The 22-year-old newcomer Seán Joyce is blessed with a voice that stops you in your tracks. You can hear that talent in his debut single ‘While You Were Out’ as he delivers every line with utter conviction: evoking passion, pain, yearning and hope in equal measure. It’s a song that tees up his upcoming debut EP, a set of postcard snapshots of the rollercoaster ride of a relationship, set to music that recalls the raw emotion of Bon Iver, the pop edge of The 1975 and Declan J Donovan, and the experimental slant of RY X.
Seán is an artist that has emerged seemingly fully formed, but it has taken four years of dedication to get to this point. Working with some of Ireland’s top tier talents - primarily James Vincent McMorrow and Cormac Butler (Gavin James, The Academic, The Coronas) - Seán now writes songs rich in personal experience that will speak to young adults who are going through similarly tumultuous times. Just as relationships are inevitably a web of conflicts and contradictions, his lyrics make sense of complicated emotions.
“‘While You Were Out’ is about hope, but also learning that not everybody is meant to stay in your life forever,” he begins. “But it can still teach you a lot. Don’t be afraid to open up or trust someone with a secret. It’s also about being an anchor for someone else, to let them know you’re a safe place for them. Once all the lights go out and the madness of the outside world is forgotten about, it’s just the two of you talking.”
The rest of the EP is just as intricate and observational as Seán explores the highs and lows, the beauty and the bittersweet that comes with a first big love. “I view it as closing a chapter in my life, and I hope it can help a lot of people through the same thing, no matter what stage of the experience they’re at.” Musically it’s equally as varied: ‘Tired’ feels intuitively a part of the bedroom pop scene, the soulful, infectious ‘No Hesitation’ is a future airplay smash, while ‘Weakness’ escalates from a sparse introduction into a rich cacophony of sound. After its peak, it cuts to the simplicity of Seán performing direct to tape - a reminder that at heart, he’s a singer-songwriter in the classic style.
Collectively, he notes, his goal for the EP was to “show as many sides to my music as possible and not corner myself into one specific genre. I really wanted the balance of having the big production of ‘No Hesitation’ with ‘While You Were Out’, which is mainly an acoustic song - but for them to still feel like they belong together. I hope it shows my understanding of making songs that are full of stories and emotions, but which also come to life on the radio.”
Seán’s roots as a musician go back to childhood. He grew up in Ballinlough in County Mayo, a small village with a population of just 300 people. Music was a big part of day-to-day life growing up, whether it was in a local pub, at a family celebration, or seeing his dad play guitar in his band. Taking guitar lessons opened his mind to music’s infinite possibilities - especially as his influences broadened to take in everything from Bob Dylan to Mac Miller via John Mayer. More recently he has been inspired by Sam Fender, Frank Ocean, The Weeknd and Harry Styles.
Seán took his first step into music by posting self-filmed covers on Instagram. While there was plenty of positive feedback, industry attention was more a matter of hope than expectation. So when Dublin label Faction dropped him a DM, he jumped at “a chance I couldn’t let slip by.” He skipped school to embark upon the four hour journey to the capital. It paid off. Within weeks, the then 18-year-old had joined Cormac Butler in the studio. “Sharing ideas with someone for
the first time and letting someone help me and put their own ideas was so important to me,” he recalls. “Without Cormac I wouldn’t be near the point I am today.” Further collaborations soon followed, including James Vincent McMorrow, Conor Adams of All Tvvins, Mark Prendergast of Kodaline, Sorcha Richardson and Matt Weir.
The EP positions Seán Joyce for a big future, but he’s determined to stay grounded. “I want to travel the world and play the biggest shows I can, but I never want to lose touch of the reason I started. I hope people can listen to my music and connect like it’s their story too, and not just mine.” He concludes by explaining that songwriting is a compulsion, but not necessarily one that consumes him 24/7. “I like the fact that tomorrow you could possibly write the best song of your life or you might not want to even look at your guitar. Songwriting for me is unscheduled and I think that’s the beauty about it.”
"The way the dark would fade and the world seemed to fall behind,
And every light you gave just saved me every single time"
Photo: Jasmin Grace