Emmét McGonagle is a talented 22-year-old Northern Irish folk singer based in Cardiff, Wales. About to move to London.
After a brief hiatus spent studying MA Magazine Journalism at Cardiff University, Emmét has finally counted up enough pennies to self-release a follow up to his well-received debut EP “The Blame’”.
His classy new single “If We Leave Now” has just been released (July 2018). Great job. Vulnerability never sounded so good. Really, really cool. Give it an earholin’ via the Soundcloud link, at the bottom of this page. Thank us later!
With influences such as Damien Rice, Isaac Gracie and Leonard Cohen, Emmét’s stripped-back style and confessional lyrics are a breath of fresh air in the acoustic music scene.
A definite fit for our recently launched “Undiscovered Zone”, and a singer songwriter we tip for success, if there’s the right wind behind him.
He got stuck in to our Artist’s Q&A to give us an insight into what makes young Emmét tick, including his pet hate of lazy students not fending for themselves, writing and performing a song slagging his mate off, in a room full of people including his mate. His ‘obsession’ with Damien Rice and a desire to become a squirrel monkey.
DISCLAIMER: No drugs or alcohol were consumed while completing the Q&A, and no men in white coats were present!
- Your name and your age?
Hey, my name’s Emmet Mc Gonagle and I’m 22 years old
- Where you were born and where you are based now?
I was born in Limavady, a tiny coastal town in Northern Ireland, but I moved to Cardiff to study for a Master’s degree in magazine journalism.
- Instruments you play?
I started off playing drums (to deal with a bit of teenage angst I was struggling with at the time). Eventually moved to bass guitar after my GCSE music teacher told me that the drums weren’t an instrument. After a few years I graduated up to acoustic guitar and haven’t looked back since.
- Age when you started in music and what was your first public performance?
I started playing music when I was about 13. Granted, I wasn’t very good, but it takes a bit of time to get into the swing of an instrument. My first public performance was at an Irish traditional night in a cellar bar in Ireland.
I performed a pretty shrill and poorly timed version of ‘Chasing Cars’ by Snow Patrol. It was by no means my best performance, but it really opened the floodgates in terms of being confident enough to sing and play guitar in front of other people.
- What song or artist lit the flame inside you to want to be a musician/artist.
Definitely Damien Rice. I was obsessed with the ‘O’ album, and always have at least two copies of it in my house and car (just in case).
- First song you wrote, at what age and what was it called, and what inspired it?
The first song I wrote was called ‘Alibi’, and it was basically a rip-off of a Passenger track I had forgotten about. It was just a typical teenage track about not really knowing what direction I was going to take in life, but once I realised why the song sounded so familiar, I was kicking myself for ages
- How many songs have you written (estimate) since you wrote your first one?
I’ve probably written about 30 tracks properly, but I tend to start writing a song and then scrap it after a few weeks. That seems to be the way I write songs – taking little recycled hooks from other incomplete songs until it all fits together.
- Do you write alone or with co-writers? If co-writers, who?
I just write alone really. As someone with a background in creative writing, I’ve always found it easier to write by myself, that way I can be as open as I want without really thinking twice about it.
- Do you write lyrics and music? Which comes first?
I tend to start with a melody, and then add lyrics to it by trying to fit the syllables I’ve pre-allocated myself, with the tune. Once that part is tidy, I fix a melody around it, and then I come back and edit the lyrics to make sure they’re in the best shape possible.
- Bullet points of your music career/achievements to-date?
- Started gigging in my local area at 16
- Played Stendhal Festival in Ireland, Summer 2016
- First EP ‘The Blame’ released January 2017, gaining airplay across the UK and America
- New single ‘If We Leave Now’ released 7th July 2018.
- What music has been released so far? And what format and dates
I released my first EP ‘The Blame’ at the start of last year, and to be honest it took off a lot more than I had expected, especially in America. I was getting airplay in New York and interviews with radio hosts in Long Island, and there were talks at one point of a wee tour around NYC as well.
It really gave me the motivation to keep writing and build towards an album in the not-too-distant future. At the same time, I was also finishing the final year of my undergraduate degree in creative writing and trying to figure out what to do next.
In the end I found that completing a masters degree was more important. I was definitely right on that part, and I have no regrets, but I haven’t really had the money to record for a while.
Luckily, I’ve been working with a fantastic artist/producer called Russell Twomey, and he has helped me to put together my new single ‘If We Leave Now.’
12. Name your 3 main influences?
Damien Rice, Keaton Henson and Leonard Cohen – 3 amazing musicians who aren’t afraid to pour their heart out in their lyrics.
- How do you describe your own music style to a stranger who asks: “what kind of music do you play/sing”?
I tend to lean towards ‘folk’ as a genre, but the more I write the more I’ve realised that it isn’t quite as linear as that. I write a lot of music that would be called ’alternative’, which is even more difficult to pin down as a genre. Umm, I guess I’ll stick with folk? Yeah, folk. Final answer.
- Who are you listening to right now; bands/artists?
Right now, I’m really into Tame Impala and Declan McKenna. They’re quite different as musicians, but I feel that their music brings something new to the table that I can’t help but keep listening to.
I’m also really into the new elevator-music style of the new Arctic Monkeys album. With the way mainstream music has been going for the last few years, it’s nice to hear something a bit more ‘out there’.
- What is the most personal song you have written and its background?
The most personal song I’ve written is one called ‘The Insomniac,’ which I wrote about a friend of mine who wasn’t too comfortable in their own skin. We don’t really talk anymore, which makes performing the song quite sombre, but I hope the person in mind is feeling better these days.
- Who would be your dream collaboration as a songwriter and as an artist; naming one living and one deceased person to write with and to record or to perform on stage with?
Oh damn, good question! Sorry to ramble about Damien Rice, but it really has to be him – he’s just a gorgeous soul and his music really steps things up a notch in terms of emotion and vulnerability.
Even though he doesn’t gig so much these days, I would love to share the stage with a natural talent like him.
- What do you want your music to say about you?
To say that I pay attention to the people around me. I tend to write about my experiences and the experiences of people in my life, and sometimes that translates into ‘he writes a lot of sad songs,’ but that’s not really what I’m going for. I like to think I’m a very positive and caring person, so I think I would like that to come across in my music.
- Best compliment you have read or heard about you and your music so far?
A magazine once wrote that I was shaping up to be a heavyweight in the Irish indie scene, and I thought that was such an amazing compliment to receive. I know I haven’t released that much music, but it means the world that people have me on their radar and want to hear what I come up with next.
- What is the dream for your music?
The dream is to record an album. Even if it’s just one album and then I have to call it quits, I think I would really regret not putting out at least one album to showcase the music I’ve been working on and gigging with for the past few years.
I feel like my music really covers a certain time in my life – this stage in my life, I guess – and I want to be able to look back and have these songs there to remind me of what I was like when I was in my early twenties. Ideally there’ll be a load of albums all telling a different story, but one step at a time for now.
- Who is your biggest fan?
Hate to be cheesy, but probably my mum. She really encouraged me and gave me the confidence to go out and perform in the early stages of my career. Cheers, mum!
- Do you want to be famous?
I think anyone who says they don’t want to be famous is a liar. Who wouldn’t want the experience of a multitude of fans, star treatment and (I can only assume) a ridiculous amount of free clothes?
It’s nice to know that people appreciate your music, and fame is really just experiencing the full scope of that emotion, and the benefits that come with it.
- How many gigs have you done and where (countries or towns and cities if only UK).
I’ve played across most of Northern Ireland, but since moving to Wales I’ve been lucky enough to gain a few gigs here and there along the way. It’s all been quite busy this year, so I probably haven’t gigged as much as I would have wanted to, but I’m hoping to be able to put in a lot more hours on stage quite soon.
- Strangest gig you have done?
A few years back I performed a gig in a shopping centre in Belfast. It was Christmas and the stage was right under the tree, and there were people looking down at me from every floor. It was just a weird atmosphere – all these people bustling around trying to sort out their gifts while some kid plays folk music under a 50ft plastic tree.
24. Funniest or most dramatic thing that has ever happened to you?
I wrote a song about a friend of mine called ‘Chris Just Wants A Shag’ and performed it on stage while he was in the room. I gave it a little prelude and all, got him to stand up so everyone knew who he was, and then ripped him to shreds with this stupid bubbly track. I wish I felt bad about it, but he was a sport about it all and it was great craic at the time.
- Best moment in music so far?
My best moment is probably being interviewed by Joe Pszonek from Radio Nowhere in New Jersey. We chatted for well over half an hour, and he weaved the tracks from my EP into the show between topics.
The feedback from it all was amazing, and I was so humbled to see how many people enjoyed the songs and related to my music, especially from all the way across the pond.
To be honest, I’ve nearly bailed on music a couple of times. It gets tough trying to book gigs in places that expect you to play for free or trying to find a way to keep your audience entertained, when you have no money to your name and no way of bringing out new music. There have been times where I thought it would be best to just call it quits, but I always come to my senses.
- A: X Factor?, B: The Voice? C: Britain’s Got Talent? D: Gouge your own eyes out with a rusty pen knife?A thousand times D. I’ll even provide the pen knife. They’re just heartless machines that grind up innocent and misled people who want to be on TV.
- Day jobs you have done?
I have been quite busy with Uni stuff while I finish up my degree, but I’ve done some editorial work for Esquire and I’ve written for quite a few magazines along the way.
29. Your favourite musician joke (or any joke if not)?
Rita Ora. (Editor: We cannot stop laughing at this!)
- Pet hate?
When people get their parents to take care of them because they are too lazy to step up to the mark. Especially at Uni, when people head home over the weekend to get their mum to do their washing and prepare their food for the week. What’s the point in that? Fix up, look sharp.
- Guilty secret?
‘Call Me Mother’ by RuPaul is one of the best tracks to have been released in the past 10 years.
- What two recordings could you not live without if you were stuck on a desert island?
Ooh, that’s a scenario where I probably wouldn’t want to listen to Damien Rice. Probably ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’ by Leonard Cohen and something with a bit more tang to it, like ‘My Smile is Extinct’ by Kane Strang (the lyrics are ‘kill me now I want to die,’ and that seems fitting).
- If you believed in reincarnation; who or what would you want to come back as?
A squirrel monkey. They’re pretty great. I don’t have much of a reason behind choosing this little fella, but they’re cute as hell so sign me up.
- Plans for rest of this year and next year?
Well right now I need to finish my final project at Uni – I’m writing about the relationship between music and fashion, so that should be pretty fun. After that, I’m hoping to bag myself a journalism job in London and find a wee place to live in with my girlfriend and a few mates. It sounds really easy when I phrase it like that, but we’ll see.
I’m planning to bring out a new EP by the end of the Summer, as a way to showcase the kind of music I’ve been writing, and if I can sort out a few gigs along the way that would be amazing.
I should have a few gigs here and there around Cardiff this Summer, but nothing is set in stone just yet. Keep an eye on my music page and I’ll keep you posted on that one.
Personal message to Music Republic Magazine readers: I’d absolutely love it if you could give my music a listen when you get a chance. I read every comment, reply to every message, and try my best to keep everyone in the loop via my Facebook page, so check out my new single and let me know if it’s your cup of tea. Emmét xxx
Photos credit: Charlie Hart