Seasoned Downtown readers will largely need no introduction to Cork rock institution FRED, having been a pillar of the city’s broad alternative scene for well over a decade, and winning hearts all around, both casual and critical, with their finely-honed strain of loveable, harmony-driven indie.
The five-piece’s final gig in late 2013 was seen as something of an end-of-an-era moment by a dedicated fanbase (to put it lightly), so it’s with interest that bassist Jamin O’Donovan has emerged in the latter end of 2020, when so many artists and creators have been gifted with time amid the prevailing circumstances, seemingly fully-formed as a solo artist.
Debut single ‘Invitation’ came out via online platforms in the past two weeks, an accessible electronic pop confection that hangs around just long enough to leave an aftertaste ahead of upcoming full-length ‘Adventurer Wild’.
After we contend with a slight delay on the lines between Cork and O’Donovan’s home in North London, he gets straight to the nitty-gritty on his creative processes, and what’s informed his new direction.
“It took quite a while, actually. After FRED, I ended up doing lots of work with youth groups, and did some studies in that area. Part of the work would have been empowerment, analysis of aspects of society, fulfilling their potential. When I look back on songs that I wrote, that’s always been there. With ‘Invitation’, it was a similar thing. I’m moved by ideas like that, and it was easy to follow through on that, trying to convey what I’d wanted to talk about without making it... academic. Taking it out of that realm, into the abstract.”
O’Donovan’s easy, conversational manner leads to the inevitable, as, when asked about the differences in songwriting between collective effort and working on a solo basis, he turns immediately to his FRED years, finding new collaborators, and expanding his skillset to get things done.
“With FRED, it was all five of us in the group, so someone might come with an idea, other people would chip in, flesh it out, and you’d get the approval of the group. Solo-wise, you have to trust your own gut a lot more, there’s no-one else, really, to bounce it off. Once the songs are all demo’d up, I know my producer, I trust him quite a bit, and there’s one other friend I’d bounce stuff off. So, it was great to have a helping hand. It was a new thing to do it myself, because in FRED I would have been more into production and structure than lyrics, and such. That was a steep learning curve.”
‘Invitation’ bears the distinction of being the first piece of material from a member of FRED since the band’s breakup — the significance of which isn’t lost on O’Donovan in the least, as he’s had the intervening years to put his experience with the band, in studio and on stage, firmly in perspective.
“On one level, I’m delighted to be putting these, because when we split, none of us pursued music, we all took a break from it. I didn’t do anything artistic for about two years, then pursued drama and acting for a bit. I always had this desire to go back and develop ideas I would have had.”
O’Donovan has been resident in London since FRED went their separate ways, and in doing so, took the opportunity to branch out into drama and social work among other ventures. As he readjusts to putting out music in a vastly different climate, O’Donovan is now familiarising himself with a city’s scene that’s changed massively in the past seven years, recounting the freedom of expression he felt the city bestowed upon him upon first moving here way back in 2003.
“I used to visit there before I moved. I moved from Limerick, I went to art college there, and it had an edge to it. Cork felt very free and open. The amount of bands that were there, the independent record shops, the Triskel opening up. I’ve gotten older, and all the friends I had in Cork have moved, including all the bands. I don’t have a personal connection anymore, but Cork has always been a super-creative and open place, I met so many people who were artistic. In London that’s not the case, it can be hard to find an artistic niche, but in Cork, we were so spoiled for art.”
‘Invitation’ and follow-up single ‘State at Play’ release as the prevailing circumstances continue, evolve and leave their mark on the world, much less the shape of the music industry in 2020. Having left music at the waning end of the CD bubble and the height of the major download services, O’Donovan talks about figuring out a release without the usual promotional models at his disposal.
“Releasing music now is a new experience, Covid or no Covid. The last time I put something out was 2011. The radio play was such a big part, get a PR company, do the gigs. But now, trying to release music… I’ve sat on the album for ages, but I couldn’t get my head around releasing it! (laughs) It’s such a different game to what it was. It would be amazing to have a band, gig it, and bring a different life and energy to the music. Because it wasn’t an option, I don’t dwell on it, I’m putting stuff up and hoping for the best. I had a strong desire to just put it out.”
It’s against the backdrop of ongoing change that O’Donovan, now pushing himself to get a long-completed album out into the world, finds himself contemplating his creative and personal futures. But after a long time waiting to get back into his groove, he’s determined to make it work, and even get a homecoming gig or two in the process.
“One day at a time. Releasing now is all-new territory. I have a path in mind, but I’ll go where that path leads. I’m releasing one song at a time, before I put an album up, and while I’m doing that, I’m demoing the next album. Whenever the time comes, if venues come together, I’ll be throwing that band together fairly quickly and looking to get a few gigs. I would love to come back to Cork, or head down to Joe’s (O’Brien, FRED singer) pub in Ballydehob. That’d be amazing, it’d feel like coming home!”
Jamin O’Donovan’s debut solo single, ‘Invitation’, is out now across all digital streaming platforms. New single ‘State at Play’ is out soon, ahead of the release of debut album Adventurer Wild later this year. For more info on O’Donovan’s music and digital media work, go to http://www. jaminodonovan.com/