We caught up with local singer-songwriter, Bróna Keogh, ahead of her travels to Sri Lanka to get to the heart of what it means to be an independent musician, the Dublin music scene (including the value of it’s day-time radio for emerging talent) and how Ireland often disregards her own artists, unless they’re vouched for from abroad.
Sharing and opening up more in relation to mental health, as Bróna agrees, will continue to create a more accepting world - whether we’re a musician or music listener, music provides us somewhere where are minds can meet - we are not alone and will always value a shared experience and positive headspace.
<<GP>> So you recently celebrated the release of your new single Sea Witch with a show at Whelans - how was the night?
When you release something you expect to see close friends and family, but what felt really nice was having people there that had no friendly obligation to come. Fellow musicians too. We also had some walk-ins, in particular, a group of very enthusiastic Norwegian people that were swept up by the whole thing and very eager to get us over to Bergen to do some shows. That’s what’s really great about Whelan's, it pulls its own crowd because of its reputation so it opens you up to a wider audience.
<<GP>> Sea Witch is a beautiful poetic piece that has this luring lullaby quality, drawing you into a replaying loop - what is the story behind this mystical track?
The track is inspired by and based on Ursula from The Little Mermaid. I’m a big fan of Disney. As a kid, I was obsessed with these Sing Along videos we had. It’s quite possibly one of my main musical influences. Ursula for me represents my own struggles with anxiety and depression and also my musical journey which has always included a strain in my vocal delivery. I got diagnosed with vocal nodules a few years back and have been trying to re-learn how to sing from a better, healthier place. Aerial has her voice stolen in her story. I feel mine was too for a long time and I didn’t feel comfortable to speak up about the things that had happened to me. I have a murky history with childhood sexual trauma and I’m a very emotional person. Not the greatest mix. I was also always made to feel like my emotions were a hindrance or a problem. It’s pretty weighted. Essentially it is about someone whose voice has been taken from them, for whatever reason.
<<GP>> For anyone unfamiliar, you started out on the Dublin music scene in the now disbanded folk band Gypsy Rebel Rabble. How have you found the transition from backing to lead singer-songwriter?
The transition has been a really long and difficult process. I’ve been doing some support slots completely solo at the Harbour Bar and The Purty Kitchen, which has been essential for developing my stagecraft and confidence. It’s a completely different experience as my role is much broader - I now have to choreograph everything, like a project manager - the practice, recording, bookings, videos - the whole shebang! This all takes a lot of work, and as such, a lot of motivation. The support I’ve had from my band has been essential, basically, it wouldn’t be happening without them.
It’s great to be good at doing things on your own, but life is all about a shared experience. That’s why we listen to music, to feel something, together. I’m taking a mindful approach to the whole thing too. Doing what I can, when I can and not worrying too much about it. This helps in preserving the motivation as it isn’t taking over my entire life. I’m trying to be happy with every encounter, focusing on that one person who’s listening in a bar full of people chatting and enjoying themselves - my goal is achieved, as I’ve reached someone on a deeper level and most importantly that they aren’t in it alone.
<<GP>> Are there any songs that you’ve written that have been inspired by a connection made during a performance?
I have written about a connection I felt at a Rickie Lee Jones concert that I went to. She was brilliant. At one point she totally f***ed up a song and decided to just leave it and move on. This was an amazing thing to see. Often performers strive for perfection and it was so exciting to see someone act so human, especially from such a well-seasoned performer. It really inspired me because I don’t really focus on perfection. I haven’t quite mastered the art of consistency and so practice is something that comes more sporadically. I love the Punk ethos. Music is a discipline for some and for others, like me, it is pure therapy. This is something that I think should be shared and not hidden away because it isn’t perfect. I want to see the process, not just the finished product!
<<GP>> How do you sustain momentum during dark days, maybe you’re under pressure writing, recording, even booking shows? We all experience moments of self-doubt - what gives you the fuel to bypass it all?
The momentum is sustained by adopting a mindful and grateful approach to my musical career. I also do this by working in other fields to help financially. This way, it takes the pressure off. I’ve been minding children and working in the service industry for the past ten years to support myself. I think it is a real shame that independent music doesn’t get the listeners that other music does, namely because people are lazy and will eat what they are given, it takes time to branch out and try new things. I, myself, have very lazy listening habits and find it is exposure that creates the longest lasting impression more so than the actual music, which is what creates such an unfair divide because PR is expensive and scenes can be hard to penetrate without a network of contacts.
However, I think that sometimes artists can use these obstacles as a safety net and they lean on these too often as reasons why they aren’t getting what they want from their career. I have decided to accept that in such a complicated structure, with so many variables, I might not ever achieve financial stability from music. I want to live my life now though, so instead of putting all eggs in one basket, I’m going to keep at it, enjoy it for what it is and find a way to make a living around it. If this means I have to say no to certain opportunities and miss out on becoming bigger and wider spread so be it. I think a positive headspace is more important. I’ve no desire to become another sad story. I’m already 27, so if I make it through this year I’ve beaten the curse!
<<GP>> What are your thoughts on music platforms - given the choice and experience what methods support you best?
Even the simple choice of sharing a video by uploading to Facebook versus sharing a YouTube link, can be the difference in 3,000 views. What a nightmare! As much as I try to appreciate what I have, it’s still super disheartening when your output gets a really limp reaction largely because your knowledge of digital platforms isn’t up to date! Honestly, I’m not the best at this stuff yet. I am going through AWOL for digital distribution so it should be up on all the platforms. I like Soundcloud too - I think I’ll continue to use this as a place to upload some less produced, more raw material. Too much time on social media is also poison for the mind so the balancing act continues. What a strange, saturated time to be alive.
<<GP>> Alongside your music, your personal blog is a great outlet for expression too - you seem a very open person that proactively shares experiences to benefit others. It’s admirable that your “stack of diaries gathering dust” have been extracted to help, as you say, “some other poor soul navigating the turbulent tides of adulthood”. Tell us more.
I’m so chuffed you read the blog. Yeah, again, I just feel really passionate about sharing the bad and the good. My name means ‘Queen of the Sorrows’ so maybe it’s a sort of destined role but I just can’t resist bringing down the mood!! I think, as someone who felt their negative emotions were always thwarted, disregarded and devalued I always felt so isolated in these bad spaces. This makes me feel so horrible and if there’s any way that I can cushion that blow for someone who feels the same way, I’m going to want to do it. There have been some times that I’ve posted stuff and then really wanted to bury myself underground, but that’s a good thing, if it doesn’t scare you, it’s probably not worth doing!
<<GP>> Mental health, particularly within music has never been as relevant and important to open up and discuss. What are your thoughts on the support available to musicians in Dublin? If you don’t mind sharing - what support, maybe a network or local initiative that has helped you creatively and socially, that is worth knowing about for any musicians reading?
Well for musicians and non-musicians alike, finding a good counsellor is amazing. I went through a few bad ones that really hindered my recovery. Eventually, I realised that it was something that I wanted to make a priority and so I decided to spend the money and see a seasoned professional. I have amazing friends and family but I could feel that I needed so much support and it felt like it was taking too long relying on the morsels of opportunity that you get amongst your friends. I don’t mean for that to sound like they aren’t supportive, they are absolutely, but everyone is dealing with their own stuff too.
Ireland has many daemons and the effects of our chequered past are still with us. Understanding yourself takes time and it also requires a non-biased ear. Also balancing your exposure to different kinds of people. Make lots of friends with lots of different interests. Pool all the people together and take the positives from all walks of life. This can be hard though if you have any kind of social anxiety. PERSEVERE keep trying. Keep trying to find what makes you happy. Never give up. Everyone’s path is so different, just keep trying and know that YOU ARE LOVED AND YOU ARE WORTH IT. Everyone is, so be forgiving of yourself!
<<GP>> How supportive is the Dublin music scene for emerging talent - for instance, do you think Irish radio does enough to support its own emerging talent during daytime radio?
Radio is one aspect and they are important but I think that the promoters are the best thing about the Irish Music Scene. Promoters, venues, IMRO, the arts council. There really are so many support networks out there. I think that Ireland is an amazing place to cut your teeth. I don’t know if it is the best place to blossom though - I don’t think we have quite sussed out how to generate a good fanbase. We look too much to other countries to see what is good. We don’t respect our own artists unless they are vouched for from abroad and I think that might actually have less to do with the DJ’s and more to do with the listeners. Ireland needs to grow a pair and start having a little more self belief!!
<<GP>> Ireland’s music scene is thriving, and Dublin, in particular, is one of the best places to be right now and yet you’re jetting off to New Zealand - what are your plans, musically, when you get there? Have you ambitions to work on an album while you’re out there?
Dublin is amazing but there’s a big bad world out there and I’m poised and ready to explore, musically and otherwise! We’ve already done some recordings and they just need to be finished off. I’ve some girlos doing backing vocals on a song called Far Away. I couldn’t have planned for it to have been so poetic, but I will indeed be far away when it’s released. I’m compiling some footage of my trip, I’m in Sri Lanka at the moment. In true Bróna fashion, I’m going to document the harder times. Travel has become so popular and often we see these brilliant videos of surfers, skydivers, elephants, great food etc. but there are hard times here as there are anywhere and so I’d like to capture those. Maybe if I’m nice to him, the videographer for Sea Witch (Ed Cleary) I might take what I gather and make something beautiful out of it! When I get to New Zealand I might collaborate there too and get some trans-continental recordings done. We are living in a global village these days anyway, so I think it’s time to embrace that.