The Dublin-Based Musician Papa Boyle is Pioneering a New Style of Music Called Retro Indie. He Tells Us What Exactly That Is.

What is Papa Boyle? What Papa Boyle is is a fresh start for a longtime musician. What Papa Boyle is is a true artistic expression. What Papa Boyle is is Papa Boyle.

Currently plotting his way up the ranks of the Irish music scene, Papa Boyle will be known. Hell, not to editorialise, but I’ll go as far as to say that if within the next half-a-decade, you don’t recognise Papa Boyle, then God won’t recognise you. Why? Because you don’t recognise Papa Boyle. As you read this, the hierarchy of deities is being rearranged, and guess where Papa Boyle will sit. Ha! I think you already know.

What Papa Boyle offers that His contemporaries don’t is what He dubs “retro indie.” What’s that? Well, as exemplified by His debut single “Between Two Fools,” which was released at the beginning of the month, it’s a combination of acts like Elvis Presley and Roy Orbison as the base and Kings of Leon, Father John Misty and Angel Olsen as the superstructure.

Confused? Allow Papa Himself to illuminate, as he was gracious enough to give us some of His time. Thank you, Papa Boyle.


The first thing I was just going to ask, just to establish a bit of your background, is what got you first into music? How long have you been doing it for?

Yeah, I suppose the earliest part was, obviously growing up, my oldest brother would’ve been big into his music, in kind of around the ‘90s. [He] would’ve been into a lot of the grunge scene, but also was into a wide range of music, as well. So, that kind of gave me good exposure to all the good stuff; it was quite a mix of genres and eras of music, so that’s, I suppose, where it kind of first started. And then, as I started to grow up and get into my teens, I started to, obviously, form my own taste in music; kind of more contemporary stuff at the time would’ve been, like, Kings of Leon and all that sort of stuff, and I always remember hearing “Red Morning Light” in FIFA [2004]  [Laughs], it was on the soundtrack and that really grabbed my attention. And then, eventually, I started picking up the guitar, kind of later into my teens. I suppose I started a little bit later than, maybe, most people but I picked it up, luckily, kind of easy enough, and then played in some bands throughout the years as well. But I suppose the latest project or these batches of songs is something that I’ve always wanted to do, which is a bit more of the older influences that I would have had throughout my life – like the likes of Elvis, Roy Orbison – those older kind of ‘50s, ‘60s type of pop-rock songs always appealed to me anyway, so that’s how this all started, I suppose, as well.

Yeah, actually, there’s a lot to go on, there. So, I guess the first thing I’d ask is – you were mentioning listening to your older brother’s music – was there anything, then, that particularly stuck with you, in terms of artists which resonated with you? The other thing I wanted to ask was – you were mentioning then, as a teenager and a little bit older – you were playing in other bands. Were you creating music which felt artistically fulfilling to you or were you playing just for the sake of playing, I guess? [Laughs]

Yeah, yeah, fair. I suppose it wouldn’t be one major artist who would be jumping out to me as a kid. There was a real mixture, apart from, like, Elvis was always a big one [Laughs] that always stuck with me, and I was always going to…I suppose, you know when you’re a kid and you’re mesmerised? I suppose that whole spectacle of his live band, and especially around when he first went to Vegas and he had, like, I think, a thirty- or forty-piece band or something. [Laughs] It was just so cool. So, seeing that always stuck with me and hearing his voice, but one thing that always stood out was the quality of the songwriting, and that was quite evident throughout all the range of artists that he [his brother] would have listened to; there would’ve been some good things in there. So, I suppose, just trying to get to a good standard or get to that kind of standard was always in my head a bit, but maybe, hopefully, one day! [Laughs] But, I suppose, yeah, musically, I would’ve always had quite a wide range of interest, in terms of genres and eras of music, as I said, and that kind of maybe has allowed me to do other things with music that…not necessarily that weren’t satisfying – they definitely were at the time – but, you know, it can be a little bit difficult to say, “Look, I want to nearly do something that sounds way in the past,” when people [want] to do something that’s a bit more slightly contemporary but maybe a little bit more heavier, as well. So, I suppose when you’re in a band, as well, that can be a little bit of a difficult thing, that you’re trying to make sure that everyone’s satisfied, as well. [Laughs] So, I think it’s nice now that I can just focus on the type of sound I want to make and have that free range, which is nice. So, it kind of allows me to go between retro and contemporary, as well, I suppose.

Yeah, the interesting thing about the way you classify your music, if I’m correct, is “retro indie.”


And I think that’s really interesting because, like you said, you are kind of marrying the sort of contemporary Kings of Leon-esque sound with, you know, as you mentioned, Elvis and Roy Orbison, and I think it creates a very…I don’t know, because I think of when indie was, at one point, marrying punk rock in the mid-2000s, and now it’s going even further than that and going, “No, actually we’re kind of going back to classical rock ‘n’ roll.” For your first single, “Between Two Fools,” what were the direct influences on that song in particular, and what made you choose it as your first song to debut this project to most people?

Yeah, funnily enough, it was the first song that I had wrote and recorded. I suppose, in terms of the influences, I was actually listening to a lot of Roy Orbison, or, throughout that era, there are a lot of – let’s not say “love songs,” but I suppose they’re nearly love songs but they’re also heartbreak, break-up songs – a lot of that from that time; the songs are all about that sort of stuff. And the chords I wrote at the time just so happened to feel in that realm, so I suppose I got the thinking cap on as to what’s going to be the best approach, lyrically, for this, as well, and try to approach it that way. So, I suppose, yeah, it just seemed naturally like the first choice. Probably for anyone that’s familiar with music that I’ve done in the past or anything like that, it would seem quite different or a step away, so that was kind of, I suppose, a nice thing to do. [Laughs] Just like, “Look, here it is and it’s probably different from most things that might be out there, as well, I suppose.”

Yeah, and the song is about a decision that’s made in a relationship. Would it be fair to say that it’s kind of butterfly effect-influenced, or what’s the actual theme of the lyrics?

Yeah, as I said, it’s kind of taking the role of a narrator. I kind of like leaving it open to a little bit of interpretation, to give it a bit of mystery as well, but I suppose it is just an observation of…maybe it could be the person dealing with a couple of voices in their own head, or it could also be the relationship as well, and going through the thought process of both sides of that. So, that’s where I’m toying with the idea of, “Is this a direct conversation or is this the conversations people have in their own internal dialogue when they go through these sorts of things?” So, that’s…[Laughs] that’s where the idea came from, you know? Which is nice, as well. The hardest part sometimes is to remove yourself, I find, from a song; especially if you’re trying to maybe step outside of your comfort zone. So, sometimes trying to find things that aren’t directly related to you are sometimes the most interesting or the ones that kind of flow the most, I suppose, because you’re slightly more removed, if that makes sense, as well.

It does. As a songwriter, do you prefer detached storytelling or a kind of fictitious storytelling, or do you prefer adding your own life experience into it, or do you like doing a bit of a blend of both, where reality and fiction are kind of ambiguous?

Yeah, it’s probably a bit of both, and oftentimes, I’ll try to do the song justice or do what the song needs, I suppose. So, I think, naturally, you will have…there can be ideas that come up that are directly related to you [Laughs] and some things you just want to get off your chest or some sort of feeling, and that ties in with the way that the song has already been written, you know that sort of way? So, that can actually happen. And then, other times, for myself, I’m constantly always writing down notes on my phone [Laughs], to the point of, when I’m going back to looking at what I have, then that can nearly be like, “OK, well how can I piece this together into the story?” or “What was I saying there?” or “What did I overhear?”, and that can sometimes spark a completely different road to go down or a new story to tell that might not have necessarily have started with being related to me.

Photo by Zoe Ardiff
Courtesy of Jawdropper Music

Yeah, and do you think… – this first song that you’ve released – do you think it’s a good indicator of the music that’s to come? Because, like you said, it sounds very […] the music is sort of at the back, and it lets the lyrics and the storytelling go to the front. […] The band are working in concert to facilitate the storytelling rather than emphasising their own instrumentation. I was wondering, is that the intent with the music going forward, or how’s it going to differ?

I think so. That’s something that I…like, if you listen to the older arrangements, a lot of them allow… – some of the arrangements are amazing, and they can be a bit wild, as well [Laughs] – but it’s amazing what they achieved back then, or what they tried to do. But, oftentimes, the voice is front and centre, and a lot of the times back then, with the older songs, they are trying to tell a story, so I think if the story is being drowned out by two or three guitars, it can just kind of take away from it, I suppose. So, that was something I was definitely conscious of. And I wanted to layer the vocals in a nice way, to allow for the harmonies to come in, and that nearly complimented the guitar and the other parts that are in there. Going forward, I think the songs will have a good bit of variation in them, but they will continue down this retro indie road, but they will have a nice bit of variety. But, yeah, I would like to keep the storytelling and the voice front and centre, and, I suppose, even vocally, just explore what can be done, as well. That was the other exciting thing about this step, is changing into a different voice or using some other tones, as well. So, that’s been exciting, as well.

It’s interesting when you listen to the pop music from that era – from the ‘50s and ‘60s – and [realise] how cerebral it was and how literate it was; there was a lot of really great prose in the lyrics and there was a lot of great character studies, as well. I was wondering, do you find…I don’t know. When you listen to pop music from that era and compare it to now, what do you think are the major differences? Because you were talking about the arrangement there, and I think another thing is how many session musicians would come together and just play in tandem and have so many really subtle…very subtle things that were really low in the mix, and it’s just very interesting, I think, to dissect, you know?

Yeah, a hundred per cent. And, oftentimes, something random will come on from that era that you might not have heard before, and you’re like, “Jesus, who is this?” but the quality of the songs is always amazing, and it’s so impressive, considering that they probably wouldn’t have had [Laughs] all the technology that we would have now to make life easy with recording. I suppose the main difference between that – what would have been considered mainstream pop back then – and pop now is probably just the boldness of the arrangements; I think a lot of stuff now can fall guilty of sounding somewhat similar, whereas, back then, you could differentiate the artists a lot more. So, I suppose being a little bit more original, or allowing things not to be as polished; they did definitely have a rawness or a liveliness about them, as well, which I think is lovely – especially when you can hear old microphones nearly crackle or distort – I love that old type of sound. So, where possible, I will try to leave things as natural as well, to maybe try to emulate some of those things. So, that’s not to knock modern music. I’m not sure if you listened to it, but Father John Misty’s latest album [Chloë and the Next 20th Century], some beautiful arrangements on that and that’s definitely a throwback to older times, and I suppose, even more recently, Vampire Weekend’s new album [Only God Was Above Us], some of the arrangements and sounds that they make is amazing, as well. So, it’s not to say that there isn’t artists doing it; it just probably isn’t as mainstream or broad [Laughs] as back then, you know?

And when it comes to the modern elements to it, how do you think those come through in your music, then? Because, when I was listening to the song, it really did feel like something that could’ve been from that era. You mentioned Father John Misty, and I think he’s an interesting artist because he’s sort of playful with a lot of those elements. For you, how much consideration do you put for direct emulation, as you said, and direct homage, versus playing it up or adding elements that, perhaps, weren’t available then? And I’m sure a lot of this is probably a lot more subtle than the average listener would really pick up on, but they are stuff that, as the songwriter and as the musician, you have to have consideration for, you know?

Exactly, yeah. Well, I suppose I would be a bit of a divil for using lots of guitar pedals [Both laugh], so I suppose they wouldn’t have had all of that available, back then. So, sometimes you’ll kind of get that mixture of, you know, it is quite a retro sound, and that’s where that more modern or contemporary type of, maybe, poppy, shoegaze-y type of sound can kind of… – or dreamy kind of sound – kind of come in, as well. In terms of looking at what Father John Misty is doing, he’d be a big influence. Angel Olsen is another artist, especially the past few albums that she’s done that’s done some cool arrangements [sic], as well. So, yeah, I think it’s definitely something that I want to continue to explore, is like having that old-school type of feel to it, but then kind of building on arrangements as much as possible, as well. So, yeah, I think there’s exciting things to come, and we did a bit of a launch night last Friday [from the day of the interview] for the [song], and it was nice to get some feedback on a completely new range of songs. So, I think, you know, the next few singles should go down well, but I think there will also be some surprises in there as well; I don’t think it’s going to sound completely like “Between Two Fools,” which is nice to have that bit of variety, as well. So, I suppose I’m kind of conscious of trying to have that continuous sound but not to the point where every song sounds the same, as well.

Yeah, no. I guess one of the final things I’ll ask you, just to clarify, is how long has the Papa Boyle project been going, and how many songs do you have in the pipeline already?

Em…so, it’s been roughly going since, I’d say, kind of around last summer; you know, early August/September time. So, it’s still quite fresh, but it’s been productive. [Laughs] So, yeah, you can expect a second single relatively soon, and there should be, hopefully, a couple of more singles to follow this year, with the bulk of an album’s worth of material to be polished off hopefully this year, all going to plan, as well. So, yeah, it’s been productive, it’s going well, I’m really enjoying it, and sometimes you get those moments where constantly things are flowing, ideas are going; this seems to be one of those moments, so, hopefully, it continues. [Laughs] But, yeah, I would expect, hopefully, album number one will be out next year.

Perfect. And I guess one final thing I’ll ask [is] about the album itself. If you were to create an album, as a storyteller, would you want to do a concept or a throughline between songs, or would you be more interested in doing individual stories and trying to have a connective tissue, or how do you feel about, I guess, the thematic element of releasing an album’s worth of songs in one collection?

Yeah, I’m a big fan of a concept album or, I suppose, trying to have a story throughout the album and have a nice flow. That’s something if it can be done and it’s done well, I think it always works really, really well. So, that’s something that I’ll definitely try to do. And I think, visually, there’s a lot of things that come to mind with these tracks, as well, so I think there could be a cool story to tell if it could be blended right, and I think that can be the case. So, yeah, we’ll see. Hopefully, that’s the road we can go down.

Do you actually have consideration for things like music videos or even just the promotional material around it to be thematically connected with the songs themselves and with the lyrics themselves?

Yeah, definitely. I think that’s such an important element of it. If you look back at all…most great artists have all done that, or kind of blended into a character, or, you know, had that type of theme throughout it, as well, throughout each release. So, that’s, you know…I think that’s a really important part of it. Probably even more so now, as well, that everything is based on a phone or that’s going to be the first impression that somebody will see. So, yeah, it’s a good opportunity to showcase yourself in the way you want to be, or the way you want your songs to come across, so it’s definitely something I’ll continue to do. I think the first release had a nice cohesiveness to it, so that’s definitely something I’ll keep doing and am possibly even building on more. So, yeah, there’s a good bit in the pipeline. It’s going to be a busy year [Laughs] but I’m looking forward to it.

Perfect, man. I guess the final thing I’ll ask is, what do you have planned coming up for the rest of the year? You were mentioning singles for the rest [of the year], and then building up to an album, hopefully, next year. In the interim, what’s the plan, I guess?

Yeah, so this only happened quite recently, but I’m going to be playing in Workman’s, next Wednesday [Editor’s Note: This interview was conducted last week. The show is on tomorrow night, at the time of publication], with a band called Elaphi. I think I’m pronouncing that correctly. They can give out to me after I meet them on Wednesday! [Laughs] [Editor’s Note: As far as I can tell, he pronounced it correctly, and seeing as I’m the only one with access to the recording of the interview, you’ll have to take my word for it] But that’s Workman’s Cellar, and that’s for their EP launch. At the moment, I’ve got a busy few weeks of recording. I’m going to be doing a bit of shooting, as well, so that’ll be going up online, just for some acoustic takes of the tracks, which should be nice. So, yeah, busy few weeks with recording, just because I kind of have a bit of a deadline in place for the end of May! [Laughs] So, it’s going to be a busy few weeks, and, yeah, you should expect the second single out by June, and then we’ll have a bit of a roadmap for the third and fourth one and possibly a fifth one if we can squeeze it in, if we have enough time in the year. So, yeah, I’ll be busy with that, and, alongside that, people can keep an eye on Instagram. I will be announcing a headline gig at some stage, as well, in the next couple of months, and then, hopefully, alongside that, there’ll be some festival slots or, you know, some smaller gigs around the country, as well. But I think it’s going to be a busy year of recording, anyway! [Laughs] And then promoting the releases, as well.

Papa Boyle’s debut single, “Between Two Fools,” is available on all streaming platforms now. You can catch him supporting Elaphi at the Workman’s Cellar, Dublin, tomorrow night. Tickets for the show are available on Singular Artists’ website. You can keep up to date with Papa Boyle on Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok.

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