I guess when we think about songwriters we tend to generalise in a way. The tendency is to assume that those who produce the music we listen to do so by taking their own personal life experiences and convert them through a creative ability unique to them, into the sound we listen to and grow to associate with them. Perhaps because of this it becomes easy (perhaps somewhat natural) to be dismissive of youth. But what about those who set out to buck the trend?
Stewart Duggan recently released teaser track NSA – it precedes upcoming album The Deleted Past (currently in the works) as the 22 year old Kilkenny man collaborates with writer/producer James Cooper. The pair come together to produce a brand of electro-pop which could easily spring from an 80s era which was golden for the genre.
Stewart and James gave us an insight into their work ethic, production techniques, writing influences and the challenges they will face as they set out to break into a music scene dominated by established artists.
We met at a rooftop cafe in the heart of Kilkenny for a chat which demonstrated a refreshing attitude and approach, as well as a burning self belief – here’s the interview in full.
LDM – Firstly, let’s speak about the track NSA. Lyrically it’s clearly deeply personal and even somewhat aggressive in terms of the message you’re delivering through the song. As a writer, is it a relief to a degree to get that off your chest?
STEWART – I don’t think the track comes from a specific event in my own life, but I wanted to release a track that lots of people would be able to relate to. I also wanted to make an impact – the track is quite hard hitting as opposed to some of the more mellow sounds we’re working on for the album, and it’s an approach that seems to have worked. The track has been well received thankfully so now the pressure is on to finalise the album so we can follow it up.
LDM – Many songwriters document events and personal experiences through their music, is that something which appeals to you?
STEWART – That’s exactly what I’m working on with the album – each one of my songs has a small message, and though that may be personal to me it will therefore be relatable to others. So it could be born from something sad, something happy – perhaps from a state of mind. I like to think that if the audience doesn’t pick up on that message immediately, they will later as they listen. In that regard people may hear something slightly different each time they listen and that’s something that appeals to me. I do believe it should always come from the heart simply because it means more when you sing it.
LDM – You’re the youngest guys I’ve interviewed to date, do you feel that your youth and the fact that this is your first serious project makes it any easier to approach this with a fresh attitude?
JAMES – Yeah I do feel that. I think it allows us more room to change what others have done. We both realise how important it is to learn from others because generally speaking all the established acts will have made mistakes along the way too, and if they can learn from that then so can we. Plus the fact that we want to offer something different and create an identity for ourselves, so in that regard I think youth is a good thing because we don’t have an image or identity to reinvent – what we have is fresh.
STEWART – We ask ourselves “ok, what haven’t people heard?” And try to take it in that direction.
JAMES – Yeah, why not take genres that you might think would never go together? Who’s to say it can’t work? So with a fresh approach and openness and the desire and will to try things, you learn and we make it work. I’ve used trumpets and guitars and worked it with a hip-hop beat and it’s different and people respond because they like it. I love to shake things up and use the unexpected because it’s important to do your own thing without rules.
LDM – Tell us about your own influences, because your sound is a reminder of the likes of Soft Cell, Mark Almond and that 80s feel. Where does that come from?
STEWART – That isn’t something that came about deliberately – I think perhaps it’s a combination of several things. I wrote NSA a couple of years ago and at that time (as well as now) I wouldn’t really have been listening to 80s music, simply because I’m into current stuff. So vocally it’s just my natural sound, James incorporates literally everything into his music, so perhaps his input helps to steer the track in that direction.
JAMES – I do like to experiment and draw influence from everywhere, but Stewart is open to that because we have similar interests and ambition. We met at college here in Kilkenny and just clicked, and when you discover you’re into the same things it’s pretty natural to want to work together. And since then we’ve worked hard – Stew with the lyrics and me working my music around his ideas, so perhaps when people pick up on hints of other things within our music it’s a mix of what we both bring. Sometimes power over melody works, sometimes it’s the other way around but as long as we like it and it works we know we’re going the right way.
LDM – Can we expect to hear vocal based tracks primarily, or to what extent do you use instrumentals?
STEWART – We both love to experiment and personally I’m into both – you don’t necessarily need lyrics to capture emotion, either happy or sad. But for me, the best way to personalise the album was to use vocals and combine it with different types of melody. Each track on The Deleted Past features me vocally, saying that, I have produced instrumental tracks which are probably just as personal. Incorporating those into future projects is something I would certainly strongly consider.
JAMES – I think it’s important to do both. I love to take samples and incorporate them with my own personal material. I’ve even gone as far as to use Malaysian choirs on a track that I’m still working on. For me it’s about creating something cool regardless of how you achieve that as long as it’s original obviously.
STEWART – We don’t want to pigeonhole ourselves like so many others have, because by doing that you set yourself limits.
JAMES – I agree. I think it’s so important to have broad horizons and the ability to evolve. That’s the key to staying fresh and keeping people entertained.
LDM – There’s definitely something of a musical resurgence going on here in Kilkenny at the moment. That ‘vibe’ from a decade or so ago is returning.. Do you feel it’s a good time for you to be trying to get your music out there right now?
STEWART – Yes, but circumstance dictates and it’s simply a matter of coincidental timing. I’ve been writing the music for years and now is the time to push it out there regardless of whatever else is going on I guess.
JAMES – I agree with what you’re saying about a resurgence, but I hope it’s more widespread as opposed to regional. I think people do feel encouraged to be creative again – people are picking up the guitar, people are singing in the same way that we’re doing this.
STEWART – Absolutely, and if there is a resurgence then long may it continue.
JAMES – When you’re into music it’s just great to see people putting their own sounds out there, even if it’s a genre that you may not be into. Also, with so many people coming from abroad and settling here, each bringing their own sounds and influences, it adds to what’s going on here and enhances it.
STEWART – It all means that we have a diverse mix here – but that’s why everyone wants to be different. We learn from the influences we like and try to either build upon them or incorporate them into what we’re doing ourselves.
Stay tuned for updates from the upcoming album from Stewart Duggan The Deleted Past. In the meantime check out sample track NSA.
Interview By Craig O’Shea
Photography By John Fenton (Kilkenny)