Recorded in a box room whilst under Covid-19 lockdown, A Whistle in the Dark is the latest EP from Dublin-based musician Robert John Ardiff. With a large audience worldwide, Ardiff has played shows globally, from New York to Paris to London, and of course closer to home in Ireland. Take a listen to the Irish songwriter’s isolation offering, A Whistle in the Dark…
With a second album in the works before lockdown, the studio became a no-go zone (as it has been for many artists looking to record with their bands), so Robert reached out to friends from isolation, and ended up with a selection of songs tied together by the phrase A Whistle in the Dark, a reference to the 1961 play by Irish playwriter Tom Murphy. Glimmers of hope underpin this four-track folk EP from start to finish.
We got talking to Robert to find out a bit more…
Hey Robert! Hope you’re keeping well! What a crazy year this has turned out to be, ‘ey? What were your plans pre-lockdown, and how did it all change?
Pre-lockdown I had a few shows and festivals booked and had just finished writing my 2nd album so I was set to go into the studio to record it in April. Understandably, this all got put on hold and I squirreled myself away in a little box room in my house with my 24track and some borrowed music gear to write myself out of it.
We’ve loved listening to your new EP A Whistle in the Dark! Congrats on the release. The opening track is titled ‘Quarantine’ – can we assume the EP was written/recorded in isolation? (a bit about the writing/recording process for the EP)
Quarantine was written at the beginning of the lockdown in Ireland and I suppose is a song that focuses on appreciating the small things that come from being at home with your family and your partner and trying to find the little joys that come from that. It is so seldom that we get moments like this in our lives. We must strive to find the positive in it. After I initially recorded it, I sent it to two friends (Gareth Quinn Redmond and Neil Murray from Housewives) who recorded the violin and harmonica, and bass on it. The track and EP was mixed by Ken McCabe.
What does A Whistle in the Dark mean to you, from the phrase itself to the whole EP?
The title, “A Whistle in The Dark” is taken from a play by an Irish writer called Tom Murphy. To me the phrase represents hope in hard times which I think is something we all need now. The whole EP was recorded in the first few weeks of lockdown and came out of an urge to leave this strange time having achieved something. I didn’t want to just sit and let it pass me by. A metaphor for life really!
We’ve also seen the video released for Quarantine. It’s beautiful, kind of a time capsule for the whole lockdown period. How did you choose which direction to take the video in? And what was creating a music video in lockdown like?
My friend Steve Battle has been based in Enniscrone in Co. Sligo for the whole of the lockdown and he had been posting these beautiful vignettes on his Instagram page of his own experience in a small west of Ireland town so I asked him if he could make something for Quarantine and the video was the result of this. I think it captures the feeling of the music perfectly and some of the shots are magnificent. He spends a lot of time in nature and the sea around his home and he managed to portray this beautifully in tandem with the music.
You previously composed music for Amazon Prime series Modern Love (2019). What was that process like and how does it differ to writing for solo projects?
John Carney, the director of the show, sent me on some scripts which I read and then wrote songs in response to them. Overall I wrote about 7 tracks and he used one of these: Somebody to Love and then 2 songs (People Talking and Lying in the Gutter) from my debut album. People Talking was included on the soundtrack for Modern Love which recently came out on vinyl through Decca Records. The other tracks I wrote which didn’t make the cut will come out in some capacity in the future. All in all it was an enjoyable exercise in writing because often in songwriting it is difficult to separate your own emotions from the subject matter to hand. In this case the songs I wrote were not my stories but ones which I tried to tell nonetheless.
So, you’re based in Dublin, originally from County Meath – when/where did your journey in music begin?
In my twenties I spent a few years traveling around Europe busking and playing in cafes and bars and when I came back to Ireland I set up a band with some old school and college friends and various acquaintances I had met on the road. The band was called Come On Live Long and we had some success on the local circuit, getting nominated for the Choice Music Prize in 2018 for our second album In The Still. Concurrent to this band, I had been writing my own material and recording it in my house which eventually morphed into the solo project I am dedicating myself to at present.
Who, or what, influences and inspires your work?
I read a lot and like to spend time in my garden and the outdoors with my family so I suppose everything feeds into each other. Most of my music is made late at night when the house is quiet and I can focus on it. I usually have to wait for the orange glow of street lights before I can play a note or scribble a phrase. Inspiration is a funny thing in that you can’t prepare for when it will come knocking. What you can do though is be at your instrument for a few hours a day so you can capture what comes along if it does at all. I’m currently reading books by Nuala O’Faolain and Rob Doyle along with the usual array of history books, a subject I have been obsessed with since I was a child.
As a Dublin-based artist, are there any new or underrated musicians out there that we ought to listen to?
Check out GAFF who is a Roscommon based act making some of the hottest shit to come off these shores in a long time. Varo, Gareth Quinn Redmond, Paddy Mulcahy, Jafaris, Aoife Nessa Francis and Housewives are also great.
Do you have any words of wisdom for our readers during these crazy times?
I wouldn’t be somebody to take my own advice but I think the best thing is for folk not to put too much pressure on themselves and do what it is that makes them truly happy. Read a book, go out for a walk, be in contact with nature and your physical being. Turn off your computer/phone for a few hours a day. Sit with yourself. Inaction is ok too despite what capitalism might tell you but these are things I would probably do anyway…
So what’s next for you? We know it’s hard to plan any gigs right now, but any future musical plans?
I hope to get into a rehearsal room and studio to finish my second album and then plan for its release. I hope to have a few shows in September god-willing and then to go on tour again before the year is out. I also have a video for one of the tracks from the EP entitled The 13th Lock which will be out in the coming weeks. I made it with a filmmaker friend Eoin Heaney along the banks of the Grand Canal in Dublin late at night at the end of May.
Thank you so much for chatting with us! We’ll catch you on stage again sometime in the future, but for now, keep well!
Keep up with Robert through the links below…