In Conversation | Video Blue Lets His ‘Guts’ Hang Out

I was introduced to Dundalk native, Jim O’Donoghue Martin in Limerick many moons ago while he was playing with his band Blind Pilots. Since going solo he has taken on the moniker of Video Blue for his musical outpourings and I’ve been paying close attention as he sculpted his craft.

In 2016 he released the brilliant single ‘Disco Nap’ and the following year saw his first album, Love Scenes, finally drop. His marriage of ambient electronica and guitar-driven alt-pop delivered dreamy tunes you could sway to into the early hours. Both ‘Dusk Moves’ and Dogged Animals’ have remained in my “Top Songs” playlists on Spotify every year since their release. They are moreish delights.

His latest offering, ‘Guts’, is out today. Video Blue again delivers this dreamlike soundscape with layered guitar and beats that your body is forced to sway to, almost trance-like, until he pulls the rug from underneath and takes a Jinx Lennon inspired turn in the latter stages of the track. It’s a beautiful piece to lead us into the upcoming second album.

To get a sense of what Video Blue has been up to for the last few years and what’s around the corner, I chatted with the London-based artist ahead of the release:

Love Scenes, your first album, came out just over two years ago. How did it feel to have the album out there in the world?

Ever since I became “serious about music”, I’ve been obsessed with “the album”. It was a big milestone for me at the age of 28 to finally have my own. I haven’t listened to it in ages, but I’m still immensely proud of it.

I think the fact that it was done on a shoe-string, and I pretty much did the whole thing myself (with some crucial help from others, mind) meant that it came out exactly how I wanted it to. So from the ‘making art/ uncompromising’ aspect, that meant a lot. Of course, it’s also a learning curve.

How do you go about your day to day after a release of something that you’ve put so much time into?

It was like a Stockholm syndrome type thing; I was kind of left thinking, ‘Okay, what now?!’

I remember going to the office the morning after the album launch night, and I really felt it… It was like being emotionally winded. But you just get on with it, don’t you?

Did you take time off after the first album or were you constantly writing and making new music in the aftermath of Love Scenes?

I never stop writing, but it’s true that for the 6 months or so after Love Scenes my main focus was the gigging, videos and general promotion of it; which was a welcome change from recording every day or so.

I also took the opportunity to catch up on other things, movies, art & listening to music that wasn’t my own. But I’m always plotting, so it didn’t take long for me to start investigating leftover material and undeveloped ideas for the next body of work. I did go down a route of sort of ambient immersion, which was a welcome change of structure. And a few visits to the pub.

Earlier this year you started a regular spot as host of ‘Dusk Moves’ on Boogaloo Radio – on your second episode you were gatecrashed! What happened there?

Ah yes, Dusk Moves (named after track 2 on Love Scenes) is great fun; I’m really enjoying it and in great company with some of the other DJ’s at Boogaloo; big legends like John Leckie, Brix Smith and Andy Bell.

On my second show I was ambushed by Suggs from Madness! In truth, the Boogaloo producer Jenn, had told me about 20 minutes into my show that Suggs was in the front bar. It was Film-night on my show and I was feeling a little cheeky so I played ‘It Must Be love’, and as the show is pumped through the PA throughout the building; in he came. And there he stayed until the end. He was a pure gentleman and had great stories for us.

Anyway, it’s all there to listen back to on Mixcloud for posterity, so if anyone’s interested in chaos-radio, dig in!

After the show wrapped-up at 10pm, that’s where it got really messy… We were in the bar and gathered round the piano until close, singin’ songs. The punters inside couldn’t believe their luck! A special night.

Video Blue Boogaloo dusk Moves
Having the craic in Boogaloo Radio

Your radio shows often follow a theme of a location. How much as your surroundings and movements around Ireland and England influenced your music?

I mean you’d find it very hard to find a fan of popular music, who doesn’t count music from the UK, which in turn is heavily influenced by its geography, close to their hearts. Same goes for at home, too.

With my own music, lyrically I’ve dealt with being a member of the diaspora (in my own way) quite a bit; so that whole experience is certainly part of the soup. Even more so in the newer material.

Musically, I do think different rhythms and beats that I’ve soaked up have found their way in. This is partly out of necessity (because of being solo and playing with making my own beats) & partly due to summers in London, with all of the park soundsytems and festivals etc.

So yes, there’s beats on my first album, which are definitely influenced by house music, the opening track ‘Dogged Animals’, is me aping a bossa nova type thing almost. In terms of access to music and culture, the whole world is here.

Your new track, ‘Guts’, is released today. Can you tell us a little bit about how it came about?

Guts’ is about commitment & throwing it all on the table. The part where the head & the heart collide, and all you’re left with is your guts; however wrong or right.  It seemed like the right song to re-introduce Video Blue for this reason.

The lyric began life in 2015, and the story was finished in 2018 (I have notebooks everywhere).

The music was composed pretty swiftly I remember on my acoustic & a keyboard app on my iPhone in the garden in 2017!

The recording was made between my bedroom & the proper studio throughout different sessions in 2018.

How much personal experience do you put into your music? Is there a balancing game of evoking personal experience through your work while still trying to retain a sense of privacy/nuance?

Life always prompts me into putting down words or phrases, which then get used in songs. But it certainly is a balancing act of nuance & personal experience.

I want it to be lyrically colourful and have an arc, and have clarity, even when it’s a little abstract. I think the way I write now is a little more direct, because I’m putting more emphasis on an overall feeling.

The way I described Guts, as having been completed years after the initial idea came about, is also true about a lot of my songs. They are rarely about a specific event, more made up of memories, ideas and variations on one theme to create a whole new story.

How is the new album shaping up?

Throughout 2018, I was recording at home, and in a studio with a friend in west London. It was a case of working through what I think is my best material at that time, which is always the case.

So I was revisiting ideas that were demo-ed even before Video Blue was a thing, as well as brand new things.

In the back of my mind I was working towards Album #2, but I had to view it as me just working on a body of work.

I wasn’t ruthless with myself in terms of sectioning-off 10-12 tracks and declaring them the lucky ones for the album y’know? BUT, there will be an album 2. Very soon, and I’m at the tweaking stage. And it’ll change your life for 30-40 minutes. Promise.

Is there added pressure from making a second album that wasn’t there at the beginning?

Yes & no. You want to better yourself, you want to change it up, & you want people to bloody hear it! But I’m lucky, because so far, I’ve been able take my time, too.

As an independent artist, there’s a double-edged thing of having the pressure of reaching a wider audience, but less pressure in that you essentially are your own boss; which can be a blessing and a curse. So pressure, is really how the individual handles it.

Making music is the creative pursuit which is the biggest passion of them all, but I gain so much joy in so many other things too. I think the biggest thing I’ve learned and understood about myself, since starting Video Blue, is that wherever I am, or whatever I’m doing, I’ll always be spinning a musical project, however big or small. And that realisation was very freeing & cathartic.

It also means that I don’t have that pent-up energy (good & bad) when I was in a band and moving to London in my early 20’s. Still dreaming big though. Music is for life!

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