Ahead of dual Cork dates in Coughlan’s and Levis’ of Ballydehob, singer-songwriter Tiz McNamara speaks with Mike McGrath-Bryan about his adventures in music, sharing studios with legends, and doing things his way.
A well-travelled troubadour hailing from Cork, the journey of singer-songwriter Tiz McNamara began in Togher, taking him through garages, venues, and several bands over the course of two decades, and to a fateful incident that led to a creative renaissance, and the beginning of his relationship with guitar and voice. “I was always banging on pots and pans from the age of three and then when I was nine, I got my first drum kit and started getting lessons from a teacher in Togher called Sean Forde. I was twelve by the time I started playing with any bands. A great friend of mine Eoin Deasy asked me to join a band with Richard Sheehy , the comedian, and Shane Burke so we used to jam in my garage and eventually began gigging and releasing music. Twenty years later, I found myself in Liverpool studying a music degree as a drummer, and I had a bad accident where I dropped a piano on my foot. The doctors thought they’d have to amputate, but managed to save my foot with an operation. The college then told me I had to drop out, due to my foot, or change instruments and reaudition halfway through second year. Having previously never played guitar or sang, I gave it a go, and haven’t looked back since, I guess.”
In following his path, McNamara has undoubtedly come a long way, completely on a DIY basis, sans management, PR, etc. He explains the single-mindedness behind the grind for an independent artist. “I guess I like to be in control of my own path in a way. I have a few friends who got signed to big deals, and the labels ended up shelving them, or trying to control their sound. For me, I think it’s important to know as many aspects of the industry as you can and if a time comes where you can get the correct management, label, etc. in place then great, but having blind faith in them without really knowing what they do is a bit daft.”
Without giving away too many of the tricks of the trade, perhaps, McNamara discusses the little touches, the plan behind making approaches for radio, press, bookings, etc. completely on one’s own, for anyone in the same position reading. “For me it’s about two things really. The first is trying something different in order to stand out, such as a hand written letter or just adding a personal touch to things and the second is just persistence and graft. 99% of the emails I send out don’t receive a reply but the 1% that do is more than enough of an incentive for me to continue doing it.”
2013 saw McNamara collaborate with some of the all-time legends, like Shane McGowan and Paul McCartnry on a take on the Hollies’ ‘He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother’. How did that come about, and what was the experience like? “I was studying in LIPA in Liverpool at the time, which is owned by Paul McCartney and one of our tutors had an idea to raise funds for the court cases of the Hillsborough victims’ families. A number of us in the college were asked to lend our voices along side some heavyweights like Sir. Paul McCartney, Robbie Williams and Shane McGowan. It was an amazing experience to be a part of. And to top it off the single beat the X Factor to UK Christmas No.1.”
Having managed 2 million Spotify streams on his own in the years since, for singles, he seems to be in the position to lift the veil on the whole process for those who are struggling with the service, as to how it can be leveraged in their favour, how to get over the royalty rate, etc. “Two million is still hard for me to believe as I could only dream about that many people listening to my music a year or two ago. It seems to just build momentum if a few taste makers like a song of yours and grows from there. I think the royalty rate is not as bad as people think. People compare Spotify royalty to a download on iTunes etc where as it’s actually more comparable to airplay as people are streaming the track and don’t own it. If you can reach out to playlists who use similar music to yours then you have a good chance one might pay attention and from there it can snowball.”
McNamara’s playing Coughlan’s on the 31st, a favourite venue of his. He’s enthused about returning to the Douglas St. room. “I absolutely love playing in Coughlans, it’s such a beautifully intimate venue and so well run. Edel and Hassey do an incredible job and really give a lesson in how a venue should be run. I think there is an incredible amount of talent in Cork and it needed a hub which I felt was lost since the Pavilion closed down. My show on March 31st is a full band show, so I can’t wait to see people’s response to the new and older tracks with the bigger sound.”
The show is part of a long trail in support of a new single, ahead of the grind behind another new release. “I am releasing my next single ‘Days Like These’ on April 1st along with dates around Ireland and the UK. I am currently recording my debut EP, due for release in September as well as a three-week Canadian tour in October.”
Tiz McNamara plays Coughlan’s of Douglas Street on the 31st of March, and on April 8th at Levis’ of Ballydehob. For more info and ticket links, check his Facebook page.