Monday, 17 June 2013

Eoghan Johnston Plays It Right

The Shadowplay guitarist spills the beans on the band, their influences and the secret of their success

Since their formation in 2010, Shadowplay and their Inch-based lead guitarist Eoghan Johnston have attained a remarkable standard of musicianship.

They have headlined the Buncrana Music Festival with Toto's Bobby Kimball, won "one of Ireland’s greatest music prizes”, shared the stage with some of the biggest names in rock 'n' roll and have been named "the hottest emerging act in Ireland" by Hot Press Magazine.

In a recent interview with Hot Press, renowned music producer Chris Kimsey described their songs as "classics, written with soul and honesty" adding that the band's "musicianship is the corner stone to their success. They are part of what has been missing in song-writing, recording and performing."

Now they are putting together their debut album. We catch up with Johnston during the recording process.

Did you always want to be a musician?

I loved listening to music in the car when I was a kid. If my father was driving, I'd usually hear Thin Lizzy, and that was no bad thing! However, I hadn't much interest in playing back then. But when I was eleven, I began to pick out little melodies on the piano and found that I had an ear for it, though I'm still not much of a sight-reader. I then had a few years of piano lessons with Louise Doherty in Buncrana, and later Leonora Carney at NUIM (National University Of Maynooth).

I was about fifteen when I picked up the guitar. I think I had that dream of wanting to be in a big band when I was a teenager, like everyone else at that age! It was really only when we got the band together that I truly started to focus on it, though.

How did Shadowplay come to be?

The roots of Shadowplay can be traced back to 2009. I was studying Music at NUIM and was lucky enough to be surrounded by really talented musicians. Me and Andy (Dempsey, Shadowplay's lead vocalist and guitarist) began jamming together and discovered that we had some real musical chemistry. We had no trouble finding a drummer either; our first choice was Andy's cousin, Emmett Farrell, and he sounded spectacular. The first song we all jammed on was Marvin Gaye's "Let’s Get It On", funnily enough, and we all immediately saw that it was just there, whatever "it" is!

Which artists have influenced your songwriting and production style the most?

We're mainly influenced by legends such as The Beatles, Queen, Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones, and, on a more modern level, bands like Coldplay! I draw a lot of inspiration from guitarists like Jimi Hendrix, Rory Gallagher, Shawn Lane and Buckethead.

What have you learnt from both the recording process and performing live on stage?

Chiefly, that performing is almost always essential to the organic growth of new material. You can write in the studio, and it can sound great, but continuously performing always leads to improvements, sometimes accidentally! It can be quite frustrating if you record a song and then, after a few months of playing it, you realise you've made it sound much better.

What's the secret of your success?

The songs. It sounds simple, but that's what it is! Without getting into it too much, I think that if you’ve never heard music before, you wouldn't be able to write music, so it stands to reason that if you only listen to the best – like The Beatles, The Stones, classical music and so on – you’ll do your best to attain their standards, both consciously and subconsciously! I’m not saying that we’re writing at that standard, but we do try to. We aim high! Those sort of melodies are not only very musical, but they also have mass appeal, so it’s a good thing to aim for.

Which of your musical experiences to date has been the most enjoyable, and why?

By far, performing in Buncrana in 2011, with Bobby Kimball. We were at home, we were on a high, we were playing in front of six and a half thousand people and the weather was spectacular!

Any other rock stars you still dream of sharing the stage with, and why?

Stevie Wonder! He still has that beautiful child-like enthusiasm for music. It seems like it'd be a lot of fun to play with him. Glen Hansard would be another one, as would Guns 'N' Roses guitarist Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal. We’ve been talking and jamming a little with Thal over Skype for a couple of years and he's a really great musician. It's also been an ambition of mine to play on stage with the Stones, for obvious reasons... mainly, them being the Stones!

Last year, you signed a record deal with Shamrock Solutions, and you are now recording your debut album with Rolling Stones producer Chris Kimsey. Tell us more...

Things are going really well. Chris is just amazing in the studio. We were all well aware of Chris and his pedigree, so when we found out he wanted to work with us it was a big surprise! He's worked on, among other things, INXS, Yes, Rory Gallagher, Elton John and at least six Rolling Stones albums. He’s also produced some of my favourite Stones songs, so that was great for me on a personal level. We also did one session with Grammy-Award winning Irish producer Dave Odlum back in October in France. Dave did a really great job on the tracks, and with these two guys behind us, we're really looking forward to the result!

Any words of advice for fellow up-and-coming musicians in the peninsula?

It's all about the songs, and nothing else! People focus on too many other things – Twitter, Facebook, self-promotion, and so on. The result is that you become great at making websites and social networking but not at writing music. If you focus on songwriting, and have good songs, then you don't have to worry about the rest as much.

What does the future hold for Eoghan Johnston and Shadowplay?

More of the same, I hope! The album is pencilled in for late 2013, and we'll be releasing some new material and videos within the next couple of months. We'll also be doing some festivals, and we've been in talks with people overseas about some more exciting developments. Personally, I'm looking to do some more guitar teaching, recording and gigs in Buncrana.

This interview originally appeared in the Inish Times on June 11, 2013.