Irish Artist Aims For New Beginning In Germany


Many feel that their prospects are best enhanced by sticking to everyday norms. Be that the space they occupy, the daily tasks they fulfill or simply the people they associate themselves with. There’s nothing to say that operating within one’s comfort zone is a flawed system but stepping outside the box can open up a whole new world of opportunities. Irish singer and songwriter Greg Clifford has opted to make a break for Europe in the hopes of establishing himself further as an artist and to explore what one can achieve from stepping away from familiar territory.

We caught up with Greg to get an insight into his personality and music career and to see exactly what Germany has to offer the blossoming music career of a rising Irish artist.

Edel Flynn (EF): Could you describe yourself in three words?

Greg Clifford (GC): Musical ,eclectic, chancer.

EF: Where do you get your inspiration to write songs from?

GC: Inspiration comes in many forms. Songs can be triggered by watching films, reading books, people watching, resentment, confusion, mistakes and mishaps, going on three day binges and of course by listening to music. Inspiration comes from being open minded and receptive to creative forces. Being immersed in your chosen art form and truly wanting to push yourself is what it is all about.

EF: What is the biggest highlight of your career to date?

GC: A sell out show in Whelans I reckon. It was the 1st December 2012, my debut album release gig. People I’d never met before travelled over from Manchester and all to see the gig. That was a cool sensation. Putting on a release show as an unsigned, independent artist is a gruelling process. I designed the posters, album sleeve and tickets. I got them printed and cut each ticket and sleeve. I even hung up the posters. I burned every CD and printed the images on the CDs too. It was full on exhausting looking after all the logistics! But I do love a challenge. I love testing my stamina and soldiering on. 2012 had been a difficult year in ways with my old group, of six years, ELAVATOR disbanding. Becoming a singer-songwriter by circumstance was a learning curve. It was like starting off all over again. Gigging as an exposed bloke with a guitar and no effects or band to hide behind is the hardest gig out there to play. Character building in ways. For the release gig I wanted to create a band like sound for the event that was in it, so I approached my good friends Ross O’Farrell (bass), Jack Sherry (violin, flute) and Richie Kennedy (drums). Luckily they got involved. It was a class experience playing with them. We really hit it off musically and bounced off each other. There was a genuine vibe and awareness that I really appreciated. The gig went down well and there was a great sense of achievement and relief after all the hard graft of getting it together.

EF: Why did you call your recent album Sun of the Jackal?

GC: It’s a bit of a barmy title, but one with meaning and explanation. The album was recorded in one day in Sun Studios, Dublin; hence ‘Sun’ in the title. The only other musician to appear on the album is my highly accomplished, enigmatic friend Jack Sherry. About a year ago I sorted Jack out with some gigs playing violin over dance music, which led onto him being picked up by FM104 for more gigs. They christened him ‘The Jackal’. He wasn’t mad about the nickname but it’s somewhat stuck, so I decided to work ‘The Jackal’ into the album title. It’s the most peculiar title of mine to date so I think it’s pretty cool.

EF: How does your latest album titled Sun of the Jackal differentiate from typical albums?

GC: In reality it’s not monumentally different from ‘typical’ albums, but I did somewhat attempt to explore a more alternative avenue. Nowadays music, all to often, sounds generic, lacks true character and originality and is guilty of being dynamically stagnant. Music tends to be knocked off in the popular chart side of things and becomes instant, disposable and compressed. This I wanted to avoid as best as possible. I like things rough around the edges. Sun of the Jackal is a pure collection of songs with mass production being pushed aside. The songs are intimate and honest in terms of subject matter and how they are recorded and performed; any imperfections are not disguised. There’s no pitch correction or removing breath sounds. I feel at times musicians hide behind the technology at our disposal and become conditioned by the machine. Guided by the technology rather then being truly in control of the work. Such recordings can be static as they’re governed by the click track. On this album all vocal and guitar tracks are performed as live takes, with overdubbed piano, bass and percussion being added after the essence of the track is captured in the guitar/vocal performance. Recording something that sounded ‘human’ is what I set out to do and I believe I achieved it. The album is by no means a work of art or anything special but it’s charming and has been well received.

EF: What is the storyline behind the featured song in the Sun of the jackal album titled, who do you think you are fooling?

GC: The song is effectively a reaction against people who hide behind appearances and create false worlds and identities. I’ve zero time for that. Present yourself for who you are and don’t give a f**k what people think. Be real and comfortable with that. Social networking puts so much pressure on people to be ‘happy’ and looking the part in photos. It’s so very cancerous. We all get sucked into it though. The song touches on such concepts. It’s a subject matter I often reflect upon and delve into. Like most of my material the meaning and concepts are varied and encapsulate a number of angles. In ways it’s even semi-autobiographical. When I assessed the younger, more naive and ignorant me, I realised I was being the ‘fool’. The song asks the listener to question have they been the ‘fool’ or are they currently. Are they too deluded to see through their self-inflicted haze? Or have they had a break through, an epiphany? A quote that I found inspirational at the time of writing the song was ‘the man who comes back through the door in the wall will never be quite the same as the man who went out. He will be wiser but less cocksure, happier but less self-satisfied, humbler in acknowledging his ignorance yet better equipped to understand the relationship of words to things, of systematic reasoning to the unfathomable mystery which it tries, forever vainly, to comprehend’ (Aldous Huxley, The Doors of Perception, 1954). You can listen to the song here.

EF: Where can people buy Sun of the jackal album?

GC: People have the option to offer a donation or set their own price too. People can evaluate what it’s worth in accordance to their own value system. I’m not concerned about making money off it in all honesty though. Once people hear it and spread the word of my music I’m content. I’ve resigned myself to the fact I will probably never make significant money off my material, like many other skilled musicians and songwriters. But that won’t stifle me. I just wish to create and live my life through music. People can download the album for free @

EF: You recently moved to Berlin, how are you settling in to your new life there?

GC: I’m enjoying this new world greatly. It’s fantastic to be around new surroundings and removed from comfort zones. Removing oneself from safety is a sure-fire way to open up and assess who you are and what means most to you in life. Exploring the city is very exciting. It’s a big move and one that’ll shape my creative output and me as a person. The first two weeks were a struggle at times due to having no permanent apartment. Full blown living out of a suitcase! Berlin is a notoriously difficult place to get a gaff and in the space of under two weeks my girlfriend and I stayed in a hostel and two airbnb apartments! Lucky enough we’ve sorted a place out ‘til mid October in Friedrichshain, which is a really vibrant, lively spot. So many angles on offer to us. Such energy and life in the city. I’m feeling inspired and focused. It’s making me believe in my music and I’ve already written a lot of new material in the short space of time of being here. Being around my music, and music in general, in a full time capacity is making me feel quite invigorated.

EF: What do you hope to achieve in Berlin?

GC: The main aim is to write a truly great collection of songs. Ones I love. Ones I will completely stand by. I want to spend 4-5 hours a day, at least, writing, improving and pushing the songs into new realms. I feel much of the material I’ve released in the past does not do necessarily do my musicality justice. This I want to rectify. I wish to write really solid material that explores more ‘musical’ compositional techniques and tells my story. It needs to be as authentic as I can be, emotive, equipped with clever hooks and interesting in terms of timbres and instrumentations. Writing will take priority over gigging, for the immediate anyway, but I will of course gig a bit and test out my new material.

EF: What are the aims of setting up a gigmit account in Berlin?

GC: Gigmit appears to be a good platform for hooking up with venues and bookers. Setting up the account will hopefully get me gigs and allow me sample live music and audiences in Berlin. Playing to new crowds and spreading my name and music is always the goal.

EF: How is the music industry different in Berlin than in Ireland?

GC: To be honest I ain’t been around this place long enough to give an educated answer. I reckon I’ll need a few months of gigging around Berlin to get a genuine feel for what it’s all about here. A few Irish artists are being signed by German labels, so in the coming weeks I’ll be all over sending emails and sussing out is there any interest in what I have to offer. I’ve a few extended contacts too here that I’ve made over time and through other industry heads back home, so will hit them up soon also.

EF: What advice would you give somebody interested in becoming successful in the music business?

GC: Still trying to figure out how to be ‘successful’ myself! But for sure one must be committed! You have to really want it and make sacrifices. Artists are selfish in ways. You gotta embrace that. Immerse yourself in the work. Keep a note pad. Write everything down! Listen to music. Listen to a magnitude of genres. Assess what you dig and what doesn’t appeal to you. Ask yourself why that is the case. Do not be ignorant of music theory as it can open up a whole different musical world of understanding and appreciation and serve as a source of inspiration. Start off by playing open mic nights. Associate with positive people; People who are like-minded and are driven by music. Respect all gigs. Even if you are playing to five people you must put on a show for them. Speak to other bands after gigs. Bands make the mistake of playing support for a band or an early slot and then leg it home. It’s an investment to get talking to people. You just never know what it could lead too. Get a PR dude behind you and approach booking agents. Make sure the product is right. The sound, the image and the online presentation must be in order. That’s what I’ll be getting stuck into over the coming months. And last but not least aim high, while maintaining the ability to assess yourself as objectively as one can.

Image courtesy of Greg Clifford

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