Best Boy Grip

Derry-based songwriter and producer on collaborating with football pundit Guillem Balague, refusing to be categorised and releasing his debut album in June – listen to lead off single 'Sharks'

After performing on the live circuit for a few years now, finally your debut album is almost here, with a June 2015 release date set. Has it felt like an eternity?
Not really, to be honest. I've had an album's worth of songs for a long time. In fact, I've got enough songs that I'm proud of for two or three albums. The problem is trying to find ten or 11 tracks that will sit well side by side. An album needs to have coherence. I have a habit of writing in different styles because I get bored easily, and this can cause havoc when trying to build an album or even an EP.
The first single from the album, 'Sharks', is out now. Why choose that song as the lead off track?

I chose 'Sharks' because it's punchy and it will help break people in to the reality that all the album tracks won't just be me and a piano. Some will, of course, but guitar has brought a new dimension to some tracks, as has synth, especially in the bass. 'Barbara' has had an epic guitar solo in it from the outset, so it shouldn't be too much of a shock to people.

Tell us about the as yet untitled album – was it written around a specific theme?
The songs are about relationships, war, jealously, betrayal and weird quirks I have. There is nothing on there that I would call a love song, certainly not in the traditional sense. So, I guess the theme is about life that's going on around me, what I see and how it makes me feel.

You write and perform on piano, with melody being a key characteristic of your work to date. Is the album an extension of that sound?

Thank you for pointing out melody. I think a great melody is incredibly important in songwriting. It doesn't always have to be in the vocal line but it needs to be somewhere. There is a place for non-melody driven music too, of course – very interesting music can be created by playing with synths and beats and working in sound design – but it's not really songwriting then. I'd call that music production. I know some people have an idea of what my sound is but the truth is, I'm a free songwriter and a producer at heart. I never want to be tied to a certain genre.

Record labels hate that in an artist. They like people who sound like other people and they like to know what shelf they'll sit the artist on in a record shop. I know I'm not making it easy for myself, but that's hopefully where this album comes in: my job is to somehow convince people that the tracks work when heard in a sequence and that it's OK that they might sound a little different to each other. It's not a new concept album, though. There are some amazing artists out there who do whatever the hell they want with their albums, and that's what makes them so interesting.

Did you work with any other writers on any of the tracks?
No, not for this album. I wrote all the tracks. However, I have collaborated in the recent past, with the most high profile collaborative project being the EP I created with Sky Sports football pundit and author, Guillem Balague. It was the first time I'd ever collaborated on anything as I was always too precious about my ideas. My thinking has changed since working with Guillem.
He brought something different to the table, and that in turn made me take a whole new approach to one or two of the tracks that we created. 'Sugar' ended up being written about four times and three times he said, 'You're better than this'. The final version saw me throwing my normal writing process out the window and delving into production much more. It was an incredibly enjoyable experience that we both got a lot from – the 'Sugar' on top is the friendships that have been born from the process. (Yes, I went there.)
You've been performing live, recording and touring relentlessly over the past few years. How would you describe the experience?

The last few years have seen me taking a pastime and making it a career. I've always needed to write or at least try to be creative. It almost feels like a way of life without a 9 to 5 boundary. Best Boy Grip is on my mind constantly. There are times I get out of bed and fire up the computer to lay down an idea at 4am. There are times I pull over when driving to write down a lyric or an idea.

I can't really listen to music anymore without being critical of it and that includes on the radio in the car or music in the background of movies or in shops. I know other songwriters and producers feel the same. My life is a constant evaluation of music in society. I'm always trying to keep on top of trends while remembering to leave room to be inspired by what I hear, while upholding my goal to be as original as I can be. 

What have been the highlights for you thus far?

I'd have to say my performance with the Ulster Orchestra. It was just a dream come true that I will be forever grateful for, so thank you to the BBC producers that made it happen. The BBC 6 Music session we did with Tom Robinson was also class.

And the lowlight?

Well, there was a solo gig I did for BBC Radio 1 supporting [four-piece Cavan rockers] The Strypes. The less said about that the better. Wrong audience.

Now that the album is finalised, what are your plans for the months ahead?

I plan to get some steady rehearsals with my band and then start booking a tour to support the album launch. We love playing live and I'm so lucky to have the lads – Liam, Jay and Shane – on board. They are incredibly talented musicians who also live and breathe their craft. You need incredibly passionate people around you in this game.

As always, I'll also be adding to the collection of songs that I've written for other artists to perform. I've been inspired by the approach that [Snow Patrol member, songwriter and producer] Johnny McDaid has taken. He writes for the cream of the crop in the pop world and I very much intend to join him.