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Domhnaill’s story: from trad to synth in South Dublin

Domhnaill’s story: from trad to synth in South Dublin

Image: David Reilly

Domhnaill Corrigan from Lucan, County Dublin, is a musician, songwriter and audio engineer. In addition to creating and recording his own music, 17-year old Domhnaill is a member of two independent bands, a participant in the SubSounds: Tallaght programme, the Dublin Youth Choir and a full-time student with a radio slot on Liffey Sound 96.4FM. Although his passion for music has traditional Irish roots, already his musical journey has taken turns through rock and jazz to whole new paths for collaboration and musical creativity. Earlier this year we met Domhnaill in RUA RED, Tallaght, where he took a break from his work with Gerry Horan (CONTACT Studio) and Martin Moran (Alternative Entertainments) to talk to us about his music and how he first encountered Music Generation...

I started off with Irish traditional music. I think at the age of five I picked up the violin… I was really into a band called Lúnasa and I said I want to play music like them. They’re an Irish traditional band... I did classical for about a year but I didn’t dig it… it was just trad all the way from the start. I picked up guitar through playing accompaniment; I just found a guitar, my dad tuned it for me and I taught myself from then on. Then the banjo came along because I joined a band… Banjo was pretty much like the violin and guitar put into one—it’s played like a guitar but tuned to a violin! There’s so many different instruments in traditional music so although I don’t play it anymore, I can still play all those instruments, and I love playing bluegrass banjo now which is really cool.

Domhnaill with other members of the SubSounds programme at Áras an Chronáin, Clondalkin, for the SubSounds Listening Party February 2018
While he appreciated having access to music lessons early on, Domhnaill found he was more interested in self-teaching and learning.

I had many teachers over the years... I’m just not into lessons. I don’t think it works for me. You’re told what to do and it’s sort of an awkward environment. I think it can put some people off playing sometimes. So I just buy an instrument and say, ‘Ok I need to learn this’. It was the same with drums, we just bought the drum kit – I’ve been drumming ever since, never took a lesson.

Over the years, Domhnaill’s appreciation of new and diverse genres and styles of music opened the doors to entirely different approaches to playing and creating songs.

I sort of lost interest in traditional music when I discovered a band called Radiohead…They just had such an interesting approach to writing music, so I was really into them and I said ok this is really what I want to do… I was really into guitar but they were sort of pushing away the guitars and getting more into synthesisers…  I got FruityLoop Studios on my laptop and started playing around with synthesisers on the computer… that’s sort of where I learned about software and that was, I think, the beginning of my interest in audio engineering...

A chance conversation at home enabled Domhnaill to take his studio work to the next level.

I’m really into studio work and I’m always writing my own music and recording it in my makeshift studio space upstairs at home. It’s all in my house, in my attic... I was telling my Mam that I had my little interface and my microphones and I said, ‘I’d love to have a proper studio someday, this is just really what I’m into.’ And she says, ‘Apply for a grant… I’m pretty sure I saw somewhere that there are bursary awards for under 18s with South Dublin County Council, and Music Generation are involved in that as well.’ And I was like: ‘Alright, it’s a long shot, but I’ll go for it’… And then one day I got a letter in the post and it said: ‘Congratulations, you’ve received €1,000’!

Getting the Annette Halpin Memorial Award was insane. It’s not like it’s a talent show or anything, where you have to perform. This is serious – sending an application in – really professional stuff… that was the most incredible thing I’ve accomplished… And it was because of that I met everyone I know now, and it just turned my whole life around.

Domhnaill with band Groove Killer perform at the SubSounds 2018 Concert at The Grand Social, Dublin. Image: David Reilly

Domhnaill was invited to accept the Award at a special reception with the Mayor of South Dublin County Council, where he met Gerry Horan from CONTACT Studio. Gerry filled Domhnaill in on SubSounds – a partnership programme of Music Generation South Dublin – where young musicians have the opportunity to work with professionals, host their own gigs and write and record their own music. More familiar with working independently, Domhnaill had reservations about joining the programme but decided to give it a go in the hope of meeting other young musicians that shared his passion for composition and performance. Thankfully, the risk paid off…

There are so many incredible musicians…. everyone in there is just so good at what they do – it’s changed my life, you know, meeting everyone... I met all sorts of people who taught me different things. Like, my mate Jack taught me a lot about playing drums, Lyndsey is really good at song writing—she helped me with my song writing skills… The great thing about it is that Martin and Elton and Gerry [who develop and manage the programme], just treat you as equals. They don’t treat you as if you’re the student and I’m the teacher. Martin can very well be the student some days. He’s an amazing guitarist. We learn from each other... So, it’s more so ‘DIY, with a bit of help’, if you get me.

In April, the SubSounds class of 2018 released their own album, featuring songs written by the participants and recorded at one of Ireland’s most iconic studios, Windmill Lane.

Windmill Lane just blew my mind. Everyone’s in there going ‘look at the size of the room’ but I’m in the control room like, ‘Look how many controls this desk has!’ It’s incredible. They have such amazing equipment there. I’m nowhere near any sort of similar set-up to them but it is the dream…. It’s insane that we actually get to go there. This is where ACDC, Queen and all sorts of people have been. You just think ‘Man, famous people have been in this room and I’m recording here as well’. It’s mind-blowing.

Domhnaill Corrigan records his track as part of the SubSounds Class of 2018 recording session in Windmill Lane Studios
SubSounds Class of 2018 album recording session at Windmill Lane Studios

Before joining the programme, the idea of forming a band and collaborating with other young musicians seemed distant for Domhnaill. In his school and locality he found few others to jam or gig with, and so he took to using software to create full songs where he could be the sole musician – he could play and record the drums, guitar, vocals, and more, all through the use of technology. But within months at Suburban Sounds, Domhnaill met three other young musicians that inspired the formation of a brand new group.

It’s called Groove Killer – Elton Mullally came up with that name – it’s me, Megan, Jack and Dean – just four of us, and it’s sort of a Beatles thing we have going on, we’re just writing tunes in our own time…  You know, the intention isn’t to get famous or anything, it’s just to get a reputation, get gigs… We already have an EP out. It’s going on Spotify in four days (it’s called Late Night Leche)… And after we did that we started to get really excited and said, ‘Ok, let’s work on an album’… I mean, I have studio equipment, I can record it for nothing – we just need to write the songs. That’s the only really hard part... I do enjoy writing songs but it’s a lot harder than someone else writing the song and saying, ‘Look can you just come up with some guitar lick over this?’ You have to block out the self-conscious side of yourself, thinking ‘What will people think of this lyric?’ You just have to say it… My friend Megan, she usually writes the lyrics and then I’ll try and come up with the music... I find that collaboration a lot easier but I think you feel a lot better about yourself if you write a full song yourself… So an album – that would be the next big goal. It would just be amazing to say you’d put a full album together.

Groove Killer performs their song 'Netherbends' live earlier this year

Domhnaill already has many more musical ambitions for the future. Last year he went to see Radiohead play in Dublin’s 3Arena, and the experience reawakened a love of the live music experience. He and his friends were inspired to set-up, promote and play their own gig at a local community centre, and since then he has also performed to a packed house at The Grand Social  to launch the ‘SubSounds Class of 2018’ album. Now he has his sights set on booking more gigs as well as recording sessions, and hopes to study music at third level. Domhnaill is certain that he wants to make his career in music – be it on stage, behind the recording desk, or both – and he’s working hard towards achieving that goal. With such a broad range of interests and experiences, we asked Domhnaill if he could explain what, for him, is the most powerful aspect of music?

Right off the bat, just the communal aspect of it. I used to say, ‘Ok I can just do this by myself. But after coming to Sub Sounds… You know, I’d just sit in Gerry’s office some weeks and he’d play me Television and he’d say, ‘This is the foundation of all guitar music today’, and you know, all sorts of stuff I wouldn’t have found out unless I met these guys, which is so cool. And writing music with people makes writing music a lot easier. You get different inputs, and when I was by myself I was just listening to too much Radiohead, trying to sound just like them and you need other influences. You know, our drummer is really funky, our singer is really jazzy, I’m getting into the jazz scene myself and then our bass player is into death metal, which is odd, but then he’s into playing pop music which is cool!.. We’re all best friends… I’m pretty sure we’re just going to keep going forever.

The SubSounds Class of 2018 album is available now from Spotify and iTunes.

SubSounds is an evening-course in music which is open to young people ages 14 to 18 with a passion for song writing, music composition and/or music performance. It is developed and managed by Alternative Entertainments in association with South Dublin County Arts Office and CONTACT Studio, with funding from Music Generation South Dublin. For more information visit Alternative Entertainments online, or contact Music Generation South Dublin