A sometimes violent, sometimes beautiful combination of poetry and punk aesthetics informs the work of Peter Doolan, Irish born but London based singer, guitarist and performance poet. Doolan has collected his first crop of tracks, four musical and one spoen word, into his debut EP ‘Modern Bombs Don’t Tick’, released this week. Here he tells Gigsoupmusic what makes him tick and what’s the pipeline for 2020.
Hi Peter, here’s an obvious question to start, but how would you describe your sound? What are your formative – and perhaps also later – influences musically?
My sound is formed very much from my own influences musically – acoustic folk with lyrically driven, romantic, poetical and political themes, sang and performed with the aggression of punk and grunge.
Tell us a bit about yourself and where you’re from originally. You were born in Ireland but you’ve lived in London for a while?
My formative years musically, from probably the age of 12 onwards, were set in motion by the likes of Christy Moore, Bob Dylan and Nirvana who then led me to discover acts like The Velvet Underground, The Smiths, The Stone Roses, Pixies and The Pogues amongst many others. I originally come from co Tipperary in Ireland but have been living in London for over a decade now.
Some of your songs have dealt with immigration, both from the perspective of those waiting to leave and those who’ve arrived and found things not quite as rosy as they expected… Is that based on personal experience? You have stayed here though….
Yes, there are certain aspects of immigration on the EP, for no other reason than I am one myself I suppose. It’s funny when you write something, what it means to you and how its perceived by the listener can be very different things. A few people, having listened to the EP, have said to me “You sound like you have had enough of London”. In some ways, yes, everyone gets tired with it but in others, I still love the place – despite all its shortcomings, it’s still a city have a lot of time for.
You’ve collected up your first handful of tracks into an EP called ‘Modern Bombs Don’t Tick’. What’s the significance of the title?
The significance with the title – I heard an explosives expert on the news talk about the fact that ticking bombs are really only in films and that bombs these days don’t actually tick. I thought that was interesting and that it could be applicable to modern cosmopolitan living, ie: someone who gives no warning of any inner turmoil and then, seemingly out of nowhere, explodes with all that they have been holding inside.
And do you think there’s a theme running through the whole EP?
I don’t think there’s any conceivable theme running through the EP, apart from my own experience.
There’s also a spoken word track on the EP and we understand you’ve also performed as a poet and had a book published, tell us a bit about that side of your work if you can.
The spoken word piece is the first one i wrote. I decided to essentially write a song with no music. I had been reading Bukowski and Joyce, Pushkin, Rimbaud, Shakespeare and my friend Gabriel Moreno’s books at the time. It seemed any easy bridge to gap, seeing as my songs rely heavily on their lyrics.
Is there a difference between a great poem and a great lyric? Do you approach them differently? Do you know when you write a few lines whether it will turn into one or another?
The difference between writing songs and poetry, well free verse anyway, is that the poetry is structurally a lot easier to write. With songs, there’s only so many lines you can fit in to each verse and each chorus etc. With spoken word, it can be as short or as long as you like. With that in mind there’s a lot more freedom in writing free verse poetry but probably a bit more skill in writing a song – it depends of course on the writer but for me, i think that’s a reasonable assessment.
You’ve been starting to do gigs with a full band which we gather has a revolving line up of talent. Is that to keep things fresh? Tell us about a few (or all) of the musicians you’ve been playing with and briefly summarise what they bring to the live band both literally (instrument(s)) and in terms of strength and personality.
The live band is three gigs old and it has had different musicians so far. I play guitar and sing. Nick Mackay plays drums. We have had Gabi Garbutt and also Aaron Doomlord on bass. Russell Joslin plays banjo. Lyle Zimmerman has played mandolin and Maris Peterlevics and Hen Ni Linnea have played violin. What with musicians in London being so busy, it makes sense to bring others in when some people can’t make it. The show must go on! They are all dear friends of mine and very talented people which makes playing live all the more enjoyable.
The videos were filmed by Matt Fleming @ Minus Tone. He is very apt at picking up on a concept and luckily most of my songs have a theme or a story to grab onto, so from there Matt works his magic and each video has turned out better than I could have hoped for.
Finally, as the prospect of 2020 dawns, what is next on the short, medium and long term list for Peter Doolan?
For 2020, the short term plan is to gig as often as possible around London – to establish a name and a following and hopefully get out on the festival circuit before long. The long term plan is the finish recording my first full length album, which is close to completion. I think BBC Introducing would be a good avenue to walk down, they seem to have worked well for other acts in the past. Regular radio airplay is also a key objective, so that’s something I will be aiming for also. As the album, in terms of lyric, theme and instrumentation, is very Irish, I think we will get back to Ireland and play some gigs next year and also it would be great to get over to New York, Boston and Sydney, amongst others.
* The ‘Modern Bombs Don’t Tick’ EP is out on December 13 on Dogcat Records.