Dundalk electronic artist Video Blue told David Hennessy about his latest album the explores the pull of home and how music was key to overcoming his anxiety.
Video Blue, real name Jim O’Donoghue Martin, has shared the stage with big names like Razorlight, Pillow Queens and Sinead O’Brien.
The London-based Dundalk artist released his third album The Pull late last year.
Following his debut Love Scenes and sophomore collection Night Painting, The Pull ponders the pull of home after years away.
It is 12 years since Jim arrived in London. He came with his band Bold Things although they had previously been known in Ireland as Blind Pilots.
However by 2015 the band would be more and Jim would go his own way and under the moniker of Video Blue.
The Irish World caught up with Video Blue at the recent Bloomsday celebration at Embassy Gardens where he took the stage on the same bill as Imelda May and Niall McNamee as well as many more.
Speaking to us again last week Video he told us: “I thought it was a really well curated day.
“I was approached by Arveene, the DJ and promoter to do it. I’ve known him for many years actually.
“And at that point, I think it was just Niall McNamee and Imelda that were announced and then to see it kind of flesh out and just the sheer amount of talent involved was amazing.
“Obviously having Trevor Kaneswaren and Jessie Buckley doing readings from Ulysses, I loved it, even as a punter.
“I think there’s a tendency when people don’t always hang around but I noticed that everybody stayed around just to sort of absorb the whole thing.”
You got to play some of the material from The Pull, how did you enjoy that? “That was great.
“It’s been eight months since the album came out.
“I’ve been quite busy with gigs around London, I did a show in Berlin, I was home in Ireland for a few gigs.
“It’s nice to let the album have a lifespan, and I’ll do whatever I can to keep it alive and get people listening to it.”
There is a progression from the previous albums, isn’t there? “Yeah, definitely. I think The Pull is more electronic than the previous two albums.
“It’s a lot more of a one person production.
“A lot of that has to do with the sort of nature in which it was made because I wasn’t going into the studio and a lot of it was made during isolation, and lockdown and so on.
“A lot of it was made wherever I was basically.
“It has a lot of collaborators too, so it’s funny enough that being such a one person production and very electronic, it has the most amount of collaborators I’ve ever had.
“It’s a progression as well in terms of the cohesion of the songs.
“I wouldn’t call it a concept album at all but there’s definitely a coherent theme running through every song and that is ideas around ‘the pull’.
“A lot of it is to do with the relationship with Ireland and thoughts and ideas of moving home.
“The pull is literally the pull of home, but then also themes in there like the pull of old habits.
“I think it’s an overall progression in terms of the writing.
“I’m very proud of it.”
Are you feeling that pull of home? “Yeah, absolutely.
“I wanted to explore that conversation.
“The conversation never goes away.
“I think most people who are members of the diaspora might reach an inflection point where they kind of go, ‘Well, what’s the next 5, 10 years gonna look like? Do I make this leap?’
“And it’s not so much about going back to Ireland, it’s going to Ireland. It’s a whole new thing, a whole new discovery.
“I actually spent the first lockdown in Ireland, I was in Ireland for three months or so.
“I hadn’t been for such an extended period at home like that for a very long time.
“That’s where the ideas for the title of the album came about.
“I was in Ireland and I was writing these tunes and I was thinking about Ireland and, ‘Where will we end up’?
“One of the singles is called First Snow, and that has a guest vocalist called Aoife Power who’s from Whenyoung, the Limerick/ Clare band.
“Her voice is beautiful and that was a real joy to have her on it.
“I’m just very particularly proud of that song.
“It’s very nostalgic, maybe introspective and it’s very much a love song.
“Then there’s a song called The War Room.
“That is one that is very special to me because it’s actually the oldest.
“The album was written and recorded between 2019 and 2021.
“The War Room is a songs that is as old as 2012, it goes way back there.
“It was actually one that I used to do with my old band and we never recorded it
“I decided to dust it off.
“I mean, it’s my song I wrote it but I still felt I had to reach out to the other lads and get their blessing, I suppose.
“They were like, ‘Of course, you’ve got to do it’.
“And so it was nice to just revisit it and give it a new treatment. I didn’t change the words because they were done and I feel like it’s more relevant than ever.
“Because it’s basically about trying to keep your mental health in a relatively good condition.
“I feel like that one blends into the album quite well.
“But every time I think about it or hear it, or indeed, when I play it live I’m immediately brought back to when I wasn’t in such a good state with my mental health and anxiety.
“I feel like it’s a very cathartic song for me because I’m in a much better position now and it’s a nice little reminder.”
What was going on with your mental health at that time (if you don’t mind talking about it)? “I’m very open about talking about it because I think it relates to my music.
“It’s also relevant because I think there should be as much discussion around mental health as possible.
“The whole point is if you share it, then there might be someone there who feels less isolated.
“In my early 20s, I was adjusting to a lot.
“Moving to London, it is an adjustment and it is a big adjustment.
“I definitely experienced a lot of anxiety and I was experiencing panic attacks and I didn’t know what it was.
“I had to sort of be kinder to myself.
“I think I was probably stressing about small things too much.
“There can be a multitude of reasons why one experiences anxiety or generalized anxiety disorder and panic attacks which are obviously very unpleasant.
“I think I grew there. I had to deal with something and still be a man, whatever that means.
“I took a lot of solace in exercise and meditation and then most importantly of all was music.
“That time I was in the band, these were the people who really helped me find a path out of just feeling very low all the time or feeling very anxious.
“And family too, I gotta say.
“But music was key.
“I think that’s what developed my interest in ambient and instrumental music as well.”
Jim created the ambient recording Reviver for himself to have something to meditate to but he would later release it so others could also feel the benefit.
“I’m very interested in what can I do?
“What can I do for myself, and other people?
“Well, I make music.
“That was in 2012/ 2013 I was feeling low mood and anxiety and panic attacks.
“It’s only been 10 years but I just feel like the conversation around it is so much better.
“I remember feeling like there was anything but anxiety wrong with me, ‘There’s something different wrong with me or I’m different’.
“It turns out it’s a very common thing and it just needed to be discussed.
“It was a tough time.
“But solace and support was in my friends, my family and most importantly music.
“Which after all is the whole reason why I keep going, is because I have to keep making art.”
You shared the video for Weatherspeak not so long ago with you appearing as a paranoid and delusional in a funny video.
“I think a collaboration works really well when you surrender to somebody else having their own interpretation of the song and they just apply a whole new meaning to it.
“That was directed by my friend Chris Dunne who is a man from Waterford.
“The song is sort of a stream of consciousness: Very monosyllabic. I’m not really singing, I’m just kind of mumbling the tune and it’s sort of like just random thoughts coming through.
“And, again the lines are, ‘Are you going to move home? Is it close to the bone?’
“So for the video, I had this idea.
“There’s a David Cronenberg movie called Scanners where basically people play mind games with each other, and they end up with their heads exploding: Great movie.
“I just came to Chris with something like that, completely divorced from the subject matter of the song but I did think the music would suit a case of paranoia.
“He came back with a whole narrative where the central character of me is really a paranoid wreck, and he’s basically imagining all these scenarios.
“He’s imagining that people are out to get him and you can see he’s deluded.
“We wanted to make it funny as well and I think we achieved it as well.
“It was done in my local pub.
“The bar man is the real bar man. He’s playing himself.”
You say it’s your local pub so that must be in Hackney. You’ve always filmed in the local area, haven’t you? Going all the way back to your first ever release as Video Blue, Disco Nap in 2016.
“That (video)’s pretty much just us having fun around Hackney for the day.
“A lot of that was shot around Hackney marshes, on Kingsland Road in Dalston, here in Clapton, actually the same street I’m sitting on right now.
“I guess it’s a thread or a theme that runs through a lot of the stuff I do.”
Was it always music for you? How did you get started?
“I just always wanted to make music.
“I mean we were playing in bands in school when I was doing my junior cert so it was always there.
“I’d hate to hear what it sounded like back then but it was always there.
“I started a band with my best friend Gavin Murray.
“We were in a band for about 10 years, we started it when we were about 15.
“We were touring all over the country (Ireland).
“We played with all of them: The Coronas, The Blizzards, Delorentos, Fight Like Apes.
“That’s actually what brought us to London in the first place.
“Once we finished our degrees we decided, ‘Let’s go over to London, get jobs, try and survive and pay our way and also crucially, rehearse every evening with the band and try and get going’.
“And that’s what we did and then I suppose after two years, things changed as they do in life.”
Gavin Murray, Jim’s former bandmate, now goes under the moniker Trick Mist and has also been interviewed in The Irish World.
Bold Things would play their last gig in 2015.
“Looking back I think by then we knew which way it was going.
“I was already just writing all the time so I felt it was time for me anyway to start doing my thing and that’s how Video Blue came about.”
You’ve shared the stage with people like Razorlight, Sinead O’Brien and Pillow Queens, what is a highlight of your live performances?
“I had a really good time at Standon Calling.
“I love festivals and I’m not dealing with crew or bands or anything like that so I can be very mobile.
“So I do my set and suddenly I can become a punter again.
“I could run across the green to catch Wolf Alice begin their set and then I was just a fan again.
“I love that.
“One of my favourite times ever on stage was actually about a month ago and it was in the George Tavern in Whitechapel.
“It was just a lovely night and it was a full crowd and it just connected really well.
“And I found that I was talking more in between songs.
“When I’m doing that and I feel relaxed, I feel like it’s going okay.
“I’d say my live highlight is actually that little gig we did to a full room in Whitechapel three weeks ago.”
You also present radio on both Boogaloo Radio and the Spinning Away show on RTE 2XM.
“(The Boogaloo Radio) is a mixed bag show.
“It’s a conversational interview based show with 50% music.
“It is a real labour of love.
“I’ve had great people on there.
“I’ve managed to interview Shaun Ryder from The Happy Mondays, Suggs from Madness came in one night.
“So it’s been really, really fun.
“And then more recently, I started my own show every Sunday 1pm on RTE 2XM.
“It’s basically all about creativity.
“I speak to a lot of different people broadly in the arts. People who are publicists, promoters, as well as artists and musicians, or maybe movie makers.
“And we just discuss how they make work, how they produce things.
“It’s sort of down the rabbit hole a little bit.”
Just before you go, we spoke about the album and ‘the pull of home’. Where are you with that? Do you think you will go home or stay in London? “We absolutely see ourselves going home.
“That’s to be confirmed, but it’s definitely happening.
“That’s all I’ll say on that.”
Video Blue plays Rough Trade West on Saturday 22 July.
The Pull is out now.
For more information, click here.