Ireland’s next big thing on playlist pop and lessons learned touring with Niall Horan

Wild Youth have been widely tipped as the country’s next big thing. They tell Ed Power about their unashamed pop leanings and what they learnt from touring with Niall Horan.

Wild Youth play in Cork as part of their upcoming tour.

IRISH rock is having the ultimate feelgood moment. Picture This — the first band to put “Athy” and “superstars” in the same sentence — will this year play five nights at the 14,000 capacity 3Arena. Kodaline, derided early on as a watered down north county Dublin Coldplay, have bounced back with their third number one LP. And Hozier was recently singled out for praise by noted influencer / former US president Barack Obama.

Now, this club of chart-bothering musicians is set to admit a new member. The difference is that Wild Youth are more indebted to Beyoncé than Bruce Springsteen and their canon of influences revolves around Imagine Dragons, The 1975 and The Weeknd rather than The Beatles or Oasis.

What they represent, in other word, is the rise of playlist pop — the process by which young artists have become open to sounds beyond the usual stodgy rock ’n roll by dint of a youth spent hopscotching between genres on Spotify and Apple Music.

“We’ve always been big dreamers,” says Wild Youth songwriter Conor O’Donohoe, who formed the group with his childhood friend Dave Whelan. “We’d play local bars, parties, even have gigs in my back shed. We always believed we could make something of it — even though everyone else probably thought we were a bit mad.”

Strangely it was tragedy that crystallised their vision. In his late teens, O’Donohoe injured his back and was bed-bound for several months.

Whelan, who lived up the road from his pal’s home in Killester, would call around and they would just practice over and over.

All they were really doing was trying to alleviate boredom. But it got them to where they are today.

“I had a really bad accident and was housebound,” says O’Donohoe. “He would come over and we’d play covers and write song after song. It was a kind of musical therapy.”

It’s a formula that has paid off with interest. Wild Youth are on the brink of selling out the Olympia — the venue up-and-coming Irish bands pass through on their way to 3Arena — and will draw a huge crowd when they land at Cyprus Avenue, Cork, in March as well.

Meanwhile their new EP, The Last Goodbye, has gone entered the Irish charts at number five, cheek by jowl with George Ezra and Queen. And they’ll soon be off to Los Angeles, where their manager, Niall Morris — formerly a promoter with MCD (he booked acts for Oxegen) and a Dublin PR executive — is arranging meetings with record companies and other industry figures. It’s all happening.

Along with all that, they have benefitted from the support of the elder-statesman of Irish pop rock, The Script. Having first encountered Wild Youth at a 2FM Christmas Childline concert, Danny O’Donoghue and company took the newcomers under their wings.

Wild Youth were naturally chuffed. However, they didn’t quite know what to expect when The Script invited their fellow Dubliners to London to work on some ideas together.They were taken aback, especially, by the sheer dedication. they witnessed The Script, they realised, were an international success story built on spit and sawdust rather than glamour and glitz.

“They never switch off. Their work ethic is amazing. The played to 20,000 screaming fans at the O2 in London and then, after a shower, went back to working with us in their mobile studio. There was no partying — none of that rock’n’roll stuff. They are absolutely married to their jobs. It was fantastic for us. Growing up, they were a group we very much looked up to. Like us they have a wide range of influences.”

HARD WORK

The lesson that hard works is all that really counts is one they have embraced. And that’s despite a seemingly star-crossed ascent, with managers and promoters clamouring to sign them before Wild Youth had even really started to think of themselves as a band.

“We were barely out of school and people were looking to manage us,” says O’Donohoe. “We were so young. We didn’t even know if you wanted to make a living out of it at this stage.”

They have since expanded into a proper group, with Dublin indie veterans Callum McAdam (Bipolar Empire) and Ed Porter (Leaders of Men) coming on board on drums and guitar.

What has set them apart at every stage of the journey is that they aren’t haunted by the ghost’s of Irish music past. Splicing O’Donohoe’s slick melodies with Whelan’s falsetto vocals Wild Youth are unabashedly pop and not in the least interested in waxing earnest.

“This is not shade on Irish music – we’re big fans of it – but we’ve always listened to American music. We got into hop hip in a big way growing up. We were fans of everything - Travis Scott… Young Republic. We always wanted to do pop stuff. We’re big fans of The 1975. When they first came along they had a unique sound and people didn’t quite know what to compare it to.”

LEARNING PROCESS

Along the away they’ve rubbed some significant shoulders. Last year Niall Horan, sometime crooner and guitar player with One Direction, took them on tour around the country (“For my shows I wanted to make it as Irish as possible and show off the incredible music coming out of our lovely little country,” he had tweeted by way of announcing the booking).

A generation ago a rock act would probably have turned down the opportunity to support a former boy-band belter. Yet times have changed and Wild Youth’s upbeat sound places marks them out as bedfellows of Horan.

“Niall is a good friend and a lovely guy,” says O’Donohoe. “He’s also an incredibly talented musician. The things he’s achieved are incredible. As is his knowledge of the industry. You learn so much being around him. We didn’t hesitate when the opportunity was offered to tour with him.”

Wild Youth aren’t self-conscious about being catchy. As they say, they love indie rock, hip-hop and dance. And they’re not embarrassed about referencing all of their influences.

“I’ve always had an eclectic taste in music. But the thing that has always stayed with me is a love of melody. I would listen to every style — but it has to have a catchy top line.”

- Wild Youth play Cyprus Avenue Cork, March 16. Other gigs include Olympia Dublin, Mar 23; Dolan’s Limerick, Apr 6


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