When you think of Anthemic folk-pop, the first name that should come to mind from now on is Susan O’Neill. It’s a bold statement when in the modern music climate, it’s not exactly a genre that’s heavily underrepresented – particularly in the indie set. Hell, everyone who can hold a guitar is giving it a go these days; some successfully, others not so much. So, what is it that makes this young one from Waterford so goddamn special? Much like any other recipe’s end product, it seems to be a combination of the right ingredients and the execution.
Susan O’Neill has been writing songs since an age where you were still fantasising about playing for Man Utd. with David Beckham or waking up in between saturated bed linens, (that’s normal at 13, right?) and it’s not something that seems ever to have left her. She’s not your average poser with a guitar playing alternating A, E, and C, either. She’s a bona fide multi-instrumentalist with more instruments under her belt than hairs under mine: guitar, harmonica, sax, trumpet, and probably the harpsichord, too. Note to self, learn to play the harpsichord… bitches love the harpsichord. HARPSICHORD. Oops, tangent… where was I?
Not content with mastering literally every instrument that has ever been designed (possible exaggeration), Susan picked herself up a BA in Music, majoring in recording techniques and minoring in medieval chamber music (because of the harpsichord, obviously). Not only is she a powerhouse vocalist, a talented musician, she also knows how to get it down onto a track when it comes to the studio. It all shines through when it comes to the songs, but we’re not quite there, yet.
Someone once said that a musician is only ever as good as their live performances. That person was me, just now, but it does stand to reason. Nobody ever got anywhere good on the back of auto-tuned studio releases alone. Nobody worth mentioning, anyway. Performing chops are a must, and Susan has more than her fair share. She’s supported the likes of Imelda May, Paddy Casey, Alabama 3, Mundy, and Fun Lovin’ Criminals in the past, which reads like the CV of someone you’d throw the job at before they left the room, but there’s more. This year’s DayTripper festival in Waterford saw her share a stage with the likes of Riptide Movement, Maverick Sabre, and the Darkness. Add in last Year’s Body & Soul stage at EP, the myriad gigs around Waterford, and extensive airplay over the past two years, there’s only one way she’s going.
Now it’s down to tacks made of a copper/zinc alloy, the songs themselves. When the Light Shines Down is one of those tracks you can picture gracing a Glasto main stage at 11 o’clock at night. Complete darkness, crowds chanting and bouncing, flags waving, and intensity building. Suddenly, the light builds slowly, like the song. Then there’s the kicker; the chorus. The lights erupt and smoke goes ballistic, and the crowd does the same. If Adele would cheer the fuck up and write happier songs or splice herself into Florence or the Machine, you’d be on the right kind of track with When the Light Shines Down.
Explosions in the Sky is another beast altogether. It’s a bit of a ballad, but not a run of the mill one. Once the chorus looms its head, it still manages to be upbeat and to a certain extent, up-tempo. It’s a bright little piano melody infused with violins, a miniature horn section, building to a hooky climax. The vocal harmonies add another level of warmth to an already charming track. I don’t know if it’s the commercially appealing powerhouse of Light Shines Down, but nobody would fault the composition or the content.
Be it the bluesy rawness of Just Around the Corner, or the Sheryl Crow/Alanis Morissette, 90s guitar-driven folksy pop of Two Wrongs, Susan O’Neill isn’t just one of those pretty voices attached to a pretty face. She’s one to watch.
It’s not just me who thinks so, either; she’s nominated for Best Female Solo Act at this year’s Pure M Awards (before you ask; no, I had absolutely nothing to do with that). Keep your eyes and ears peeled, because as far as my money is concerned, Susan is going places.