- 26 Jan 17
Susan O’Neill, the husky-voiced backing singer with Propeller Palms and King Kong Company, is going on her own in 2017.
Some people get into rock ‘n’ roll as a form of rebellion against an authoritarian upbringing, but the prodigiously gifted Susan O’Neill – who performs as SON – actually credits her strict parents for her burgeoning career as a singer-songwriter. Growing up in smalltown Ennis, she simply wasn’t allowed out at night.
“I can thank my mom not wanting me hanging out in the streets for the fact that I played so much music when I was younger,” the beautiful 26-year-old smiles. “She just would not allow me out hanging around the town. So if you’re spending all your time in, what else are you gonna do with your time except for learn to play an instrument?”
Susan began playing trumpet in the town’s brass band around the age of nine before picking up the guitar and joining the Ennis Gospel Choir in her early teens. “I loved gospel music, always loved the voices and the energy of all these people doing it together,” she recalls. “It was just a feel-good environment. And at that point it was my first experience with bigger stages, you know, we were going down to play with Tommy Fleming at the INEC, we were playing on different shows. So that was when I really started to catch the bug of music on the road, tour buses, live performances.”
At the choir director’s suggestion, she auditioned for You’re A Star when she was 16. “I wound up on the telly,” she laughs. “I felt so awkward being in high heels and tight skirts, but I made it through two nights in The Helix and then I got knocked out on the third night. I sang my own song – nobody had warned me that people don’t ever vote for original material! On the first two nights I sang ‘Hallelujah’, it was the first song that I properly learned on guitar. So when Leonard Cohen was on the cover of Hot Press when he died, I’m not gonna lie, I kissed his cheek!”
After school, Susan moved to Waterford to study music at WIT. “Four years there just did me an absolute world of good,” she enthuses. “I met some of my best friends, I met the people that I play in bands with now. And I got into the sessions, living it, late nights, cans, pizzas, playing music all day every day. I started to gig around then, so I was brought over to Italy and Austria and I got to travel a little bit around Europe.
“I was in Greece, Cyprus, for a few summers in a row, I put in my hours there. That was three hours a night, seven nights a week. That was intense heat during the day, and it was one of those things where you go over and you come back feeling the same, a little bit more tanned, but everyone goes, ‘Wow, you’ve gotten so much better!’ You don’t feel it because you’re just part of it every single day, but when you come back people have really noticed. But I loved having my finger in so many different pies.”
She still does, singing backing vocals with Waterford acts Propeller Palms and King Kong Company for the last few years while also working on her own material. “Yeah, it’s really great singing with those bands. With the Palms, we’ve supported Fun Lovin’ Criminals and Howard Marks, we’ve played the Groove Festival with Imelda May and Jerry Fish, we’ve done the Electric Picnic three or four times, and we’ve gotten very big slots on the Daytripper Festival. And then, with King Kong Company, we were on the Cosby Stage last year at Electric Picnic.”
2017 will see SON concentrating more on her solo career. She’s just released her bluesy debut album, Found Myself Lost, showcasing her truly phenomenal husky voice, often reminiscent of Amy Winehouse, Janis Joplin or a ballsier Adele.
“The best way to describe my album is as a collection of songs that I wrote over the space of eight years,” she explains. “It’s like the story of a female going through adolescence and reaching a point of adulthood, and my acceptance of where I’m going in life, or what I’m doing or who I am. Because, to be quite honest, I have a lot of different egos that I have to deal with.
“I have to be different people according to the different things I do in life. I do a bit of business in college, and I have to be the business person who puts on the suits sometimes and talks about startups and enterprises and entrepreneurship. At the same time, I’m the tomboyish girl with the filthy mouth that likes to drink cans with bands and stay up all night, having fun that way.”
Found Myself Lost is available now.