The thing I like about Robert Doyle is that he has a lot to say about creativity. It is always exciting to eavesdrop inside a creative mind and discover what he does in a day-to-day basis when not working on music. This interview sent me looking for his last CD Life in Shadows and played the album once again. I remember the day it got to me. Like music, the artist has many layers. You can read between the lines or you can listen to the songs: They are all a part of him.
You have just released a new single Flags of Belfast with other musicians playing on this track. Are you taking a new direction for the new album?
‘Flags of Belfast’ is a reworking of the melody to ‘Star of the County Down’ with new lyrics. When I began working on it I knew I wanted to add other instrumentation when recording the song. I recorded a lot of demos of the track and some of these were done in Flood Plain Studios here in Dublin which is run by Graham Watson. He suggested trying a second vocal along with uilleann pipes and Aoife Dermody and Eoin Dillon were the perfect choice for this. So yeah there’s going to be some other musicians involved on parts of the album but it will still mostly be a solo record. Sometimes it feels right to have different instruments and then sometimes the music feels better played solo.
You mentioned the new album will be released in 2015. How’s the recording going?
I had hoped to have the album ready by the end of this year but that probably won’t happen now so 2015 is more realistic. From a recording perspective the last single was interesting for me because I got a new preamp for the home studio which now lets me record a guitar sound I’m happy with. This was always a problem in the past. So for the single I recorded the guitar and vocal myself and then we put the other parts down in Flood Plain. This gives me some flexibility for the next record that I didn’t have before. So for now I plan to record most of the album myself and for any extra instrumentation I’d like to work with Graham again. This will be a totally different recording process to last time when I only recorded two of the tracks myself and the rest with an engineer. There are a number of advantages and disadvantages to recording yourself and I’ve been debating these with myself over the years. We’ll soon see if I’ve made the right choice this time round!
How will the tracks differ from your last album Life in Shadows in terms of arrangements and lyrics?
At this stage I still have a lot of work to do on writing and arranging. Like the last album it’ll be a mix of original and traditional music but there’ll be a different feel because hopefully I’m a better musician now and this should show in the music. I have about 15 or 16 separate ideas that I’m working on. Some of that material will get cut and hopefully there’ll be a good album in what’s left. Also there’ll be more songs in English this time. In the past I was mostly interested in singing in Irish but there’ll definitely be more English on this record. There’ll be some new instrumental pieces and I want to push those arrangements further on this record. I love to improvise when playing fingerstyle because you have the chance to play basslines, harmony and melody altogether so I’ll improvise around the themes and try to work out the arrangements that way.
Aside from music, what are the other projects you are working on? Can you tell us a bit about your day job?
Work and music takes up a lot of time so aside from that I don’t have any other projects. There are other important things in life though so I hope I make time for them too. The day job is in IT and this comes in useful when invariably you have technical problems in the studio. Obviously not being a full time musician means you can’t spend as much time as you’d like on the music but you try to use the time you have and always stay with it. It would be great to have time to play more gigs and record more often but the important thing is to keep playing music.
After the last album what has changed so far?
Well I think I’ve learnt a lot since then. Each project is a great learning experience and it’s worth all the work for that alone. There was a big jump from the EP I released in 2008 to the album in 2011 and I think it’ll be a similar step this time. Overall I was very happy with the last record. It was great to get a positive reception and some good coverage and radio play. Of course listening back there’s some things that I’d have done differently both in the recording and post-production but that’s all part of it.
What do you plan to accomplish musically this year?
Work on the album is the priority now and if I can get a good piece of it recorded by the end of the year I’ll be happy with that. I’m also working on a collaboration with a bouzouki player based around some traditional songs which hopefully will get to involve other musicians too.
Where can listeners buy your last album Life in Shadows?
The CD is available from Claddagh Records and will soon be for sale again directly from www.robertdoyle.net. A digital download is available from iTunes, Amazon and eMusic.
What other instruments do you play?
I’m learning to play some piano at the moment. It’s not serious piano study but I’m enjoying playing some chords and seeing how they’re built on a different instrument. It would have been great to learn piano when I was starting out all those years ago because as a guitar player you’re often trying to play like a piano player if that makes any sense! I think it’s important to not get too obsessed with the instrument you’re playing so spending some time on another instrument is something I’d recommend.
Robert Doyle – guitar and vocal
Aoife Dermody – vocal
Eoin Dillon – uilleann pipes
Flags of Belfast
Boundaries are drawn
On council walls
Divisions are made easily
When a vote was called
The decision did say
The flag won’t fly daily
The Union remains
But the North had changed
Some divisions are the same
Next time you hear the Lagan sound
See the flags of Belfast town
When the protests began
Where are the leaders now
Heard with nothing to say
If there was a chance or a call for calm
It was soon swept away
Living on the sides
Of religious divides
Faith not faded with time
Next time round can you ask the crown
Has she seen the flags of Belfast town
At the start of the night
Through empty streets with dark light
Marches begin to pass
Along an enclave
Calls of an old age
Armed guards to defend both sides
Segregation in schools
Teaches old rules
Lessons begin early
As the children plan
To not let tradition down
And wear the flags in Belfast town
With the city closed
Blockades along the roads
Wasn’t this all a thing of the past
A sectarian divide
A part of city lives
No need to portray any side
Masks leave faces with no names
One after another taking aim
As broken bottles fall all around
The flags of Belfast town
Lyrics printed with permission.