“A Game of 20 questions” is a feature where writer Tom Farmer asks 20 questions to some of the best and most promising new acts. It’s a bit like Vogue’s 100 questions, but a lot shorter and a fair bit less glamorous. May contain strong language and shit banter
With a knack for writing songs that pluck fluently at your heart strings, independent musician Shaun Finn has quickly established himself as one of Dublin’s most promising solo acts. Using personal experiences as his creative muse, songwriting has quickly become a coping mechanism and self-help strategy. With soft vocal performances coupled with accomplished musicianship, Finn is a hugely listenable artist.
It is perhaps no surprise that, joining me from his Dublin bedroom, the singer-songwriter is both smiley and contemplative. Self-professed as “awkward as fuck”, Finn prides himself on his genuineness and honestly. As easy a chat as anything, we sifted through discussing musical beginnings to sobbing at Noel Gallagher gigs, as well as discussing the perennial question: will Shaun Finn ever release a Christmas single?
TF: Do you remember where it all started for you, musically?
SF: I first picked up a guitar when I was 16. I didn't come from a huge musical family- both my grandfathers play guitar, but it was never something that was forced upon me. My grandmothers pushed me towards the 1960s and 1970s, but I kind of found my own path and I really started to like this Irish band called The Coronas. I then got really into the Irish scene, eventually finding bands like the Script and Snow Patrol. Then I thought “well, what is there outside of Ireland that I should be listening to?”. So I became that guy at school who loved Oasis. I picked up a guitar to learn “Heroes for Ghosts” by The Coronas and the “Live Forever” guitar solo.
TF: Your debut single “Live My Life” is a really powerful and emotive track, which kickstarted your career. How did that come about?
SF: Well, I started writing songs in 2019 and was believing in myself. But then, like most artists, I hit a bit of a block. I was getting gigs, but not enough gigs and I didn’t love the songs I was writing so I was dead set on giving up. I spoke to a mentor of mine and he said “give it to your next gig and if you’re still not feeling it, it might be fine for you to pack it in”. So I went home that night and I’m a big Chelsea fan so I watched us in the Champions League. We drew to some really bad Russian team 0-0 or something. So I wrote a song called “Live My Life”. The next day I took it into a group of musicians and they loved it. I played it at the gig next week and it got a great reception from everyone, from the camera crew to the sound.
TF: Is there one song that made you fall in love with music?
SF: I’ve got two answers for that. I remember hearing “Heroes for Ghosts” on FM 104, which is a radio station over here, before I had Spotify. So I would listen to the live version all the time and when I saw them live first when I was 16, thinking “imagine being paid to do this”. Another song which influenced how I want my career to be is a Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds song called “Dead in The Water”. It’s just a beautiful song and I remember for the first year that the album was out, I cried every time I listened to it. I went to see it in concert and I’m usually one of those arseholes who records everything but my friend took my phone off me and said “you have your moment”. In the video they took, you can hear me sobbing in the background.
TF: How would you describe your own sound?
SF: Fundamentally, it’s indie rock similar to Catfish and the Bottlemen and Sam Fender. The Arctic Monkeys have a huge impact on my lyrics and how I shape songs, but when it comes to sound and mixes, I would say I am really trying to channel Sam Fender or Blossoms.
“Music’s just such an important part of Irish culture”
TF: You’re yet another talented musician from Dublin, which as a city is absolutely smashing it at the moment musically. Why do you think Dublin has produced such good artists over the last 5 years?
SF: Music’s just such an important part of Irish culture. It has been emphasised recently because going to a pub isn't the same over here ever since COVID. Because you've not been allowed to perform live. I've gone to the pub since and there's just so much energy. I think it's such a thing rooted in Irish culture. We've produced some amazing bands over the years. U2, Thin Lizzy, The Script, Snow Patrol are all amazing bands. And they influence so many artists worldwide. A lot of artists say that Ireland is the best place to gig. Even my grandmother is in her 60s and she would go to gigs every couple of weeks (before COVID).
TF: Are you inspired by any other forms of quintessential Irish culture, like literature or art?
SF: Me personally, I don’t look into poems. But everywhere you go, there's quotes from people like Seamus Heaney. If you go into Dublin City, they're everywhere, especially when the 1916 anniversary (100 years since the Easter Uprising) came round a few years ago, and it became such a big thing. There's been a resurgence in Republican poetry. There's a lot of great love poems out there, which I wouldn't say directly inspire me, but on a subconscious level maybe they do because you see them everywhere.
TF: You’ve talked pretty candidly about your own personal struggles. How does this feed into your music?
SF: Yeah, I wear my heart on my sleeve with most things in life. What you see is what you get: There's no persona, there's nothing fake. I'm very upfront with things. I'm like this in public. I'm awkward as fuck, I give my opinions too much. I'm just who I am and I think that bleeds through in my writing because I can't write about something that I don't know what I'm talking about. The thing is that I’m an eejit and don’t know what I'm talking about a lot of the time.
TF: Do you find talking about these issues leaves you vulnerable and scared to an extent? “Stop the World” off the new EP has the lyric “you don’t know why I cry at night”, which is a super emotive lyric.
SF: Yeah, to a certain extent. But the way I feel is that songwriting is about learning how to open up and allowing yourself to be vulnerable to yourself. You can put this persona on to yourself and you can lie to yourself quite easily. And then in a moment, it just breaks down, then you get quite upset over it. I think the big difference between before and after I wrote “Live My Life” was that I was writing what I thought people wanted to hear. Whereas now I'm writing what I feel instead. And it's not always good.
TF: There’s also something quite scary about being a solo artist. As one man with a guitar, do you find this has challenges? Or do you like having the independence?
SF: I like both aspects because it is challenging. I play all the instruments except drums. That’s a lot of responsibility. And I feel there is a slight advantage when you are in a band. Let's say you're in a band of four people. That's four families saying, “Oh my god, check these guys out”. And that's more followers to this page. With me, I can tell my grandparents, I can tell my aunties, I can tell my friend group, and it's not going to get more than an extra five people. So there's like an extra challenge to bring people in. But I also look at that as an advantage because I'm learning a lot quicker. I think I've learned a lot about social media, like how people behave on social media and what social media wants from you.
“Initially, when I first pen a song, I'm playing these chords and thinking “how are they making ME feel?”.
TF: Had a quick scan through your inspirations playlist. It’s quite an eclectic range from the Beatles to the Lathums. If you had to pick one songwriter who you resonate with, who would you pick
SF: Alex Turner from the Arctic Monkeys, or Elton John. Whenever I try and write an emotional song or try and write something with piano, I’ll try and channel that (Elton John-esque) kind of energy. But when I'm sitting down with a guitar, I would try to act more like Alex Turner with how he plays his chords. I would watch him live quite a lot, like doing acoustic things. That's where I think you get to really see the fundamentals of a song: when the songwriter themselves is doing it on their own. And like I said before, you can be very vulnerable and that's what I try to channel whenever I'm on the guitar. The crazy lyrics that don't exactly match up with the tempo, but it just works.
TF: Have you got any unlikely influences- someone who I wouldn’t think was an influence for you?
SF: I like quite a lot of Motown. The stuff I'm trying to kind of write is funkier and I've been trying to get into writing on my bass guitar a little bit more and be a bit more creative. I remember the first time I saw funk live, I was just confused, like “What’s going on here?”.
TF: Relatability is clearly a big part of your writing. How important is it for you to be relatable?
SF: Initially, when I first pen a song, I'm playing these chords and thinking “how are they making ME feel?”. And they are quite selfish in that way- it's “me, me, me”. And then when I come back to it and review it, I’ll think “wait, how can I make this more of a ‘we’ thing or an ‘us’ thing?” and try to include people in it. I really do think like your favourite songs are about something that you can relate to: your favourite song is often talking about a relationship that you had with somebody that broke down for some reason. I feel like if you can resonate with the lyrics and that's what kind of makes you addicted to it. Because anybody can write a great song. Anybody could write a song that people go “Oh, yeah, that sounds great”. But to get something that grasps people, that's what I want.
TF: If you could support one artist on tour, who would you pick?
SF: My absolute dream is to support The Coronas in the Olympia. Every Christmas they play at the Olympia, which is a massively famous venue over here. It's my favourite venue as well. I would rarely go a month without going there (before COVID). And if I could ever get a chance to go in there and support them in that arena, that would be just it would be a dream. I could go bankrupt or I could get hit by a car, but I’ve done what I’ve set out to do. But for a tour, I'd love to support the Arctic Monkeys on a tour. Or maybe a band a bit younger, like a bit more my age like Sam Fender. So we might, you know, vibe a little bit better. And then you can go and you can do your show and then you can just chill backstage and watch some great music.
TF: What’s the last song you listened to before you spoke to me?
SF: I’ll check my history now. It was “Save Your Tears” by The Weekend. I think I was singing it in the shower.
TF: Have you got any guilty pleasures, musical or otherwise?
SF: Oh! Kelly Clarkson man! That whole Avril Lavigne “Complicated” album is class. I'd say I put the Green Day in there as well. I don't listen to them that much, but when I do I feel like I shouldn't enjoy them but I do. I love a bit of Britney. I would listen to anything, including country. Because a lot of people say “I listen to everything except country”. Garth Brooks was really big in Ireland for a while. Before COVID, you couldn’t walk past three pubs without one playing Irish jig music.
“Anybody can write a great song, but to get something that grasps people? That's what I want”
TF: Would you rather have feet for hands or hands for feet?
SF: I'd rather have hands for feet. Because that way I can play guitar up here (hands) and then the bass down there (feet) and then get rid of the bass player. That's more royalties for me. Would be a great unique selling point, too.
TF: Is there one venue or festival that you would love to play at?
SF: The Olympia is honestly my dream. If I could headline the Olympia, it'd be a dream come true. It's nowhere near the biggest venue over here, but I just had so many amazing nights there with friends, with family, with bands that I love. I've been going to the Olympia since I was 11 or 12, you know. It's just part of me. Again, I could get hit by a car on the way out, but that would be ok.
TF: EP out on the 6th of August. How are you feeling about it?
SF: Yeah, I've been sitting on the songs for a long time now. The last song on the EP was written around the start of July last year. And I've written more songs that I've thought about releasing. The EP has been pretty much finished since early April, let's say it's been finished. And I keep looking at them and go “Oh look, I'm gonna do this. I might tweak this and remix this again”. But I've gone through quite a lot of change over the last year. I changed my friend group, I changed a lot of my output on life. I think it all came with me deciding now this is going to be my career. I’ve started to treat myself a little bit better and gone to the gym more. I moved jobs towards the end of last year to the exact same job at a different shop just to have that change of scene and change of mindset. I moved house as well. And I feel that the EP is the last thing clinging on to that part of my life.
TF: Aside from the EP, what else have you got coming over the next few years?
SF: Yeah, like I’ve said there, I've got a couple more songs written and I need to record them properly. I'm lucky enough that I'm in a position now where I don't have to go and book studio time now. I pretty much have a studio set up at home. I’m going to have the house to myself for six weeks and I'm going to take that time while there's nobody home to really experiment and try and record new stuff and not try and play things safe. I don't know if anybody else gets it when you're doing something artistic and somebody is in the room beside you. You kind of feel like you don’t want to go for that high note because people lean in and ask “what are you doing?”. I’m hoping to release one more song by the end of the year. It won’t be a Christmas song, though. I’m not doing Christmas songs.
TF: You mentioned that you’re a Chelsea fan. What do you reckon your prospects for this season are?
SF: I think if we sign a good striker (interview took place pre-Lukaku!), we’ll win the league. I thought it was an absolute fluke that we won the Champions League last year, but we’ll take it. I don’t see Gabriel Jesus scoring 20 goals a season. If we sign a good striker and Pulisic and Mount step up, we’ll win the league.
'Late Replies' the new EP from Shaun Finn is out now.