still don’t know if that guy was affiliated with Mercury Lounge, but he seemed to be enjoying the music so maybe he just wanted one more. So I played ‘Running Out,’ the closing track from my new EP (‘Training Up My Soul’ – out May 3rd).

During the end section of the song I thought of asking the crowd to sing along to a little melody line that was running in my head… It was actually a piano line that Jacob had played one morning at rehearsals. So I asked everyone to have a practice run. Then the hairs stood on the back of my neck as the room sang it back to me. For that moment I got a sense of what it must feel like to have a hit song. Thats a feeling that I want more of.

wish me luck in Austin!

John x