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Driven individual

Dublin singer-songwriter Shobsy told David Hennessy about a poignant appearance on the Late Late that saw him singing for two men murdered in homophobic attacks, launching himself as a solo artist after the break-up of his band State Lights and why he is wary of social media.

Formerly known for being lead singer of State Lights, Shobsy is now driving for solo success after the band became something of a Covid casualty.

The Dublin singer- songwriter has just released his second solo offering, entitled Driven.

The Clonskeagh musician has long been tipped for big things due to his knack for fusing together contemporary and classic soundscapes to produce modern takes on 80s pop.

Hot Press say Shobsy’s ‘powerhouse vocals’ rival ‘the enchanting beauty of Freddie Mercury and George Michael’.

While Ed Smith of Today FM simply says: ‘Sensational, what a voice’.

Shobsy has made two especially poignant appearances on The Late Late Show recently.

In April he appeared in the wake of the homophobic murders of Aidan Moffitt and Michael Snee in Sligo to sing Smalltown Boy in their honour.

He would also return in recent weeks to sing a very special duet with Christy Dignam of Aslan for the show’s 60th anniversary, a show that boasted a star-studded line-up including Dermot Kennedy and Jessie Buckley.

The Irish World asked him if the country had taken a step back as regards to gay rights- something he has often spoken about.

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Shobsy told The Irish World: “It’s interesting actually that you ask me that now.

“Because if you had asked me that a couple of weeks ago, I probably would have said, ‘It’s incredible. Ireland is a great place to live’.

“And by the way, the majority of people in this country are absolutely wonderful towards the gay community.

“And I feel that day to day.

“In school, things could be very difficult but I believe that’s getting better, that people don’t use words like gay in a derogatory way as often anymore.

“That was constant when I was young.

“It was an insult.

“But funnily enough, there has been a lot of examples of violence that have been happening a lot in Dublin City.

“And those two lovely men were killed in Sligo.

“It’s been a very weird month and a half to two months of people that I know getting attacked in the street.

“So I don’t know what the hell’s going on there.

“But all I know is that we, the majority of people in this country, do not condone that behaviour at all and have no interest in it.

“But it shows that there’s still a lingering aggression towards the concept of being in this community.

“So there’s still a bit of a bit of a way to go, I guess, which I kinda can’t believe really, because it’s like, ‘What the hell? Why? Why are people like this? I don’t get it’.”

Ireland made history by becoming the first country to vote for marriage equality in 2015.

When asked if recent events fee like a step back, Shobsy says: “What it felt like was, ‘We have to say something. We have to reaffirm.

“The night that I sang on The Late Late, Ryan Tubridy did an amazing speech at the beginning where he just kind of reiterated that it’s unacceptable in modern Irish society that there’s homophobic acts of violence, or homophobia of any sort at all.

“And that had to be said on our national television programme, it felt right to say.

“And it is bizarre that it has to be said, but it did.

“We all felt like, ‘Okay, maybe it’s time to kind of resay it guys, ‘Stop this, no way, it’s not allowed’.

“But I think that can almost happen sometimes when such a breakthrough is made, like the marriage equality thing.

“There can be setbacks, and there can be the hangover of years, and of oppression, and it can hang around and can rear its ugly head at times.

“But ultimately, we’re going in a great direction. And we’re going to keep going.

“Why I’m saying Ireland is so great is that the whole country felt on behalf of the community, so I felt like I wasn’t just singing for the community or for the men who passed away, but I felt like it was capturing a feeling of the fact that Ireland was shocked and appalled.

“And it is people calling it out and joining the community and being appalled by acts like that that make people feel safer and make people feel like we’re going in the right direction.

“And there’s been an outpouring of support for that.

“So I commend all Irish people for that, because it’s an extremely progressive place to live and a wonderful place to be.”

While it would not have been his first appearance on the show, performing that song came with a  certain pressure due to what it meant.

“It was obviously an honour to be asked on but it was obviously for a sad reason.

“Ireland was in shock by what was happening.

“And I sang Smalltown Boy by Bronski Beat which would be kind of an anthem for the LGBTQ+ community.

“And I felt a certain pressure, I suppose.

“But it was also a giant honour and the way it was received. was really beautiful.

“I was humbled by that.”

Shobsy has been on the Late Late a number of times now with his band and solo.

Does it ever lost its novelty? “For me, it doesn’t.

“Because it was so important to me growing up.

“I was like, ‘Someday I want to get on the Late Late show’.

“It’s the same as hearing yourself on the radio, the day that you get tired of it is the day you need to ask yourself a few questions.

“Because there is still a very large amount of people who watch the Late Late.

“It is (an institution) and over Covid, when there was so little going on socially, people returned to the Late Late in a kind of a familial way.

“I think when the country needed it, Ryan and that show was amazing.

“And people came back to it.

“I myself was sitting down many nights in front of it cracking open a couple of bottles of wine with my family and just watching the Late Late Show.

“It’s always there. You know, it’s something that’s just always there and hopefully will always be there.”

Shobsy’s current single Driven is a song about ‘the feeling of being toyed with by someone you have fallen in love with’.

Shobsy, whose real name is Shane O’Brien, says: “It is personal. I think it’s something everyone has experienced probably at some point in their life.

“Sometimes humans can treat each other really terribly even if they have massive regard and attraction. You can actually end up treating people really poorly, that pushing people over in the playground as a kid type thing.”

Driven follows Vanity which would go on to be named track of the week by a number of radio stations.

“I was worried, I was nervous,” he says of releasing his debut single as a solo artist.

“Because making solo steps, nothing is ever guaranteed that anything will ever happen.

“There’s so much music released every single day, it’s hard not to get lost in the noise of it all.

“So when any recognition comes to something that you made in your attic- Which is where I make my music, just up in a cluttered attic- That is always to be really celebrated.

“I definitely really was happy with how this project’s been going down.

“And Vanity was a lovely start to that.

“It was kind of a look at social media really.

“It’s a whole new unchartered waters that we’re in because we’re living through it, and we’re using it but we don’t really know yet how this is going to impact us and our kids and future generations and stuff like that.

“So it was a song about basically falling in love with the self and self-obsession that can come and paranoia that can come with social media use.

“It’s being a bit critical of social media, I suppose even though it’s a tool that I use, and we all have to use almost if we want to be involved in current media.

“But it’s definitely something that I am wary of.

“The thing that upsets me a little bit about it is that there is a kind of a convergence of being a musician and also being a kind of a social media figure.

“A lot of the musicians I would have loved growing up, their main concern was making good music and performing that music.

“And that’s what I’m doing this for.

“So I find it’s very easy for an artist nowadays to fall into a state of fear coming up to release because before, you would release things and yes papers would write about it.

“Now, feedback comes directly to your phone.

“And if feedback is positive, it’s great, but there’s always people who are crazy, who send you really outrageous messages and you have to have a very thick skin especially when you’re playing with identity in terms of showing femininity as an as a male, which I tend to do.

“That can really upset people for some reason, they really don’t enjoy that and they let you know, but I definitely am growing all the time to learn how to deal with all of that stuff.”

Shobsy with State Lights.

Shobsy first came to prominence as the lead vocalist in acclaimed rock group State Lights.

Graduates of BIMM, where their contemporaries were Fontaines DC, State Lights were tipped to be just as big.

“It was going very, very nicely with State Lights up to COVID, and we were very, very excited about everything we were doing.

“And then COVID came and with various different kind of personal things going on in our lives, it just came to an end.”

Bass player Noel Perry would leave the band and soon after the band would wind things up.

“It kind of came to a point where we ultimately made the decision to kind of park it.

“Of course it was disappointing. It felt like there was a bit of a grieving feeling to it because we would have had aspirations to do what the Fontaines did and really make a stamp on the world. And we could have done it.

“But I’m excited about the solo thing because I plan to do that under this name and under this project.

“So there’s a whole new chapter beginning here that I’m very excited about.”

With no band and a pandemic still going strong, Shobsy turned to music to get him through.

“There was a real strain on every musician in the world.

“And I certainly turned to music to get me through it.

“So I spent a year solidly in my attic just writing and writing and writing and writing and recording.

“Actually the first time I wrote when I said, ‘Okay, right, I’m going to do the solo project. I’m gonna do it’, I wrote Vanity that same afternoon.

“It came and I was like, ‘Wow’.

“So yeah, I turned to that and I just focused on it and tried to turn it into a nine to five job because usually when things are busy, musicians have no routine at all.

“You’re almost constantly jet lagged.

“And you’re just like, ‘Where am I? Where am I? Where am I?’

“You know, it was actually a nice thing to be able to just every single day get up at a normal time and work until a certain time and just write.

“And I did that for almost a year, and came out with loads of stuff and that just got us through.”

After selling out his first solo show at Dublin’s Workman’s Club last autumn, Shobsy has since played support for RTE Choice Music Prize nominees Soda Blonde’s spring Irish tour.

“That was so good.

“That was in February just at the time when things were opening and full size capacities were allowed so we were worried because that tour had been pushed out maybe two or three times over the space of a year and a half.

“We were worried it was gonna happen again. It went ahead and oh my god, they were absolutely amazing shows.

“I had the honour of playing those shows even before I had played a show on my own almost, that’s just the way it fell.

“It was incredible start and Soda Blonde are truly, I think, one of the best bands in Ireland and deserve everything they get.

“They are an incredible group of people.”

Shobsy has since sold out the Workmans again.

“Hopefully, we can just keep building and building and get to Croke Park by next summer.

“That’s the aim- Yeah, that’s really possible surely.”

Although he is laughing, we ask is that the aim or where does he want to take this? “I don’t want to put a roof on it. I want this to go wherever it wants to go.

“And I will follow it so hopefully, things just continue to develop and, and people continue to show interest.

“I would definitely hope to do a first gig in London certainly within the next year.

“If anyone’s around, keep on the lookout.

“I’ll be coming for you soon.”

Driven is out now.

For more information, click here.

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