Interview by Barry Egan
In 1966 Claudette Orbison was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1966. Her husband Roy was riding on a bike in front of her when the tragedy happened. In 1968, a fire destroyed Roy’s house in Hendersonville, Tennessee. Two of Roy’s three children died. They say you could hear the sadness in Roy’s voice from that point on — and that his songs were him singing his pain. Ross Breen — who choose Orbison’s I Drove All Night to cover for The Windmill lane Sessions on Independent.ie — says “I loved nearly every Roy Orbison song I ever heard. I think he is probably he best singer in pop history. “
With the saddest voice, and the saddest life, I say.
“That too,” Ross says. “I guess you can hear. His voice seemed to stay the same from when he was very young right up until he died,” of a heart attack on December 6th, 1988.
“It still had the same piercing quality. It fills the air. I’d say it was something to behold when you’d see him recording in the studio or sing live. Those songs, as a singer, are fantastic. They are like a challenge to sing because he has amazing range and power, you know? You don’t want to just shout your way through a song and not have the dynamics. Listening to him is sort of a lesson in dynamics. There is always that big note towards the end of the song.”
Ross — who released his debut album When I Met The Devil in 2011 and has his second album New Born Vibrancy out soon — has the look of a troubadour. He gets compared to Neil Hannon and Paolo Nutini because of the way he sings.
His new single One Last Kiss is, he says, “clearly about parting of waves, and dealing with grief, or something like that.” In the video for the song, the woman dies. “Well, I’ve lost people in my life as well,” Ross says. “So I think every song I write is imbued with some sort of personal experience. I find writing is great for the healing process. So One Last Kiss is one of those songs.”
Tell me about the healing process. What have you had heal over? What have you lost? Without being too personal...
“I won’t go into who but a friend and a cousin recently as well,” he says, haltingly. “I think music can be part of dealing with it — channelling all those feelings positively, you know? Catharsis is what it is, I suppose. Even just playing music is good for that, but also using your lyrics to sort of get your head around those kind of emotions.” I ask him is One Last Kiss a song about a break-up of a relationship Ross had.
“It could be. I like a song to be ambiguous. I want a listener to draw from it what they want to draw from it,” he says. “I also see the song as a gospel kind of treatment. I enjoy old-school gospel music, like The Golden Gate Quartet or The Blind Boys Of Alabama, their early recordings. Anything like that, that I feel has a lot of soul, you know?”
“There wouldn’t be too many gospel choirs in Leixlip where I am from,” Ross adds with a smile. “But there were musicians in my family, mostly traditional music backgrounds. So I love a lot of folk songs well. Luke Kelly would be someone I admire a lot, and his songs too. I don’t know what’s in my music. I guess all those streams converge somehow and come out somehow in the songs that I write. I hope that they do.”
Possibly giving a glimpse into the man behind the music is that fact that one of Ross’s favourite books is One Hundred Years Of Solitude. “I’d be into Gabriel García Márquez and his magical surrealism,” Ross says, adding that he also likes the Beat Generation writers. “I’d have a lot of Jack Kerouac’s stuff steeped in the back of my mind somewhere. I don’t know of that comes out in the lyrics.”
Do you ever feel you were born in the wrong era? “Sometimes it feels like that. But I like modern music as well.”
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