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CHATKINSON #2: In Conversation with Conor Byrne
Chatting with rising singer-songwriter about music, social media, and creative process.
I first met this month’s guest about a year ago, when I returned from a wild weekend in Manchester. I was dragging myself, my suitcase and my hangover back to the flat from Euston when I got a text from my best friend, Abbie. She had been on a first date on the previous Thursday, but had spent the whole weekend with the guy because they got on so well. I was so excited for her, and had a feeling this was the beginning of a beautiful and exciting love story. Reader, I was right! The ‘guy’, now her boyfriend and one of my great friends, is Conor Byrne - the singer-songwriter from Kerry, Ireland. We have had a ball in the past year. So many laughs, late nights and great chats about writing and music. I asked Conor if he could make space in his busy schedule to talk to me for the newsletter as I wanted to talk to him properly at a hugely exciting time in his career. He generously made time to chat to me over video call this week, whilst I was pulling my hair out as I returned to work after annual leave (e-mail hell)! Talking to him was a highlight of my week and I’m excited to share our conversation with you. So many gems of wisdom about the creative process that you can apply to your own, regardless of your medium or form. Conor is effortlessly charming, funny, humble and a hard worker. He is extremely talented. I have no doubt that the next few years will solidify his position as one of the major players in the music industry as a singer-songwriter. I always joke that I hold my own taste in high regard, but *extremely Nicki Minaj voice* DID I LIIIIEEEEE?
Watch this space! Consider yourself a Byrnie (fan name not approved by Conor) before the masses discover him so you can brag to all of your friends you were a fan before he hit the big time.
Stream Conor’s latest single Girls On The Internet on Spotify! It’s a belter.
David Atkinson: What are you working on at the moment? I know that obviously you've got your tour coming! Are you mainly working on tour stuff or still other things going on too?
Conor Byrne: Yeah, I'm a bit of everything. I wish I could only be working on the tour. [laughs] It’s a lot of work, but I'm just finished next single as well, which is out in a month and a bit. So that's stressing me out! Still doing a lot of writing sessions too. I’m going back to rehearsal next month. It's crazy to finally have my own tour and not be like the support slot, which I've been for many years.
David Atkinson: Is someone going to be supporting you this time?
Conor Byrne: Yeah. Saibh Skelly. She's an Irish up and coming artist. She's 19. She's on Hozier’s label. She's really, really sick.
David Atkinson: Amazing. Do you know her?
Conor Byrne: not personally, really. And it's weird cause we wrote together on Zoom and that can just show how it is, I've wrote a song on her next ep. We’re singing together and I still don't think I even know her!
David Atkinson: I think it's a big step, isn't it? When you get to do it on your own and have it be your tour and it's Ireland…
Conor Byrne: Yeah. It's a bucket list moment for sure.
David Atkinson: You’ll be pulling big numbers from the team back home.
Conor Byrne: Yeah. It's funny, like even when I do shows abroad, we did a show in Vienna one time and I was just hopping on for like two or three songs. I brought all my mates and all you could hear in the crowd was the Irish!
David Atkinson: I guess it's quite similar to like what they say about a Glasgow crowd, they've always said that like a Glasgow crowd, if they love you, they'll be the best crowd you ever have. And if they don't love you, it's a… tough crowd.
Conor Byrne: They're either riling you up or they're chatting over you [laughs]
David Atkinson: I can't wait to hear all about it. You’ve been a singer songwriter for a long time, and obviously we've discussed in detail that you write for other artists as well as for yourself, which is, I think, very enviable skill in this business. Do you always know that you're gonna write for yourself? Are you in a different head space when you write for yourself?
Conor Byrne: I've been writing for other artists for, for ages. I still am, but I started writing for other people - I didn't used to write for myself. My artist project is still new. I only have like three or four songs out! And yeah, I’m still writing for other people. On April 14th a big dance song is coming out that James Blunt is singing, which I can only say now it’s finally locked in, but like, that's mental.
David Atkinson: that's so cool. That's so cool.
Conor Byrne: For my sessions, I generally split it up. I guess 50% at the moment is for me, 25% is dance and 25% is other artists. The process is different for each, but I feel like writing for yourself, for your own artist projects is definitely the hardest. By a mile. Like I feel like you're hyper attached to every decision. Which makes every decision harder. Is this the best melody? Is this the best possible lyric? You're almost filtering yourself before the ideas born and yeah, sometimes that can ruin what's great. I feel like when I'm writing for someone else, I take myself out a bit more, to give more perspective. What is a brilliant lyric? Rather than, do I need to relate with 100%? I feel like it's more fun to write for others than myself. When you arrive for yourself, you kind of, you leave the session heavy sometimes. It’s intense. You feel like it's your fault or you share too much. I don't know!
David Atkinson: You're too close to it. It's so interesting to hear, but I guess it makes complete sense because when it's yours, you're so close to it that it's hard sometimes to be a bit more objective, which can sometimes get in the way, but then also that's what makes it so special when it goes well right? Like you have to be extra, extra vulnerable when you're writing and it's you. A different emotional experience, I think.
Conor Byrne: You're steering it too hard, rather than letting it drive itself a bit, which also needs to happen while you're creating!
David Atkinson: You’ve already touched on this, but one thing that I think is so interesting and cool about songwriting is the way it's so collaborative. For me when I'm writing, I'm almost always doing it on my own, and, but I've come from performing background, right? Which is largely the complete opposite, where you're an ensemble, you're working together, and it’s a team effort.
How do you feel that being in that session environment enhances the ability to write a good song? I'm speaking from my own sort of interest and experiences, but writers who work in the writer's room for TV shows often talk about how all of the inspiration that comes from working together is inspiring, not only for the project, but for other things. Can a good session really inspire you beyond the session?
Conor Byrne: Yeah, massively, massively. I’m the opposite of you, I actually came from just writing on my own and then I had to get used to sessions. When I was back in Ireland, I was always writing on my own. And the idea of writing with other people scared of shit out of me. And then when I started getting in sessions with my publisher, I’d be so nervous. You have to find that confidence in yourself to have the best collaboration. It took a while and now I'm so open to it. Cos you gotta adjust to spilling your soul to a stranger. It's like speed dating: Here's a producer you haven't met before. Here's the songwriter you haven't met. Introduce yourselves for a bit and then try to write the best song you can. In six hours or something like that. It takes some getting used to! A good session leaves you with such a buzz, and it can last you until you write a bad song [laughs].
David Atkinson: We both write in different expressions of the form. And something that I think about a lot is when I read something that's really good, like I read a book or something and I'm like, fucking hell, I give up. I'm never gonna write something as good as that. I'm sure that that's a similar experience for people with with music. Like you hear a good song, you just think, I'm never gonna make something that good. For me, I have to remind myself that. when I read that, especially a book, right? Like how many stages has a book been through before it gets to print? There's been a thousand bad sentences before they settled on how this one was gonna be brilliant. So I just wondered like what your experience of that is like, or is that something that you wish, like, you wish you could tell your younger self that like the first time you write it, um, it doesn't have to be perfect. You have to start from somewhere. It's better to have something, than not. And you can work towards making it better.
Conor Byrne: Of course. I feel like nobody starts as good or great. You have to start a bit shit. And you have to be okay with getting better and then being shit again. It’s a journey. But I mean comparison, this kills everything. If you compare yourself to someone else, an artist or a great singer. That will kill your self-worth!
You can start with something that's nothing and chip away it until it's something amazing. You know? I feel like hat's why the collaboration process probably helps a load. You can literally get the bones of the song and the lyric one day, and then edits can happen for ages after that.
David Atkinson: I think that's always good to remember and I wish I’d understood that quicker. I used to just read stuff and be like, how am I ever going to do that? But it's like at the end of the day, you have to write a thousand shit sentences or shit melodies or shit lyrics before you get something that's good. And that's part of the process. And even when you get good, you still do rubbish stuff. And that's okay. I think that's a good thing to remember in any sort of creative process. Cuz it's hard, especially as you get more experience, because you have higher standards for yourself, but you also have to give yourself room to just be a bit shit sometimes to get the ball rolling.
Conor Byrne: I think Ed Sheeran has this line in interviews where he says writing songs is like clearing the tap of muddy water. You turn on the tap and all the water just starts muddy and slowly some cleaning water comes up, but it's still muddy some bits until after a while. Then after it's been running a while, most of the water coming out is clean. You might still have patches, but it’s mostly clear. Sometimes you have get bad songs outta you!
David Atkinson: That’s a good, if not necessarily a nice image! A helpful one [laughs].
I was reading in one of your other interviews that you said I had the title I was on the tube, that's when I come up with titles and concepts on the way to my session.
It made me think about the relationship between movement and getting stuck. And freeing up space for new ideas. So I just wondered what you do when you get stuck?
Conor Byrne: I mean, yeah, of course. I get writer’s block too. It's impossible to be inspired all the time. And then in anindustry like songwriting when it’s scheduled in your calendar when you have to write! So like, oh, Tuesday at 12, I have to write for myself and be inspired then to do that.
David Atkinson: That's not how life works!
Conor Byrne: I just stockpile ideas and concepts when I am inspired and quickly try to tap back into that.
David Atkinson: You're not a machine, you're a human being, right? So you have to let yourself be a person and sometimes just think about something else and as soon as you do, things loosen up and come through. As you say, when it becomes a profession, there is obviously an element of consistency and scheduling. But within that, you also have to find room to be creative and honour your own way of working.
Conor Byrne: if I do get stuck, taking a walk is always a good one. If I get really bad writers block, I just take a step back and stop writing. Do something else. You really can’t force it sometimes. But if you're in a room with people, that's the beauty of collaboration. Then you don't have to worry in the same way.
David Atkinson: That's interesting, it’s a very different experience of being stuck when you're on your own versus being stuck when you're with other people. Because again, as you say, that's what collaboration makes so good is you might not have any ideas for lyrics, but you could help with something else. I don't know, I don't have the lingo. [laughs] I'm like, um, the beat.
Conor Byrne: Sometimes someone else would come in and you’re like Jesus, they carried that session. Oh man. It could be a Monday that you're just like, I don't wanna write a song today, but it's in my calendar and I gotta show up. And you just did very little to just not inhibit their ideas! Other times I will run it and the best thing someone else can do is just to let you run with it. You just wanna facilitate the best ideas, the best song, it’s not about: your ideas are the best. Sometimes even you feel you’re smashing it and someone else has an idea and you go, geez, that's actually a way better idea. Let's go with that.
David Atkinson: That can be hard sometimes. Cause I do think I'm always right! Although I think that applies mostly in my corporate job where I'm out there like: I'll decide actually, and you are wrong. Good luck with that [laughs].
David: Another thing I think about in regards to creativity connected to being humble. You have to not be afraid of being embarrassed or be willing to be embarrassed, because this idea of the ego, it gets in the way of making good work. One of my favorite writers and comedians [Pat Regan] talks about this, he writes for a TV show and he talks about when he's in the writer's room, sometimes he has an idea and he doesn't know how to communicate it, so he's like, this is a bad way of saying this. Rather than not saying it, you say I think this is good idea but I need to say it in a way that doesn't really make any sense. I just wondered if you had any thoughts on that.
Conor Byrne: You do, you have to get rid of any ego and embarrassment when you go into a session, you're just working to get best outcome of possible. And that's gas how you said that about your man. Cuz man, the amount of times I've heard in a session somebody say like, “hmm, not this, this is shit,” and then they proceed to do the sickest idea, which ends up being the chorus.
David Atkinson: That's so cool. I love it. I love. The other thing I'm interested to know about, and you've touched on this in some of your other interviews, but being an artist now is highly dependent on and interconnected with being on social media. That's a huge part of the industry, especially now with the rise of TikTok. We’ve definitely talked about this when I've been steamin, cos I think it's changing the way that we write music. You can hear when stuff comes out now, it's written with the TikTok sound in mind. I just wondered how you find managing that. Cause I think it must be quite difficult. Obviously I wanna know if it's helped by having an amazing sister who’s Queen of Marketing….?
Conor Byrne: Oh man. I could talk about this for so long. In music at the moment music isn't the only thing you need to focus on! Between TikTok, Instagram, live streams, you know, you need to constantly be doing and creating evolving content. And it's probably the aspect I'm worse at. I find it hard to dedicate so much of my time to write music recording and then creating content that people have to react to. Like, there's such a fine line between Influencer and being an artist at the moment, and it's the most challenging thing for me. We need to build a fan base but I want to focus on the work. There is also the rewarding aspect of like, you can create and share your music so quickly, distribute across the world so fast. It's a hard one to be everything. There used to be teams for everything, and there still are. But now the artist is everything. You market everything. You push everything. If something's a flop, it's on you.
David Atkinson: It’s like you as a person and as an artist, become a kind of a business and an entity on your own that has to kind of be a content machine because that is the thing as well. It’s complicated with any kind of creative work as it’s never just the work anymore. And it's not just the work and sharing the work because even the way in which we have to share the work is complicated and takes time!
Conor Byrne: Like you said, Niamh [Conor’s sister - shout out to Niamh you’re amazing girlie!!] actually does help me a lot and it's so gas cuz with my label, we do sit down and talk about it, there is a marketing team. But Niamh is amazing she'll set up like a presentation for me and I swear to God I take so much from that.
David Atkinson: You have to ask the questions, like what's the right TikTok for you to do as Conor Byrne. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see it, but I don’t think you’re gonna be giving us TikTok choreo. I think I can see a world in which people are getting forced to do things. It ends up being them going against their style. And I think it's just a shame because there's a way to do it that's not so painful! And that's why it's good to have someone like Niv who, gets it! The girls who get it, GET it. She knows you, but she also knows your music and your fans. Cause that's thing really, you also have to be making stuff that appeals to your listeners. Cause otherwise it's like, who's this for? Everyone’s always like, we have to make content. I'm like, okay, cool, who is this FOR? Cuz otherwise you're just making. And it's a lot of extra work if it’s not having any impact.
I don’t know if you knew this before, but I sent you a clip of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Ted Talk on Creativity and the Creative Genius. It’s pretty well known but her style of creativity and talking about it, is a bit out there. In it, she describes the creative genius as being something separate from, and outside of herself. Therefore she talks to it and is in conversation with it. So….it's not for everybody. But one bit that always sticks with me is that bit is where she talks about the guy driving his car and he has a brilliant idea, and he's just like, this is not a good time to be receiving this! I can’t say this sort of thing works for me, but I wondered what you do when you have an idea at an inopportune time? Are you very much like singing into the phone, writing things down? If you're like on the way to the shop and you're just like, into your phone [singing Conor’s song Girls on the Internet] can we fall in loooooove?
Conor Byrne: I mean honestly, yeah, that's always how it is. It happens all the time. Like my notes on my phone are actually embarrassing. Both written and voice notes. It's tight. Long lines of lyrics, melody. Some are shit [laughs]
David Atkinson: I would never, ever, ever let anyone see my Google Docs or my notes, like I'd rather be dead than show them! Do you keep it all in one place?
Conor Byrne: it's all over the shop. It's mad as when it comes into my head, new note, new note, and then not even the concept of like a title or what it is, it’s just like, Someone's last love is the last thing, blah blah blah. Then I read it back. I'm like, this is absolute gibberish, man. But in the moment, it feels good!
David Atkinson: It's funny as well cause when it happens there’s a sort of mania where you're like, like I have to get this now. Sometimes you go back and you think what the hell is this? Other times you're like, where is that? Like, where did I save it? What is it called? I know it had the word grapefruit in it. It's the most random stuff in. I find that very interesting though. I guess it's quite a romantic notion as well you know, the musician being like, and then singing into the phone and that’s a very enjoyable kind of image. I like that.
I once went on a date with a guy, um, who shall not be named. Well, off the record. Off the record, he can be named. But, he had gotten into comedy and I could tell that when he was talking to me, he was kind of trying out bits.
Conor Byrne: Oh gosh.
David Atkinson: Which I found to be hellish . And I also found them to be not funny.
And a couple of times he would say something and then would literally be like, wait, and then record himself saying it into his phone, . And I was like, I wanna die. [laughs]
Conor Byrne: [laughing] I'm not that bad. Like when I cinema on my own, or I'm in driving, I wouldn't be doing it in front of someone like that!
DA: Do you have some albums that have inspired you?
CB: I always say it: O by Damien Rice. Like, Dad used to play that in the car when we used to go anywhere or go to school and Oh man, like, honestly, I love Damien Rice. I mean, me and Abbie [hiiiii Abbieeee we love you!] literally just saw him. It's mental cause he never play live. It was crazy.
DA: I love R&B music, so like, one of my favourite albums is The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. She’s a genius and she never did another proper album, so it's a seminal piece of work. I guess at the time it was quite unique and now is quite common but she had lots of talking interludes. It’s a concept album; they’re in the classroom. The intro is a teacher doing a roll call. And he calls Lauryn Hill’s name and no one responds. The rest of the interludes are talking about love with the students. Hence the message: she didn't get the education on love, she missed the lesson.. And as you move through the album, it’s a really powerful addition to the piece of work. I know now the cliche in R&B albums is the voicemail.I wondered what your opinion of concept albums/interludes are?! Do you think they’re a bit naff or overdone?
CB: To be fair I love a concept album if it works! But off the bat I can only think of naff ones. What’s that Britney Spears one where he’s like, “oh babe I went down and got it for you”? [laughing] Yeah, I, I can't think of any ones that are cool, but I'm sure there are. Is there one at the start of Blue Life for George Smith? I’m not sure!
DA: What's your karaoke song? Go to a karaoke. I know it's hard to do karaoke when you're actually good at singing!
CB: Yeah. I have one, it’s Ruby by the Kaiser Chiefs. You don't actually sing it. It's more like you put on an English accent. I've gone to karaoke with actual singers and it can get a bit cringe, like, that girl's actually trying her heart out.
DA: that's not the vibe. And you have to protect your voice too! Although I guess you’re screaming that song.
CB: Yeah, and I’m roaring on a DMC [deep meaningful chat] in someone's ear in the smoking area.
DA: Do you have any songs you really love that might surprise people? Has Abbie (queen of Taste) influenced your musical taste?
CB: Well, yeah. In terms of like Lizzie McAlpine , I definitely started banging a bit more of that, but like that was still in my world and stuff. I dunno. I guess, I dunno. I guess I'd bang a bit of greater showman out .
DA: Oh, I knew there'd be one!!!! [laughs] Which one?
CB: Well, I dunno. Cause now this is gonna go back into more of the singer songwriter world, but I love Never enough. When I watched that movie, I was like, oh, what a beautiful song.
Me 🤝🏻 Conor
Thanks for reading, as always! If you enjoyed, please recommend to a friend and share your favourite excerpts on social media. I’m @ adavetoremember on Instagram and Conor is @ conorbyrne. Tag us! Recommendations coming next week for Paid Subscribers. Later than intended, but please bare with me, life has been….a lot! Big love to you all. David x