Rising Star: Conor McAteer

'Before Sounds Like Summer I hadn't won anything since I was 12 and I was on the school swim team!'  

Who/what/where/when/why is Conor McAteer?

I'm a songwriter from Derry so that answers the who, what and where. The answer to when is now but the why is probably a question for my parents.

You won the Sounds like Summer competition in 2011. Has that made a difference to your career?

Winning Sounds Like Summer has made a huge difference. Part of the prize was time in the studio which helped me finish the album I was working on. I also got to make a video for my song, 'Moonglasses'. It was seen by some DJs who gave the song a lot of airtime.

Did you think you would win when you entered the competition?

Nope! Before Sounds Like Summer I hadn't won anything since I was 12 and I was on the school swim team - and even that was in a relay! That said, I didn't think much about winning to be honest. To me, it was a chance to play in a great venue for an audience who had never heard my songs. My priority was to make sure that people enjoyed my set but that's what I hope for at every gig I play.

As well as in Derry, you have lived in Leeds. Is the music scene different there?

I lived in Leeds between 2006 and 2010. As far as the music scene goes, I have a lot of affection for Leeds but without being disrespectful, the scene there doesn't compare with what we've got in Derry alone. Very little of what I heard in Leeds, with a few notable exceptions like William Gray, could be compared to artists like Conor Mason, Teknopeasant, Soak, Ryan Vail, Best Boy Grip, Our Krypton Son, Droids, Murder Balladeers, Connor Kelly, Mars Field... That's just to name a few. The talent in Derry is incredible.

You launched a new album at the start of the year, can you tell us a little about that?

The album's called The Devil in the Ether. It's my second album (my first is called Pirates) and it was partly recorded in my dad's house, on an 8 track portable recorder-type-thing, and partly in the studio. It took a long time to finish. Mik O'Connell, who engineered it, and I drove each other crazy trying to get it right, but I feel it was worth it. It's a melodic, folky album with lots of vocal harmonies. I'm really proud of it so hopefully people will like it.

When did you first realise you wanted to be a musician?

As soon as I picked up the guitar. It just didn't seem enough to be learning to play other people's songs, I had the urge to write my own. That urge has been there ever since.

Who are your musical influences?

Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Counting Crows, The Pogues, K'naan, R.E.M. – anyone with lots of passion, particularly if they're good lyricists. I also love vocal harmonies so Simon and Garfunkel are a big influence. I used to sing with choirs too so that's influenced my writing.

If you were an advertising executive, what song would you use for what product?

If we're talking about someone else's song, then I think Lionel Richie's 'Hello' would be brilliant in an ad for some kind of cheese. If it was one of my songs, I have a song called 'Through Your Window'. It is about a stalker and I think it'd be funny if it was used to advertise a dating website.

If you could sing a song with the original writer, what song would it be and why?

I kind of want to cheat a bit on this one. Leonard Cohen didn't actually write 'The Partisan', but he recorded the definitive version. Most people would regard it as his song. I'd pick that.

If you're being really strict about it though, I'll go for 'The Ghost of Tom Joad' by Bruce Springsteen. A lot of people don't realise what a great lyricist Springsteen is. All they hear is huge made-for-stadium song arrangements but to me, his lyrics are every bit as good as Bob Dylan's.

What advice would you give this year's entrants to this year's Sounds like Summer?

I approached the competition as just another gig. The way I saw it was that the judges made up only three or four members of the audience so I tried to play to everyone. I think that's a good way to look at it. Hopefully, this year's artists will enjoy the experience. The Alley Theatre is a great place to play and the staff up there are brilliant.

Enter Sounds like Summer 2012 at the Alley Theatre's website until May 2.