Interview with Owen Denvir

Northern Irish multi-instrumentalist, Owen Denvir is about to release his new EP, ‘Stones’. The lead single from the EP, ‘This Could Be Love’, has been playlisted by radio stations across the UK and Ireland. And, it’s easy to see why, memorable catchy hooks, a velvet voice and slick production make for some serious ear candy.

I caught up with Owen to chat about his new EP. ‘Stones’, working in isolation and what made him make the jump from backing musician and vocalist to centre stage. He also reveals himself to be the cutest uncle ever!

Hello Owen! How are you and where are you right now?

Hi Nessy! I’m in Belfast and I’m well! I’m isolated with all my studio stuff so I’m trying to stay positive and productive. I only have occasional episodes of Netflix binge days.

You’re about to release a new EP, ‘Stones’ on May 29th, ‘This Could Be Love’ is the lead track from that. When you listen to it, it feels like you’ve become a more confident artist since ‘Human Touch’ or ‘Crush’, your early releases? How do you feel about it?

I’m really proud of This Could Be Love. I actually wrote about 70% of it around 2 years ago, but it hit a few hurdles and kept getting shelved. Originally I thought I’d have to give the song away to another songwriter because I didn’t think I had the vocal range to perform it. I’ve been performing a lot in the last 2 years though, and I surprised myself recently by just giving it a bash at home. The same thing happened with ‘I Want You So Bad’ on the EP too. After I recorded those vocals I got really motivated and finished the tracks within a few days.

I hear you’ve recorded all the samples on the ‘This Could Be Love’ during lockdown. This means the EP is shiny new. Did you intend you release the EP now, or did lockdown help it along the way?

I actually intended on releasing ‘Stones’ EP a few months ago, but I had a change of heart with 2 of the songs (which is 50% of the EP). It can be really deflating spending so much time on songs that you end up falling out of love with, but ultimately if you don’t have faith in them then why should anyone else? To me, it felt like a miracle that ‘This Could Be Love’ came together so last minute. I’d also completely forgotten I’d recorded a drum session for ‘Stones From Paris’ with Peter J McCauley, so it came together really quickly too (we’d only planned on recording ‘I Want You So Bad’ so we just mucked around with ‘Stones From Paris’ while we were setup for it). I suppose the benefit of lockdown was that suddenly I’ve endless time to spend in my home studio to finish these projects.

Stones is the second of three EPs to make an album. They are based on Freud’s idea of the personality is made of 3 parts, ID, Ego and SuperEgo. It’s also a great way to introduce an album’s worth of material. It seems people need to get shorter bites of new material now. Are you into reading about psychology?

If by “reading about psychology”, you mean “watching youtube videos about psychology”, then yes! I’d heard about Freud’s theory recently through a friend. And since I was working on an EP trilogy project at the time, I figured the timing was apt to swipe the concept for myself. When I was at uni, my brother got me into Malcolm Gladwell’s books. I really enjoyed ‘The Tipping Point’ and ‘Outliers’. I feel like any time you write lyrics you’re trying to dig deeper than the surface level, so Freud and Gladwell can help us out there.

You recently recorded a song, ‘Hold Her Hand’, for a project with the Ulster Orchestra, will this make the next EP?

‘Hold Her Hand’ was a bit of a one-off for me. Usually I’ll mull over a song for weeks and tweak bits as I go, never calling it finished until at least a month or 2 later. But the Ulster Orchestra sent out a request for songs from local songwriters, so I figured I’d take the opportunity to write something new within a couple of days. Their brief was “something about the current times”. Personally, I find it hard to write about real world events in a literal sense, but I caught a new song on Jade Bird’s Instagram that she’d recorded in her garden, which sparked ideas for me. Everything in lockdown has centred around when I’m going to be able to hang out with my 1 year old niece again, so the song spun out from there. I’m really happy with how it turned out, but it won’t be on the EP. I kind of saw it as something more personal I could share with my family and people who follow me on socials. Happy songs go a long way at the moment so I didn’t want to wait or cause too much of a fuss over it – I just wanted to put something positive out there and then.

You’re an accomplished musician, if you’re writing, which instrument do you pick up first?

It’s different for every song! Sometimes I’ll “finish” a song in my head without having ever picked up an instrument at all. I wrote a full song in a lecture at uni because it was the only alternative to falling asleep (the lecture was about binary code…). Lately though most of my songs have originated from “nice chords” on the piano. I absolutely love the piano, partly because I’ve only been exploring it for myself. So my performance skills have grown very slowly, but it feels really worthwhile to have even reached this mediocre stage with it. I’ve just learned the stuff I’ve enjoyed from other songwriters like Neil Hannon and Peter J McCauley.

Besides making music, how have you been coping with lockdown?

I’ve taken my football keepy-up game to the next level. Pre-lockdown I could barely break 50, but currently my best is 166. I’ve also been pulling a lot weeds, and painting my fence and other dodgy spots around the house. The family Zoom quiz has transitioned into just a weekly family chat because I think everyone in the whole world is so sick of quizzes. And I’ve been doing lots of catching up with Netflix.

You’ve had over 200k views of your live mashup of ‘Somebody You Loved but it’s numa numa’ on YouTube. How helpful has the cover been to opening up your music to a new audience?

It’s been great! It took a surreal jump in views around Christmas time at the end of last year, after it was featured in a Youtube video about musical theft and copyright. For the record: I don’t think Lewis Capaldi heard the numa numa song and thought “You know what? This would make a brilliant heartbreak ballad” – I think it’s just a very funny coincidence. I’ve got a few videos on my channel that are basically just musical memes, like my ‘Dinosaurs In Love’ cover, or ‘Thank You Baked Potato’. Some people just enjoy the joke and move on. But I’ve had a lot more activity on my socials from people around the world, who tell me they’ve stumbled across my own music through it.

You started as a violist for Ciaran Lavery and Ram’s Pocket Radio, what was it that prompted you to take centre stage? Were you writing your own music at that stage?

I’ve been writing music ever since I first picked up a guitar at around 11 or 12. It seemed easier to write my own songs, rather than learn someone else’s with chords I didn’t know yet. It’s a very personal thing to obsess over though, because as soon as you go public with your music you’re open to being judged or criticised. Playing Glasgowbury Festival with Rams’ Pocket Radio was a big motivator for me. I’d only really played orchestral concerts before that, but performing original music with those guys to a crowd who were so into it just seemed so much intense and exciting. It was while I was living in Edinburgh that my friends organised loads of shows for me at the Fringe Festival, which was a real wakeup call that I should stop talking about starting gigging and just do it.

What three albums by other artists should we listen to, to get an idea where you’ve come from on your musical journey?

Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago
Fionn Regan – 100 Acres Of Sycamore
Bell X1 – Bloodless Coup

You’re from Belfast, a city I love. What places are you looking forward to visiting in your hometown, once we hit the ‘new normal’?

My main priority will always be going to visit my little niece. And maybe McDonald’s.

The lockdown has done wonders for your quiff! Any hair tips?

Haha! Thanks! I’d recommend giving it free reign to live wild and free, though one day I know it shall overthrow me.

We all need to try and support the arts right now, where’s the best place for us to support you?

Spotify, or wherever you like to stream your music, and all the social places! Alternatively I will accept cheques in the post.

Send us a selfie?

Done! 🙂

Owen Denvir selfie with a tree and blue sky in the background

Find Owen Denvir Online

As well as Spotify you can find Owen on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and on his website, OwenDenvir.com