Over the past five years, multidisciplinary artist, Katie Gerardine O’Neill, has become one of the keys voices in Dublin’s experimental underground.
While O’Neill’s creative endeavours are not limited to audio-visual installations, sound art, video, and photography, since 2018 the artist has also built up a solo musical catalogue of experimental works.
Also a part of the three-piece punk collective, Alien She, O’Neill first carved out her own sonic sketches via Within. 12 month later, O’Neill followed her debut with Unknown Songs, while the field recordings-inspired Message Green arriving two years later in 2021.
Which now brings us to her fourth album and first for Newcastle-based label, Cruel Nature Records, Into the Beyond.
There’s a lot of digest on Into the Beyond, and it’s all good. There’s the Beth Gibbons-inspired mash-up of Talk to the beyond-transmission field recordings of Matrimony and the trance-state poetry of Dream. Meanwhile the likes of Vacuum, Animal and Sleeper see O’Neill release some of her most revealing songs so far, each almost sounding like lost Jarboe recordings.
Into the Beyond sees O’Neill’s deliver her most dynamic, wholesome set of compositions songs yet, amalgamating emotionally driven folk with the coldness of sound design in new, forward-thinking ways.
In the lead-up to the release of Into the Beyond, O’Neill answered some of our questions about her creative past, her new album and the current music scene in Dublin.
Also a part of this interview is O’Neill’s new track, Along the Shoreline, which is set to feature on the forthcoming Cruel Nature Records 10th Anniversary compilation, Spectrum. Set for release in April, exclusive to Sun 13, you can listen to the Along the Shoreline below.
S13: What are your first memories of music and art?
Katie Gerardine O’Neill: “Both my parents sang to me a lot so that, along with my Dad being a musician, he plays guitar and pedal steel guitar. My Mam is a really good singer and encouraged me to be in the choir in school. I actually did my first studio recording with a religious music group as a kid, which is funny. I did ballet too, and was very fond of the classical music played in class. I was influenced by my older brothers a lot, too. One was really into DJing, and had decks set up in his room, which I was fascinated with. I also pillaged their CD collections.
“In terms of visual art, I used to draw with my parents, and do art classes. I was really into old family photos and would mess around with old cameras and video recorders, too. Things really clicked for me in secondary school when I studied art and was very encouraged by a great teacher. I was very lucky to be encouraged by my family to pursue what I love.”
S13: Into the Beyond is your most expansive album so far. Can you tell us the process behind it?
KGO: “This album is really many failed albums that I attempted over the past five or six years. I’m constantly trying new things in art and music, but it takes me so long to get things done, it ends up circling back on itself. I was learning a lot about recording and the kind of sound I like while making this, too. So, lots of experimentation. I did two online courses during COVID as well, one with Laurel Halo, and one with Julia Holter, both of whom hugely influenced this work. I suppose the more wordy songs; I knew they were somewhat good, so I was holding onto them for something special. It’s hard for me to put out music with me singing in traditional ‘song’ these days, as I’m more interested in sound-art and abstract art at this juncture, but I felt they were worth sharing. It does feel like I’ve finally tied together a lot of my processes with this album, so I’m excited about that.”
S13: From the artwork to the soundscapes, while abstract there feels like a concept-based essence to the record. Was this an approach you were thinking about when making it?
KGO: “The album is marked by a process of inner evolution, overcoming trauma, leaning into the unknown, and embracing the mystery of having a human experience on this planet. Much of it feels like a letting go, dropping something. I guess, the void, it’s beauty and terror. I can be a pretty deep thinker and ponder on existential questions a lot, so I suppose it’s staring down some big questions.”
S13: There’s a spirituality to this record, too, I feel. I’m not sure whether that was in your thoughts?
KGO: “It was. It’s not something I talk about too much, but I’m very influenced by Buddhism, Paganism, and the work of Krishnamurti, Mirra Alfassa, and Ram Dass. Laurel Halo introduced me to Taoism, too, which has brought me a lot of comfort. The Tao Te Ching in particular. I take a huge amount of my inspiration from nature, animals, and loved ones, too.”
S13: Each of your records are vastly different. Is it important for you to try and not make the same record twice?
KGO: “I don’t think I possibly could, but I wouldn’t be overly concerned if I did. I think I cycle through a few things, sparse guitar and voice, heavy noise, electronic works, transcendent sound-art, vocal experimentation, traditional dream pop… Then maybe some more abstract theatrical stuff. I find trying new things exciting, so I would lean towards learning and experimentation, but I think I’ll always repeat myself in a way. I was very intrigued by spoken-word, theatre and dance on this album, which perhaps translates. I’m always drawn to using technology in an interesting way to achieve something unique, too.”
S13: You’re also in the band Alien She. I’d imagine the process between both projects would be very different?
KGO: “The band is three people coming together as one musically, so yes. It’s an exercise in letting go of control, and working on trust for me. The recording and production process is extremely different, as Darragh [McCabe] for the most part takes that role in the Alien She project. We are changing that a bit at the moment, so we’ll see.”
S13: Aside from music, you’re also an photographer. When you’re in that creative headspace, does music and photography crossover or is it one or the other?
KGO: “I would say yes it does, because with my photograph I’m trying to capture or create a certain feeling, and that’s what I’m trying to do with music, too. I apply a lot of the same interests to my photography, playing about with outdated equipment, etc.”
S13: Do you need concrete ideas to start work on something, or are you more of an impulsive creator?
KGO: “Absolutely not. Creating thing is an impulse for me. I can’t not do it. I do enjoy working on a theme or idea, but generally that’s not the case.”
S13: On the topic of gentrification, I remember reading an article in the Irish Times questioning whether the city of Dublin has lost its cultural soul. What is the scene like, and how much of it is an inspiration to your creativity?
KGO: “There’s a song on the album called Sleeper that’s about exactly this topic. Ironically, it was recorded in my old studio which was ran collectively by a handful of DIY heads and punks, such a Ger [Duffy] from School Tour and Tommy [Foster] from The Deadlians. That space was sold and is now apart-hotels, or some similar shite that’s infested Dublin. A beloved space called creative and social space called Seomra Spraoi, where I would have played some of my first gigs in was razed to the ground for similar reasons recently, too.
“There’s an out-of-control rental and housing crisis in Dublin and Ireland that has hit people hard. COVID messed up things for a lot of people, too. It’s kind of beyond a joke at this stage, it’s like the government want to see how far they can go with turning Dublin into some American tech tax haven nightmare-scape.
“All that negativity aside, there is a vibrant artistic and music scene in Dublin that is properly teeming with life and intrigue. Folks such as Ecliptic of Culture, Tunnel Rats, and DDR have kept things going in a unique and powerful way. There’s just so much creativity and fun. People started organising gigs in funny spaces like tunnels, beaches and motorways, and it became this exciting new scene. There’s also festivals and event organisers like Open Ear, Spilt Milk, Dublin Modular, and magazines like the Thin Air which properly boost the underground music scene hugely. All these groups give everyone things to work towards and places to hang out and collaborate.
“I run my own night called I Am An Instrument, too, and recently hosted a gig in a secret location. We’re very lucky in Dublin that because it’s such a niche scene, for the most part people are very encouraging of one another and really support each-others’ stuff. Irish music seems to get some more attention from abroad these days too, so that’s exciting.”
Are you looking to translate this record into a live setting anytime soon?
KGO: “Yes! I have a release gig on the March 5 in Anseo, Camden Street, in Dublin. I haven’t announced it yet, but if you’re reading this, come along! Little Gem, another legendary Irish weirdo music champion (miss their music shop!) are putting it on.”
Into the Beyond is out now via Cruel Nature Records. Purchase from Bandcamp.
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