An interview with singer-songwriter Dylan Walshe
Irish troubadour Dylan Walshe increased his presence in the music scene a while back with a single on Squoodge Records titled “Blind Is Blind.” After listening to the song it is an easy thing to insert Dylan’s music into the folk blues category, though that would be a hasty move. Sure, he can strum and pick a six-string like a seasoned artist, which in his own way he decidedly is, and his voice is so strong and expressive, at once so holy and damned it can shake heaven and hell simultaneously. This suggests the old soul of a true roots artist, to be sure. But he is a singer-songwriter who requires diversity and isn’t nearly as concerned with the genre or subgenre to which he belongs as he is the quality of the songs he writes and plays, each and each. This stance is undoubtedly agreeable to those music enthusiasts and show-goers whose ears are trained on the sounds of such an artist. That way, things are far less likely to get stale or mired in unreasonable genre expectations.
Though Walshe relocated from Ireland to England, hanging his hat in London, as it were, he doesn’t necessarily consider it home. After all, such singer-songwriters are transients; they move from place to place sharing their songs. And while doing exactly that, Dylan first caught the attention of independent German label Squoodge, who released his first single, and most recently the American label Muddy Roots Records in Nashville, Tennessee, on whose upcoming comp he is featured.
Recently I had both the opportunity and pleasure of interviewing Dylan. What follows is that interview in its entirety.
To begin, Dylan, what inspired you to go the way of the lone singer-songwriter?
It wasn't something that I thought about or planned really, but in retrospect I guess there's something of my nature in how I've gone about it. Musically speaking, I prefer a song to still stand up when it's stripped down and that's kind of where things began for me. Over time I added percussive elements to play in busier environments as a solo artist, but again, I didn't really plan it that way. Travelling was always on the cards and the minimalistic approach is a result of that too. So necessity played its part. When I heard solo artists on older records from the 1920s or people like Luke Kelly of The Dubliners singing solo, it hit me directly and lastingly, but working with other musicians is something I'd like to do eventually. I've been saying that for a long time, though.
As far as music goes in general, and probably your own music in specific, you state in your online bio that it's not so much the genre as it is the song. In other words, it doesn't really matter which genre is stamped on a song as long as it's good. Have I got that right? And...how does that factor into your own songwriting process?
Yeah, I'm definitely more interested in the content of a song and how it's delivered as opposed to how it's labeled. I didn't write that bio myself, but it's pretty accurate as to how I feel. The majority of the time I just want to hear soul in music, especially if there's a voice involved. The sound of experience goes a long way with me too. If I can't connect with the voice on that level, then I switch off. If I'm out for a night of entertainment, then that's a different matter; that's a separate musical world for me in a lot of ways. There are useful universal understandings related to the loose definition of genres, but if you try to define the boundaries of what separates one genre from another, you won't get very far. You just have to get on with what you do, personally. I've played the same songs on radio stations or at gigs representing a wide range of seemingly defined genres. It doesn't factor in my own songwriting, that's probably the best way I could answer that. People are going to decide what they decide and relate it to what they know and I understand that too. I'm not an electro pop artist, I don't even use electricity, so what you don't do can define you just as much as what you do defines you. I'm comfortable with 'Alternative Folk Roots,' as that's a good indicator and it also doesn't make me feel restricted. 'Singer-Songwriter' works for me, too…in its literal sense. There's a lyrical ballad singer in there, but he also likes to rock out.
So far you have only released the "Blind Is Blind" single on Squoodge Records. I have listened to that song several times and think it's outstanding. But what has been the general response to it since its release?
It was wonderful to have a song fleshed out and fully realized for the first time with Ben Walker who produced and played on that recording. Ben's one of the most talented people I know and he did a class job. As I said earlier, I'd like to work with other musicians on the songs as well as perform them completely solo. We met through Bob's Folk Radio Show a few years back and in turn gave it to Bob for its first spin on air. The track was subsequently released on limited edition vinyl through the Berlin label in Germany, which led to a run of gigs over there. I played a string of five gigs in three days to celebrate 8 years of Squoodge Records alongside Reverend Beat-Man, Trixie Trainwreck and Elvis Pummel. I had an absolute ball, made a load of lasting friendships and couldn't have been treated better. The song itself seems to do the rounds and its grown legs. There's an old film from 1910 called 'The Lad from Old Ireland.' It's the story of a young man leaving Ireland to make good in America, but he returns to Ireland to rescue his poverty-stricken love and her family before they're evicted off their land. I edited that recently as a visual backdrop to the song because it resonated with me on many levels. Apart from all the obvious ways it relates, the fact that the film is made about an Irish lad leaving for America, but it's actually the first ever production by an American movie studio to be filmed on location outside of the states, well, for me that related heavily to the cross pollination in music between Ireland and the states, which currently seems to be more discussed than ever.
In addition to the many other influences you've had over the years, you actually met, drank and chatted with the great Shane MacGowan. How did that affect you as a beginning singer-songwriter?
Shane's a true poet, he was born for it. His creative writing abilities were recognized in him from a young age. He has the swagger of a pirate and possesses an old romantic spirit. I grew up with his music in the house, so he's had a presence for me for as long as I can remember. I could sense that his words were important when I was a kid, even before I knew what they meant. His vocal delivery is as unique as it gets, they were fighting words, whether it was matters of the heart or tribal sing-alongs. It amazes me that he's still touring; many have tried his lifestyle and failed. It suits very few people. But it has also affected him as an artist though too, as he doesn't really write songs anymore. I lived beside him in Dublin at one stage and I've met him in various places in London. The Pogues are a London Irish band; some people don't really seem to get that. I've seen them play secret shows in small pubs in the early hours of the morning and I've also seen them do their Christmas shows of a larger scale. There isn't any other act who do what they do collectively and Shane is a once off. Musically, I don't really think there's much of an influence to be had, he's too unique. But he was definitely an inspiration for writing meaningful words and delivering them with passion and experience.
Having relocated from Ireland to England, has London proved a better place for you as a singer-songwriter?
Yes and no. I've moved to London twice. The first time I moved to London I was in my early twenties, but I had visited different parts of England to play football in my teens. I don't think London reflects England on the whole too much, nor do I feel that Dublin reflects Ireland on the whole. For most of us in London, the quality of life isn't great here, especially when you've come from a coastal or a rural part of the world. It's an art in itself just getting by, particularly in recent years and a lot of people can't hack it. But it's an unpredictable and varied environment, and that keeps it interesting and the standard of musicianship is really high. It can be a gateway to the rest of the world, as the rest of the world comes here. London's a very unforgiving environment, especially for a musician or an artist, but you can run out of road pretty quickly in Ireland if you're the type to move about. As far as I can tell, mainland Europe has the healthiest approach to hosting artists. I certainly won't be in London for life and I've always felt like I'm just passing through, but London has given me a lot of the experiences that I was looking for from a city. I had visited New York first, but settled on London.
What have been some of your most memorable tour/gig moments to date?
Van Thom's Weekender in Bremen, the 8 Years of Squoodge Records gigs in Berlin and a homecoming show in Dublin last year are all recent highlights for me. I have met so many decent people through travelling to those gigs, it was really refreshing for me personally and musically, but going to Belgium was a bit of a game changer. Muddy Roots Europe in Waardamme was a festival I wanted to check out and I had made contact with Slowboat Films regarding their work around the same time. It turned out that Slowboat were going to be making a documentary on roots music called 'Hard Soil' with Muddy Roots and they were shooting the first part of the doc at the festival in Belgium. Slowboat said to bring my guitar if I was going, so I did. When we were filming on site, one of the acts couldn't make it to the festival so I was asked to play a set on the main stage. When the festival was wrapped up, Muddy Roots, who are based in Nashville, contacted me shortly afterwards and we started to talk about working together. It was all very organic and it couldn't have been planned. That was one of the best experiences I've had in my life, especially for the time when it happened, as things had been pretty rough for a good while beforehand. There was a bit of magic involved.
Recently I saw that you're listed as part of the upcoming Muddy Roots compilation. There are some pretty impressive names from the folk, blues and country genres and subgenres on it, too. What are the details regarding that particular endeavor?
Yeah, there are some great songs and people on that disc. It's a compilation called 'Muddy Folkin' Roots 2014' and it's a project which is very much about the music, so I'm delighted to be on it. The comp was pressed to be given to registered guests at Folk Alliance International in Kansas City, Missouri. It's an event that I'll be travelling to myself with Joseph Huber and The Tillers to represent Muddy Roots there. A certain amount of the discs are also currently available to the public too.
Is there anything else of note coming up for you in the near future - special performances, recording projects, releases, etc?
I'm about to leave for the states to work with Muddy Roots in Nashville and do some recording for them, so I'm pretty focused on that just now. From next week I'll be in Nashvill,e Tennessee, Austin, Texas and Kansas City, Missouri representing the label and the release of the record with them will follow. So I'm just gonna aim to enjoy all that happens over there. Later in the year I'll be in Bremen again for Van Thom's event if I'm lucky enough for them to have me back, I'll get back over to my friends in Berlin and play a few more countries around Europe. A visit back home to Dublin Ireland is very much due as well, so it's all go...