Chance has been significant in the careers of singers Owen and Moley Ó Súilleabháin, but the sons of composer and musicologist, Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin, and Dr Nóirín Ní Riain, have had the musical schooling to take advantage of these moments.
They have entertained Steven Spielberg, Star Trek director JJ Abrams, and actor Russell Crowe. “We met Russell Crowe on the west coat of Ireland at a Richard Harris memorial,” says the younger brother, Moley.
A year later, they met Spielberg and his wife, Kate Capshaw, who were in the Burren as part of an annual tour organised by Seattle poet and speaker, David Whyte. Ní Riain is a friend of Whyte’s, so the brothers were invited to perform for the visitors. The Spielbergs were impressed. “They got to see the breadth of everything that we do, from the ancient sacred songs to the modern stuff to the more trad. We became fast friends with them, really,” says Moley.
A year later, Spielberg rang them and asked them to appear in his film, War Horse, in which they perform a song. Moley says it gave them the confidence to pursue a career in performance.
The brothers have inherited a variety of styles from their parents and they are comfortable pursuing that broad repertoire. From their mother, they acquired a love of Gregorian chant, Sean Nós and acapella hymns.
“We sing in a trio with her and that’s where we learned a lot of our sacred songs, the Gregorian chant and the Irish stuff. She has a vast range of sacred repertoire from lots of traditions,” says Moley.
Their father instilled in them a spirit of eclecticism and, unexpectedly, a love of pop.
“Our dad started out as a pop guitarist,” says Moley. “So, he started out in a Beatles cover band when he was in Clonmel, as a young fellow. So, while he went on to be an accomplished academic, the one thing he passed on to us was, really, a love of pop music and more terrestrial kind of popular cultures, so when we became musicians we didn’t have to become traditional Irish musicians in any sense; they never pushed that on us.
“So, I suppose what we got from him is a great sense of humour and also that every type of music is equal.
“Our dad is a traditional Irish piano player, but only when he’s playing the piano. So, what we got from him is an irreverence and a willingness to actually get outside our comfort zone. I got into rap and hip-hop and I never found that alien. And me and Owen, when we write our pop songs, I beat-box along and it’s one guitar and two voices, so it’s that real, hard-hitting kind of pop stuff.”
Their live sets, which blend their take on contemporary, soulful pop with sacred singing, have been key to charming the Hollywood set.
Two years ago, the brothers moved to New York, where, under the name Size2Shoes, they recorded an album of original songs, Happy Songs, with the support of Crowe, and, in January, they will be travelling to Australia with the actor to record another album.
“I know what Russell loves is that we sing every style of music that we’ve learned,” says Moley.
*Ballymaloe Grainstore presents Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin in concert with his sons, Owen and Moley, on Sunday, Jun 23, 8pm.
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