Some things make you wait. Buses are one, tribunals are another and anyone hoping to hear some sense from Donald Trump anytime soon will certainly have their patience tested. Musicians too can often take a while to get their thoughts down on record, just ask Axel Rose. Leixlip native Ross Breen admits he’s been tinkering with the tracks for his debut album “When I Met the Devil” for a few years now. In that time he’s supported many of the biggest names in Irish music, people like Sinead O’ Connor, Damien Dempsey and Luka Bloom, and has gained some high praise as a dynamic live performer while the wait for that debut went on. He freely admits it was something of an elongated process.
“It was really long, I recorded the demo version of it first over a couple of years and”, he says, “I wasn’t happy with a lot of the stuff on it so we went back into the studio and re-recorded a few of the parts. So it was done over a long period of time about two or three years I’d say.”
The album had something of a nomadic development too, being recorded in friends homes and in a studios in Tipperary, Offaly and Dublin, Breen snatching time with his fellow musicians whenever possible. Like any good musician a strong level of perfectionism permeates the idea of re-recording tracks which other people might have been happy to leave as is.
The quality of the resulting product, however, is unmistakeable. Songs like “Life Support” are reminiscent of a poppier version of Warren Zevon while the title track “When I Met the Devil” is wonderful cross of folk and gospel. It bears none of the scars of its gestation and has gained some wonderful notices in the Irish music press with Hot Press giving it a 4.5 out of 5 rating.
Growing up in a house which had music in the halls with both his parents and uncles being into music helped form the idea that singing was a possible career route for the young singer. Starting at the age of 11 or 12 he had two formative teachers, his father, who he learned a few chords off of, and Noel Gallagher.
“I remember getting a “Definitely Maybe” songbook, and learning all the songs off that, so I’d say,’ he laughs, “Noel Gallagher would be one of my early teachers. Once I started learning guitar I got into Thin Lizzy and Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan and the Beatles. I’m more or less self-taught.”
After spending a few years in garage bands he began playing under his own name around the time of his final year in secondary school before gaining some invaluable experience in Ballyfermot’s Rock School. He had already made up his mind about where his future lay but his time at Ballyfermot only made this future seem more concrete.
“The goal was to teach the realities of the music business and explain what was involved in music law, stage plans, theory and recording music. They gave you a rehearsal studio and encouraged you to record ...it was really worthwhile because I knew I wanted to be involved in music.”
He isn’t sure where this certainty about his future career came from.
But as he surveys an industry in which making a living is only getting more difficult he remains resolutely positive. In fact there is marked contrast between the positivity of Breen, someone who has never had the financial backing of a major label, and many of the stars who have. As he notes himself while most of these musicians suffered the indignity of being dropped by their labels they still can make a living. If the heart is willing and the talent is there opportunities will always follow.
“Personally I think if you’re good enough and you do it right there is a fan base there for everyone. I know the economic climate is tough at the moment... [but] you’re hardly gonna give up and pack it in and do something else. I’m not anyway, this is what I want to do.”
Without major label backing and the financial muscle of their marketing department it is hard for any album to make an impact in a landfill flooded with often average product. Breen admits he is not necessarily trying to get make a huge impact with the album. It is more of a musical calling card than an attempt at financial recompense.
“I think the best way of getting my name out there is having recorded music that I’ve put my name to. You can build a live reputation but if you don’t have a CD or MP3s behind you, recorded material which you’re really happy with...then it can do a lot of damage to you.”
“When I Met the Devil” was launched in Crawdaddy in Dublin on March 18 with Breen finally getting to celebrate his finished product and even admitting to a rare bout of nerves before the show. He is quick to deflect praise from himself though by pointing out that Kildare is full of talent at the moment
“There’s plenty of musicians around in places like Leixlip, Maynooth and Celbridge, there’s plenty of resources to be shared, plenty of visual artists or video makers or photographers. It’s good if people from the same kind of area and into the same kind of music work together. So in that sense I think there is something of a scene.”
At 26 and with nearly a decade of experience behind him he is putting something back into this local scene putting on gigs in Leixlip for other local bands while continuing to hone his own craft and perform regularly whether with a full band or on his own. As he says himself.
“Sure what else would I do?”
Ross Breen’s debut album “When I Met the Devil” is available from iTunes or his website rossbreen.com.