Five years on from his last studio album and following a string of singles, Belfast songwriter Rory Nellis has released his third full length, Written & Underlined. An album that follows the thread of his previous releases, its core is Nellis’ honest and earnest songwriting. Recent singles ‘Old Town Revelery’ and ‘Strange Behaviour’ show his range, but Written & Underlined is a cohesive piece, with Nellis playing to his strengths as beautiful and stirring moments as frequent as clouds in the sky. One scarcely needs to look beyond the opener and title track despite trips into quieter moments and touches of synths later on, sets Nellis’ stall out with its folk-rock call. ‘Be The Sea’ is the final track, Nellis’ voice taking on a softer tone amongst spaced out guitar and piano and closing out an album of self reflection and subtle craft.
Rory Nellis gives us a closer insight into the album’s ten tracks in our Track by Track.
Written & Underlined
When I started writing this record I was coming out of a period of wondering whether I was too old to ‘make it’ in the music business, whatever that means. This song is about being a songwriter. Me thinking about why I do it and what would equal me doing it successfully. I think the conclusion I came to is that it’s obvious why I do it. It’s in me and I’ll never stop doing it, so I may as well try to do it right and push it as hard as I can.
Picture Postcard Sublime
This one’s about travelling, real life or imagined. The chorus is really just a description of a postcard I suppose haha. I love seeing new places and trying to settle into a place, even for a week or so. The second verse is based on a real and very confusing conversation I had with a guy in a hostel in Boston a few years ago. He talked at length about how beautiful his home was, then after a while described the giant shopping mall and the long, wide motorways. It became clear we were on slightly different wavelengths.
I think it’s really important to be honest and to be able to talk to someone when you’re not feeling great mentally. This is a song about that, about having friends or family that you can be open with about your mental health and the importance of doing it. It was only very recently that talking about this stuff would have been seen as strange behaviour to some, but hopefully we’ve moved on and it’ll become more and more normal to chat about it openly.
I wrote this song as a commission for the Solo Art project, set up by Tinderbox Theatre Company during the first lockdown. They were looking for people to make little pieces of art in whatever form and I put my hand up. It’s a song about the lockdowns and the pandemic and nostalgia in general, which I think most people were very prone to at that time. It features a shout-out to a much loved Irish video rental institution.
Following on from the ‘Strange Behaviour’ thing of being open about mental health issues, ‘The Fear’ is about how nearly everyone experiences these things at some point in their life. It was a big moment for me when I realised this and no longer had to think that I was weird or a complete outsider. The idea that, in that regard, we’re all in this together is very comforting.
‘Sailboat’ is a wee love song. It’s a beautiful thing to have unconditional support from someone, either your partner or a good friend or a family member. This is a song about that…in a funny time signature.
Old Town Revelry
This song was initially inspired by an adventure I had with some great friends in Nice many years ago. I think in the real version the key was broken in the lock late at night and a few of us were stuck in the apartment all night and for a few hours in the morning, but ‘ran off with the key’ fitted better in the lyric. It then expands out to talk about friendships, fallings out, making up and how great friendships and family relationships inevitably endure.
It also features brilliant lap steel guitar and a fantastic guitar solo by my university friend and world class guitarist Luke Cyrus Goetze, who you should absolutely check out.
I often end up talking to people about voter apathy and about how important I think it is that we all vote, especially in the very special place that I call home (Northern Ireland). I think that even if there’s no chance that your chosen party will be successful, it’s still important to cast your vote. Even if it’s just to give us a little bit of hope for the future. ‘Political Animal’ is just me thinking about that. Oh and the guy on the bike is Boris Johnson.
This is the quiet one. I suppose it’s a collection of my thoughts on life and a few things that I think are important about how I go about it. Basically family and friends are everything.
Be The Sea
I wasn’t expecting this one to be the closer, but once it was finished it became very clear that it had to be. It has a real ‘riding off into the sunset’ vibe which I think rounds off the whole album really well. It has a big high note at the end which is a lot of fun to sing live, and very cathartic. I suppose lyrically it’s kind of about being calm and clear headed, being sure what you’re doing next. Imagine how amazing that would be.