- 01 Feb 22
Armed with a new moniker, rising singer-songwriter NIYL speaks to Hot Press about struggling as an unsupported Irish creative, the power of soul music and new single 'The Heretic.'
NIYL is riding the flow of change.
Formerly known as Nile St. James, the Limerick-based artist was well on his way after releasing his first single in 2017 - becoming a rising star in Irish music with lively soul tracks that showcased his soaring vocals.
He made strides in the live circuit, opening for the likes of fellow singer-songwriter Gavin James, fellow Limerick outfit Hermitage Green and Bray folk/pop trio Wyvern Lingo. His self-professed, unapologetic adoration of classic soul music fuelled his ambitions of becoming a full-time musician.
But the music was not always self-sustaining, and ambitions were forced to take a back seat. Over the last year, the artist took a step back to reflect on his journey as a performer, discovering a new direction for his creative identity. He has since branded himself with a new name to match this exciting evolution.
“I got a really nice taste of what I could do with the Nile St. James outfit, but I wanted to find what really made me spur in terms of songwriting and craft,” NIYL tells Hot Press over the phone.
He found that spur in the form of orchestral, chamber pop music: "atmo-soul", as he dubs it.
For his first release under the new moniker, NIYL dropped the single ‘The Heretic’ on January 28. A departure from previous singles — lively offering 'Fell For You', for example — the new track explores love lost and forsaken lovers.
A soliloquy of sorts, 'The Heretic' takes NIYL’s earnest lyrics and sits them on top of a bed of sweeping orchestral strings, creating a moody, emotional ballad.
"A natural progression brought me to the new music I'm making now, which is much more focused on my love of cinematic and orchestrated music,' NIYL explained. "I was heavily influenced by that and with the change of that genre - I like calling it atmospheric soul or atmo-soul but, you could call it alt-pop, you could call it chamber pop - I loved my time as an artist and as Nile St. James, but it's very reflective of the music I was making."
"I think I've matured and grown as a person in the past three years, so I think the brand, so to speak, needed to change as well to reflect that."
Along with the genre shift, NIYL's outlook on music as an industry also progressed. He is now determined to share new music on his own terms, without focusing on the demands of commercial sales.
"I was very much focused on 'this needs to be radio friendly,' it needs to be sellable,' NIYL elaborates. "Now I'm just making the music with the hopes that people will receive it well."
"I love what I'm doing so much. It's really coming from the heart. I'm nervous about seeing where it goes. I think, as with all music, it's not going to be everyone's cup of tea, but it will be some people's and the 'some people' are the important ones."
'The Heretic' was written by the sea at NIYL's mobile home in the west of Ireland. Whether its his childhood connections or his Pisces alignment, the singer found a "wild connection" that led to his reinvention.
"My creative flow is ignited while I'm down there," NIYL said. "There's this wild connection to that place where melodies start coming into my head. Maybe it's the relaxation of it or the meditation of being around the Atlantic, but it really influences and spurs on my writing process."
Sonically, NIYL has moved away from his bluesy soul roots, but. his new music borrows from the language of the genre. This continued sense of freedom, raw emotion and storytelling allows the same spirit to be presented in a new way.
Being influenced at a young age by the rich vocals and deep emotionality of Aretha Franklin, NIYL hopes his sweeping vocals on 'The Heretic' can carry his words.
"I remember first hearing Aretha's voice and being absolutely blown away by it," he said. "I must have been in primary school. I always used to try and sing her songs — to the detriment of my parents ears — I was very much influenced by how she performed and expressed herself."
"The kind of freedom that she had when singing and the rawness of it, I think that's something that I really tried to translate when I'm singing."
"Taking the heretic, for example, it's set up as a story. It's a story of coming to terms with a love that really isn't good for you but, you still can't help but love it, which everyone has been through," NIYL adds. "The lyrics allow me to communicate that with my voice. Going back to my love of what Aretha Franklin does, she carries the words with her voice, and it becomes a really, really emotional experience for the listeners."
Ever the romantic, the vocalist calls upon poets like Oscar Wilde and Yeats for lyrical inspiration.
"If I'm reading Oscar Wilde, in particular The Portrait of Dorian Grey, if you sit down and read it you're just taken away by the fluidity of his words. It's lyrical the way he writes, even though he is writing long form pieces. So I think Wilde and Yeats really kind of kicked off my love of writing in that way and writing from a romantic perspective of things."
More contemporary inspiration comes from Leonard Cohen.
"I think Leonard Cohen is probably one of my favourite poets. My roommates back in college had this gorgeous little hard book cover of his poetry and I consumed that."
"I really fell in love with his storytelling sense. So being able to apply that to what I love doing, which is singing and making melodies is very special."
From his own struggles in working as a full-time musician and the shared plights of many other Irish artists, NIYL believes the infrastructure of the country falls short in supporting the arts.
"As we all have been reading in the news during Covid times, we've seen a harrowing contrast in the way the government had been treating sports events versus live music events. I don't know if that stems from a lack of interest or failure to prioritise the arts industry in Ireland. Potentially because we don't have the might of a lobby behind us like other groups."
"I think that stems from the infrastructure of the Government," NIYL continues. "We have a lot of really great people fighting the good fight but there's not enough of them to be able to turn the opinion of those in power. I had to take a step back from trying to be a full time musician to kind of put my eggs in a basket, and to study something that would allow me to be able to pursue music."
"It's only because of that full time job that I'm able to release 'The Heretic'. But if you look in Germany, in the likes of Berlin, there is such a respect for the arts over there that you can see embedded into the policies of the countries. It's frustrating, especially when Ireland is associated as a place that is a cultural hub for the arts. We have all the greats within music and theatre. There's so much talent coming from this island and that only seems to be celebrated and respected when the time is right."
Following the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions in Ireland, NIYL hopes to take his new brand out on the road this year, hopefully with more new tracks in his corner.
"I hope to be doing a small little tour, maybe by the end of this year," he grins. "I'm hoping to release something in the summertime and then maybe do an autumn or winter tour. That's the thing about Ireland, the gigging in this country is absolutely amazing. If you have a receptive audience, you create absolutely magic in a space."
'The Heretic' is out now.
Revisit NIYL's soulful rendition of Oasis' Champagne Supernova on the Hot Press Morning Glory 25th anniversary series, here.