Emmet Crotty is in good form at the end of a long day of press when your writer joins him over Zoom for a chat. It’s been a busy few weeks for the Cork singer-songwriter, after an unlikely bit of mainstream exposure in the UK has won him a few more admiring glances from industry and media types - appearing as one of the mystery singers on the BBC’s UK edition of the ‘I Can See Your Voice’ gameshow.
Contestants try to follow clues and guess who can or can’t sing from a line-up, and are guided by judge-like ‘investigators’, like comedian Jimmy Carr, who, upon hearing Emmo’s voice on stage, remarked on the nature of the voice escaping the body on stage, clad in green-hooped rugby gear and giving socks to a cover of ‘Dancing in the Dark’.
It’s an unusual way to get a plug in for an upcoming release of your own original music, but the lure of Saturday night telly exposure in the UK was potent, after an earlier brush with casting ended in arguably the right decision for himself as a songwriter.
“They (the BBC) would have gotten in contact with me through my YouTube, the first time, when they saw me singing a James Morrison song. They got in touch with me years prior, but that was for Britain's Got Talent, and I didn't really want to do that, so I kind of left it off. They got in touch with me again, for this new show coming up, and which was 'I Can See Your Voice' in the end.
“This was, like, in the height of lockdown back in November, so nothing was going on, so I was like, 'I'll go for this now'. I didn't have a clue what the show was about, and they kind of slowly unveiled it to me. And over a few months, I was back and forth to London filming, and going into recording studios, recording parts for the show.
“And it only aired months later, so I nearly forgot about it. But was the whole process - they, I guess, scouted me, just off social media. They needed good singers, and bad singers! But they scouted me to be a good singer, I hope!”
Off the back of the column inches the appearance generated for Emmo, new single ‘Make You Mine’ released on streaming services last Friday, following debut single ‘Still’, released in early 2020, right as the realities of the pandemic were becoming apparent.
It’s a co-production with Cork pop specialist Gary Keane, a process that brought Crotty full-circle, from learning from Keane, to working with him as a collaborator - but its early stages also gave Crotty the confidence to fine-hone early ideas on his own.
“Yeah, so it would have been during lockdown, that I would have kind of honed in on some production skills myself, and trying to upskill myself on that. And so I started off with 'Make You Mine'. And I made a solid enough demo, but I'm still not there yet.
“I know Gary years, he actually used to teach me guitar when I was 16, but I reached out to him because he's a really talented producer, and we just kind of started working virtually over Zoom, which is really good. And it was just the two of us on the track, back and forth the whole time.
“In terms of writing the track, I wrote it a year ago, just before my release gigs. And when I did, I had a headline show in Whelan's in December, and I thought there was a bit of a lull in my setlist, or so I wanted to make a track with a lot of oomph, and at the time, I was kind of writing a song about someone I met in Germany. So that sparked a bit of interest in me that I decided to put to paper.
“And that's the beauty about songwriting, is that you can make an amplified version of yourself. Because, really, I'm not all that interesting in real life (laughs), but in my songs, life is much more colorful and exciting.”
Prior to the crisis, Crotty was invited as a ‘wild card’ entrant to the 2019 German Songwriter Awards in Berlin, progressing to the semi-finals of the contest from an unlikely position, and getting in front of industry movers, including major-label A&Rs, and sponsors Ovation Guitars, who signed him up as an endorsee.
“Yeah, that was a really cool experience. I ended up coming third with one of my songs, 'Little Bird', which isn't released yet. Ovation were sponsoring the whole event and they endorsed me as an ambassador, so I have a nice Glen Campbell-edition guitar, which is grand (laughs).
“From there, like, I mean, if it wasn't for Covid, I would have been back and forth to the Ovation factory, and we were going to film loads of bits there. I probably would have done a bit of a tour over there, that's still on the cards for me.
“But other than that, it's just great to be recognized as a songwriter. It was in front of a lot of big labels, y'know, Sony and Universal, and they were fairly interesting. So it's nice to be on the radar and to get feedback, then and there. It was definitely a confidence booster, and a foot in the door in Germany.”
From there, things were starting to pick up at home for Crotty, but kicking things off in earnest right as the world was coming to a halt proved to be a challenge for new artists across the genre spectrum.
Crotty talks about the process of getting out there and reaching people at a time when tectonic shifts have been happening under all of our feet.
“Yeah, it's been really hard, and it really made me look internally and, y'know, question my musical journey. It made me want to have to do music, and it's kind of re-instilled, I guess, my initial mission in trying to establish a career in music, because nothing was going at all, and I was scared - moving back home with the parents, and asking, 'oh, my God, is this actually worth it?'.
“But, we're coming out towards the end of it, and it's nice. But yeah, it affected me greatly, because I'd just released 'Still', and on the back end of that I was going to do a tour, I was coming into festival season, all of that shut down. Grabbing those gigs, that snowball and builds momentum for, you know, open coming artists.
“But it was handy that I got to take the time to hone in on different crafts, like production and musicality, and songwriting, but that novelty definitely does wear off after a year of waiting around. I've started to busk a lot more because it's the only means of actually having a live performance. Blackrock is the main one, Saturday afternoons. And that's been a great means of human interaction - it's Covid-friendly, but it's direct contact, and just the closest thing I've had to a gig in a year, year-and-a-half already.”
Emmo’s new single, ‘Make You Mine’, is available now across streaming services.