Oisin Mod is one of the more enigmatic artists emerging on the independent Irish scene. And he’s bashful about his achievements too.
“As you can probably tell, I’m not too used to people wanting to speak to me about my songs,” laughs Oisin Mod at the conclusion of our conversation around his forthcoming debut, yet the preceding hour wouldn’t have given me that impression at all. Mod is thoughtful – almost seemingly to the point of caution – in his responses throughout our discussion, taking time to formulate his ideas with generous gaps before musing a wryly candid and often deceptively eloquent answer that is always worth the wait.
It’s a quality shared in the understated songwriting across the Galway native’s solo debut Honeycomb; a masterfully intimate recording that reveals hidden depths to itself over ten hypnotic tracks. Mod effectively combines minimalist shoegaze-infused textures with hushed vocals and conversational tales of melancholic reflection. Honeycomb feels like the sound of an artist truly realising their identity, with a fully formed sound and style that is rare on a debut recording. The truth is that the twenty-five year-old Mod has been searching for his own musical purpose from a young age.
A student of guitar and violin from the age of eight, Mod played in bands around Galway throughout his teens and into his twenties, but perhaps never felt as comfortable being part of the band as he does with his newfound independence. “I was probably trying to write things that were a little more instant in my previous band work – things with obvious hooks. Which was very much my jam for a while! I don’t want to say I grew out of it, because I very much enjoy that type of music, but it wasn’t coming that naturally to me. So I was maybe doing myself a disservice by trying to scrape it out rather than following what my intuition was telling me,” he says.
Asked about the relative freedom of writing for himself as opposed to for a group, he expands: “I don’t know if there’s more freedom in it, but there’s definitely a lot more of an inclination towards going with what comes intuitively rather than worrying about what the band thinks. You don’t have to worry about what three or four or however many other people think before you can figure it out yourself. [Honeycomb] was definitely written in a way that felt more natural and comfortable, and once I realised that, it became easier. It showed me a room I hadn’t seen before. It seemed obvious enough after recognising that.”
Mod’s deference in brushing aside this significant revelation in his writing abilities is something I come to recognise quickly as a classic feature of his genuine modesty and warm, humble nature. It’s a trait which rears its head again in comical fashion when he refuses to buy comparisons that have arisen in his whispered vocal style to the late Elliott Smith. As well as finding his voice as a songwriter throughout the writing and recording process for Honeycomb, the subtly majestic vocal performance of Mod within this collection is perhaps the catalyst and foundation for the bewitching spell that these tracks cast upon each listen, but the man himself is typically ready to shoot down that particular theory or any associated praise.
He explains, “I think maybe I was tailoring the songs to what is easy to sing, and kind of going with what comes naturally to my voice. If you can’t really sing, you don’t have to try to. I know Bill’s [Ryder-Jones, who produced Honeycomb] vocals are a bit more talky – the same goes for Leonard Cohen, John Cale, Lou Reed and those guys. But I don’t know whether they were writing the tunes because they were just lazy like I was! A lot of these songs I was writing to suit my vocals. I would have sung previously in bands, but I never liked it that much. I never had much confidence in trying to be a singer, but it kinda comes with the territory.” It sounds almost as if he’s describing vocal duties as a necessary evil, I observe to his amusement. “Well it’s not evil, but a necessary part of expressing the things you want to within your music, whatever they may be,” he allows after some consideration.
Mod makes up for the lack of credit he awards himself by showering heaps of praise on producer Bill Ryder-Jones, co-founder of The Coral and influential songwriter and composer in his own right. He helped to shape the feel of the album in much the same way as his immaculately created solo LP’s. Having written the tracks that made up Honeycomb and recorded demos in a friend’s studio, Mod’s sense that they needed an extra layer of magic led to him sending the songs to Ryder-Jones, who was drawn to the sound. “I knew I wanted him to do it,” says Mod with what you’d imagine to be the sort of well-founded conviction that led to forming this partnership of kindred spirits.
When Mod positively gushes about the “wonderfully designed piece of work” that is Ryder-Jones’ 2013 release A Bad Wind Blows in My Heart (“the songs draw you in and they seem quite simple, but once you zoom in there is so much going on”), he unknowingly describes one of his favourite records in terms which are uncannily suited to sum-up Honeycomb’s best moments. For this, he points to Ryder-Jones: “I understood his attitude towards the work before going into the studio with him, and he knew what I wanted. He added some stuff to some of the tunes that I couldn’t imagine them being without now. He took them to places I didn’t think they would go, with the mood that he incorporated.”
Another major element of the recording process was its tight timeframe. Mod, Ryder-Jones and a small collection of musicians and engineers worked together for a ten-day turnaround that Oisin believes was hugely beneficial to the final result. Without a chance to overthink any of the tracks, it was all “easy going” according to Mod, allowing for a clean operation that resulted in something which he confessed himself happy with.
As for whether he’d take this approach on future recordings, he remains coy on the prospect of how any Oisin Mod album may feel or sound down the line. “It would depend on the songs to be honest, and on all the other varying circumstances that go with recording an album. I’d have to have a handful of tunes written and then just decide, go with whatever felt better. I want to do whatever I have the appetite for when it comes to it. I don’t want to feel like I have to go and make a particular type of album, because if I try to squeeze something out or continue drinking from this well, then it could end up being shocking. We’ll just have to wait and see.”
It’s a fitting way to wrap up an intriguing encounter with one of the more enigmatic artists emerging on the independent Irish scene in 2022. Whatever the future may hold for Oisin Mod, Honeycomb is a pitch perfect way to make an introduction.
Words: Andrew Lambert
Image Credits: Rory Ryan and Claire Thornton
Honeycomb is out on Friday August 19, via OMOD.