Paddy Casey is back in the recording studio. This time, he’s teamed up with a group of young musicians – Joolz Jones, Kilian Petit and Jared Dylan – and taken himself off to Grouse Lodge, Co. Westmeath. Natalie Dyer talks with them about the art of collaboration, the stumbling blocks to recording, and what it took to bring Paddy back.
Midday. We’re en route to a sleepy part of Westmeath. The taxi man is taking me to a place where Michael Jackson and Will.i.am once retreated to work together. Grouse Lodge recording studio. I’m here to meet Irish music stalwart Paddy Casey, who has been off-the-radar for a long time, but is currently collaborating with Jared Dylan, Kilian Pettit and Joolz Jones.
This particular recording session was the brainchild of music executive Jason Rothberg. A well connected fella who recently moved over from Palm Springs with his wife (the daughter of renowned singer Donovan). He’s hoping to reestablish Paddy’s place in Irish music.
A few frosty, grass lined roads later and we pull into the courtyard. From there, I’m escorted to the hub of the recording studio. Stone walls are adorned with Persian rugs and there’s framed skull drawings modelled on icons ranging from Freddie Mercury to Gandhi. Endless feng shui.
In the studio, Jared Dylan and Kilian Pettit are exchanging Irishisms. Pettit, a Cork native, is trying to explain the exact meaning of “vim and vigour” to his New Jersey counterpart. They inform me that Joolz is on the way and Paddy is still sleeping off last night’s music session, which ended at 6am. While we wait, Jared debriefs me on how last night went. Himself and Kilian came up with some instrumental tracks in the hours before Casey arrived. “When Paddy got here, he started playing the piano. It sounded like random nonsense. It sounded good but not like he was writing a song”.
Jared explains that he would sing over Paddy’s chords, drop it, then half an hour later Paddy would remember that exact melody. “He’ll be writing an entire song the whole time. I don’t know how he remembers every little detail. It’s a completely different process than ours”.
Joolz has arrived so we break for lunch - a hearty, wine loaded mushroom risotto with avocado salad - before returning to the studio as Jared lays down some trap house beats. Kilian compliments him on his skills and the pair share an appreciative exchange.
At 3.30pm, the man himself has been cajoled out of bed. He slinks into the room and announces that he’s going for a smoke. I join him. Paddy talks about his eyesight, which is failing him as of late. He tells me his “optimist” advised him to read the newspaper from far away. There’s a brief pause as he laughs and corrects himself. “Sorry, optician.”
Answering to his late arrival, Casey explains that nobody wants to work the hours he works. “I think that’s how I end up doing a lot of stuff [alone]. It’s because I don’t really want to start until everyone else goes to sleep”.
So he’s a bit of a nocturnal animal then?
“Yeah. Plus, I wouldn’t be a great musician. I’d be a little bit shy about working with other people. I bang things out and do really rough versions of stuff kind of knowing what they are. And I don’t even know if I want someone there, to be honest with you”.
Does the media portrayal of being naturally shy fit the bill?
“Oh yeah, totally,” he replies. “You don’t want anyone seeing your rough stuff. Your doodles...That sounds dirty,” he jokes. Moving on, I tell Casey that during my time in university I hated group projects, because one person never pulled their weight. I ask whether he thinks music collaborations can be a little of the same.
Thinking about it, he replies: “It’s just like having your mate help you clean up your house, you know? It’s still your house afterwards. Even if one of youse is a lazy bastard - it’s still technically yours.” Seeing as this is his first studio collaboration, do I sense a foreshadowing here?
By his own admission, Casey believes that the process of writing music together is slower, but concedes to Jared’s view, that working collaboratively makes everyone focus.
I ask Casey if he likes cross-genre songs. He tells me it depends. He’ll take Aerosmith and Run DMC’s ‘Walk This Way’, but hasn’t much time for Aretha Franklin’s track ‘I Knew You Were Waiting’ with George Michael. What he’s really animated about, however, is his view that decades of genre fusion has meant that none of it is that shocking anymore.
“The colours just get better,” he observes. “Our ears have grown more accustomed to different flavours. If you look at America. There was a time where it was black music and white...I don’t think any of that shit matters now.”
The evening sets in and I remind Paddy that we need to go outside for a photoshoot soon. Sensing his unease, I ask what it’s like to collaborate with photographers. He explains how all the photos used for his album covers have been taken by accident because the contrived ones never work.
“I’m very camera shy. Every time I see a photo, I just see that awkwardness. I don’t know what other people see, but for me I see that squirming. Or you don’t think you look like that. I don’t get used to it. I find it very hard to look”.
He also has a theory on why people hate seeing photos of themselves and hearing their own voice. “You don’t look at yourself in the same way you look at other people. You don’t hear yourself because you already know what you wanna say. You’re voice is the most useless thing in the world to you.” The only exception, he says, is when you’re drowning.
I ask if he’s happy when he hears his own singing voice played back. Casey gives that an affirmative “no” and elaborates on his theory further.
“I honest to god think it’s a physiological thing. That you’re not actually supposed to hear your own voice. You know your ma’s voice is your ma’s voice. And you’ll never fuckin’ mistake that. ‘Cos it serves a purpose for your soul. ‘Get in for your dinner’, you know? Those voices mean something to you. But your own voice is something different.”
What does he hope to get out of this session?
“I suppose, I’m hoping that when you listen to the song in three days, four days, that you still like it. And that you’d use it”. On whether he will quickly tire of this collaboration, he responds with, “no, but you can get mad excited about something and then hate it. We play it and you don’t hate it, but you don’t know why you did it.”
In Paddy’s case, there is a certain level of expectation to live up to. Living was confirmed as the highest selling Irish album of 2004. And as a general rule of thumb, Paddy has been churning out successful albums every four years. The aptly titled 2012 album, The Secret Life Of… was the musician’s latest. On top of that, on the day of this interview he’s heading down to do a pub gig in Offaly. This collaboration is a transparent effort to ramp up his career. Does he reflect much on current affairs when he writes?
“I’m supposed to talk about George Bush here am I? With the madness of it all. Or not George Bush, fucking - the other guy. Trump. Yeah, I see stuff but I have to turn away.”
“I’m more into history rather than how it seepers through. Everything’s got an agenda. You can’t trust anything you read.”
Having learned that Casey played a gig last weekend in The Grand Social for International Men's day, I wonder whether he thinks men should have their own day.
“Sure why not?” he remarks. “Women can come, though, if they want. ‘Cos actually, a bunch of men in a room just doesn’t sound like the best craic to me. So yeah, fuck it. Everyone’s getting something now aren’t they?
Has he ever written a song to get into a woman’s good books?
“I thought you were gonna say something else!” he laughs. (Now, now…) “I think I’ve written songs that might have helped, but it was never on purpose.”
After one more smoke, I bid the team adieu and set off on my newly enlightened way. To sit in the same studio that Michael Jackson once recorded in and think “what would have happened if he did do that collab with Christy Moore?” It also jars me as much to envisage how Paddy Casey’s folk-ballads will meld with the other musicians’ clubhouse and grime influences.
It’s those should’ves, would’ves and could’ves we all dwell on too much. For that reason, I’m expecting some kind of unhinged track to hit the public with nuclear force when Paddy’s day returns…
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