- 11 Aug 21
Paddy Casey is back with a brand new double album, Turn This Ship Around. The Dublin singer-songwriter discusses experimenting with electronic music, living in the moment, and why early success felt “more like a trap than a freedom...”
“I could pretend I don’t care, but I do care, at the end of the day,” Paddy Casey tells me, in a notable deviation from his typical self-deprecating humour. We’re speaking on the eve of the release of Turn This Ship Around – his first album of new material since 2012’s The Secret Life Of... Although the pandemic delayed the release of the new double album, he admits that the butterflies haven’t died over lockdown: “I’m always nervous,” he smiles.
Presented in two 11-track parts, Turn This Ship Around is a bold reintroduction to the Dublin singer-songwriter – who first established himself as a star on these shores and beyond with his multi-platinum debut album Amen (So Be It) in 1999. Although he’s been keeping a relatively low profile in recent years, the depth and breadth of material on his new album indicates that he’s been putting his time to good use.
“I had more songs for this than I would’ve had previously for any other album,” he nods. “I didn’t want to throw some of them away. I wanted to put them all on the one album, but the songs didn’t really fit together. So I thought the best thing to do was to just cut them into two sides. The two mes.”
He reveals that there was even a potential Part 3.
“There was a dance/electronic album, but I decided I’d do that separately somewhere else,” he notes. “That was definitely different from the other two sides. I don’t have one type of music that I love – I like fucking around! I’m probably more well known for doing acoustic stuff, but since I started four-tracking, I’ve always fucked around with drum beats.”
He also attempted to enlist the services of his old flatmate, Declan O’Rourke, on the project.
“He was in the house, so I stuck a guitar in his hand, and said, ‘Play some slide,’” he recalls. “I never really play slide guitar, and I wanted some weird, Hawaii Five-O guitar in the background. But he thought it was a weird song – I don’t think he got it! I think it’s a great song. So that was as far as that went!”
Over the course of his career, Paddy has had a front row seat to dramatic changes in the music industry – as well as the world’s rapidly decreasing attention span.
“Everyone’s so attuned to just listening to something for a couple of minutes, and then that’s the end of it,” he ventures. “And they all want to watch videos – so if there’s no video to go with something, the chance of them actually listening to it is even slimmer.
“I never liked videos,” he continues. “I always thought videos killed a bit of the mystery of music. If you read a book, you make up all the places and pictures in your mind. If you watch the film then, that kind of kills your imagination. That’s the way I think of music videos. I’ve always imagined lots of stuff to go with songs – and then when I’ve seen the video, all of a sudden you’re closing a door on that. It’s all about what you see, right now. I was never about that in the beginning. I barely knew what half the people I listened to looked like for years.”
Although he dreads sounding “like a whingy old man”, he’s also one of the countless artists with more than a few bones to pick with Spotify.
“Spotify is the nail in the coffin – especially for people who aren’t as established,” he resumes. “Some people could have made some money from their music, selling it online. But with Spotify it’s very hard for anyone to do that.”
“Because of the technology now, there are kids in their bedrooms making great music,” he remarks. “A few years ago, they would have had to pay for a studio, and the right gear. Now they’re making stuff that sounds gigantic, and they’re just doing it from their ma’s house. No one’s in the way – they don’t have to wait for approval from anyone.”
While there’s plenty to admire on the Irish scene right now, Paddy wasn’t short of icons to look up to in his younger years.
“When I was a kid I loved people like Sinéad O’Connor and The Waterboys,” he reflects. “Mike Scott is such a soulful singer. And Glen Hansard is amazing on stage – he’s definitely one of the best live performers out there. There was always a friendly competition there, but I think he might have won…
“All these people were my friends, so we looked at each other in a different way,” he continues. “I probably looked to America a bit more. I was big into Prince, Jackie Wilson and Nina Simone. And John Martyn too. I don’t know who I was trying to rip off, but there was definitely a bit of everyone thrown in. I never got the Prince one in though – I missed that one. But I definitely think I robbed a bit of Bob Marley somewhere along the line!”
Having toured with the likes of R.E.M., Blondie, The Pretenders and Ian Brown; played special guest spots with U2, Pearl Jam, Bob Dylan; and had his sophomore album, Living, go 15-times platinum, the success of Paddy, and the early ‘00s Irish scene he was part of, left an important legacy for the next generation of artists – many of them, including Dermot Kennedy and David Keenan, following similar paths from buskers to singer-songwriters.
But Paddy, true to form, remains as humble as ever.
“I did alright – but I didn’t do as well as those fuckers are doing!” he laughs. “I mean, I definitely toured a lot, and I saw a lot of places. But it all depends on what you want from it. Personally, I don’t think it’s all it’s cracked up to be. The music is important. The other stuff… whatever. It feels more like a trap than a freedom.
“I was never comfortable with that whole thing,” he continues. “That’s just in my make-up, though – some people are really good at it. I’m just better on a stage.”
While there’s certainly been surreal moments along the way – like having drinks with Beyoncé and Jay-Z, and performing on The Late Show With David Letterman – Paddy has remained grounded by primarily focusing on the present.
“We like to think we’re really complicated machines – but most of us just live in the moment,” he muses. “I find it very hard to be anywhere other than where I am now, or what I’m feeling now.
“I like what’s happening now, most of the time,” he adds. “I think it’s better now, for me. I was never really comfortable doing the other stuff anyway. I don’t like to be woken up everyday to do things. I prefer doing things in my own time. So this works a lot better for me – when it’s just me, and I’m in charge. And whatever happens, happens. And if nothing happens, then it’s my own fault!”
Lockdown has been a difficult time for artists across the globe – but Paddy agrees that it’s also been a useful one for reflection.
“The beginning of lockdown was scary,” he recalls. “People were talking all kinds of nonsense. At the time they didn’t know it was nonsense, but there was definitely a big fear factor. That might have killed a bit of creativity because fear is never good for anything.
“But as soon as that subsided a bit, I realised I had this time that I never would have taken to myself, because I’m always gigging. So apart from the money – not being able to make a living was kind of shit – it was great. I’ve done loads of stuff this year I would never have done in a million years. I’ve always thought about writing a musical, and I’ve started doing it this year. And I’ve written a lot of songs.”
Does that mean Paddy’s already thinking about Turn This Ship Around’s follow-up?
“I am, but you don’t really breathe until the album actually goes out into the world,” he says. “I’m writing all the time, but my head is still in this one. It’s a bit all-encompassing. I’m still in that mode.
“And I want to know what people think, but at the same time I don’t want to know,” he adds. “A double album might be too much. But it felt like the only thing to do – so I did it. There’s a lot of heart in it. And I meant every word.”