Stephen Gormley of Moon Looks On Discusses How Moving Back to Sligo During the COVID-19 Pandemic Shaped His New Album, “Way Out West”

Having played music for most of his life, the now 41-years-young Sligo musician Stephen Gormley reflects on his time with the craft. “I’m pretty laid back, in general,” Stephen tells Post-Burnout. “I consider myself super chilled, I work hard, but I take music fucking incredibly seriously. I don’t fuck around with it. I don’t mess around. When I’m going into the studio, I try to have my shit together all the time. I know what’s happening. I don’t go in there, wasting time.”

When he was in his early thirties, Stephen moved to Dublin. At this time, Stephen had already been releasing music under his own name. He soon began attending BIMM in the city centre whilst living about a fifteen-to-twenty-minute bus ride away, on Thomas Moore Road in Walkinstown. At this time, Stephen began reading some of Moore’s poetry and took notice of a line from his poem “While Gazing on the Moon’s Light,” which read, “I said/‘The moon looks/On many brooks/The brook can see no moon but this;’”.

With a new soubriquet born from this passage, Stephen considered the idea of using the name Moon Looks On for his music career. The project remained a solo vessel for a short while until some fellow BIMM students reached out to Stephen with an interest in playing with him. From there, the project grew like a snowball rolling downhill, until Moon Looks On had expanded into a seven-piece band.

Throughout the 2010s, Moon Looks On enjoyed a healthy string of releases, great gig and festival slots, and media acclaim, and Stephen loved what the project had become. “But then COVID happened,” says Stephen. “And different things happened. People moved to different places; some people stopped playing, and, at one point, I thought, ‘Oh, maybe I’m just going to change this [the name] now because it’s not a band anymore,’  and then I thought, ‘You know what? It’s still me. I’m still writing the songs. I always wrote the songs and sang the songs. So, I’m just sticking with Moon Looks On!’ So, I am Moon Looks On!”

Photo by Niamh Dolphin
Courtesy of MusicBox PR

Beyond the break-up of the band, the COVID-19 pandemic and its limitations meant that Stephen could no longer make money from music and pay the Dublin rent prices; forcing him to relocate back to his hometown for the first time in twenty years. “I could no longer make a living from music,” says Stephen on how the pandemic affected him.

 “And that, for me, was a total fuckin’ burnout because I was living in Sligo. I was back living in the village where I’m from, in the northwest. It was really nice to be surrounded by family and stuff like that. That was amazing. And to be so close to the ocean, and the mountains, and just the West, you know? It’s just an amazing place.”

These surroundings sparked the creation of Moon Looks On’s latest album, Way Out West, which is expected to be released next month. “Looking at this album in particular – Way Out West – it’s massively influenced by geography,” says Stephen. “I mean, I wrote ‘Selkie’ when I was on Coney Island, which is a beautiful tidal island off the coast of Sligo. My partner was living out there at the time. I think she was the only person living on the island, at the time. It’s a really, really magical place.

“But I wrote that because I was influenced by the landscape, and I wrote ‘The Mist from the Mountains’ because of the mist that comes down the Ox Mountains, behind my house. Like, the track listing on this album, it’s like ‘The Mist from the Mountains,’ ‘Hungry, the Rock,’ which is a road that runs from my house down to Sligo, yeah. So, yeah, I’m definitely very influenced from the geography and the emotions that are attached to the memories of being in those places.”

To work on these songs was a great relief for Stephen, who spent the pandemic using his scaffolding and construction experience to do some building work at the beginning of the pandemic, before working at Harvey Norman in Sligo for the rest of the pandemic, which he felt was unfulfilling. “It’s not really for me, working in a shop,” he says. “Because it’s not what I wanted to do. It wasn’t where I wanted to be, you know? But I did find myself looking back, going like, ‘Jesus, yeah! I got to do some cool enough stuff!’

“But I remember, one day, working in the shop and saying to somebody – I was just messing with something on my laptop, and people were talking about sales, and stuff like that – and I was just like, ‘Oh, you know, I’ve actually done quite a bit of music stuff in my life. And I’ve played here…’ and there were like, ‘Oh, where did you play?’ and I was like, ‘Oh, I’ve actually played Glastonbury once!’ and they were like, ‘And here you are, now! Selling TVs in Harvey Norman!’ and I was just like, [Covers face] ‘Oh, my God!’”

After the pandemic, Stephen’s partner sprung a surprise trip to Palma de Mallorca just before Christmas. With the understanding that he was taking a big risk, Stephen went on to quit his job at Harvey Norman to visit the Spanish island with his partner and their dog in a camper van. When he got there, he began busking and mingling with the locals. This trip completely rejuvenated Stephen’s creative zest and he wrote a slew of new songs whilst there.

When he came back to Ireland, Stephen began work on Way Out West. Last May, an EP with the same title dropped, featuring five songs off the record, and last month, the latest single from the record, “Goodbye Polar Bear,” was released. Written in his family’s cottage in Sligo during the pandemic and produced by Bill Shanley (who is known for his work with Gilbert O’Sullivan, Ray Davies, Mary Black, among many more), Stephen says of the 12-track album, “I’ve been playing music for a long time, but this is actually the first fucking time that I’ve ever recorded one body of work all in the same place, as an actual album!”

When asked what his plan is after the album’s release, Stephen says, “The plan is to gig, you know? Lots of gigs. I was away in Dubai, last year, for a few months, doing cover gigs and things like that, which was a cool enough experience. But I’m glad to be back here, in the thick of it. The plan is to be back in the studio in the next few weeks, recording the next album. I’m recording another album, straight away.”

Moon Looks On’s new album, Way Out West, releases on April 19th.

Moon Looks On will be appearing at the following places to promote the album. As of publication, only the first date has tickets available to purchase.

March 9th – Ballydehob – Levis Corner House (Tickets Here)

April 20th – Dublin – Upstairs at Whelan’s (Tickets Here When on Sale)

May TBD – Bundoran – The Kicking Donkey

May 10th – Galway – Monroes (Tickets Here When on Sale)

Keep up to date with Moon Looks On, their music, social media accounts, and live dates on his website. Tune into today’s episode of POSTBURNOUT.COM Interviews… at 16:00 (IST) to hear this full interview, where we go into further detail about everything discussed, as well as talk about working with Bill Shanley, Stephen meeting his partner during lockdown, hit latest single “Goodbye Polar Bear,” his life in Dublin, the success of the band, and more. Available on YouTube, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Amazon Music Podcasts.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *