For most under quarantine, isolation brought face-to-face confrontations with unconfronted thoughts and feelings. Plenty of musicians embraced this change, curating thoughtful work designed as tearjerkers and to tug on heartstrings. But for Irish singer-songwriter Cian Ducrot, his process has not much changed at all – in fact, it’s everyone else that has.
“I’ve always said what I feel and done what I wanted. A lot of people have learned that during the pandemic and are having more eye-to-eye conversations with people,” he says over the phone. “But I’ve always approached my music in that way.”
The singer’s raw, melancholic, caught-heavily-in-my-feelings pop began with the creeping, refined sounds of his debut mixtape started in college (2020). (Warning, don’t listen if you’re going through a break-up. Or do, if in need of a cathartic sob.) The EP might have felt like a build-up and release of emotion had it come from anyone else, but fans of Ducrot know this is his staple heart-on-his-sleeve approach. Newest single, “Crocodiles”, released last Thursday as the second single to a yet-untitled upcoming EP is no different.
On “Crocodiles”, the flood gates open about toxic friendships. Responses to a teaser of the track posted to the singer’s Instagram revealed plenty of people were in need of feeling those feelings – feelings Ducrot really had about a real person.
“I say what’s on my heart, how I want to say it,” Ducrot explains, “and I don’t care what people think about my music.”
Prior to the release of “Crocodiles”, House of Solo sat down over the phone with the London-based singer to chat about all things music, feels, opening up, and the future.
Hi Cian, how are you?
Hi! Very good! How are you?
Great, thanks! It’s now been a year since the start of quarantine… What’s kept you busy this last year, outside of music?
Yeah, I mean, pretty much just [making] music. I was buying a lot of clothes when shops were open. Yeah, it’s just music and going for walks and buying takeaway coffees.
It’s release week. “Crocodiles” marks a unique change because it’s about toxic friendships. Was it daunting to put this down in a song?
It’s actually surprising how rare it is to hear about people talking about friends in songs. I didn’t really think I was making such a game changer, but then gradually, I was like, wait, nobody has done this before. Nobody is talking about friends – it’s really underdone. It has been cool to see how much that song has resonated with people before it has even come out.
Was this inspired by a real person? Are you nervous for that to be out in the world?
Yeah, it was a real situation that happened to me with friends of mine. [I’m] not really [nervous] – they’ve heard the song. They know, it exists. They’re all musicians as well – that’s what we do. So, I’m not nervous. It’s a song about something that happened quite a long time ago now. I’m excited for the world to hear.
The video is a sad one, a real harsh dose of reality. It felt quite lonely. What was the thought process behind the video?
I just tried to keep it as real to the story as possible. I woke up one night – I couldn’t sleep – and I wrote the whole music video. And then that was that. I was just like, God, this is what it’s going to be.
The song, which follows “Not Usually Like This”, is part of a new EP. What can you tell us about the project?
It’s going to be a collection of songs that are super close to me as a person, [the songs] are just pieces of me, I guess. Like, really true pieces of me with no word of a lie in any of the songs. I tried to really make stuff that sounds like who I am. I think one of my favorite songs I’ve ever written [from the EP] – just because of the way it makes me feel and the way I felt when I wrote it – is a song called “Make Believe”.
It isn’t new for you to embrace those feelings and put it into music. Your catalogue is incredibly raw – it doesn’t hold back on anything. Is it difficult for you to have to face these things during the songwriting process?
Not at all. I’m very, very open with myself. I think [from working with] other artists I’ve learned it’s sometimes difficult to get out of them what they’re trying to say, or they don’t want to say what they want to really want to say, and it can be a very tricky process. But for me, I’ve always been super open about talking about my feelings. I think I’m lucky in that way.
Authenticity plays a pretty key role in songwriting for you, then.
Yeah. I think being authentic is something that everybody probably struggles with in music. I always think the easiest way to be authentic is to be yourself and stop caring about others’ opinions, or just do what you want to do and say what you really think and speak from your heart and don’t filter things because you’re worried if you upset or offend – but obviously, it needs to come from a good place. Intentions have to be good. It’s the same with music. I think being authentic is sometimes less complicated than people think.
One of the responses to your music has been that it challenges toxic masculinity. Do you feel that it is important as a male artist to set an example of owning up to emotion?
Yes and no. I’d never put pressure on myself to do anything. But I [do think] guys should be talking about their feelings. I mean, I grew up like that. So, it’s not strange to me – if anything it was strange when I realised that guys didn’t. And I was like, ‘What? Why is it a thing that guys don’t do?’ People often point that out about my music. It’s very emotional. And I’m like, ‘Well, yeah, like, what else am I going to do?’ I’ve been getting used to the fact that to other people, it’s not the norm to hear guys go there. [But] I take the responsibility of being a musician and having a reach and trying to make a difference in people’s lives and trying to change the world for the, for the better, so when people notice things like that, it makes me really happy.
I wonder where you went for that similar artistry when you were growing up?
I grew up with a lot of Michael Jackson, and Eminem, that was my kind of pop lean. […] But I don’t think there’s any artists that gave me that in the same way, especially in pop music. Sometimes it’s rare [to find] that depth below.
[But] I think one of the biggest things for me writing music in that way comes mainly from the fact that when I was trying to discover myself as a songwriter, I realised the best way for me to write good songs is to write how I speak. Write the conversations that I have, write the things that I really want to say. It was as simple as that.
What do you think drove you towards pop music?
I love classic pop. I wouldn’t say pop like Britney Spears, I’d say I fall in the field somewhere of singer-songwriter, classic pop kind of sound. I’ve always just loved great songs. You know, I love great songs by Michael Jackson, Eminem, Elton John, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and One Direction. For me it’s all about really great songs, and that’s what pop music has become. It’s often really great songs and those are the ones that stick out and last a lifetime.
Between your first mixtape and the new singles there’s a shift in sound. What spurred this change?
I’m just trying to grow the music in size and depth and sound, and I’m trying to learn new things and push the boundaries with what I think I can do and what others expect me to do. I always try to do something slightly different or do something that’s just more and more me, I think it’s just a discovery of what I like and what I feel I fit into most comfortably.
Have you been in the studio with anyone that’s been helping you craft that vision for the new project?
I’ve been really trying to craft it myself, to be honest. I work with friends of mine who are who are songwriters who definitely have big influence on me, and I do the odd session now and then. […] I’m always super grateful for that and learning from friends who are fantastic songwriters. But I think terms of the music – really, the music itself – that’s just something that I spend hours and hours on by myself in my room.
It sounds like a cathartic process.
Yeah, it’s difficult. It’s hard. If you overthink it, sometimes you ruin it, and if you underthink it, you can go the other way. A big, big part of making music is discovering yourself, what your sound really is, who you are as an artist, what people want from you, what the best you have to offer is, and figuring out how to put that into songs.
Finally, what’s on the agenda for the rest of the year?
Hopefully I will get to move to LA at some point, which has been the plan for a while. [And] hopefully some touring and live performances. I mean, just constantly making more and more music. I think it’s difficult when it’s all you do all day. I’m excited to take a break from it for a while and get into touring mode. And then when that settles down, take time again to sit down and come back to the music and focus on an album. I’m very excited for that.
Photography Abeiku Arthur
Stylist Naomie Meirelles
Groomer Charlie Cullen