Liter-Artists: An Interview with Colm Gavin
Updated: Jun 23
Music, Art, and Literature are artistic movements that inspire us all in similar ways. In this 'Liter-Artists' series, Dubh Publishing will interview artists about their creativity process and the influences of literature on their art.
Colm Gavin is an Irish singer-songwriter phenomenon, performing and writing since his early teens. Colm has performed all across Ireland and further afield. He has shared the stage with acts such as Glen Hansard, Damien Rice, and John Spillane; and played at the inaugural opening night of the musical “Once” in Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre. Amongst his successes, his debut solo EP "Your Endless Slumber" spent the week of its release at No.1 in the iTunes Singer/Songwriter charts.
Hi Colm, first I would like to thank you for taking the time for this interview. A month ago, you released a collection of six songs and two spoken word pieces 'Flamingo Variations: Home Recordings Vol 1'. The songs are beautiful and the word pieces have a poetic style and feel to them. What inspires you to create?
Well, firstly, thank you for your kind words. I believe there’s a vocational aspect to a lot of what I do, I ascribe more so to the benefits of perspiration over inspiration. I’m all for making an appointment with the muse, but we’re not always reading from the same bus schedule, so I try to keep consistent working hours.
Do you have a special process when you create, and does literature play a role in this process?
I try to write a few thousand words a day whether I’m feeling inspired or not.
It comes down to muscle memory and process. I see it more so as a challenge in accuracy, How can I say tomorrow in 700 words what took me 1000 words to say today.
Who are your favourite writers, and why?
I fell in love with the great works of the French surrealist movement at the turn of the century. Guillaume Apollinaire & André Breton, for me, were like Alpha & Omega, founding fathers.
In my formative years, I frequently flirted with the notion of being some kind of “l’enfant terrible” Singing on street corners, frequenting dive bars, scribbling prophetic stanzas on public restroom walls and nightly dancing with sister melancholy (I like to think that period of turbulence is behind me now).
What makes a book your favourite?
At 15, I really started investing a lot of my time into the work of Edgar Allen Poe, his fearless confrontation of ennui and desolation were triumphant to me. Those murky depictions of profound solidarity were oddly comforting from the angst-ridden standpoint I was reading them from.
Music and literature are often interconnected; for example, Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016. In your opinion, is music literature?
I’ve always felt that a songwriter should have the same degree of latitude as a short story writer, we still don’t have it; at least it isn’t commonly used. The songs on “Flamingo Variations” really put that notion to the test. I’m not always the narrator in my songs, not everything I write is autobiographical. I don’t think it’s a particularly popular medium, but I love when an artist uses irony or humour in a song, you just get that sense that they weren’t going to let you leave without getting your money’s worth, I have so much respect for that. If you take a lyric of mine like “You’re a terrible dancer, you’d tease as we swayed, curled your nose up and laughed at the faces I made” - You can hear the internal dialogue there, you know that scene so well. Not every lyricist bothers to hold the door open that widely for you, the songs are like snapshots, vignettes to me.
We are all living in a difficult time due to the Covid-19 crisis, but has it helped you to read more and create?
It’s certainly taken away your right to excuse yourself, for writers these days, all we’ve got is time, the day is always right in front of you, and you’ve got to set yourself up for the most productive day possible. Now would be an excellent time to address one's process. I’ve always leaned toward the Jim Rohn notion of “Its easy to get faked out being busy, the question is, busy doing what?”. One of the many projects I’ve started since this all began is collaborating with Charlie McGettigan, which for me is like walking around in a surreal daze, the fact that one of our countries greatest songwriters would want to write with me is a constant thrill. It’s been an absolute education so far.
Music and literature both have psychological benefits. What do they bring to you?
Music & literature will always be my two first loves; they both still have an arresting quality for me. I’m still as captivated by it as I ever was. And I think it’s important to cultivate a love affair with the work, when the content you’re creating is strong enough the lines of respective division dissolve, and there’s no difference between you and what you create.
What are your favourite songs at the moment?
My musical taste begins somewhere in the mid-1920s and peaks somewhere after the folk revival of the 1960s. I love the work the artists in my immediate circle are making presently, Amy Naessens, Sammy Copley, Niamh Keane, Stephen Gormley, Carron, masters, all of them, it’s an exciting time for the performing arts in Ireland. I have never done a Q&A on Instagram without being asked the question “will the songs Meabh Carron & you wrote together ever see the light of day?” I'm sure and I hope they will, she has an inspiring work ethic, and she is a consummate professional and a dear friend. There were plenty of eureka moments during the course of our sessions, who knows what the future holds, I’m just happy to be doing what I’m doing.
Thank you so much for your answers. I hope to see you soon live in Galway! One last question to give us inspiration on what to read this summer - what are the books you think we all should read?
I always tend to recommend what I’m reading at the present time so:
- Fyodor Dostoyevsky ~ White Nights
- Paramahansa Yogananda ~ Autobiography of a yogi - Walt Whitman ~ On the beach at night alone
- Franz Kafka ~ Investigations of a dog
- Guillaume Apollinaire ~ Calligrammes
You can find Colm's latest release here on Soundcloud.
Interviewed by Sophia Hadef.