A few years back, I came across a video by a group billed as “The Suspects and Guests” — I think an all Irish crew — that covered Bruce Springsteen’s “The River” with his blessing to raise funds for a tragedy that took place in Ireland.
I do love me a solid cover, so I dug in and was getting deeper into their rendition, when out of nowhere, somewhere around the 1:12 mark, this monster of a voice rang out, “Then I got Mary pregnant, and man that was all she wrote…” The voice was sandpaper perfect, smoked out, hypnotic, downright gorgeous with echos of the throatiest female rock stars in history bleeding through it.
This well structured instrument is owned by a young woman of 26 years from Dublin, Ireland named Susan O Neill. And although O Neill, who grew up in Ennis, lives way, way outside the Granite State, I mention her name because, well, some secrets just aren’t worth keeping.
Few months back O Neill cut a cover of the old U2 deep cut classic called “Exit” off “The Joshua Tree.” O Neill strips the song down to the very marrow of its essence and put a video out there. Bono, yes, that Bono, caught wind of the song and reached out to O Neill, referring to her as “Black Eyed Susan” while praising her for her recreation.
That’s called “Big Time!”.
Since then, O Neill, whose plays in her own band called SON as well as the Propeller Palms and King King Company, traveled to NYC and took a bite out of the Big Apple with her mates, making music under the bridge, playing shows, seeing the sights, basically loving life, all while chasing the dream.
Soundcheck recently caught up with O Neill after prying her hands from her new guitar and talked about the last few months of her music life.
1. My introduction to you came when you sang with other artists on a rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s “The River” a few years back. Your voice knocked me out! Being gifted with such great pipes, was music always in your grand plans for life?
I was only talking to my Mam about this the other day, she remembers me as a toddler with a plastic microphone toy, which I loved, singing to anyone who would listen and climbing onto empty stages whenever I got the opportunity. So it’s been pretty far back. I’ve always been drawn to music. It has always been in my grand plan. It’s also almost involuntary and I love it.
2. Few months back, you recorded your own version of U2’s “Exit.” From that effort, Bono himself reached out to you with praise for your rendition, calling you “Black Eyed Susan.” In the back of your head, when you were recording the song, did you secretly hope he would catch wind of the song?
If you do a cover version of a song I guess you know there is always a chance it will be seen by the original artist. Even with bands as big as U2, it happens for some musicians. Did I ever think I would receive contact? Wow, no. It was just about one of the soundest and coolest things though.
3. A couple weeks back, you made a visit to NYC to play some shows with SON (Susan O Neill) and Propeller Palm. Was that your first time in the United States and how did that come about?
It was my second time in the states and we mostly went over to get video footage for some of our original songs. Some of them have yet to be released however I did release a video last week. I’m singing ‘Only Animals’ in front of the iconic Brooklyn Bridge. I was chuffed to find that joe.ie shared it as their song of the day. We did a lot of sightseeing and after walking the bridge I just had to stop and get a song in with such a wonderful backdrop. The song is inspired about the hustle and bustle of city life so it felt very fitting.
4. How has your perspective towards your music changed — if at all — over these last few months?
Traveling really helps feed the soul, inspire and change perspective, at the moment I am writing new stuff inspired by traveling. I think my style is evolving which is exciting. I’m becoming more accustomed to putting myself out there a bit more too. I’m less afraid, that is probably down to perspective changes. My most fixed perspective of all is the want to keep getting better everyday. There is an endless supply of musical influences and icons that drew from every performance and learned how to excel each time. I wanna do that!
5. Tell me a little about the music scene in Dublin. Is it cut throat or is the community of artists all supportive towards each other?
From every experience I’ve had so far, it has been just lovely. There is some serious support to be found in Dublin if you playing are in the right places. There are many music circles pushing original music events and little gem acts to be found all of the time. Even when I lived in Waterford we would travel up to play Dublin venues and the support from local musicians and studios was heart warming. I hope it stays that way.
6. Whose music career do you look too for guidance?
Oh, that’s a hard one because as some of the iconic singers as most people know, died tragically very young. The style and energy from the likes of Janis Joplin and Amy Winehouse I can only aspire to recreate in my own way. They are musically legends. I really enjoy the path and style of KT Tunstall. Like her, I also use the loop pedal, guitar and vocals. She has also played Jools Holland which would be right up here on my bucket list!
7. Finally, what’s next for SON and will you be coming back to the States soon?
For the moment, I have a new guitar and all I want to do is share the new music I’m making on it. I play a lot with King Kong Company and Propeller Palms when I can and between them and my own solo career I will be very busy this summer. Playing Festivals in Ireland, Glastonbury with King Kong Company and a couple of very exciting support slots also coming up. Hopefully they will pop up on your news feed soon.
Check out O Neill’s version of “Exit”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GizsTnJ1X4E
Rob AZEVEDO can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org