Irish Musician Hugh O’Neill Discusses Going from Orchid Collective to His New Solo Project Honas, Going Viral with the Collab on “Control,” and His New Single, “Everyday Life”

Irish musician Hugh O’Neill’s interest in music began at a young age. He grew up in a household of musicians in Sligo, and while his parents and sister performed, it was really his Oasis and Counting Crows-inspired drummer and guitarist older brothers which piqued his interest and had the biggest impact on his early tastes, and the equipment laying around the house gave him the ability to experiment with instruments.

“I started playing guitar when I was eight,” Hugh tells Post-Burnout. “I think both brothers played guitar, and every other family member played a little bit, you know? So, if the brothers weren’t around to show me the next chord, someone would be there to show me the next chord. But I was really lucky…there were instruments around the house, so I got a little go of everything, so I’d be comfortable enough on keys and I’d know my way around a drumkit enough that it helps me communicate with a drummer in a band, or I can programme in decent, convincing beats when I’m programming something.”

Hugh believes that his brothers’ music tastes influenced his own, particularly in getting him into the likes of Green Day and David Gray, which had a further impact on the acts he would gravitate towards when discovering his further inspirations.  Independently, he became fond of the likes of Damien Rice, Declan O’Rourke, Glen Hansard, Snow Patrol, early Coldplay, and Bon Iver. In his early twenties, Hugh got into music production and taught himself how to use digital audio workstations, but he had begun performing music much earlier than that.

“Playing in public, in general, started at a young age, I think,” Hugh says. “Again, because my brothers were in a band, and I thought that was the coolest thing ever. It was a cover band, but whenever there was an opportunity – if they were playing at a friend’s twenty-first, or a whatever, a family event – it became a thing that I would join for a few songs. And then I even went busking a few times at a young age, and then started gigging in pubs and stuff from the age of…from an age I shouldn’t have been doing it, really! [Laughs]”

While performing music became familiar, Hugh found a new challenge when it came to showcasing his self-pennedmusic. “So, yeah, I did notice when it became my own songs that I was playing in public, it’s a totally different kettle of fish; you feel far more vulnerable and it’s very scary,” he says. “I don’t know when my first opportunity to play my own stuff was, but I think all that early exposure to playing live helped a lot. I do love performing.”

Despite his love for music, Hugh felt that there were not many musicians around him who wanted to perform at the same level. After finishing secondary school, he moved from Sligo to Dublin, where he studied at BIMM. “I went from being one of the only people who did this, to feeling like a very small fish,” he says of this transition.

His first big break came when a fellow student, Dave O’Shea, asked Hugh if he would fill in on bass for the band that he was fronting, Orchid Collective. While Hugh had little experience on the bass when asked, he took the gig, learnt on the job, and ended up staying with the band for half a decade. Whilst Hugh enjoyed his time in the band and working as a part of a unit, to aid in something bigger than him, he began itching to go back to working as a solo artist.

Once his time with Orchid Collective came to an end, Hugh for the first time began writing songs which he felt had a lot of continuity between them. “In 2018, I had a small collection of songs that I felt were all in a similar vein, and that was a first for me because I constantly felt like I was writing in different styles and stuff,” he says. “So, when that happened, I got really excited about that, and I just wanted to record it all and release it.

“So, I went into the studio with Adam Redmond, a producer from Dublin, and, yeah, we recorded I think about eight songs together, and, basically, over the next little while, I was trying to finish those off, myself, and then COVID hit or whatever.  So, there was kind of a thing where I was really confident in those group of songs, and then, when I had a chance to step back again, I felt it wasn’t really me, after all. [Laughs]

“So, I kind of started again, last year, I think. Well, I suppose all that time I was writing new songs, but it hit me again, last year, where I was like, ‘OK, I’ve got a really solid group of songs that I’m really confident in.’” From there, Hugh’s new solo project, Honas, was born, and it wasn’t long before it enjoyed success.

As the Honas project was fledgling, Hugh happened to spend some time living in Berlin, and it was there where he met the local, prolific DJ and producer LO. The two collaborated on the track “Control,” which was released in May 2020 and was an immediate hit. At the time of publication, the song sits at just a few thousand streams shy of twenty million listens on Spotify.

“’Control’ kind of happened right before COVID hit, and that was just a guy I met in Berlin,” recollects Hugh. “It was very much a collaborative kind of thing. He makes so much of that chill house music. He’s so active, I’d say he puts out a song a month and has done for the last I don’t know how many years. But, yeah, we just met and decided to do a little track, and it came together in half-a-day.

“And I don’t think there was much thought [Laughs] going into it at that stage, because it was just so early on. COVID was literally looming; I went over to his house to record it and I was like, ‘Should I be touching anything? Recording into this microphone?’ But it was kind of just a ‘Fuck it’ scenario where I was like, ‘Let’s put this out,’ and, yeah, it’s done unbelievably well. It is quite different, stylistically, to the stuff I’m going to be releasing myself, but, yeah, I am still really proud of it. I like it, I like the song, and what it’s achieved, streams-wise, is kind of mind-boggling.”

After that experience, Hugh came back to Ireland to attend Hibernacle’s 2020 retreat at Hotel Doolin in Co. Clare. Around this time, Adam Redmond had contacted his management group to tell them about Honas, and Hugh was performing some additional Hibernacle gigs in Birr, Co. Offaly, where another of the management’s clients, Wallis Bird, also happened to be performing. Impressed by his set, the management hooked Hugh up with various producers in Europe, but it was the meeting with composer and producer Marian Plösch of Inner Tongue in Vienna which impressed Hugh the most.

The first song of the collaboration between Marian and Hugh was the single “Everyday Life,” which released last month. The song came organically while they were working in the studio. As Hugh remembers: “We were working on some other stuff first and this chord progression came along, and we knew we were supposed to be finishing off other tracks, but we were like, ‘Oh, let’s just run with this one,’ or whatever. I think I was more reluctant, but Marian was like, ‘Come on, man; this feels really good,’ and I was like, ‘OK, an hour!’ I was like, ‘My management’s going to fucking kill me!’”

“Everyday Life” is the first single to feature Honas without a collaboration. Hugh feels that this song sets the precedent for what his music is going to sound like, going forward. When we asked Hugh if he felt like he had to compete with the success of “Control” for future releases, he told us that he sees that song existing in its own sphere.

“To be honest, this felt like more of a first single, rather than a follow-up,” Hugh says of “Everyday Life.” “Because it really does just sit in a different world than ‘Control,’ and I think the fact that you can see there’s two artists involved in that first track, I think people would have the impression that that’s a different thing. So, yeah, I didn’t really feel pressure to live up to ‘Control’ or whatever. I knew, even doing ‘Control,’ that that wasn’t the style of music that I was going to put out, separate to that collaboration.

“I have another four or five songs ready to go, so ‘Everyday Life’ wasn’t produced in isolation, you know? It has these other songs that feel good to go along with it, so it was just about picking the right one of those five tracks or whatever to go out first, and ‘Everyday Life’ was pretty unanimous, thankfully, between management, and myself, and everyone thought that that should be the first single, so it felt like a confident decision, and I still feel good about it. [Laughs]”

Honas’s latest single, “Everyday Life,” is out now. You can follow Honas on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. You can also listen to our full interview here:

You can also listen to this episode on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Amazon Music Podcasts

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