Two For Joy’s Ryan Ennis Discusses His New Eponymous Album, Working at Windmill Lane Studios, Becoming a Musician and Appearing on a TG4 Talent Show

Ryan Ennis of the acoustic-focused rock band Two For Joy called into Post-Burnout from his home in Mayo to discuss the band’s new album, titled Ryan Ennis, which was released at the beginning of January. He caught up with his former classmate Aaron Kavanagh and the two discussed Ryan’s journey in becoming a musician, his adventures on a TG4 talent show despite his lack of knowledge of the Irish language and recording at the legendary Windmill Lane Studios.


So, the first thing I wanted to know is, what kind of got you into becoming a musician?

Eh, it’s kind of in the genes [Laughs]. My brother. My brother is probably the main thing. Joey, the oldest; I don’t know if you ever met him. He was in a band called The Ginger Biscuits in Athlone. But he’s a better musician than me, for sure, but he’s, eh…I’ve been kind of more up for the songwriting than him; he’d be great with the covers and instruments and stuff, but he’s probably the first inspiration, you know?

Yeah, and, like, when it comes to the music you were influenced by, that you were listening to, that you kind of wanted to, I guess, write in the style of, who would they be?

It’s a bit of, you know, “Where does it all begin?” It was The Beatles [Laughs], you know? Of course. Yeah, The Beatles and probably a bit of Neil Young, but that’s probably one that…Neil Young is probably one that more people notice in a lot of my songs, they’d be like, “Oh, that sounds like Neil Young!” and I’m like, “Damn! You can’t get away from him now!” [Both laugh] But, yeah, probably those were the first kind of ones, then I kind of got into more kind of unknown ones, like Dave Ellis, which he only has one album. He was out in the seventies, he was probably known as one of the top guitarists in the world, then he just kind of disappeared [Both laugh]. But his album is actually uploaded onto the wrong artist on Spotify, so I was like, “Ah! Well, at least I found him!” But, eh, yeah. Him and Gary Higgins as well, even. Gary Higgins. Just kind of, like, real seventies singer-songwriter kind of stuff, like.

Yeah, and I think that kind of comes through. So how old would you have been when you started playing instruments? Was guitar your first instrument, or…?

Oh, guitar, yeah; first instrument. I was 17. I was a bit late to the party [Laughs], but, eh, yeah, my mam and dad got me a little Yamaha F310 for Christmas one year and, eh, then my brother showed me one chord. He was like, “OK, here you go. Here’s the C chord” and then he was like, “Now you’re sorted.” [Both laugh] I got about twenty songs from that one chord, you know? [Laughs]

The C chord’s a difficult one to start with. I would’ve went with an A or an E.

You see, it was good because then it made all the rest look easy, you know? Stretch the aul fingers out [Laughs].

Courtesy of Two For Joy

And then when it came to starting your band, Two For Joy, how did that come about then?

It was actually…you’ll probably find this one funny because it was through Facebook, a “Start a Band Ireland” kind of thing. But I usually pass through all that kind of stuff, but I was scrolling away and then there I was, someone was looking for a singer-songwriter, but the thing that actually caught my eye was the name; it was Aaron Kavanagh! [Aaron laughs] And I was like, I was like, “Oh, that’s Aaron!” I was like, “Is he starting a band?” And [Laughs] it was a different guy, but I was like, “Sure, I’ll give them a shout.” I sent them my stuff and they were like, “Ah, man. We really like your songs.” And I met up with them [and] they didn’t kill me, so that was great, you know? [Both laugh].

Good start!

It’s a bonus [Laughs]. Yeah, and we just started jamming, the three of us, and just messing around and just recording. It was me, Aaron Kavanagh – not you! The imposter! The imposter! [Both laugh] – and Killian Dowling. But since then, it’s kind of just really myself, but Killian still does a lot with me. He’s in another band now as well, but he, eh…he still does a lot of…I send him tunes and he’s like, “OK, I will see what I can do with this,” but he’s not one of the main, permanent members anymore; it’s kind of mainly just myself, like, and another drummer named Lee; Lee Riordan. He’s a little bit older, but he’s a fantastic musician, fantastic musician. He’s a great drummer and a vocalist, he does a lot of [Thin] Lizzy covers and stuff. Yeah.

Yeah. And I want to ask, actually, one thing, were you on a TG4 talent show?

Yeah, yeah, I was yeah [Laughs].

I remember stumbling upon that one time, just randomly. And, obviously, we used to go to school together, in primary and then, after secondary, we just didn’t see each other and then I was like, “Wait a second, is that Ryan?” And you were speaking fluent Irish. I’m like, “Where did you learn that?” [Both laugh]

They edit…well, they must have edited it! That’s great editing because I was not speaking Irish very well at all! You see, it was tricky; I actually entered the competition with an original song and then I got into it. Then, when it came to the live show, they were like, “No original songs,” and I was like, “Aw!” I was really sad about that, because that was my thing; I’m not that great at covers, you see. But I did a botched cover of “Valerie,” but I enjoyed it anyways; it was fantastic, like. It was a great show, like. I haven’t seen them doing it again since, but it was good to see all the other talents, you know, at that session. There was a few actual I…a few people I kind of knew that were doing it as well, you know? So, it’s kind of like music kind of connects everyone like that, I suppose.

Courtesy of Two For Joy

Yeah, of course, yeah. So, I want to talk about your new album, then. So, it is just called Ryan Ennis

Oh, yeah [Laughs]!

…which, obviously, I mean, when you actually listen to the album it seems more…comparatively, a lot more stripped-back. There’s a lot of – you were mentioning Neil Young – but I was thinking more of [Bob] Dylan…

Oh, right, right. Yeah.

..with the harmonica and stuff.

Yeah, yeah.

Yeah. It feels a lot more stripped-back, singer-songwriter; the kind of band are sort of put to the side a bit. And, just in general, do you think that…beyond just you playing on your own on this one, do you feel that, thematically, it’s a bit more…I dunno, it’s a bit more personal?

Yeah. I think that’s kind of what I was going for, because I’ve got a lot of songs that I’ve written and it’s kind of hard to record as much as I want to record when you’re relying on so many other people and – as you’re probably listening to it – the quality isn’t the best, because, literally, I’ve done everything myself. I’m not an engineer of any sort [Laughs], you know? Like, EQing, I’m like, “OK, I’ll bring this little dot over here. That’s probably doing something!”

Yeah [Laughs]!

You know? [Laughs] It’s literally, yeah, as you said, it’s completely stripped-back and personal. They’re all songs about growing up, songs about my brothers, songs about love as well, you know? Of course, but, like, I literally just recorded it all in this little room [He points to the room in his house that he’s calling in from], like, you know? One of them with the window open, you know, because I wanted the crows. I felt a bit lonely, you know [Both laugh], so I wanted the crows to sing with me too, you know?

Yeah. I think my personal favourite of the album was the second song, “Life.” It has this real vibrant, chippy kind of, em…You know, it feels very bouncy and vibrant and the lyrics, I think, are very playful. I really enjoyed the writing, it’s just kind of pondering life, but in a kind of…not in an existential way, necessarily, but just kind of about the wonderment of life and just kind of like, you know…I found that really beautiful. That was my favourite.

Ah, cheers. I was kind of going for like a…what do you call it? Like a kid’s song kind of style, because I wrote it about the birth of my niece. So, the first grandchild of the family and I was, you know…It’s just kind of all about that, you know?

Yeah, yeah. So, there was another one I wanted to bring up here, it was “Old Games,” which actually made me, really…it got a very visceral reaction out of me. Nice to see a Tallaght shoutout, by the way.

Yeah, yeah [Both laugh]!

I think your music in general has this very wistful nostalgia to it; it has this very, I don’t know, reminiscing on the past kind of…but not in a way that…you know, sometimes when you get into nostalgia, it kind of feels a bit like escaping the present, but I don’t get that vibe from your music; it feels very appreciative of people who were in your life at various points, going through. And, I don’t know, I was wondering why that was kind of important for you to express?

I think it feels important because I want it to be real, you know? So, I kind of, I don’t want to just be singing, “Going to the club!” [Both laugh], you know? I want to write about what I do and what I know and that’s kind of what just flows out of me, is all my memories and all the good times and even the bad times because they’re all what makes us, you know? So that’s what I like to sing about.

Courtesy of Two For Joy

Perfect. And just, going forward, what do you think the future kind of holds for you and your band?

Well, actually, we did…we recorded a whole album in Windmill Lane, there. We only had eight hours! But managed to get it done, so that’s in the process of getting mixed and mastered by a very talented guy, named Eoin O’Dowd, and he’s helped us out now a lot, in terms of polishing up what our sound would be, you know? But, em, it’s an album ironically called One for Sorrow, but, yeah, hopefully that will be coming out this year. Other than that – janey! – just more writing!

What was that like, actually, recording in Windmill Lane, because that’s such an iconic recording studio? I mean, like everyone – not even just domestic acts like U2 or anything, like I think they’re the most famous for recording there – but I think every international artist has kind of like…

Yeah, Hozier was there as well, recently. But yeah, it’s great; it’s a great setup. Even when you walk into it, you can feel it in your ears, you know? It’s just such a natural sound, you know? So, most of the sound you’re getting from your acoustic is from the room, you know? And that’s probably…you’ll probably hear a difference between, eh, the version of the album that I recorded in this little room versus [Laughs] the album from Windmill Lane!

When it comes to the production of the album, I actually did note…like it did have – the Ryan Ennis album – did have a very different kind of production style, but I didn’t necessarily think it was lacking, which you implied…

It’s what made it! It is what made it, though. It’s what it kind of needed.

I thought it had a very sweet intimacy to it. And I did notice, actually, the little soundscape of the birds chirping. I picked up on it.


But, yeah, I don’t know…it seems like now, self-production – even if someone doesn’t consider themself an engineer – can kind of be of somewhat of a professional standard, even if the knowledge is somewhat intermediate, if that makes sense?

Well, that’s the thing: if I can do it, anyone can do it, you know [Both laugh]? You know, ‘cause it’s…it’s kind of, you know, as a songwriter, you can’t really be waiting around for someone to come up to you and go, “Oh, I’m from a big record label! I want to record all your albums,” you know? Who knows? So, I was just like I’m going to record all the songs while I can [Both laugh].

I think I’ve covered pretty much everything. If there’s anything else you want before we wrap up?

Not that I know of, just that it was cool to talk to you, man.

Thanks very much.

I love your work.

Oh, thank you!

Two For Joy’s latest album Ryan Ennis is out now and available to purchase or stream here. You can also follow the band on YouTube, Instagram and Twitter.

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