Interview with Alan Bonner
Alan Bonner is a singer songwriter who has just released his EP, ‘Songs In The Key of Sea – The Galway Bay’, which was, suprise!, recorded in Galway. He has previously released three albums.
Where are you right now ?
I’m in Brighton, England. in the beer garden of the pub I’m living above.
You describe yourself as a ‘wandering troubadour’ and you recorded your EP in Galway. There’s even a nod to the studios in the EP title. What was the reason that you choose to record there?
Yeah I can’t sit still for long. That term probably sounds a bit wanky but it looked good on paper at the time. I had been visiting Ireland on tour several times over the years and totally fell in love with Galway, as its such a special magical place. I had made friends there too and from the first time I set foot in the place I had a gut feeling I was supposed to be there for a while at some point.
I’d been living in Berlin for a couple of years and things in my personal life had got a little messy so I decided it was time for a change of scene. I’d always felt a pull towards Ireland so I packed up and went over to Galway for the summer last year to make the record. It was a brilliant time and just something I needed to do.
You used some local musicians / producers. Had you worked with them before?
I had played gigs in Galway with Pa Reidy when I’d come to Ireland on tour a few years back and also toured in Germany with Tracy Bruen. Both are friends of mine and I’m in awe of both their voices and their musicianship. They put me in touch with Will O’ Connor (Willow Sea) who produced the record and who is an absolute gent and we hit it off straight away.
Niamh O’ Connor who plays cello was put in touch with through a friend of a friend. When it became clear I was moving to Galway to do the record I knew I wanted local talent on it with me as well. There’s so much talent in Galway, and we had a blast doing it.
As a song writer, you need to be open and honest so that your lyrics and music resonate with people. If it were me, I would get quite anxious opening up like that to other people but you need to if your music is to have a life of it’s own. How do you separate Alan, the guy who gets up on stage and sings, and Alan, the private guy who opens his heart when writing?
To be honest, I don’t think they are separate people. My stage persona is an extension of myself. Music allows me to express myself very honest way and yes, my writing is quite confessional and I do feel a bit exposed sometimes. I feel like that’s when people relate to it the most.
It’s about holding a space where you can be vulnerable and let yourself be seen, so that people can relate and feel less alone in themselves or in the things they are going through, it allows for me to connect with them more. I don’t really know how to write any other way.
There are times when I feel naked on stage because of the things I’m singing about but it can also be really empowering to show your vulnerability. There is strength in that, and I think it’s ok to show that you are human and that there are chinks in your armour.
As a solo artist, how do find working with other people on your work? Do you find it challenging?
No I love it. I am not deluded enough to think that all my ideas are good and I find bouncing off other people really inspiring. It stops me getting bored of myself.
The production is quiet stark on the EP and is different to 2016’s Night Music. Was this due to the lyrical content and themes in the EP or is it purely you progressing as an artist?
It was a conscious decision to make a record that was totally different sonically to Night Music, both records deal with different themes and reflect different periods in my life. I knew I wanted to do something very understated this time as Night Music has a lot of production on it and quite synth heavy.
Also, I think being in Ireland, being on the west coast and the delicate nature of the songs, inspired a stripped back approach and let the songs breathe a bit. The songs on the EP deal with a lot of grief and I think big production this time round would have been inappropriate. For the next one I’ll pull out all the bells and whistles. I like to mix it up.
Some people write when they’re happy, others can’t, they need to be sad. What inspires you to write and play?
Usually some kind of heartbreak or emotional distress has me reaching for the keys. I too struggle to write happy music, usually there is something I need to get off my chest. However there have been one or two happy songs. “Tiergarten” from the new EP is one of them. I write love songs to my friends, that kind of thing. I’m a bit of a soppy git like that. Travel inspires me a lot to.
You’re based in Brighton but spent some time in London. Brighton is only an hour away but why did you get out of London?
I left London 3 years ago to move to Berlin, then after a couple of years there I ended up in Ireland. I had lived in London 13 years on and off and just needed a change of scene. I lived in Brighton for a period 10 years ago when I was at music school down here and when I returned to the UK it seemed like a good place to come back to and I love being by the sea. I love though and always will. It was a huge part of my life.
It’s 10 years since you released your first album, have you planned anything special for yourself to celebrate?
To have a 10 year anniversary celebration for an album that was relatively ignored on release seems a little self indulgent so probably not but I never released the title track as a single and I always wished I had so maybe I’ll do that . We’ll see.
You gig a lot. When you’re on the road what’s the one thing you can’t leave behind ?
A good book and a good bottle of Red. I cant handle flights or bus rides without something to read and a little something to take the edge off.
What 5 albums have shaped your musical life?
There have been many more than 5 but heres a few
David Bowie – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars
Tori Amos – From The Choirgirl Hotel
Fleetwood Mac – Rumours
Rufus Wainwright – Want One
Abba – The Visitors
If you could have any producer sprinkle their magic fairy dust on your music, who would it be? Who could you trust?
So so so many… difficult question. Probably Tony Visconti he is a god or maybe the guy from The National as l love his band and I love how he produced Lisa Hannigan’s ‘At Swim’ album. A beautiful record.
What’s the one thing you would change about the music industry?
Make it more about art and less about money. If I had my way X factor and all shit that came after it would never have been a thing. I have nothing against those kids who go on those shows some of them are really talented and they have balls, but the music industry now is about Saturday night entertainment TV more than it is about real music.
It’s about how many followers you have on social media, over how good your record is. It’s become all about branding and marketing and money rather than real artists being supported and given the chance to develop and have longevity.
There is brilliant music that will never get close to the publics ears because it will never be allowed on radio or on TV or because it will never get label support because it isn’t seen as being sellable enough so it falls through the cracks. Bit of a rant there…sorry!
Here’s a few toughies for you:
What’s the most rock n’ roll thing you’ve ever done?
It cant tell you that , its far too incriminating for print. I don’t trash hotel rooms though. Its cliché and disrespectful and I could never afford the bill.
What would you cook on Masterchef?
I can’t cook for shit. It’s a running joke with my friends. Probably an average Spaghetti Bollegnese but I’d ply the judges with wine first so they wouldn’t mind.
Who would play you in the movie of your life?
Aw jesus, James MacAvoy…maybe? Or Cillian Murphy? Both are great actors and both are far better looking than I.
What was the last lie you told?
That I was only going out for one drink.
Alan’s next London gig is on June 17 in The Spice of Life in Soho.