When Chordblossom came into existence, it was always our aim to shine a spotlight on the artists and bands that make up the music scene in Northern Ireland. We’ve been doing it for over ten years now and one of our favourite methods is our Introducing feature.
Put the kettle on, curl up on your sofa and and join us for a quickfire Q&A with some of our favourite new musicians. Who knows, maybe you’ll even discover your new favourite artists.
This iteration of Introducing features the musical talents of Cathal Francis who just released their latest single ‘Young No More’ earlier this month.
You’ve just released a new single. How did it come about and what does it mean to you?
With Young No More, I wanted to see if I could create a representation of a painting in song form – paint a picture, so to speak! I’ve always been drawn to Edward Hopper’s painting, Nighthawks, so it was the one I went with. The painting is like a film noir scene of four individuals gathered in a diner late at night – it’s serene.
With the song, I tried to describe each character and add what I thought was going through their heads. There’s a lady in a red dress and a man in a suit standing beside one another in the painting. It’s unclear whether they are a couple (or even know each other), but with the song I ran with the idea that they struck up conversation, fell in love and made plans to leave the city together – you could say things moved fast!
Coincidentally, my big sister has her hair dyed red (like the lady in the painting), and she had to relocate recently after having a really hard time. For me, the song takes on an additional meaning as an ode to her strength and positivity in making daunting changes under circumstances that were not ideal. When I sing the song, I picture her escaping her own concrete jungle and coming into her own again, like a butterfly from the chrysalis.
Have you any more releases or studio time lined up for later in the year?
I do, I’ve got an EP in my hard drive ready to rock and roll! I’m planning on releasing it in late November. It contains the three singles that I’ve released so far, and a few new songs too. I’ve got a handful ideas on the go for future releases, so I’m hoping to get back at recording in the new year!
Tell us about your song writing process.
Gee, this is a bit of an awkward one to explain! For some weird reason, my personal song writing process is closely linked with sleep. I always have my phone beside me when I go to bed because I catch myself thinking of melodies and lyric ideas just as I’m about to drift off and record them before I lose them! I’ve often found myself humming melodies into my phone as soon as I wake up and then experimenting with them in the shower shortly after. It’s so embarrassing to admit! When I find a core melody that I like, I sit and play my guitar to build the chord progression in a way that accommodates the melody in a fitting way. This has a sort of knock-on effect which sparks ideas for different song sections. Apologies for waffling!
In short, I let the main melody guide me. When it comes to writing lyrics, I use the notes app on my phone and wee journals to jot down random lines that I think are interesting. I then try to weave these together with rhyme. I really like Kurt Cobain’s outlook on lyric writing, which is to not labour over them too much because the melody and harmony are at the fore. With Young No More, the process was slightly different because I had a subject and visual information to work with. Most of the time I don’t really write about specific subjects, I like to throw wee line-by-line snapshots or vignettes out there instead.
Who were your favourite artists/bands growing up? Have your influences changed over time?
When I was a wee youngster, I loved listening to the classic rock staples like AC/DC and Guns N’ Roses, and I’d always loved The Beatles on top of that heavy stuff. However, I found myself growing out of the classic rock stuff when I started secondary school (the same time I started learning how to play the guitar) because, despite loving the tasty riffage and the energy, I was always low-key appalled by the raunchy and rather crass subject matter involved. One day when I was eleven or twelve, my dad came home from a wee shopping spree at CeX and he handed me Nirvana’s Nevermind on CD. I was a changed man after that first listen!
Throughout my teenage years I ended up diving deeply into Nirvana’s and The Beatles’ discographies, and got into other bands like Pixies, RIDE and R.E.M. The year between finishing secondary school and going to university, I enrolled in a music college course in Derry. This is when I really got into writing songs on acoustic guitar. I was listening to a lot of Bob Dylan, Nick Drake, Simon & Garfunkel, and I eventually discovered (and quickly garnered adoration for) Elliott Smith. Listening to him had a similar “epiphany” effect as that first Nevermind listen years before.
Since then, I’ve found The Beatles, Nirvana and Elliott Smith to be unyielding sources of inspiration – I come back to them all the time. They’ll always be my big three influences!
With the NI Music Prize round the corner, what’s been your favourite album and single released this year?
Being from Derry, I might be a wee bit biased with my favourite album pick, but I love SOAK’s If I never know you like this again. I’ve been listening to it an awful lot whilst working from home, and it’s just unreal. I love the falsetto coda part of purgatory, and swear jar is such a beautiful song. Bridie and the gang should be really proud of themselves.
In terms of my favourite single, I’d have to say Blatant by Lauren Ann – without a shadow of a doubt. I love how she incorporates the Pixies/Nirvana “loud-quiet-loud” dynamics into her songs whilst being totally unique at the same time. Those choruses give me chills every time, and it’s hard to beat a song about lost love. She and the band should be really chuffed with themselves too!
If you weren’t a musician, what line of work would we find you in?
I’ve often thought of this! It’s funny, recently I was cleaning my bedroom at home and came across an old folder from my first year at secondary school. It was for one of those “what do I want to be when I grow up?” classes. In my wee booklet, all I wrote was ‘musician’, so the blinkers have really been on since! I know it’s very “pie in the sky”, but I’ve always liked the idea of working in mental health, like counselling or therapy. The idea of being able to positively contribute to people’s mental health and wellbeing really resonates with me, somehow.
If you could collaborate with one artist or band from NI, who would it be and why?
This is kind of piggybacking off my answer for my favourite single released this year, but I’d genuinely love to collaborate with Lauren Ann sometime! I think that we have similar influences, and I reckon we could make something really cool! We could do something Mazzy Star-esque or like Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged set!
It is intensely difficult to be successful in the music industry. What does NI need to do to invest in/develop to boost your chances?
I think that the more platforms there are for exposing up-and-coming artists, the better. BBC Across The Line Introducing does amazing work in this area, and I’d love to see more things like it – be it radio, online or otherwise.
What does success look like for you?
This is going to sound pure cheesy. Success is a really hard thing to quantify, but I think that if someone is doing something that brings them joy and a sense of purpose, then they are successful. I’ve heard the phrase, “You’ve got a job, but what’s your mission?” – if someone is doing something that fulfils or even slightly resembles their “mission”, they’re winning. It doesn’t have to be something big or anything! It could be “I want to show kindness every day” or “I want to be there for my friends and family” – it’s the wee things that really count, like!
You’re going out on tour and can have anything you want on your rider, what would we find on yours?
I’m not too sure how the logistics of this would work out, but I’d ask for the favourite snacks and drinks of the staff working at each venue and get a big spread out for everyone to tuck in to for when they get a minute to themselves. If this tour is in the US, I’d chance my arm and ask for a pet chipmunk to be my wee tour buddy like the fella from Kim Possible!
Where and when can we next catch you live?
My calendar is bare at the minute, but I’m hoping to get out playing more soon! I like to play at the Sunflower Bar open mic night with my friends the odd time, so I’ll probably be there sometime in the near future!
If you enjoyed this feature and fancy discovering some more new artists, we suggest you jump on over to our archive of Introducing pieces.
If you are a band or musician based in Northern Ireland interested in taking part in our Introducing feature, we recommend submitting new music to us via our Contact page and if we enjoy it, you’ll no doubt hear from us.