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Interview: Cian Godfrey (Somebody's Child)

27 March 2023

Photo by Jim Fuller

From the opening notes of “You Know What,” there’s not a song on Somebody’s Child full-length debut that doesn’t sound like it could be in heavy rotation on an alt-rock radio station sandwiched between the Arctic Monkeys and Foals. While Cian Godfrey didn’t grow up dreaming of becoming a rock star, when he took his classical music background to music college in Ireland, he found an outlet for writing and telling his own stories.

Somebody's Child · You Know What

The buzz happened quickly for Somebody’s Child. After releasing a few singles in 2018 and 2019, Godfrey issued the 20-Something EP just a few months into the start of the pandemic and UK radio took notice. “Hold Me Like You Wanna” and “We Could Start a War” were the standout singles on the EP and show up on Somebody’s Child’s full-length debut released earlier this year.

With such a palatable sound and infectious energy, it’s no surprise that Somebody’s Child has been selling out shows across the UK and, as Godfrey says, he feeds off the crowd and gives as much as he gets.

Shortly before Somebody’s Child crossed the pond to perform at the SXSW festival in Austin, Godfrey joined me on Zoom to talk about his music.

You get to relive one day of your life. You can’t change anything about it, it’s more like watching a movie but you get to feel all the feelings you had that day. What day would that be?

CIAN: We got to support a band called Kodaline, it was a bit of a mismatch in style but, at the time, it was our first big stage. It was 12,500 people, way above where we were in standing at the time. I just remember being quite overwhelmed with it. It started making sense at that time, the work paying off a little bit.

Did you have feelings of excitement or were you nervous?

CIAN: I don’t really get that nervous because I know the capability of the band behind me. That gives me a lot of confidence. I guess a bit of both, the feeling of butterflies and the feeling that you know something big is going to happen or something that you’re going to remember forever is going to happen.

When you get done playing a show, do you ever find yourself thinking, “I don’t remember anything about what we just did”?

CIAN: Less and less so. The more shows you do, the less that becomes a thing and the harder it becomes to get up to that level of energy where you enter a flow state. I think the best gigs are the ones that you don’t remember, as sad as that is. When it’s kind of a blur and you’re not in your head at all, you’re not thinking, it’s just kind of stream of consciousness, that takes experience and good rehearsals behind you but also a good crowd is a large part of it as well. It is a two-way street when it comes to performing. I had a gig that was probably less good than the rest and it’s great that we have that standard now where even a mediocre gig seems really bad for us because we hold ourselves pretty high in that regard. You’re aware of what is happening and when the room isn’t giving it back, you can’t outperform because it seems out of place so you need to tailor your performance to suit the needs of the crowd at the time. It’s kind of snowballing effect because it’s hard to get back up from that point. It rarely happens. You can just be off for the day. This is the first proper tour so it’s the first time I’ve had to deal with feelings of psyching myself up a little bit. Even though a lot of the shows have sold out, which is amazing, if you’ve played them before, done sold-out shows before, it’s hard to get yourself up to that level unless you’ve got an affinity for that place, like a home gig or a big city gig.

I think the venue comes into it as well. Long venues rather than wide venues are normally worse in my experience because people in the back are less engaged. There’s a lot of different factors. Sometimes I’m doing 150 to 200 cap. For those ones, you wouldn’t get a lot of engineer, so depend on what the house person is like, they may or may not be jumping on the lights and it can get really static and really hard to get going. You just need to try and read the room and give it your all.

Tell me about a song, album or artist that, when you hear, you’re transported back to a specific time in your life.

CIAN: I’m going to have to go with the Arctic Monkeys. It reminds me of walking into college every day in Dublin and just giving me a sense of confidence when maybe there wasn’t any there internally. That music brings you to a different place. It was pretty foundational for my music tastes as well. It’s the one artist who I’ve actually rinsed, it’s been a number of years before I go back to those guys. It’s like when you smell something that brings you back, it’s pretty nostalgic because it definitely occupied a year of my life. It’s that coming of age time in college where you are still discovering yourself. It’s a pretty important artist for me.

Is there a story you’re trying to tell with the album cover?

CIAN: It was a friend of mine, who I had been planning on trying to get back with to do some work for quite a while. He took the picture and it’s my other friend’s Toyota. We had a couple of other ideas and we were kind of going a little more abstract than we had originally talked to the designer about. We just thought, “Oh, maybe we should do the shoot first and see if anything comes up.” The main point is that I wanted it to be the colors that it is – dark red and orange has always been important for us. Some of the visual cues that we were using for the album process were from Blade Runner. We ended up using the sound of the synth from the soundtrack to write the album itself. It was neon orange and this darker side to our music that we wanted to reflect in the imagery. At the same time, I wanted something quite minimalistic and something that had a classic feel and didn’t feel like it was going to age badly. Not anything of the time but quite simple as well. We got a new logo. Because it’s a self-titled album, it’s minimal in it’s own sense. It’s just two words. It felt like it was meant to encapsulate everything we had done up to this point. One thing kind of lead into another and we really liked the imagery. Originally I had a t-shirt on that said “The Cure,” which I loved as a little easter egg, but they said maybe it’s not worth having another band on your album cover. We left that out in the end. We were really happy with the way it came out. It’s something I feel is quite striking and it actually looks nice when you hold it up against the light as well.

I don’t want to know your influences but what I am interested in is what inspires you? You mentioned Blade Runner as an inspiration. Are there other inspirations?

CIAN: Visually, I get quite inspired. Imagery is quite important for me in songs and a lot of the lyrics are various different images that I pull together. Ultimately, I guess the easiest way to explain my songwriting is that it’s about 80/20 stream of consciousness before the logic kicks in. I always start with melody. It’s very therapeutic in that I’m feeling out the song and allowing the song to breathe. As wishy-washy as it sound, I think that every time you sit down to write a song, there’s one there, it’s just waiting to come out and you have to find the way to the end. It’s like a puzzle that you’re trying to figure out. The longer you leave it without thinking about it, the better. There comes a point where you’re singing and the melodies are coming and some words come out. That comes from somewhere within. You’re discovering why you’re feeling those ways and it’s completely coming from your subconscious. It’s not something that is thought about before hand.

It terms of content or themes or the ultimate vision for the band, it does not come into the songwriting element. Songwriting is a very personal thing for me. I’ve never struggled with getting my feelings out on paper and I wouldn’t need to take inspiration from anyone for that. I do think that sonically I take a lot of inspiration from a lot of people like The Cure and Joy Division and the ’80s in general. A lot of times I write with my bandmate Shea (Tohill). He’s got an amazing guitar style. I have a very different guitar style in that I’m much worse and simplicity is almost my skill. By using 2 or 3 notes, I generally come up with a lot of the melodies and riffs on my guitar. It has a nice dynamic in that sense. We bounce off each other. I’ve been songwriting for so long that I’m very conscious of who I listen to and how much music I listen to because a lot of it can filter into my own songwriting. Somebody’s Child, as a project for me, is about self expression in whatever way that it is. Just the freedom of expression is what I’m going for. It’s quite a personal thing.

Your album has this sense of immediacy. Like, the songs are jumping out of the speakers. It wouldn’t surprise me to hear any of the song of the radio. The song “Jungle,” to me, feel like the one that, when you start playing live, you can see the crowd get animated. Having not seen you live, is that the song that gets people moving?

CIAN: I’d actually say, we currently have “Jungle” second to last in the set and “I Need Ya” is just before that. I’d say “I Need Ya” is probably the one that kicks it up a notch. “Jungle” is the one that people are familiar with and therefore comfortable in just letting loose. “I Need Ya” is one that I’m freed up on performing, I’m not using a guitar on that one, so it’s nice to be able to just let go.

“Jungle” and “We Can Start a War” have millions of listens on Spotify. Because they were released as singles, was it a strategic move to put them at the end of the album so that people would listen all the way through?

CIAN: We released another single, “Hold Me Like You Wanna,” which is second on the album. It wasn’t a tactical thing. The way that it fell, it just happened. Those three songs, we didn’t plan on putting on the record. It’s not that we couldn’t find anything better, it did just feel like it would be a disservice to those songs, being at the point where we’re at, to not include them because of what they’ve done for us and the confidence they gave us in defining our sound. It just felt apt to put them out on physical format as well, they’ve never had that chance. Singles is a completely different game. For the album, we’ve been able to release songs that we never would have been able to release as singles. It’s nice to be able to show that other side of our songwriting, especially at a slower pace. It’s what I write half the time but I just don’t get to put it out there and express it on stage.

There’s a lot of artists who say that they think about vinyl when sequencing an album and that the first song on Side A is as important as the first song on Side B. Do you put a lot of thought into album sequencing?

CIAN: I’ve never had a record player so I wasn’t aware of that but my bandmate Shae was very aware of that. The first thing we did when we were making the record was to get a tape loop. The other guitarist, Patrick (Keegan), has phenomenal talent and pedals and sounds. He’s a jazz guitarist traditionally. All those pedals that nobody will buy, he’ll buy, and he just started making these sounds for the tape recorder to be recording. He recorded a few minutes of a certain sound. We reversed it and then we were able to digitally chop it up and put it in throughout. So, what we tried to do, between songs 5 and 6, which is when you flip it over, is have that continuity and kind of reintroduce the record in the same vein but with a new sound because it does get a little bit darker from that point on. The first five are pretty upbeat and pretty happy in comparison to the last few.

I do like how “How Long?” slows things down and serves as a palate cleanser.

CIAN: I had to fight to get that one on. It was one that felt quite personal to me, Shae had a hand in it as well. A lot of the songs I have, the use of imagery and the use of feeling, it’s just about feeling out the song and seeing what works. Some of them can be quite abstract but that one felt quite direct. I didn’t know if I was that comfortable sharing, which is a weird feeling, but also quite a nice one because those are the ones that the people who really love the music are going to love the most. We recorded completely in free time so it’s not to a click or anything. It’s great to play live because when we start, it just sort of drones in and we don’t know when it ends, it just keeps going until we feel like it has to finish.

Was this always the dream?

CIAN: No. I played music throughout my childhood, classical music on the piano and I didn’t like it. And then I got into secondary school and, when I was 16, had given it up and decided to mess around with chords and ended up writing but never really told anyone about it until I met a friend and he was doing it as well. It seemed more normal but certainly not something that was around me. My parents weren’t musical so I really had to learn it for myself. When it came time deciding what I wanted to do in college, I just didn’t know what else to do. It was the lesser of all evils. I would say I fell into it more than anything. To get to the point where I have, and that’s relatively not that impressive, but to get to the point where you have, you need certain things to go your way and it just turns out I have a love for performing. I really love the craft of songwriting and I found people along the way that have been incredible support as well. So many things have gotten me to the point where I am at the moment. It could have gone a completely different way. There was a stage, after college, where I reapplied to engineering because my parents were like, “There’s no money in this. You have to be really careful with your decision.” It’s notoriously hard to break through in the music industry, everyone knows that. I knew that i had to give it a shot so I gave myself that year to put my head down and work at it. I got a manager, I guess I got lucky in that sense, and it gave me a head start. I really don’t envy anyone just getting started because there’s so much to learn and it takes a lot of work. It’s not something I’d like to have to go through again but I always offer help. Just knowing how to collect your royalties and that kind of thing, when you’re just starting off and all you want to do is write and play music, it’s really disheartening. If you love it, you’ll never feel like you’re working.

Was the non-music stuff the biggest surprise to you?

CIAN: Yeah. I think, these days, only half of it is music. The other half is social media and figuring out money. During Covid, we put 50 quid into art work. It’s amazing that you can put out songs online but, to make a splash, you probably need to throw in a bit of money yourself. I worked in a café for two years to put two songs and spent 10 grand on it. There’s a lot of sacrifices to be made. It’s tough but you have to be young and innocent and naïve.

The tour is doing extremely well, most, if not all, of the dates are sold out. Did you have a good idea when booking the dates that they’d sell well?

CIAN: Before putting out the tickets, I had no idea. We’re coming off the back of Covid, so I really have no idea who is going to show up. It’s a more ambitious tour than our last one. But, before we went over to the UK, we knew the whole tour had sold out. It’s a fantastic feeling to know that people are going to be there listening and it’s not all for nothing. Even though the album’s only been out a few weeks, people know some of the album tracks that weren’t singles, learn the words, and sing them back to us.

Have you ever noticed someone singing along but they are singing the wrong words?

CIAN: Oh yeah, all the time. It’s not about the words, it’s about the effort. As long as they’re belting it out, especially in the UK where they’re doing their football chants, it adds to the atmosphere. The lyrics are open for interpretation. I love the fact that in my lyrics I sometimes don’t know what they entirely mean and I discover them over time. The main point is that you’re trying to get people to feel the same way you did when you wrote that song. I’m terrible at lyrics. I remember doing covers back when I first started, which is why I gave up playing live in the first place and started writing, I just really struggled with it. A lot of my friends who don’t play an instrument or can’t write music, they know words after listening once or twice to songs. My memory is really bad and I can only write my own stuff because I can’t bear to learn anyone else’s. I’m one of those people, I just shout random words at gigs.


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