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From Balla to Bucharest and back

Living

STATION MASTER Joe Monaghan of Train Room.

Interview

Ciara Moynihan

Train Room’s debut EP, ‘Delicate Bones’, was released last month, and already the feedback has been great. The man behind the project, Balla singer-songwriter Joe Monaghan, not only composed all of the EP’s tracks and drafted in the musicians he needed, he produced it too.
Described by ceolcaint.com as ‘full of variety, beautiful musicianship and sublime vocals’, ‘Delicate Bones’ contains four tracks, two of which have accompanying videos. The latest video, released last week, is for the delicate and moving track ‘Grace’. Starring Love/Hate actor Mary Murray and directed by Love/Hate’s Patrick Murphy, the vampire-themed visual narrative offers a bold, and surprisingly dark, take on the song.
Throughout each of the captivating tracks, strains of one of Monaghan’s stated influences, Wilco, are detectable, with perhaps a little bit of Sufjan Stevens’ wistful guitar thrown in, and maybe even a little of Lloyd Cole’s vocal quality.
Monaghan, who is in his mid-30s, has been writing songs ‘for years’, but about seven or eight years ago he started to record demos. “I just kept tipping away at that privately,” he says, working and reworking his songs until he was ready to present them to a wider audience, as well as learning the ropes of music production.
“About two years ago, I started putting the demos out on social media,” he tells The Mayo News. “All the time I was trying to figure out how to produce songs myself. I’ve been writing songs over the last ten years, so I picked a few for the first EP, and that’s how it came together.”
Monaghan established Train Room a year ago, though it had been on his mind for much longer. He had always envisaged it as a project that would involve him working with different musicians, knowing that many of his peers had settled and couldn’t commit to a band.
A chance meeting with an old schoolmate, Catherine Maguire, sealed it. “I had a song that required female vocals so I asked her,” he explains. It worked out so well she provides backing vocals on all the songs on the EP. “She’s been wonderful, there’d be no EP without her,” says Monaghan, who is now working on keeping Train Room going ‘as a personal project with other musicians’.
The musician describes the sound on ‘Delicate Bones’ as ‘quite spacious’. “The songs I chose for it were all written within about three weeks of each other around four years ago, and I always had in mind that they were going to be the songs on my first EP. The songs are quite slow in tempo and lyrically based, and the arrangements are quite contemporary.”
While the song ‘Grace’ is rooted in personal experience, Monaghan decided to give the filmmaker who produced the video free rein creatively. “A friend of mine told me about a forum for filmmakers where you can put up your music. I tried it, and a lot of filmmakers came back to me.”
He decided to go with Patrick Murphy. “He had the idea for the video, which I never in a million years would have thought of, this vampire theme. It was so opposite to everything that I felt about the song, which is very personal. I decided to take a gamble anyway, and go with it … I just left them to it,” he laughs.
The recording of the song, too, was also unconventional. While most of the track was made in Monaghan’s studio in Balla, the song’s stirring string section was recorded in Bucharest. “I’d met someone in Berlin playing an open mic in 2015, and they introduced me to a friend of theirs on SoundCloud who was a violin player. She liked my stuff and I liked hers, and I sent her an acoustic version of the song and she really liked it. Then I sent her the music for the string section, and she sent back exactly what I asked for on the violin.”
Cloud collaboration and social media have been vital for Monaghan’s project, he reveals. “It’s like, you’ve got to be resourceful. It’s very financially challenging to do these things, especially recording music in studios and the price of session musicians. So I think if you use the internet and social media in the right way it can be a huge advantage. It’s time saving too.
“Sometimes it won’t work, but other times it does. It worked really well with ‘Grace’. Now I have a musical relationship with this violinist, and she could work for me again in the future, and she gets to share the music in Romania … so it all works out.”
The hardest part of putting the EP together, says Monaghan, was coordinating the musicians he needed. Once that was organised, the rest of the variables were in his control, ready to respond to his baton. “The songs were already structured and arranged, and I knew exactly what I wanted to do with the actual recording, so that was fine,” he explains.
“But the most enjoyable part for me is mixing – you can add things in as you’re mixing, and you can hear when it starts to work. A lot of it is hard work you know, in a shed, with drums, going over them for a day – and you don’t know if it’s going anywhere, and then you get it all in front of you and start to work on it, and then you start to hear things that you can add in – that’s definitely the most enjoyable bit.”
Looking to the future, Monaghan is mulling over another release. “I have eight tracks that are ready. It’s definitely a different sound; not a huge change in musical direction, but up tempo. I’m not sure whether it’ll be an EP or an album – but I hope to have it out in April.”
In the meantime, he’s enjoying taking his work on the road, having recently been given a taste of the spotlight. In October, Train Room played a debut gig at Dublin’s showcase Hard Working Class Heroes festival. “It was great. It was the first gig, and it was great to be chosen, because I only sent one song [‘Horizons’]. It was pretty scary for a first gig – I’d a six piece band, and logistically we didn’t have much time to rehearse – but it was a success, we got good reviews.
“I’m looking forward to gigging more next year. I’m trying to put a tour together at the moment. I just got my first gig in Whelan’s in February. I’m going to use that as a relaunch for the EP and then do a few more dates in Dublin – and I’m looking at Mayo after that too.”
Keep an eye out for this band. With Monaghan’s entrancing songs and arresting arrangements underpinned by his perfectionist work ethic, convincing passion and quiet confidence, Train Room could well be on track for runaway success.
   
Train Room will be performing in Whelan’s on Wexford Street, Dublin, on February 26. The band’s album, ‘Delicate Bones’ is available to download from iTunes, Spotify and Amazon.

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