Few months ago, on a particularly boring day, one of Rekwired’s writers was watching a rather sappy French romance movie when a song titled ‘Set in Stone’ caught her ear. That was our first ‘acquaintance’ with Northern Irish singer-songwriter Pat Dam Smyth. The next step after hearing the song was to immediately google it, find the author and, of course, arrange an interview… ‘cos that’s what you normally do, right?
Hi Pat, how was your day?
Today… What happened today? I went for a walk, bought some food, it was raining. That was about it today. Very, very quiet day.
We found your music through a film, ‘20 ans d’écart’. With ‘Set in Stone’ it was love at first sound! Do you know your music was used there? Have you even seen that movie and how did your music end up in that film?
Sure, I did know one of my songs was used there, because a friend that I made in Paris I think passed the song on up the chain. I think he was doing some filming or something for the movie. Obviously, I said ‘This is amazing, please, go ahead’. But I never got to see the film even though I was in Paris and it was in the cinemas and I could see it written all over the city. But we were playing gigs and there was just no time so, sadly, I didn’t get to see it. But I must watch it someday (giggles).
Armenia is a place that I knew little about but now a lot, I’ve been sort of reading quite a lot about it, and I am sort of fascinated. I wanna come there and I wanna play. And you know, that’s why I guess music in movies is so good; you only hear a little bit of each song and you get to know if you like it immediately. And then you can find all about it and it can be so obscure. So, I haven’t seen the film, but thanks to the film, here we are.
What are your thoughts on music copyrighting. Should music be free?
I think it totally depends on the budget. For instance, I have a friend who’s doing a really low budget film, and he asked me if I would write some music, so I am definitely gonna do that for no charge or anything. The film ‘Set in Stone’ was used in had quite a large budget so I got a certain amount for this and I think it’s justified because it’s a big film. So I think it’s all about the size of the film and it’s not really fair if someone’s trying to make a film for sort of 5 thousand pounds and really wants your song, and you like the film and the idea, I think they should go ahead and maybe talk about money if it goes massive afterwards, you know. Then you can have percentage or something like that. But, I guess, with YouTube and stuff, it’s been very helpful for me to find music, just using YouTube which is free all the time. I guess if people really want to hear the music, they will eventually pay for it if they want to.
When you’re in a band and most important thing you ever wanna do is to have the album, you record it and it’s your sacred thing. Then you go and play it live. The Great Divide we originally put out in five hundred CDs and I think we sold probably about that. Maybe more like 6 or 7 hundred. And a lot of it through live shows which is the most important way. The Great Divide is going to get re-released on vinyl in October. It’s not like everybody’s buying records but some people will. I hope for the best.
Do you have musical education?
No. When I was younger I played clarinet until I was about 16. And then I just sort of lost interest and I found a guitar. Just playing all the time in punk bands when I was younger, playing non-stop. When I moved to Liverpool in 2004 we lived in this kind of house that,– well, have you seen the film ‘Withnail & I’? It’s exactly how the house where I live in Liverpool looked like. Total mess, there were just instruments everywhere and we played it non-stop for about two years. I learned piano, so that was my musical college. It was a squat but that’s where I learned everything.
Could you please tell us more about your past bands and projects?
When I was 12 that is when my father passed away and that’s what ‘Set in Stone’ is about. He left me the guitar. I started one punk band with some friends and we played it all through since about 13 years old to 18. And then we moved to Liverpool and formed The Fools which was kinda punk pop band. It was very Ramones-like. We always loved the punk but with sweet melody on top, so it’s not all noise and screams. And then we moved all to London and formed a band called Smokey Angle Shades and that was like the best band that I’ve ever been in. But it fell apart and then I went solo with The Great Divide. We are recording at the moment some new stuff and it’s definitely gonna be a bit of surf, a bit of punk and a bit of country. So, that’s what we are working on at the moment.
When I was recording The Great Divide I always loved the idea of these guys like Lou Reed who brought out the album and it was his creation, it was about the person. So, it was just me, being totally free in the songs that I was writing and hopefully it goes in different tensions and music sounds different here and there. But actually it’s all from me, so it’s kind of my whole painting. But I don’t know what music I am playing, what genre it is. I guess it’s just happy and sad.
How did you manage to go from punk to folk?
It was the beautiful side of punk so I guess it’s not that far from bands like Television. You can start with The Ramones, The Clash and Sex Pistols which are heavy. But then if you take that and go to the Talking Heads and Television it suddenly becomes more melodic. I always loved the punk, the idea of it, The DIY, making CDs – so I guess it’s just the ideology of punk which has always been the thing which I wanted. So, the style of music doesn’t really matter to me as long as I have the punk heart.
The Great Divide was a total accident. I was never supposed to go solo, I was never supposed to record a solo album, it was never on my plans but I had to leave London and I was at home in Belfast. Nothing was rehearsed for that album, literally I went to the studio, and it was pretty much the first take.
Are your songs true stories?
Yes, they are all true. I think they say that the first album is about everything and then you are screwed because the second album you have no idea what to write about. My songs are all old stories that I had and it’s just good to put them down. I try to meet as many people as I can, like go to coffee, talk to people. I met so many people, and meeting people who do different things, stuff that I don’t do very well, is always exciting. I got inspiration from all those people, and then you can make it into music.
Your songs give people joy and positive feelings. What’s your message if you have any particular one?
When you’re younger and you’re listening to albums there are songs that make you happy. But it’s that melancholy that uplifts you and make you feel better. I just wanna tell some stories that are truthful and try not to hide my feelings. If people get joy from that, I am so happy. That just means everything, that’s what it is all about: using music as a vehicle to share something. I guess there is no certain message, it’s sort of feelings and it’s such an amazing feeling to hear that someone’s got hope and happiness from my songs.
Tell us about your debut album, The Great Divide.
After the Smokey Angle Shades broke up in London I went home and I was totally exhausted, you know, nervous exhaustion or whatever. And I was in bed for a quite long time. I wanted to give up music, I didn’t know what to do. I felt that I had enough, I was sick of playing music and then I started writing songs. I didn’t really want to, but it’s just that thing you couldn’t help. You just pick it up and start writing. So, I had about sort of 40 songs and then just by accident I phoned the guy in Belfast and he was this American guy and I asked him if he records double track vocals, you know, when you sing once and you sing over exactly the same. And he was like, yeah, if you’re paying you can do whatever you want. And that was it. I had some money saved and I booked two weeks in that studio. When we went in there were no rules, we picked about 14 songs that we agreed on and had just session players, some friends, whoever it was just to come in and play. It was such an accident and I am so grateful for that experience because I think that kick-started everything for me, the love of playing music. I think even the story for the album is all about coming through darkness into light and hope. And I am so happy that it’s what other people experience as well. It took two months to record it but it was life-changing to me. It was a divide in my life, it was a change and I guess the other reason behind the album and its title was growing up in Northern Ireland. We grew up with that massive divide between two religions and it can be very subtle. You can’t see it but it’s there all the time. There’s a huge great divide that builds within us and to record it in Belfast was especially powerful because that’s where it all comes from, all the anxiety of growing up in that kind of place.
What are the plans for the follow-up to the Great Divide? There’s an EP coming out in October, right? How about a new full-length record?
I think it would be November, because we have recorded two songs and then we’re gonna record three more and make sure that all is right and go for it. It’s been quite a while since I recorded that album, so I got so many songs I just need to get something recorded and get it out. And probably next year, 2015, I will record a new full-length album. I’ll just know when I am ready and go for it. We will most probably try to tour as much from the EP and Great Divide as possible. It’s quite tough to get the right booking agency, but we’ll keep going and we’ll get there. I am not signed to any label yet and it makes things harder. I just can’t find the right agency and there’s also the money problem.
Have you done any collaborations and do you plan on new ones?
I’ve done a few that I’ve forgotten about, never heard the album or anything. But I really want to have as many artists playing our songs, both known and unknown, as possible. I think it would be special to get all the people that I know and to sing a song, to use a band. That’s something I really want to work on and make it happen because you always have so much fun working with other people, writing music with them.
Who would you want to collaborate with the most?
Krist Novoselic from Nirvana. I like him. I think he was always my favourite, he just seems so detached. I mean I love Dave Grohl and Foo Fighters and what they’ve done, but Krist seems to be so far removed from fame and anything like that. And he’s also so massive, like 6 foot. I would just love to be in a room with him.
Two years ago I met this drummer Chris McComish who also produces music and we worked a lot and for live set ups we started this two piece. We’ve been working like that for about a year. Now we also have a string section – cello, violin, viola, and it suddenly started to work like that as well. When I moved to London I was really looking for a band, I wanted to have a band, and then I met Chris and he became not only a drummer, but more of a collaborator, so that’s really great to work with him.
Currently you’re appearing as a duo with Chris McComish during your live shows. Do you plan on extending your live line up?
Yeah, if I had the money! There was a guy that said ‘You know, the thing that will bring you some form of success is not the thing that you’re gonna start making lots of money out. The rewards will come later’. That’s what I am hoping.
You mentioned in one of your interviews that you wanted to make a documentary about melophobia because you suffered from it, too. Has it ever become a reality? And what can you say about melophobia in general because here in Rekwired we also suffer from it from time to time.
I would really love to make a documentary. I’ve met a few people who’ve had melophobia. I’m actually gonna write it down so I won’t forget!
It’s always that thing that you love. I think my problem was that I didn’t have enough hobbies, stuff outside music. It’s all about music, and once when you’re in a situation like a band break up, you get really hurt and then it turns on you. The moment it happens you want to run away from it. You wanna run away from the thing you love. It’s really horrible like not being able to listen to music for three months. That’s when I was recording the demos for The Great Divide. I couldn’t listen to music, but I figured that I could make music and pretend that it wasn’t me. I could dance around in my bedroom in the morning, and I was pretending it wasn’t me. That helped me to overcome melophobia.
I just need some more hobbies. Currently I am learning French and do gardening. At the moment I don’t read much I just watch movies. But I know I will go back to books eventually.
And finally, one of my friends, David, who also loved The Great Divide, asked me to pass a question. He would like to know why aren’t you already famous, ‘cos “you are so wonderful”?!
Haha! I don’t know! I’ve always felt like it’s about meeting right people, moving into business and it can be tricky especially in London. The music industry here is quite a scary place and I guess I shy away from those serious guys. But I know I’ll have to meet them eventually.
So, mostly it’s because I have no label, no touring agent, PR and things like that. It’s essential to have a great team apart from the talent. So I have a great team of musicians, now I need a great team of management. I just need to find the right type of people like independent agency or something like that. But I think the problem sometimes is that when you find those business people you forget there are things you could’ve done yourself. I get so annoyed ‘cos I don’t know anything about business that I forget I can do so much things DIY, and it’s more fun anyway.