- 06 Feb 24
Former Silences frontman Conchúr White looks set to be one of the most talked about artists of the year, thanks to his dazzling debut LP Swirling Violets. He tells Edwin McFee all about his new solo career, what it was like working with Iain Archer, signing with Bella Union and more.
It may sound strange to say it considering we’ve only started to stumble and tumble our way into 2024, but Conchúr White has just unveiled one of the records of the year.
Dubbed Swirling Violets and released via iconic indie label Bella Union, the debut LP from the Portadown-bred songsmith is an absorbing, rewarding and absolutely magnetic offering. Full of hope, heartbreak and hits in the making, you don’t need a crystal ball or to be World Cup-predicting mollusc, Paul the Octopus, to see the former frontman for Silences has created something special.
But before we get to White’s bright future, first we must delve a little into his recent past. Regular readers may recall this scribe writing about his old band many times in these pages. Over a period of five years, Silences went from cutting their teeth in the likes of the Phoenix Bar in Newry to having their faces splashed across buses, billboards and universities in China.
When I meet Conchúr in a chattering cafe in Belfast, he tells me that while the break-up was tough, Silences calling it a day was an amicable affair.
“It naturally felt like the right time to end it,” he reflects. “In 2017, were all in our mid-twenties and we sacrificed a lot to be in the band. A life in music is hard economically and it felt like we were in a bit of a rut too. We started to see everyone else grow up and move on, so yeah, it was time to wind things down. There was no bad blood or anything. We all grew up together and we’re still extremely close friends.”
Over the last 12 months, it seems like the stars have aligned for White. He signed a deal with Bella Union, shared stages with the likes of John Grant and Richard Hawley, and released the best music of his career so far.
But the singer-songwriter’s garden hasn’t always been so rosy, and 2020 was particularly tough for the then fledgling solo star.
In the same week he released his debut solo EP Bikini Crops, the world collectively closed its doors due to the pandemic. Just when White’s career should have been off to a flying start, he found himself grounded.
“The EP was released the week of lockdown,” he recalls. “At the time, music and my career were so far away from my mind, though. Like everyone else, I was more concerned with what was going on in the world. A few months in, I saw that I lost momentum, but then everyone was in the same boat, weren’t they? Yes, it was frustrating, but I took solace in the fact that it was an opportunity to focus more on music and write more. A lot of ideas over that time actually ended up on the record, so there was a bit of a silver lining.”
Iron sharpens iron as they say, and Conchúr forged ahead through those uncertain times, emerging the other side with Swirling Violets. Brimming with big hooks and even bigger ideas, the dream-pop, folk and indie flavoured album touches on a wide range of subjects.
“I’m fascinated by dreams and that informs some of the album,” says Conchúr, who suffers from sleep paralysis. “It blows my mind to think that at the end of the day, we go to this place that we don’t really know much about, or what it will be like on any given night. There’s some cosmic ideas on the album too, as well as good old-fashioned love songs and tunes about nostalgia.”
One of the highlights is the title track. Co-written with Iain Archer, Conchúr has nothing but praise for the award-winning Bangor artist, who has helped craft some of James Bay, Jake Bugg and Snow Patrol’s biggest hits.
“Iain is a legend,” he enthuses. “I’ve always said over the years that if I could get a chance to write a song with him, I’d do it in a heartbeat. At the time, I had all the sessions for the album done, actually. He was off writing music with Snow Patrol and was home for a few days, and we met up and spent four or five hours working on something. It didn’t go anywhere, then over the course of a few minutes, the song ‘Swirling Violets’ came out of nowhere. It’s such a lovely memory.
“His approach to songwriting is really refreshing. He is so down to earth and that’s probably why he’s had so much success. He really believes songwriting to be an art form. I used to be dismissive about it and maybe bashful, there’s more important things in life, but he helped me see that songs can mean the world to some people. It was rejuvenating for me. I’d love to work more with him. He doesn’t care about the steaming numbers, he cares about the song.”
On the subject of dream teams, White and Bella Union feels like a match made in heaven, and he tells us he was already a fan of the celebrated label’s roster before signing with them.
“It felt really good signing with them,” he says. “Bella Union have had a lot of acts I was inspired by. For example, Father John Misty’s music totally changed my approach to writing lyrics. He helped me realise that songs don’t always need to be tragic. You can have elements of humour too.
“When I was younger, Fleet Foxes also introduced me to harmonies. I didn’t even know what harmonies were until I heard that band. Funnily enough, when my mum was bringing me to school, the only album we could agree to listen to was that Fleet Foxes one.”
By the time you read this, Conchúr will be hitting the road and playing record stores across Ireland, and he hails the importance of brick and mortar shops for both musicians and fans alike.
“At this period in my life, record shops are more vital than ever,” he says. “They need to be celebrated more. Digital doesn’t feel real in some ways. Physical media is the bridge between the artist and audience. For me, I need the artwork and lyric sheet to accompany the music, and I think you invest in the songs more when you have a physical copy.”
And how does it feel to hold his very first album in his hands, we ask? Is he dying to share the life-affirming opus with the world, or would he prefer to hold onto it and make some more tweaks?
“I’ve waited a long time to release an album,” he replies. “There were moments when it could’ve happened with Silences, but it never worked out and wasn’t the right time. But the time is right now, and it’s a good feeling to share it. I’m going to try to enjoy that without moving onto the next thing. I think you need to take those victories when you get them.”
• Swirling Violets is out now on Bella Union