Mullingar’s latest pop star Flynn tells David Hennessy about overcoming anxiety and depression, performing to 40,000 people at Tomorrowland and going to school with Niall Horan.
There was a time when he shared a classroom with One Direction star Niall Horan and now emerging pop star Flynn, whose first name is Darren, could be getting mentioned alongside his former school pal more and more.
He has been featured on two of dance superstar Lost Frequencies’ tracks, getting to perform Recognise in front of a crowd of 40,000 people. Written by Flynn, Recognise has also been streamed more than 40 million times.
Now Mullingar’s latest music star has landed a major record deal with Sony Music and winning fans all of his own.
His recent track One of Us lit up Ireland’s airplay charts and got him added to playlists all over the world. Now he is back with B-Side, a song that is triumphant despite it being written about a hard time in his life.
Flynn told The Irish World: “B-Side is about my experience with a girl I went out with. I suppose you could say she wasn’t very loyal.
“You can’t always trust somebody and that’s okay. If these things happen, you move on. You don’t let it get you down or affect you too much. It’s a positive, uplifting song but it’s about a difficult situation I found myself in.”
The song’s feelgood alt-pop beats and rhythms might seem to belie what it is about but it’s a track of defiance rather than heartbreak, saying: A deceptive lover is no loss.
Flynn is not afraid to write about difficult topics in his songwriting and has confronted ‘demons’ like his own mental health issues in his music. While success is now coming his way, he went through hard times.
“My songwriting has always been honest. I’ve never held back. I think that’s important. People want honesty. We’ve all bene through these things.
“Growing up I always listened to the likes of Amy Winehouse, Paulo Nutini, Bill Withers, anyone who told a good story. Eminem, the first record I ever owned was the Marshall Mathers LP. That’s a very personal album. All of those artists, their songwriting approach is very honest and touching.
“If I can inject some of that into my music, I’m happy with that and if I can release music people feel they can relate to, that’s good enough for me.”
His previous single One of Us dealt with some of Flynn’s dark times. When he dropped out of college in Bristol, he had to grind to make ends meet. He was looking for an opportunity in music but his struggles made him question himself and what he was doing.
“It’s about coming home and just realising who you are. It’s the contrast between being away from home and the struggles that come with that and then coming home and realising who you are again and feeling grounded for the first time in a long time.
“When I moved, I suppose I found it quite hard to adapt. When you’re so used to your surroundings and environment, it can be quite difficult to move and fit it in somewhere else. I found that challenging at the best of times and felt that I lost a bit of myself in the process because obviously I was trying to adapt to a new way of life.
“I was quite young at the time so I suppose my brain was still developing. I was still developing. I was trying to figure myself out and who I was. There was.
“I think I got to a stage where I hit a low, an all-time low. I just felt I didn’t have that sense of belonging anymore and I felt like I had really lost my identity and it took moving home to really realise who I was. Being around my old circle again really helped me reset my piece of mind again and helped me move on. Now I’m in a good place and I think that move home, it was temporary but it was definitely needed at the time to refresh my head again.”
Although he is now based in Hastings, Flynn has spent his fair share of time in London as his father has lived in Ealing for many years.
However, there were times in Bristol when Flynn had no bed of his own and had to rely on the charity of friends’ couches and the money he made busking to get by.
“Yeah, sofa surfing,” he says remembering.
“I was never really committed to one thing. I had a few jobs here and there so I could pay rent and get by and I was on and off jobseekers’ allowance all the time. I was starting jobs and then quitting or getting fired because the gig at the pub around the corner would be more important than my job even though the gig wasn’t paying me anything and I was only playing to three or four people.
“That comes with a lot of self-doubt and anxiety and stress and as the years went on I suppose I started to worry about the future and where I was going to end up. I didn’t want to end up a failed musician. Nobody that does music wants that.
“I was always very passionate about being successful. I put a lot of stress on myself. I took it all very seriously. For me it was music or nothing. From the day I left school, I was like, ‘I’m going to make something of this’. I was always very driven. I still am very driven. That comes with its hardships as well.
“When you’re severely driven, you’re very hard on yourself. That can brings the demons to the door.
“At the same time during those years there were times when I nearly completely gave up and just started, ya know, I suppose… drinking,” he says almost laughing.
“There were dark times where I was drinking too much and wasn’t really looking after myself. I had my own experience with anxiety and depression. I think everyone faces it at some point. It’s how you overcome it, that’s the important thing.
“If anything, I think it’s prepared me for what’s ahead. I’ve come out the other end and I’ve definitely come out stronger. I’ve learned a lot about myself in the process and I know the signs now. I know what it is and how to avoid it.
“It’s been a big learning curve for me. A lot of my friends stayed in the comfort zone of living with their parents and they always had that support whereas I left the net, and I wanted to. When I went to England, I left my friends, I left my family. If anything I did it to myself but I’ve definitely come out the other end stronger and more prepared for life.”
Although he relocated to Bristol to study music, Flynn soon found this approach was not for him.
“I went to Bristol as soon as I finished school, literally went straight there. I was in Bristol three or four years.
“I went to college. It wasn’t for me, the education route wasn’t for me. I wanted to explore things myself as opposed to having to be somewhere at a certain time on a certain day.
“I dropped out of college and from there I’ve just been on the road ever since. I needed that freedom to spread my wings do what I wanted to do myself.”
The singer-songwriter can’t help but lament the absence of live gigs as he launches himself as a major artist. We can see why. With One of Us boasting a powerful and triumphant chorus, you can easily picture it going down well at festivals.
“Yeah, it’s been difficult,” he says of the unfortunate times we’re in.
“Mentally it’s been a tough time for me. I signed my deal just before lockdown really. I was hoping this year was going to be action-packed and full of surprises- I mean it’s definitely been full of surprises but the wrong sort of surprises. I was hoping to be able promote my music and travel and do radio tours and play my own headline shows and for me it was a vital, vital year to try and break out and show everyone what I’m about.
“Unfortunately, all we can do now is keep releasing records and just keep positive. That’s all anyone can do right now.”
After having early success with tracks like Peace of Mind, Red Light and My Gold, Flynn would soon come to the attention of dance superstar Lost Frequencies collaborating with them on Recognise.
“I wrote the song in London and my manager sent the song to his publishers and said, ‘Look, I think this is a great song, can you pitch it?’ It was sent to Lost Frequencies and they loved it. Then the rest is history.
“I played the song in front of 40,000 people at Tomorrowland. That was incredible. I’ve never experienced anything like that. Just because it was a song that I had written and because it was quite successful over there, everyone was singing along. It was definitely a ‘pinch me’ moment. I’ve never heard 40,000 people sing a song back to me that I’ve written.
“And because it is a song about self-doubt, to have 40,000 people sing it back to me was really special. If I hadn’t had these struggles, I wouldn’t have much to write about.”
The track has been streamed 40 million times and Flynn has recently featured on another Lost Frequencies track called You.
The Mullingar singer-songwriter is well aware of how lucky he is to collaborate with someone who is so huge once let alone twice.
How does he feel about how things have going for him recently? “I’m feeling pleased. The thing about me is I find it hard to be satisfied. I’m never really fully satisfied. I always want to achieve more.
“But then at the same time you have to slow down and think about how far you’ve come. That’s something I’m doing more now. If you asked me two years ago, ‘Would you be happy with the position you’re in now?’ I would be over the moon. If anything I wouldn’t believe it. What I’ve achieved over the last three years has done a lot for my confidence and it’s been amazing.”
The small town of Mullingar in Westmeath has produced more than its fair share of musical stars with Joe Dolan, one half of Foster and Allen and TR Dallas and soprano Ailish Tynan a few of the names that have emerged from there.
“We’re the music capital of Ireland. We’ve had a lot of success stories in our little town. It’s definitely inspiring and it’s great for the younger generation coming up and I would like to think they would even look up to the likes of me.”
And what about the famous lad he shared a classroom with at St. Mary’s CBS? “Niall’s a friend of mine. I know Niall well. I’ve known Niall for years. Niall’s a good guy. He’s smashing it at the moment so I’m very happy for him.
“I think anyone who comes from a small town and makes it on a global level is someone you have to look up to.
“When I put One of Us out, he text me and said he loved the song. To get that from the likes of him, someone who has succeeded more than I can even imagine is just really humbling.”
Is there any chance of the two coming together on more than a school register? Any chance of a Horan/Flynn collaboration? “I wouldn’t say no. If his management approves and he approves, then I approve.”
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B-Side is out now.