Interview: Seán Ó Corcoráin of Outsider

Outsider_credit_Paudie-Bourke
Outsider (Photo by Paudie Bourke)

Inspired by musicians such as Joy Division and The Jesus & Mary Chain, Ireland’s Outsider makes music that strikes you with its depth. Certainly, Outsider writes poetic lyrics and sings them with passion, but he also crafts melodies that dance and soar through you.

Outsider took his name from Colin Wilson’s 1956 book, The Outsider, “which examines the psyche of great artists and their place in society,” reads his bio. His real name is Seán Ó Corcoráin. Seán is a terrific talent and a wonderful person, and Parklife DC’s Mickey McCarter had the absolute pleasure of chatting with him recently about his debut full-length album, Karma of Youth, released April 17 by OK! Good Records.

(This interview has been edited for length and focus.)

Mickey McCarter: Thanks for making the time to chat!

Seán Ó Corcoráin: No problem at all. It’s great to talk to someone in lockdown!

MM: I wanted to ask you a little bit about what you’ve been doing in lockdown in Ireland.

SÓC: I’m trying to stay sane. I’ve been doing a little bit of music, but I’m actually finding it quite difficult to be creative because you’re not absorbing the experiences.

I’m actually finding it a little bit difficult to be creative lyrically because I’m not absorbing that many experiences. But it’s unusual. I live by the ocean, so I’m just going to the sea to swim every day and just doing a bit of exercise. I’ve been going back over my whole life — every memory I’ve ever had. I think a lot of people are doing a lot of reflecting as well; it’s like you’ve no choice. And reading, just exploring my mind, trying to meditate, but find I’m getting into a weird energy where I’m kind of just a bit tired and lethargic. And I’ve talked to a few people, and they’re feeling that too. It’s unusual. I’m not enjoying it.

It’s Week Five lockdown [Week Six now! – editor] in Ireland and, I have to say, I’m over it, man. I really thought that I would get so much done artistically, and get so much lyrics and music created. I’m really loving the music I’m writing, but I’m finding it hard to just settle into certain things. I just find it’s like I feel a bit scattered, to be honest. Maybe I shouldn’t be complaining at all, but that’s how I feel right now, to be honest.

MM: I appreciate that. I’m a bit stir crazy myself. I would love to get out to a bar or a pub or something, you know?

SÓC: Yeah. It’s just an unusual feeling, isn’t it? I thought this would be an introverted and creative … The first week or two was brilliant, but I feel a bit sad. You getting that vibe? I just feel like we don’t realize how much we maybe rely on other human energy to kind of stimulate us.

MM: I want to use that as a springboard for a few things I wanted to ask you about, because it’s very important in your music, from the interviews I’ve read, it’s very important that you have these experiences yourself, as an artist, and that you’re able to translate them into something that other people connect to. And you feel a very powerful bond with your listeners over that sort of thing, so that must be extra crazy at the moment because if you’re feeling trapped you can’t have that creative flow that you were talking about, right?

SÓC: Man, that’s just really insightful. That makes 100% sense to what I’ve just expressed there, and maybe that is the issue why I’m feeling a little bit sad. Yeah, that’s everything to me. It took me to the point where I wanted to give up music, that I had to find a reason to hold onto it. I had to find a reason to keep doing it, and that was pretty much the reason. When you let something go, when you stop trying to create, or stop trying to achieve, I feel like the flow just starts to go … you open yourself up. Things just start to flow out of you.

That’s what happened to me. It started to flow out, but then I had to ask myself, “Okay, so I do create music, I do create some art, but why should I pursue this? Why the hell should I put all my time into this to deliver something to the world that maybe they might not even understand or like. Or it might be completely just devoid of any use for anyone else bar myself.” I got to that point in my life where I had to ask that question. Even financially I had to ask, “Why am I doing this?”

So, that was the answer, I think you’ve pretty much hit the nail on the head there. And it’s good for me to be reminder of that because that’s not something I have been considering lately. I’ll always have a flow of ideas, but then you have to carve them out of stone. They have to be completed. Finishing the last 5% of any idea is the hardest. It’s just to give it that final texture and to just make it something complete. That’s the hard part.

Watch the official music video for “Young Gods of Na Sionna” by Outsider on YouTube:

MM: Right. I want to ask you about the idea that, everything you’ve just said, and the idea that somebody can listen to a song and have it totally change their mood. You can be having a down day, and you can hear a song whether it’s an up song, or a thoughtful song, and you just feel 100% better because this song somehow changed your mood. I was wondering if you find that yourself? Obviously, as a songwriter, if people have that reaction to your songs then that’s a desirable goal, but do you experience that when you listen to music or a piece of music and have it just completely change your perspective? And you have a better day because of it?

SÓC: Yeah, I do. And it happens randomly. If I search for it to happen, it’s the alchemy of it all. I don’t understand it. I don’t think anybody understands it. Science may never understand the alchemy of how music is affecting us. There’s just so much going on. But yeah, I experienced it, and it’s like I don’t even think about it, it happens, it’s like, “Yes!” And you’re in that zone.

It happened recently, a few days ago. I can’t remember exactly what song it is, but it was definitely a guilty pleasure, it was definitely something from the ’80s that’s very cheesy, but I was in a very serious head space, and this song was just big, huge ’80s snare, and just bright, cheesy lyrics. I was standing beside the ocean, and it just did it, just the magic happened, and I was like, “Yeah, this is where I want to be for a while.” And it lasted for a while.

I’ve had times when I’ve been feeling completely lost, just desperate, feeling fucked, you know? Desperately sad and alone, and there are songs that just make you feel alive again.

That’s actually just reminded me of someone put a post on one of my songs a few weeks ago, it made me so happy. I woke up one morning and there was a guy in the UK, and he was like, “I’m just listening to your song, Miol Mor Mara, it’s lockdown, I’m driving my van, it’s six o’clock on the highway, it’s completely empty,” and he’s like, “I just feel alive again.” He had that moment to one of my songs, and that put me in a good mood for all week. I was so proud of that because I’ve had those feelings, you know? I think everybody does, and that’s why music is just powerful. It’s so powerful. And you can overdo it as well with music, where you just keep chasing the buzz. It’s like a drug, and it might not hit you as hard… But it never fails, it just never fails.

I keep thinking of Joy Division, “Disorder,” always. That’s a particular song that always seems to just get me. I just always feel an intense joy and a sadness. It’s like the whole spectrum of emotion rushes in, except for anger and a few others, but there’s just something about it where your body just starts tingling, and it connects to something in your spirit. I can’t really explain it far beyond that.

Watch the official music video for “Míol Mór Mara” by Outsider on YouTube:

MM: Like yourself, I have some guilty pleasures. I can put them on and even if I’m down, it instantly gives me a little bit of buoyancy. It puts a spring in your step, and your day is 100% better because you heard it.

You mentioned Joy Division, and I was introduced to your music a few weeks ago by [PR agent] Rey Roldan, who’s a great guy. I was like, “Oh, I’ve got all of Outsider’s stuff here in front of me. I’m going to listen to it in the order you released it.” I listened to “Late Night Radio,” and I was like, “Wow, nobody even had to tell me this guy likes Joy Division.” You can hear the influence in that particular song quite well.

SÓC: You’re maybe the first person who’s said to me about “Radio.” I’m not sure, but yeah, you can definitely hear people who are fans of Joy Division, they do sense it in my music.  I was obsessed with Joy Division, and being a bass player for so many years myself, it was always like Peter Hook is just incredible. His sound, the way he approaches a song, it’s just there’s something about it that you can’t really describe. It does something to me, that music, every time actually. With some songs, you can’t create that alchemy, but I know if I listen to the Joy Division, I know how I’m going to feel.

They do give me that rush of energy, and I don’t know, there’s something so powerful about it. It’s really stimulating music. It’s deeply emotional, and deeply meaningful. You feel so excited listening to the Joy Division, because you know Ian Curtis really means it. Everything he’s saying, it’s like you’re nearly on edge every time you hear it. He meant every word of this, and I get to hear it, and the band are so fucking good, what they’re creating is so exciting that, yeah, I’ve never got tired of it. It’s a huge compliment to say that you even hear them slightly in my music.

Watch the official music video for “Late Night Radio” by Outsider on YouTube:

MM: When I listened to the album, I was immediately reminded of some of your contemporaries actually. Like I hear not the same sort of thing, but something very similar to The Killers or White Lies. As far as Karma of Youth goes, A, have you been pleased with its reception, and B, do you think it has a home alongside those other artists?

SÓC: Yeah. It hasn’t charted and I haven’t had this rush of explosion of fan base, but I’m unbelievably just so happy with the feedback I’m getting from people, because it’s meaningful. The feedback I’m getting is it’s meaningful because people are expressing how they feel about the album with depth. They’re telling me their emotions and how it’s affecting them.

When my song was on the FIFA soundtrack, a lot of people were getting in touch with me and telling me their life stories — “This is how this made me feel. The song has connected with me so deeply.” That’s been the response. For me, that’s what I wanted. I feel so unbelievably fulfilled by that. And to answer your other question. For the likes of The Killers and White Lies, yes, I do see that myself there.

I actually love that song “Runaways” off Battle Born. It got a lot of criticism, but I think that’s a fucking incredible song, so there’s so much in it.

MM: I bring up the comparison in the very best of ways, because you both have this very uplifting sound. It’s a very full sound, and there is a very soaring sensation you get to when you listen to it.

SÓC: If that would be the one thing, it’s not the lyrics, or the musicianship, as much as it is this sensation the songs create. They create this momentum. I think U2 can do it well, whereas I wouldn’t say they’re the greatest lyricist I’ve ever heard of or the greatest musicians, but they can create. Together, they create this momentum that’s undeniable.

MM: Right. I think your album is there as well. That really does the same thing for me when I hear it. Congrats, that’s a fantastic piece of work. I really do enjoy it.

Stream Karma of Youth by Outsider on Spotify:

SÓC: Thanks, Mickey. Well, that’s amazing to hear. I don’t know what to say. Thank you. That makes me very charged. When I hear it, I’m like, “It really kills. It really kills.” It gives me a buzz.

MM: I want to ask a little bit about your touring experiences. My blog is mostly a live music review blog, and we do a number of interviews like this with artists yourself. But we can’t review any shows right now, because there aren’t any of course.

So, one, I’d like to ask you a little bit about your touring ambitions, and two I’m wondering if you have any particularly memorable gigs that you’ve played to date, where you might have some anecdotes to share.

SÓC: Obviously, I want to try and get my music to as many people as possible, but I do have this idea in the back of my mind that I would like to change live shows. I would like to change the way they’re done, if I could possibly. I think it would take a lot of work, and a lot of support, and I don’t know how the label would respond to it, or anyone who’s involved, or venues. I just feel like a lot more could be given back to the fan and the audience, the listener. I just think a lot more could be given back, and it’s something that I’d like to develop, if I can.

It’s just an idea to me. I haven’t developed particulars of it, but I feel like sometimes you can pack as many people into a venue as possible, get their money, and then they go home, and the show could be good or it could be bad, and that’s it. That’s not something I’m unbelievably crazy about, because I know the bottom line is money, and keeping the show on the road. But I don’t really care about that. Maybe I’ll have a rude awakening when it happens. Say you’re The Killers and you have to employ 100 people on tour, and maybe more, and you’ve got bills to pay and they’ve got families to feed, you have to think about the bottom line more.

But as I’m coming up, that’s something I’d like to keep in mind with live shows. Sometimes you go to a show, a band, they’re up and coming and the venue isn’t jammed. But the band, they’re fucking so happy to have every person in that room there. It’s like it’s not one person that’s being taken for granted, and it creates an energy. There’s something in the chemistry there. Everyone on stage is happy you’re all there, and it’s just so personal. They don’t feel like they’ve been hoarded in like cattle in the way, so that’s something special. I know that maybe you can’t force create that, but to me, that’s the highest level of experience at a concert.

I’m going to try my damn best to care more for what the audience might want, what experience they might want from it. I want to do that on a large a scale as possible without affecting the connection with the audience. That would kill it for me.

The first time I was alone on a stage really with an audience at this festival called Live at Leeds. I just thought, “Look, I’ll just get through it.” But the audience loved it, and I even did some call and response singing parts, and that was something I never even considered before. It just happened in the moment, and even the sound engineers came up shaking my hand afterwards, and saying, “Jesus, we loved this from the first song. It was incredible.” Maybe 50 people were there, because it was in this club at nine o’clock and I was contending with the headliners of the festival.

Another show that was really special was I played a gig in Germany, a city called Mannheim, which no one’s ever heard of. But there’s this festival there called The Maifeld Derby, about 5,000 people. And the festival had The National, St. Vincent, Warpaint. Just for 5,000 people, the line-up was just crazy. There were just huge names on it, and that was perfect. The audience was never really over 1,000 people, really at any of the acts. There was just something special about it, and it was so intimate. I played on that stage with all the rest of those acts. That was just a special experience just being able to see them, and I learned a lot from them, because I just learned from their professionalism.

MM: When you were talking about that connection during live shows, you totally reminded me a bit of another Irishman, Glen Hansard. I’ve seen Glen perform a few times, and he always likes to push the show forward a little bit. He likes to have that connection with the audience, and he wouldn’t care if there was 10 people or 1,000 people there. He wants that show to be something personal to the people watching it.

SÓC: That makes complete sense, because Glen came up the hard way with The Frames. They played Ireland, man, maybe 15 years before seeing any kind of success. Eventually it was a crawl and a struggle, but they actually won an MTV award for a video they made, which was really cool. They were broke, so they went into this shop, and he played the song in the security camera.

With Glen Hansard, you could look up and you go, “This fucking means the world to him.” And it just makes it special for everyone, because you’re all in something together now. Everybody owns this now. It’s not just about the band, and it’s not just about the audience. It’s about the music, and everybody owns it right now in this moment. That’s the highest form of transference to me. That’s where you’re sharing that experience.

Watch the original music video for “Revelate” by The Frames on YouTube:

MM: Your own music videos have a vibe to them, like they’re a part of a whole story.

SÓC: No, they are. They are actually. The guys who directed it intentionally done that. I think you might be one of the very few people who’ve spotted that, that there’s a story, because most people didn’t recognize it. That the story’s connected in the videos. But John Burke [of JoinFilm], who directed, put so much of this imagery into it. Like esoteric Hinduism and symbolism. I think there was a fireplace in one that represents Kundalini waking of the spine and all this. I have no idea any of this was going on.

I was in studio at the time, and I was so busy, I didn’t have time to have anything to do with the video. But John has so much like esoteric symbolism in it that you need to really know your stuff to see it. I could go through it and spot it maybe, but I’ve always wanted him to explain that on YouTube to the audience. But he’s so obsessed with David Lynch, he won’t do it. He’s like, “No, no. David Lynch, he won’t explain his work, so I’m not.” All right.

MM: Ha. Well, thanks again, Sean. I certainly appreciate your time.

SÓC: Thank you very much for your time. I really enjoyed speaking to you, Mickey.

MM: When you have an American tour, I would love to chat with you again.

SÓC: That would be great. My manager’s saying, “When all this is over, you have to come to America.” Hopefully when all of this over, I can. We’ll see how it all goes after that.

**
For more music by Outsider, visit his Bandcamp.

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