Cork man Cian Sweeney toured the US with a ‘Celtic Irish’ group, but has now turned his attention to the music he loves making, writes.
This time last year, Cian Sweeney was travelling America as a touring musician with Celtic Thunder, a kitsch-fest pitched at misty-eyed Irish- Americans. Today, the native of Glanmire, Co Cork, is, with his 1000 Beasts project, regarded as one of the brightest prospects in Irish pop.
He’s clocked up a megatonne hit with ‘Lord (It’s Okay)’, a beautifully stormy collaboration with vocalist Janet Grogan that featured on Spotify’s influential New Music Friday playlist (which has 620,000 followers). That’s just the beginning for the ambitious 26-year-old, who describes his sound as “Calvin Harris-meets-Alt J”.
“I live in Glanmire where I have my studio,” he says of his decision to base himself in the suburb where he grew up. “I commute between Cork and Dublin. I can get to the Red Cow in two hours.”
Having come of age when the traditional record industry was already being dismantled by the internet, his tastes are unabashedly eclectic.
“I was into everything,” she says. “Age 15, 16 I went through phases of listening to metal and rock and punk. But I was also exposed to a lot of Britney Spears and Nsync-style pop. And I’m classically trained. I’ve listened to music my whole life.”
His mother is a primary teacher who gives music classes. While still in school Sweeney took piano lessons at Cork Academy of Music and did a four-year degree at Cork School of Music. This was followed a masters in audio production in London and a stint as a session musician. Eager to expand his musical knowledge, he worked in every genre. He’s performed with Jenny Greene and the RTÉ Concert Orchestra and clocked up air-miles with Celtic Thunder.
The pay was good, he says. And it was exciting to be on the road. But he could see himself being sucked into the lifestyle and waking up in his 40s having spent the previous 20 years living out of a suitcase.
“The money is fantastic. You really get drawn into touring. I don’t want to be 45 with a family and forced to spend 10 months of the year on tour.”
He also worked as songwriter for hire, penning material for artists in Korea and Japan and Latin America.
“Session stuff can be funny. You’ll go in and they’ll want you to write something identical to a Charlie Puth single and maybe you’ll do well if it makes it in Mexico. But it became clear they’re not that bothered about being original. The only way you can be original and do what you want to do is by building a name for yourself.”
Out of this mix of ambition and desperation 1000 Beasts was born. Sweeney isn’t a fan of his own voice, so instead he works with guest-vocalists, including Irish Eurovision contestant Ryan O’Shaughnessy and Grogan, a singer from Dublin. Helping him is Dublin music management company Big and Bright, which lists Bressie as senior adviser and whose clients also include Midlands hitmakers Chasing Abbey.
“‘Lord (It’s Okay)’ went huge. It was on the Spotify playlist, 2FM made it their single of the week. It got a lot of traction. I thought, ‘let’s give this is a bash — it could turn into something real’.”
He describes his sound as pop — but with the understanding this will prejudice some people.
“Pop is still a dirty word in some circles. They’ll have a phobia about even saying it. It gets associated with 14-year old teenage girls. I don’t want to be Dua Lipa — I want to do something a little artier and not confined to the three minute structure.”
He’s done well with streaming and a Spotify endorsement is not to be sniffed at. But he’s not sure if it’s quite the same as playing to sell-out crowds. That’s why he is working hard on his live show, which can be seen at the Indiependence festival at Mitchelstown next weekend.
“You’ve got New Music Friday and however many people subscribe to that. At the same you wonder how that translates. You don’t know where the people are from, if they’re fans or if they even know your name. It’s a weird technology. In the old days you went to see U2 and you saw their personalities on stage in Dublin. It’s harder to do that with the internet.”