For me, the aim is to write at least one song that outlives you.
Having hits like ‘Mary’ and ‘She Hits Me’ has been incredible. Growing up in Newry, I remember hearing songs that gave me the same type of feeling you get when you are falling in love with a person.
They had a huge emotional impact on me and I thought how fulfilling it would be if I could create something like that, something that people would prefer to listen to rather than pure silence.
As a child, I was a bit of a dreamer. I wasn’t flamboyant or attention-seeking. I lived in my own head and had a great imagination. When I got home from school I’d sit beside the stereo, stick on the headphones and spend hours letting the music transport me.
My parents had a tragic record collection but they had one fantastic album Planxty, the one with the black cover, that made me feel really Irish. Roger Miller’s ‘King of the Road’ was the first song that made me realise lyrics are just as important as the music. It’s about a hobo and he has to sing like a hobo. I could see it had a great story, was funny and irreverent and was like a complete film in three minutes.
After school, I studied law at Queens but it was always a beard, an excuse, for the music. Although my legal background has been very useful. The 4 of Us got lucky very quickly. I was on the phone to a lawyer in London negotiating a deal when I was still doing my practical solicitor’s exams.
I was 26 when the first album came out and I didn’t think I was leaving anything by abandoning a career as a lawyer. I wanted to be great at something I loved.
I’m melodies and lyrics, my brother Declan is more of the creator of the music behind that - he acts as an editor, which means we can work a lot on our own. Being brothers has certainly been a help. There is no escape. A big reason that a lot of bands break up is because they can - they are not related!
My biggest challenge was the period between losing our record deal and forming our own independent record company in 1998. Our safety net had been taken away and we had to decide how much we really loved what we were doing, how much work we were prepared to do.
My dad was a bookie so I’d seen first hand that you could run your own business and make your own hours and rules. It’s not easy. When it comes down to it, any type of job in the arts is a vocation.
I’ve learnt that what you need to survive in the music business is a good lawyer, a good accountant and a good agent in different territories, that’s about it.
We’re touring our new album Sugar Island, doing shows North and South to make people aware that it’s coming out. You usually tour after an album but we thought we’d tour before, as these days you’ve got to give people a reason to buy an album.
The theme tying it all together is growing up in The North in the 1970s. ‘Sugar Island’ is the centre of town. I grew up with conflict on the doorstep. Newry was primarily a catholic town and I was aware of friction between Republicans and the British Government. The town was getting blown up all over the place back then.
My idea of misery is an office job involving numbers. I’m not good with numbers. I love the performing, writing, travelling and meeting people that goes with this job. Musicians rarely mention this but, people are generally in great form when we go out to work.
I live in Carlingford. I’m married with a three-year-old and a six-year-old. My wife is an accountant.
I believe in an after life. Being part of an organised religion is a completely different thing.
So far, life has taught me that it is never too late to start again, because I’ve seen myself and so many other people I know do it. I know people who have felt it was too late, I’ve seen them give up on themselves.
But regardless of what happens to you - whether it is that you become single again after a long relationship, or that your career takes a nosedive - it’s just a mind set. But if you think its over, then its over.
The 4 of Us play The Nenagh Arts Centre Oct 24, Draiocht Arts Centre, Dublin Oct 30, Strule Arts Centre, Omagh 13 Nov and Upstairs at Dolans, Limerick 30 December. Their new album Sugar Island is on release early 2016. www.the4ofus.com
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved