Cian Sweeney has recently struck out on his own from the workin’ musician lifestyle with solo project 1000 Beasts. Mike McGrath-Bryan sits down and talks about working alone, collaborating, and the video for new single ‘Lord (It’s OK)’.
For a relative youngfella, Cian Sweeney is very well-travelled: performing and producing with, among other, more commercially-viable names, Declan O’Rourke and the RTÉ Concert Orchestra. From that background, Sweeney has gone out on his own with new project 1000 Beasts. After a busy 2017, Sweeney has released new electro-pop single ‘Lord (It’s OK)’, premiering via Nialler9 last week. Collaborating with vocalist Janet Grogan, Sweeney has cooked up a vocoder-laden piece of work. “Myself and Janet first met when we were introduced by a Dublin-based publisher. From the very first session, we just clicked. Janet is a lyrical and melodic force of nature, she really knows how to develop a story, and a narrative, and suck a listener in. You can hear it in ‘Lord’, it’s so relatable, so human – she never forgets that. We wrote at least a dozen tracks together for other artists and labels through this publisher in a very intensive and creative period last spring/summer, at the end of which it was obvious we should collaborate on a 1000 Beasts track. I had produced a “vibe” which basically a sketch of the track. I sent it to Janet. She liked it. So she came down to Cork, we sat at the piano, fleshed out the idea and concept, wrote the lyrics and melody and recorded.”
Collabs are a distinguishing feature of Sweeney’s work, springing from his background of working with other musicians on polishing up their ideas. He’s taken a rub of some of that mentality to his own work, too. “So many different things. Respect is one. Comfort in your own ability is another. Everybody has something to bring to the table. As a collaborator sometimes you need to very quickly assess how the other person is feeling and if they prefer to be the dominant half in a session or not. I’m always learning so much from all my collaborators. Ryan O’Shaughnessy, whom I did the previous track with, has such a different approach to writing and creating than I do – I don’t understand it, we come at it from such different angles, but because of that we work together really well. He inspires me just by seeing the beauty in something I might not initially see. Same with Janet, she has brought my writing to a whole new level. After years of education in music schools and colleges, one almost begins to see music as a set of tricks and technical patterns that are interchangeable and always repeating. While it’s important to learn this, you quickly forget the beauty and power that these patterns actually have – Janet brought my writing back down to earth and made it so the message and song was always on point. It’s not about the flashy chord (unless it’s justified), it’s about the emotion, the narrative, the connection.”
The video for the single is admittedly huge, a very polished affair courtesy of director Lochlainn McKenna. A huge process in creating the video was undertaken by all parties. “So much credit for this has to go to the director. He’s a real talent and it definitely will not be the last time you hear of him. Lochlainn and myself are old friends, I knew he was working in film and wanted to focus his energies more into high end music videos so it was a natural collaboration. We all (including Janet) had been chatting for a while in an email stream, bouncing ideas between each other. After a week or two we got together one evening and ironed out the concept pretty quickly – Janet again was instrumental in just bringing the concept down to earth and keeping it relatable. The whole turnaround was pretty quick. We flew to Birmingham to film with an incredible crew that Lochlainn had compiled – including the incredible Bethany Antonia & Ray Bethley; our actors. Shot it all in a day, edited it in a few hours that night and had the finished video ready to release within one week. It was a super experience. And that’s kind of what 1000 Beasts is about, it’s about creating and sharing with others. Sure, it is my project, but we all want to create and we all want the same thing, to go to the same place; it’s much more enjoyable if we all go there together I think. Sometimes there just needs to be an excuse or someone to lead the way.”
The difficult question inevitably emerges: what was the transition from working for others to working for yourself like, and what are the differences in the mindsets toward work and the process? “That’s a tough one – I suppose there is a freedom in writing for others. To me it’s not too much of an issue. With 1000 Beasts I just try and write the music I dig. I don’t really think too much about it, I get inspired by what I listen to so I try and replicate it badly and when I’m done doing that I end up with an original idea or an original vibe and then bring that to my collaborators. There is a danger though, more so when I was younger, in being too precious. Placing too much emotional attachment in one piece of music. I’ve been involved in hundreds of songs either as a writer, producer, arranger, etc. some have been magnificent, some most definitely have not. But you can’t take it personally, there’ll be plenty more great songs and plenty more terrible ones too. Everyone has good and bad creative days, the trick is to just keep practicing, learning and improving.”
Sweeney has a rake of dates happening in February, and is quick to outline how it’ll all work, live. “Obviously because of the nature of the music, the many collaborators and detailed production, it’s a challenge to take it live. But I’m lucky to have a fantastic producer and drummer from Belfast who performs with me on the live shows – Matt Weir. We have a half DJ/Laptop set up where I can get down and dirty with the electronics and synths while Matt bashes away on live drum kit, but I also have a stage piano and some percussion to add different colours and energies into the show. Big inspirations have been acts like Le Boom, Daithí & Talos who are really pushing the boundaries in taking modern alt pop productions and making them even better in live scenarios.”
2018 is looking busy already for Sweeney – Indiependence in Mitchelstown, Co. Cork is the first of many festival dates confirmed. What’s next? “It’s hard to tell sitting here today. ‘Lord’ is just out and the response has been overwhelming, with Jenny Greene & Nicky Byrne making it their 2FM single of the week already. I’m developing more collaborations with artists I adore and that inspire me, I have loads of music ready that could be released whenever the time is right and even more tracks in development. I want to play and connect with as many people, either through festivals and live shows or by creating more online content that people can connect with.”