Introducing Simon Herron
The singer-songwriter from Derry~Londonderry releases EP number two on Belfast label DhARMA
Hi Simon. Tell us about yourself.
I'm a songwriter originally from Derry. I write and record a melancholy brand of alternative folk music. I recently released my second EP, Demons, with Belfast-based label DhARMA.
Since I was young I've been involved in making music, whether it was for school or playing in a band. So there was always some kind of creative process happening. I don't ever remember wanting to be a songwriter, really. I just did it.
As a guitar player, I've always messed around with chords and phrases, but never considered myself a singer – I still don't. When I began to record my ideas, however, I started to find structures and lyrics.
They call Derry~Londonderry the Music City. Was it an inspiring place to grow up in as a songwriter?
Definitely. I probably didn't realise that until more recently, after I have lived in a few other cities. You see a place's musical identity quite clearly whenever you move elsewhere and can compare it to others.
Derry's music scene feels like quite a friendly one, which isn't the case in a lot of places. That vibe seems to encourage artists of different genres and styles to collaborate, and that keeps things interesting. The social and political issues are also an influence, something I frequently look towards.
Which local musicians did you follow as you developed your craft?
There were lots of bands playing in Derry when I was a teenager that I was a fan of. Bands like Skruff and The Subtitles were definitely influential. I feel as though I'm still developing my craft, and looking to what's going on now in the Derry music scene is really encouraging.
In terms of songwriting in Derry right now there is some really great music being made. Artists like Conor Mason, Ryan Vail, Our Krypton Son, SOAK, Little Bear, Conor McAteer and GRIM are all making great stuff. The list could go on.
When did you release your first recordings?
I put a few of my early demos on Soundcloud in 2010 and they got a really nice response from people. One of the tracks got played on Rory McConnell's BBC Radio 1 show, as well as a few plays on Electric Mainline on BBC Radio Foyle. It was great. I gathered a small following and then put out my first EP, Masquerade (listen below), in September 2012.
Has your sound changed much since the release of your first EP and your second?
The demo recordings and the first EP were recorded in my bedroom, by myself. I wanted the songs to be creaky, quiet and lo-fi. So that suited me perfectly. They evolved during the process. The newer songs were written after playing live more often, much more than I had previously. I think that experience influenced the way the songs were put together quite a bit.
I recorded my latest EP with my friends from Master and Dog at Graham House Studio in Belfast, so there was input and there were ideas from them, which was great. I trusted them with the songs. They understood the vibe I was after. Demons definitely has a fuller sound and production, but I think it keeps the character and intimacy that Masquerade has.
How would you describe Demons?
It's a four-track, alternative folk record. The songs are generally quiet, delicate and have a reflective atmosphere about them. I wanted to keep a certain subtlety about it. That was important. There's also a live performance feeling about the songs, especially with the guys playing as my band. It was great to have them.
Which subjects do you focus on as a lyricist?
I wouldn't say there is a focus on the subject matter, my focus is more on the mood and the character of the tracks. That's not to take away from the importance of the lyrics, it's just that there isn't a consistent theme throughout. I kind of work song by song at the moment. The classic songwriter staples of love, loss and politics do creep in from time to time.
Lots of people are interested in your style of music these days. For those keen in discovering other artists, do you have any recommendations?
There's a lot. Irish artists like Fionn Regan and Conor O'Brien from Villagers are incredible songwriters. They create the kind of atmosphere in their songs that I look to when I'm writing. I lived in Scotland for a few years – they enjoy a nice bit of melancholy in their music too – and listening to artists like King Cresote and Meursault definitely influenced what I do as well. Keaton Henson and The Tallest Man on Earth are important touchstones when it comes to my writing.
Is life for singer-songwriters like yourself still about touring in a white van, or is knowledge of digital promotion now essential?
The process has definitely changed. Some artists release their first album and it becomes a success through blogs and social media, having never played a gig. I suppose that's the exception, though. For most folk, gigs are the most important way for gathering an audience. I use social media to promote any gigs, releases or videos, and I find it really useful.
I don't really see it as a bad thing at all. There's direct communication between the artist and the audience. I've found platforms like Bandcamp and Soundcloud really useful. You find people that trawl around those sites looking for new music and actually buying it. I suppose they're a bit like people who used to go to record shops.
What was your highlight of 2013?
I had a few nice moments. Getting to play on the Other Voices Music Trail in Derry was one of them. It was a great weekend and I was delighted to hear that it's coming back again in 2014. There was a great buzz in the city. Quality music all around.
Was there a lowlight that you would rather forget?
I found the first few solo gigs that I played pretty difficult. It was kind of terrifying. I realised quickly that I need to pick my gigs carefully. Quiet songs don't really work in a noisy room. You just have to power on, though. The good gigs make it worthwhile. I think I'd like to play in libraries or museums…
What's on the itinerary for 2014?
I'll keep writing. It's a constant process. I'm always working on things. I would like to bring together enough material for an album. I don't really think I'm a prolific writer, so that could be a while away yet. In the meantime I'm excited about putting out the new EP and promoting it with plenty of gigs.