We spoke to Dave O'Dowda, one half of Cinematic Pop two-piece Laoud about touring with Peter Gabriel, his creative process and what its like to form a band with someone who lives 4,000 miles away...
So you seem to have a pretty diverse musical background, where did it all start for you?
I started messing around at the piano when I was about five, I think I saw it more as a toy than an instrument really, so I came to playing music quite naturally. When I was around 12, I got into the drums and got a taste for playing live in a few local Irish indie and thrash metal bands, typical teenage muso stuff. I just wanted to play as much as possible, doing loads of shows across Ireland - we did some live TV spots and got a little recognition before I moved to Manchester to study music.
What happened in Manchester? More thrash metal?
Haha no! I actually got really into Jazz around that time and started playing in clubs across the city - that said, I somehow found myself playing synths, piano and backing vocals in a band called The Beans. I left those guys a while later to join a band in Liverpool called Sizer Barker, who later became Wave Machines. We went on a two-month European tour with the mighty Peter Gabriel which was an amazing opportunity.
Wow, Peter Gabriel, what an experience! Did that lead towards you doing your own stuff?
Yeah, I mean, it definitely marked a point at which I realised I needed to be writing my own music. I set up a band called Table, doing 'alt-folk' for want of a better term. It was great fun while it lasted and I feel like I learnt a lot about writing music during that time, specifically, what I wanted from my own music.
So is that how Laoud came to be?
Actually - some opportunities came my way to write music for film which is something I had always wanted to do. I focussed for a while on composing for a few short films, an independent feature film starring Clarke Peters (The Wire, Treme), some advertising bits here and there. It wasn’t until a little later that I met John Lamonica at the ICA in London where he was performing a noise project. I’d originally heard his work with Robot Koch and thought his voice was amazing. We got chatting after the show and really hit it off.
Awesome. So you guys decided there and then you were gonna start something? How did you conquer the long-distance issue?
Yeah - John’s voice really inspired me to write music that would suit it. It has a really fragile, vulnerable quality - both traits I’ve always associated with my own music. The fact that he was in America and I live in the UK was no trouble at all really - it’s so easy to share files and ideas now and it was just a really inspiring process. It was a labour of love and something we took the time to get right.
Undeniably there’s a cinematic quality to your Following Lines EP, do you think you were drawing on some of that experience you gained composing for films?
Yeah definitely - what I really wanted to do was create honest, personal pop songs and arrange them in a way that was dramatic and powerful. Going for something on that scale gave me license to get loads of live strings and brass involved. There’s definitely a cinematic nature to this EP but the main focus was just to create arrangements that serve the song in the best way possible.
Doesn’t that throw up some problems when you take it to the live setting?
Yeah, but they’re good problems to have, you know? We wanted to make a record without the limitations of live performance so the reality that we’d need to rethink and reinvent some stuff is exciting to me. I compose with the idea that if all other instruments are taken away, the vocals and piano should still express the song’s quality. I’d love the opportunity to see these songs take on a new life when played live, whether that’s stripped back or arranged for full band or orchestra.
“The fact that he was in America and I live in the UK was no trouble at all really - it’s so easy to share files and ideas now and it was just a really inspiring process. It was a labour of love and something we took the time to get right.”
I’d love to know a bit more about your writing process - does the music you’re listening to at the time affect how you write?
I mean, I’m listening to a really wide variety of music at the moment. I’m really into the new wave of minimalistic neo-classical stuff like Max Richter and Nils Frahm. Their styles are so much about feel and simplicity, that really excites me. The music I listen to definitely feeds into how I write but I’d say its in a subconscious way. Writing for me is generally a pretty solitary exercise, the only people who hear my work in progress are my wife, my son and my cats.
There’s a really strong pop sensibility to this EP too though - its not all sophisticated modern classical stuff!
Oh for sure, Laoud is definitely a pop project. Mainstream music is insanely diverse now and at it’s top level I believe it’s generally of a really high quality - there’s an incredible craft in writing a Katy Perry track for example and I don’t know if most people realise that. There’s a perception that pop music is easy and it couldn’t be further from the reality.
John’s vocal feels really at home in pop music, it carries those melodies so well. its about communicating a really personal idea in a really universal way.
There’s nothing wrong with Katy Perry. Besides, you’d be over the moon if she got in touch to tell you that she was a fan!
For sure. Last year I actually received an email from Milla Jovovich, who told me she was a huge fan!
That’s amazing! So, is it all yachts and groupies now?
Well… In between writing new Laoud songs, I’ve been working on a new project that I can’t say much about yet. It’s with an artist who’s work to date I’ve been a huge fan of and I expect it’ll be announced soon.
I’m also actually composing music for a theatre production in collaboration with the Imperial War Museum and The Royal Exchange Theatre here in Manchester, so obviously, yachts and groupies galore! I like to try my hand at different things and learn new techniques that I can bring back to my personal projects. Writing for a 30-piece choir and mixing elements of analogue synths with more traditional instrumentation has been a challenge but I’m learning loads.
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