Last week, we spent a few hours in the charming company of singer-songwriter Eoin Harrington. The California-based Irish singer-songwriter, who as a supporting act has shared stages with many major rock artists, including Alanis Morrisette and Switchfoot, is now ready to step into the limelight on his own as Rootstock 2017’s Rock headliner.
A classically trained multi-instrumentalist, producer and engineer, whose debut album, Story (2008) and 2011’s Confess were received with critical acclaim in the States and in Europe, followed by a string of sold out shows. Today, Eoin Harrington is recording his third album due for release in 2018. In advance of his eagerly-anticipated headline slot at Rootstock 2017, we caught up with him to discuss the next chapter of his story…
Q: Eoin Harrington… So tell us what are you up to at the moment?
“So, right now the big focus is writing and recording the new album. We’ve laid down the tracks for almost all of it. There are 13 so far, but I am tempted to write a couple more. There’s four tracks that I am really, really proud of; they are by far the best songs I have ever written. One’s called ‘Dark’, one’s called ‘Tonight’ and another one I really like is ‘Soul to Call’. There more chilled and vibe-y than my usual stuff and I am super excited about them. ”
I Write the Songs: Eoin Harrington’s songwriting has attracted much acclaim since his debut album, Story, released in 2008.
Q: What is your writing process?
“I write songs in different ways at different times. But for this new set of songs, I had in my mind a concept about what some of the tracks were going to be about. I had a feeling. But usually, I sit down at the piano or the guitar and start working through the idea. I try and find a chord progression that makes sense, music that matches that sentiment I am thinking of. I then just start singing over the top of those chords with make-up words, fake words, as I call them, just trying to find shapes of phrases and syllables that work with the chords. And then, sometimes, a line will just naturally come out that, usually from nowhere, but produced from that feeling I am wanting to create.
Some lines or melodies become anchors, that I then work the rest of the lyrics around that. Melody is the most important thing. The writing process is quite strange, quite funny, when I think about it. There’s no better feeling when you’ve written a song you love. It’s like having a baby, I guess, giving life to something. For the first month after I’ve written a song, I’m ecstatic. I no longer write songs for a specific audience, anymore, or songs that I know will work well on radio or TV, those are the songs that don’t give me that good feeling; their magic wears off quickly. I now just focus on writing the songs that I want to write. “
Dublin-born, but raised in the US, Eoin Harrington has picked up a reputation for writing songs that unite classic Irish anthems and identity with iconic American rock. The result? Pure rock perfection. Today, Eoin is a resident of San Francisco, where the West Coast sun that almost always shines, has inspired Eoin to produce life-affirming melodic, pop-rock songs with a touch of soul, earning him a legion of fans and critical praise in the process.
Armed with an energetic stage presence, an electrifying four-piece band and his swoon-inducing lyrical swagger, Eoin is one of most intoxicating new voices to hit the music scene in years, following the release of his debut album, and support tours with Alanis Morissette and Switchfoot. Having hypnotized California with his Irish charm, it won’t be long before the rest of the world surrenders too. But, before we discuss the future, let’s go back to the beginning…
Q: How did you first get into music?
“I first started in music a long way back when my mom was a singer and played piano. She adored music, so she was the one that inspired me first. She was always singing around the house. When I was four she took me to piano lessons. I took classical piano for ten years! Every single family function I ever went to, everyone always had to sing a song, or play something musical. Music was always there, a constant good feeling; it never left the family.
I think from the very first songs my mom taught me, Irish ballads ; that love for music started growing inside me and still does. I still sing those Irish ballads today. I stopped playing classical piano when I was 15 and started playing pop and rock songs I heard on the radio, learning them by ear. That inspired me to start listening to artists such as Elton John, Mary Black, Van Morrison, Led Zeppelin, bands and artists who were using different chord progressions than I had ever heard before.”
Q: Can you describe the highlight of your career so far?
“For me, good times and high points all relate to writing my songs. My favorite moments of being a musician have come from when I have written a song I felt was so good I considered it a classic. When I wrote my first song that made me feel that way, I was genuinely happy. Writing songs for yourself, doing it for what you consider to be the art’s sake of it all, as opposed to doing it in order to win a certain accolade ; is what makes me want to continue being a songwriter.
I’ve won song competitions before and I’ve played on stages with some big-name people that I respect and love, but when you write a song that you think is great – that’s pure art, pure creation, right there. I feel that way about my new song “Dark” and I still play all the time because it gets me so excited of its potential.”
The Family Band: Eoin Harrington and his band have been together for a long time
Q: You’ve been playing with your band for a long time…
“This band, we’ve been playing together for eight years so, yeah, we’re super tight. We’ve done a lot of shows together. This band is like my family, but it also feels like I have multiple boyfriends and girlfriends all at once; there are so many dynamics in the relationship that have to work so that you get the balance right and everyone’s happy. We’re playing as a four-piece band for Rootstock 2017. There’s Angeline Saris on bass – one of the best bass players in the States, right now. Then we have Daria Johnson, an amazing percussionist, drummer and singer. On lead guitar, Sean Lahey. A tasty guitar player, just you wait and see!”
Q: What can people expect from your Rootstock show?
“I am starting to think about the setting of the gig, now. Are people going to be dancing or sitting down? Is it going to be hot or cold? I think about all that stuff as it’s important to know what the day is going to bring, because each show is different. I think it’s vital artists plan the right type of music for each individual show. So, for Rootstock, with the setting so serene and beautiful, I think people will have a chance to sit back and listen to the songs and focus on them a little more than say a “crazy” festival such as Coachella.
So, I’ll plan my setlist around songs I think the audience will enjoy the most, as opposed to just playing songs that might go against the mood and setting. But, to be honest, I love winging it. It’s important to read the audience and decide if you need to do a detour, take a song out or even just playing something completely new, which I’ve done a few times before. We’ve got loads of upbeat songs that we can play if people are in the mood. And if people are loving upbeat songs, we’ll keep riding that wave. I like to keep my eye on the audience throughout the show and will do my best to get the place jumping higher and higher until everyone’s exhausted!”
Q: Will you make your setlist up in advance? Or is it set in stone?
“I’ll have a setlist prepared that we’ll come prepared to play. But every now and then I’ll just go completely off on a strange tangent and play songs that weren’t planned! My band are such quality musicians that they can handle anything I throw at them! I like to keep my shows as open as possible because that’s where the fun is in performing. I think the crowd love it when the band are on just enough on the edge and not exactly sure what’s happening! I think that energy gives a bit of an edge to the performance. If the crowd can see live in real time, that musicians are trying to figure things out, that’s more entertaining than simply regurgitating songs. We’ll definitely be playing a few covers too which always add an extra sense of fun to everything.“
Q: What are your thoughts on Burgundy and Rootstock 2017?
“Burgundy is one of the most historic places I’ve ever been to. Such a rich backstory of winemaking and history, and the culture of winemaking… It’s a regal place. For sure. The band and I were honored to come and play this festival that I believe will become an annual event in the area. It’s great to be invited to place the very first one. I think the festival will draw attention to the area for people from other parts of the world. It will show them that it’s not just about wine ; you can see awesome live music here too. Music and wine are great bedfellows so I am just excited to be part of it. I can’t wait to play now…”
Red Carpet: Eoin Harrington attends the Grammys, the US’s most prestigious music awards show
For more information on Rootstock 2017, and Eoin Harrington, head on over to www.rootstockburgundy.com