Dublin, County Dublin
In 2011, whilst recording 'Resistance', an EP that was made with the intention of reintroducing Robert O'Connor to the record-buying public after a prolonged break, the singer/songwriter turned to his production team and asked "Shouldn't I be making a dance record?" Their answer was a resounding no, that the type of dance records that were at that time flooding the charts would probably be out of vogue by the time Robert had finished recording his EP, and so, as he had already written several songs in his trademark Adult Contemporary style, it was business as usual, and in 2012 he released the results of those sessions, which received critical acclaim in the UK, US and Ireland, but never bothered the charts. "I needed a hit to continue to make music", Robert tells us today, "because all I ever seem to do is spend money making music; on producers, studio-time, musicians, and let me tell you, I have expensive taste".
Alas, a hit was not born, but a songwriter was, at least according to the critics, with US music blog EVOR stating "O'Connor's emotional impact and world-class songwriting cannot be called into question", the UK's Music Emissions calling Robert "a diamond in the rough", and closer to home in Ireland, Golden Plec saying the singer had "less ego and more potential than most others in the country". Taking the curious decision to perform just one gig at the Acoustic 66 venue in Dublin marking the release of 'Resistance', Robert essentially disappeared. "It's like a cycle", he says, reflecting on the months following the release of the EP "The same happened with my first record 'Distance'. You spend months in the studio, release the single and the full record, promote and hope for the best, and if it doesn't take off and start the phone ringing, you sort of have to back-off and think 'what next?' The first time, I went to journalism school, and last year, I trained to become a personal trainer, but I always find myself back where I started".
Robert has always been a risk-taker: he shocked his parents when he quit school before his final year, citing "being underwhelmed" as his reason. But he didn't waste time--within a year he had trained as an actor with Hollywood casting director Clair Sinnett, shot twice with Vogue photographer Andrea Benedetti, won an award for 'Best Fashion Print Male Model' at the IMTA Awards in Los Angeles, and recorded his debut single with Corrs-producer Billy Farrell. "I think it's important to be aware of time and ensure that you are using it wisely", he says today. In 2012, in the aftermath of 'Resistance', he was ready for another risk: "I wanted to get uncomfortable, if I learned anything from the progression from Distance to Resistance, it was that yes, I'd refined my sound, but there was nothing dramatic about it, and we live in a world now I think, where subtlety makes you invisible".
Without the funds to pay for studios, producers and musicians, combined with his desire to 'get back out there' quickly, Robert had a brainwave: taking the songs from 'Resistance', deconstructing them, and re-assembling them as experimental electronic tracks, fusing his love of house and lounge music with his traditional pop vocals and lyrics. He reached out to producers and DJs who mixed for fun rather than fees, and couldn't believe his luck when his inbox quickly filled with emails from producers interested in becoming involved in the project. "The funny part was, there were a few who were curious as to why I'd try to change the songs when they already sounded as good as they did", the 27-year-old Dubliner says, "but I was never trying to improve the songs, I was attempting to re-interpret them".
In January, work started on the remixes, with Simon Ward, one half of electronic outfit '030', creating an ambient chill-out version of "Older". When presented with the track, Robert had one request: he said to Ward: "you hear that part where my voice becomes robotic? Make the whole track like that". As a result, Robert's vocal is virtually unrecognizable, and yet the message of the song with it's repetitive key lyric "this day is too long when I don't have you/to see when I come home when my work is through" comes to the forefront, reminding us that Robert's strongest point is his ability to write a poignant lyric that resonates long after the song has finished. The almost sleepy music could be seen as a nod to the likes of Royksopp, an act Robert has been a big fan of since their debut 'Melody AM'. Elsewhere, Newcastle producer Advent Calendarz came on board saying: "I felt there were dark undertones on Resistance, and I wanted to convey that with a grungy electro sound, that was at times musically hollow to bring out the vocals and emphasize that darker, mysterious edge".
As with all records, there is a moment when an artist turns a corner, and on Robert's 27th birthday, he received what some would call the greatest gift: a remix of his song "Too Late" by a London-based producer that Robert had, in his own words, "practically stalked", to get to work with him the previous year. "Too Late", the song that most critics had hailed as Robert's best chance of getting on radio when it first appeared on 'Resistance', suddenly went from inoffensive, laid-back country-pop to a thumping commercial house track with a baseline that commanded to the dance floor in the fashion of Swedish House Mafia and a vocal that instantly drew parallels with Pet Shop Boys finest work. "It was a blessing and a curse" Robert says, "because suddenly a project that was supposed to be under-the-radar and experimental for the sake of artistic growth was producing, to my ears, a song that could be a chart hit, and there was no manager or label by my side to tell me what to do next".
Cut to the beginning of summer 2013, just over a year since 'Resistance' was released in it's original form, and Robert has announced and aborted release dates for the EP and its lead single, the Matty Graham-produced "Too Late", more times than Lady Gaga has worn outlandish outfits. In the meantime he has continued to work with other producers on remixes, with Mark Meddings, the other half of '030' joining the list of names for a remix of fan favorite "Over". On the eventual release of the collection, Robert concludes: "It's a zero budget project, so I'm not going to be able to get the level of PR exposure that I'd love, but I doubt the critics will accuse me of not experimenting…on one end of the scale, I've made a track so commercial that it could be played in clubs all over Europe during summer, and on the other I've made some rather introvert electronica that will probably only sound right under the duvet with your headphones on".
The single "Too Late" is released via AWAL UK on May 27, with the EP 'Reincarnated: The Remixes' following on June 7.