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Music & Me – Kerrie O’ Brien

Writing.ie | Guest Bloggers | Songbook

Derek Flynn

What are your earliest musical memories?

My grandmother singing in the kitchen in the mornings. And my mother blaring Elkie Brooks and Mary Black in the car.

Who or what were your musical influences growing up and why?

Up until the age of about twelve I remember most of my knowledge and memories of music being connected to MTV videos – I vividly remember the first time seeing the Run DMC video It’s Like That, Brimful of Asha by Cornershop, Play by Moby and all the Prodigy songs – the strange eclectic mix of things that were fashionable in the 90s.

After that I became more directly interested in music – when Phantom was still very much a pirate radio station that would periodically shut down and then reappear on another frequency – all pre-internet and it felt illicit and exciting discovering new music like that. I started to buy CDs then – maybe one a week on Saturdays in HMV – and I was always fascinated by lyrics – I used to write them out and I think that’s what led to my interest in poetry and rhythmic language. I was always drawn to the lyrics of Irish bands – Bell XI, The Frames, Cathy Davey, Damien Rice, Ham Sandwich – and went through the usual Radiohead/ Eliot Smith/ Placebo/ Pixies phase as a teenager.

For my 19th birthday a friend in college made me 19 CDs – this was when Interpol, Arcade Fire, Bloc Party were all new bands and digital music was becoming easier to access – all extremely obvious popular bands now but I remember how exciting it was to hear them for the first time.

One of the album’s that made a significant impact on me was when I was around 14 was Night On My Side by Gemma Hayes – I still have it. The simple beauty of her lyrics continues to impress me. Around the same time the Michael Nyman soundtrack for The Piano started my love of minimalist classical music.

I was trained as a classical singer when I was thirteen which I never had any particular interest in but it taught me how to project my voice which comes in handy for poetry readings. When I’m badly drunk I tend to start singing.

Does music influence your writing? Do you listen to music while writing, editing, etc.?

Mainly when editing. Writing by it’s nature is an isolating process and it can be hard to keep your mood up. That shiver you sometimes feel when you hear a really beautiful piece of music is actually dopamine being released into your body. For me music is a hugely important part of being creative.

Is there one particular novel or piece of writing you wrote that was directly influenced by a piece of music?

When I was writing and finishing Illuminate I had Love Streams by Tim Hecker on repeat – it’s an extraordinarily beautiful electronic album, quite experimental. I never tire of it. Living Room Songs by the Icelandic composer Olafur Arnalds is another one I used to have on in the background –  I can only work with instrumental music – words are too distracting. There’s a song called Pie IX by Suuns that I adore as well.

What music are you listening to at the moment?

This week I’ve discovered a band called Sniffle Party that I’m enjoying – I love Spotify so most new discovers come through that.

I’m still obsessed with Skin by Flume that came out this time last year. I like a lot of minimalist or electronic stuff like Purity Ring, MMOTHS, You’ll Never Get To Heaven, SBTRKT, RY X, FKA Twigs, Youth Lagoon, Nils Frahm, Peter Broderick.

Then in terms of lyricists I really like Kurt Vile, Jodie Holland, Keaton Henson, James Vincent McMorrow, Devendra Banhart and Bon Iver.

Musically, what’s your guilty pleasure (or is there such a thing)?

Tokyo Narita by Halsey.


Kerrie O’ Brien has been published in various international journals including Cyphers, The Stinging Fly, The Irish Times, The Irish Examiner, Southword, Orbis and The Penny Dreadful among others. She holds a BA in History of Art and Classics from Trinity College Dublin.

Her debut collection of poetry Illuminate was published by Salmon Poetry in October 2016. She is also the editor of Looking At The Stars, a limited edition anthology of Irish writing aiming to raise €15,000 for the Dublin Simon Community.

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