Entertainment Music

Monday 21 October 2019

'I like to keep busy but it can be hard to juggle everything' - Gavin Glass

Gavin Glass is proud of his just-released fifth album, but says it won't pay the bills, so he wears a number of industry-related hats. He tells our reporter about parting ways with Lisa Hannigan, the dreaded 'Spotify-effect' and why Dublin should cherish its creatives

Musician Gavin Glass. Photo: Mark Condren
Musician Gavin Glass. Photo: Mark Condren
John Meagher

John Meagher

Gavin Glass is talking about the challenges of being a musician in Ireland today. His words would likely be echoed by all but the most commercially successful, but Glass is determined never to have to return to a soul-destroying job selling insurance policies to people who don't need them.

"I'll do whatever I can never to have to do that again," he says, visibly shuddering. "Like many musicians trying to do this full-time, I have sleepless nights and there are times where I'd be awake in the middle of the night wondering how I'm going to pay the bills. But I'm doing something I love and that's what helps me to get back to sleep."

The 42-year-old Dubliner has just released a fifth solo album, Opus Pocus, and a damn fine work it is, too. But no matter how good the reviews - and, already, there have been some glowing ones - he knows it's highly unlikely to make him any money. "None of the others have," he says, cheerfully. "The money has to come from elsewhere."

That 'elsewhere' comes from a myriad of sources - all connected to music. Deep breath now: Glass is a producer and runs his own studio, Orphan Recording; he's a session player, too, and was in Lisa Hannigan's touring band for eight years; he presents the Locals Only Irish music show on Dublin and environs rock station Nova; and he was the musical director on John Carney's much-loved coming-of-age Sing Street. Oh, and he's played on the work of countless Irish and international musicians.

"I like to keep busy," he says, "and sometimes it can be hard to juggle everything but I think if you're serious about making music your full-time job, you have to do everything and anything, and the vast majority of it has been great fun."

He says he's proud of his new album because it shows a different side to him. "I'm seen as this alt-country guy but my tastes have covered so many genres. These ones aren't as easy to pigeonhole, hopefully."

It's probably fair to suggest that Opus Pocus is the most upbeat album of his career, although there are songs that ruminate on what it means to be a man approaching middle age and worrying not just about his place in the world, but how he's going to feed his family. The album's most affecting song, 'Break Your Daddy's Heart', was written shortly after the birth of his daughter in January 2016. "It's a bit of cliché, but when you become a parent, you look at the world differently," he says. "You can't just lead the merry life you've led until that point. There's someone tiny who needs you to be there for them and to be responsible, and it does make you think about life that bit more seriously."

Another standout, 'Thirty Somethings', was written in the twilight months of Glass's thirties and ponders the good and the bad of a decade some still see as the last before life gets serious.

It was around that time that he parted ways with Lisa Hannigan. It was completely cordial, he insists, and the pair remain friends. "I said to Lisa that it might be time for her to do something different," he says. "She'd had the same band for a long time."

He says he enjoyed touring the globe with her, playing piano in some of the world's great venues, but he was also itching to make his own mark. "And not just as 'Gavin Glass, musician'. I needed to be around to work on production."

Glass has recorded music for countless acts in a studio that he established in Dublin's Inchicore. But he's recently been forced to move. The site is being developed and there's little interest among the builders of incorporating a recording studio into their plans.

Glass is planning to relocate the studio to a building in the Dublin mountains close to the historic Hellfire Club. He's looking forward to the challenge but frustrated that artists are being squeezed out of Dublin.

"I really don't want to come across like I'm moaning all the time, but a city should cherish its creative people or, at least make it possible for them to remain.

"Right now, it's becoming impossible to do anything here and even the idea of one day owning your own home seems like a pipe dream unless you're in a well-paid, conventional job - and even then some people are having to rely on parental support just to get their feet on the ladder."

He warms to his theme. "A capital city shouldn't be only about multinational retailers and insurance firms deciding what happens to property. It should be a mix, of which writing, the arts and music are a fundamental part."

Glass believes we're seeing something of a golden age of Irish music. "Wasn't it Bono who said Dublin was a city of a thousand bands? Well, now it's a city of 10,000 bands and a lot of them are very good."

He says he comes across many fine fledgling outfits through his recording studio and also thanks to his Nova radio show. "The standard is high and there's a huge range of genres, too. It's great to see that but it's also a bit deflating to know that it will be really hard for even the very good ones to develop an audience or even be able to do well enough to make a second album.

"Streaming has changed everything and, although there are some really good things about it, it isn't really helping young bands because they're making music in an environment where people no longer see the value of paying for it."

As a busy producer, Glass is all too aware of the 'Spotify-effect' when it comes to recording music. Some producers will urge their charges to make front-loaded music that functions well on compressed files and when listened to on cheap headphones. But he's not for turning.

"It is such a grim way to think about making music," he says. "It's so cynical. If you record an album, you should see it as a work of art deserving of the sort of time and attention it used to get. If you want to spend hours getting the hi-hat to sound a certain way, you should."

At present Glass is working with rising musician David Keenan and will produce his debut album.

"He's incredible," he enthuses. "There's so much talent there and yet there are lots of rough edges, too. He's one of those people who steps into a recording studio and you think, 'Boy, this one could go far."

But Glass has been too long in the game to take anything for granted - and he knows that predicting glory for anyone is a fool's errand. "You just don't know what's around the corner - for good and bad," he says, pointing to his work on the Dublin-set Sing Street. "It was a really great experience - I loved every minute of it - and there was talk that it would lead to other film work… but it didn't happen.

"The important thing isn't to dwell on what might have been or to feel sorry for yourself in any way, but to get up, dust yourself down and keep moving."

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