Ian Whitty is a singer-songwriter from Killarney, now based in Cork and recording his second album. Here he answers some questions about his past, present and future as a musician.
Were you always into music?
I've always loved songs. When I was younger I would play my parents records to death. As soon as I was allowed into town on my own I would make a weekly visit to the record shop to buy chart singles. At the age of eight my Ma brought me to see U2, The Pretenders and Christy Moore in Croke Park and after that I think I was officially hooked.
Tell me about your musical development
When I was fifteen my brother got a guitar and whenever he went out I would slip into his room and play it. I never really wanted to learn songs. I would just come up with my own little tunes and sing whatever came into my head. After that I bought my own guitar and started a band with a couple of friends. At rehearsals we used to sit around smoking cigarettes and drinking beer. It was more like a self-help group for disenfranchised youth than a musical endeavour.
So when did you start seriously writing songs?
When I went to college I started writing songs proper and wanting to perform them. Then a songwriter night in Killarney called Surface started up. I met a lot of great musicians though that. I did my first gig there with Paddy Casey and a local songwriter Colm O'Suilleabháin. Later I moved to Cork to do Music Management and Sound. It was there that I really started to develop my own slant on things and I suppose I have been exploring it ever since.
This changes from week to week. I don't know if I have a favourite as such. Right now I am listening to Mirah who is a Washington-based indie/folk singer.
What do you think of Killarney?
I think Killarney was a great place to grow up. Since we moved to Kerry my family have always lived in Muckross so I consider that whole area home as such. It's an incredibly beautiful part of the world.
Do you come home much?
About once every month or so to visit my family and see my friends.
How do you like Cork?
I love the city. The music scene here is amazing at the moment.
What do you think of the current state of the Irish music scene?
I think it's really healthy. Everyone seems to be working really hard. If Cork is anything to go by then I think the band scene is about to get really exciting.
How did your first album 'Will o' the Wisp' do?
'Will o' the Wisp' was recorded with indie producer Steve Fanagan. All the songs have a nice quiet tone. I was really enthused by the reaction given that it was released without any fanfare at all. It has done much better than I expected and led to me being invited on some really nice tours.
What subjects do you write about?
This new record is about city life and all the positives and negatives that go with it. I tend to write about any sort of changes or transitions that happen to me. Songs are weird though, you can't really plan for them, they just tend to come along and want to get written. They tend to get cross if you ignore them.
Give me a few lines from some of your songs
"She said this town it swallows people, you see them
talking to themselves,
And as a little consolation they'll take any medication that will
bring them some place else" (Bought and Sold)
"The manager he swoops he's a dare devil doing hoops and
cocaine wisdom in his eyes, modern cowboy no lasso but still tells
Tonto what to do" (Fallen Stars in Late Nite Bars)
So tell me about your new album
I have been recording the album since last Autumn with my band and producer Ken Mc Hugh who's done records for Juno Falls, Dave Kitt and Roesy. He's also the man behind Autamata. I am really happy with how it’s all sounding. When exactly the record will come out is unsure but I will be popping songs from the record up on my-space from time to time just to give people an idea of what to expect. If people check the web site and myspace it will keep them up-dated on the various goings on of the Whitty committee.
musician.ie - Ian Whitty interview
Interview by Ivan O‘Donoghue
This article was a long time in the making, due entirely to delays at the musician.ie end. We‘d like to thank Ian for his patience.
Your lyrics seem to be constructed as poetry, and then put to music. Indeed, the last track on the album is an unaccompanied recitation. Do you draw the distinction between Ian the poet and Ian the songwriter?
I write them all as songs rather than poems. They start of life as lyrics in my head rather then poems. Even the last track on the record was written as a song, I just never found the right chords for it so I started saying it at gigs. So I suppose I consider myself a songwriter first and foremost and not really a poet at all.
The influence of your English studies is apparent in your songs. I‘m reminded of Hopkins at times. Do you give consideration to iambic pentameter, alliteration and obscure rhyming schemes when crafting a verse? Does your song writing incorporate a little science as well as art?
My songwriting tends to be quite haphazard. I tend to scribble random things down a lot. When I have an idea I tend to sometimes give consideration to what would be an interesting way of presenting it. Sometimes I write many verses that I don‘t use. Some songs evolve over a long period of time and other times they slip out almost fully formed. There doesn‘t seem to be any rhyme or reason to alot of it. It really depends on the song. Often the music will dictate the form of the verse as in how many words or syllables each line will need. I do tend to try to keep the rhyming as interesting as possible ‘cos I think people have become a little tired of the same old schemes. I don‘t intentionally bring any science to the table but that said I do enjoy playing with words. I really like some of the older songs of the 20‘s 30‘s 40‘s and 50‘s because there is a great playfullness of words apparant in some of them that we seem to have lost in modern songwriting. In my own songwriting that playing with words or the science of the whole thing always seems to be secondary to the themes of my songs or my reason for writing them. I wouldn‘t like for the songs to be driven by style over content or to be overly clever because thats not really where they come from.
The last time we saw you perform it was in a small venue and there was an impressive silence when you sang. It helped to create a very intimate atmosphere. Do you find that it‘s more difficult to create this sense of intimacy with a larger audience?
I think that really depends on the venue and the audience. There doesn‘t tend to be any rule with gigs. I have done some gigs to large audiences that could as well have been in someone‘s living room because they seemed so intimate. On the down side of that if for some reason the venue or the audience or the sound isn‘t lending itself to a good vibe then it can be a lonely place in a big venue. But this can also be true of smaller gigs. Maybe it boils down to good rooms and bad rooms. Sometimes as soon as you walk into a place you‘ll either get a great or uneasy feeling about the gig to come.
Do you see yourself as strictly a solo artist or would you form a band if given the opportunity? If so what line up would work best for you? Would you continue to play guitar?
I think the next record will be a more up tempo affair so maybe it will make sense to put together a little band around that time. I played with a couple of people on this last tour and really enjoyed it. I really like the idea of a jazz combo, a small kit with brushes and an upright bass maybe with some brass and strings as well. I think what ever the band would be it would have to be pretty versatile. I don‘t see myself as strictly a solo performer at all but it is very important to me to be able to do solo gigs and that the songs stand up wth just me and my guitar. I really enjoy playing guitar so I don‘t think I‘d give it up and besides my dance routine‘s are a little rusty.
Will o the wisp has some interesting instrumentation. Voice and guitar are paramount, but added touches include a rather raspy fiddle, seascape samples and some very synthetic keyboard lines. Tell us why you selected such interesting sounds for what is primarily an acoustic folk album?
I wanted to make a folk record but I wanted to differentiate it from other similar records by using some sounds that are perhaps a little unconventional. I co-produced it with Steve Fanagan who is a really good man to think outside of the box. We were both really anxious to make a record that would stand up to multiple listens that's why we added all the bits and pieces. When it came to choosing instruments we tended to throw a whole lot of sounds at the songs and then choose the one‘s that seemed to be working. On the whole I think it all sits pretty well, we wanted to avoid overdoing it and really wanted the songs to remain uncluttered.
You are another graduate of the music, management and sound course at Cork‘s C.S.N. What does the syllabus offer to a nascent performer songwriter?
I had a really great time at c.s.n. The course gives a really solid grounding in recording, theory, management and performance. It‘s a very practical course which I really liked about it. Being immersed in so much music of all kinds of style‘s was very inspirational. I wrote a lot of songs whilst I was there. I think anyone starting out would benefit greatly from the course.
You have lived all over Ireland as well as in Chicago. What factors led to your decision to base yourself in Cork?
There is a really great music scene in Cork at the moment I think it‘s experiencing some sort of golden age. Not just for songwriters, the band scene is really interesting as well. There seems to be great will amongst musicians in Cork too, a kind of honour amongst thieves. I also really like the city. It‘s a very true place if that makes any sense.
‘Will o the wisp‘ was a year in the making. It was a home recording. How did you go about it? Can you tell the gear sluts amongst us about the equipment you used to make the recording?
It was made over a year in a really relaxed kind of way. Whenever I had some time off or the inclination I would drive to Steve‘s house in Dublin and we would potter away at it. I think if you were to add all the days together it was recorded in around three weeks or something like that. I did one of the guitar voice takes in Cork with Ray Barron and another two tracks with a good friend of mine Ruairi O Flaherty in Killarney. I‘m not so adept with the technical side of things but for the benefit of the gear fetishists I do know that at different points we used; Cakewalk, Protools, Nuendo and a portable Roland 8 track (a great toy that one!). Two tracks were recorded to tape (ADAT) and the rest were recorded to hard drive on various computers. In terms of microphones I know we used a couple of Neumanns, an AKG C414, an AKG C1000, an amazing hand made Audiolux and one or two others that I can‘t recall. We mixed as we went and did the final mixes in Verdi studios in Killarney with some Protools nymphery. All the guitar voice takes were done live as we really wanted it to have a cohesive and natural atmosphere.
Most home recordings, including yours, are sent to a professional mastering house. Why do you think that this remains the one step that cannot be done outside of a professional facility?
Mastering is such an important part of the record making process, I had completely underestimated its importance until we mastered Will o the wisp. It‘s the final step that pulls all the strands together, you can really make or break a record at the mastering stage. I guess people don‘t want to take any chances with it so they use established people with good track records to do it for them. I think as time goes on people working from home studios will become more able at mastering. It‘s quite a precise thing you kind of really have to know what you‘re at with it but it's fair enough to assume that it will become less specialised in years to come like all other aspects of recording.
How are you promoting the album? How has it been received?
I did a tour thing before Christmas to launch the record which went really well. I‘ve been doing a bunch of press too and have a bit more lined up for January with another tour in the pipeline for February and March. I think the gigs are the best promotion really if you‘re doing good shows word of mouth tends to do a lot of the work. Promotion isn‘t an exact science when you‘re an independent artist but it seems once you get the ball rolling things tend to follow on and take on some sort of momentum. I‘m just kind of really happy that the record is out there now learning how to walk and talk for its self. I‘m really happy with the way it has been received, people have been very encouraging about it.
Am I the first person to compare your voice to that of Dean Friedman?
You are indeed. I‘m not aware of the said gentleman's music. I‘ve been compared to everyone from an adolescent Neil Young to Cindi Lauper!!
It was unfortunate that somebody beat you to the ianwhitty.com domain. What do you think of your namesake‘s website?
I visited ianwhitty.com once and was never the same.....