On the 30th of September 27 year old Dublin based electronic/ambient/folk artist Participant, aka Stephen Tiernan, released his debut EP Bit Slow. It’s a nuanced, earnest, affecting listen in which Tiernan successfully melds his disparate influences into an emotive folktronica experience. Recently, he took time out of his busy schedule to discuss the beautiful video for “Shelter”, the themes behind his music, and his adolescent love for nu metal.
Overblown: How would you describe your music for those that have never heard a note of it?
Stephen Tiernan: Ambient, Electronic Indie, that is very sincere.
O: As a child music surrounds us; what type of music did you hear the most growing up? Artists?
ST: It sounds odd but there wasn’t too much music in the house. I have vague memories of R.E.M. and Crowded House music being played but I wasn’t one of those kids with my parents or older siblings record collections to explore.
O: What memories of music do you have from your teenage years?
ST: I got exposed to music through pals at school. I started with all that nu metal stuff but soon abandoned that for more 90s alternative rock type bands. I listened to Korn and Linkin Park and all those type bands. I randomly bought the Green Album one day having seen a review (I had never heard Weezer before) and I instantly started listening to them non-stop. Then bands like Nada Surf and Ben Folds Five. Then I was mad into Ben Kweller for years and Evan Dando. I can’t recall where my next jump was. I think I just started listening to anything I could at that stage.
O: Can you give us a brief rundown of your musical history? Prior projects and how Participant came about.
ST: I had played guitar and sang in a band with my friend Paul O’Hare in my teen years. Through this I met Heritage Centre and moved to playing bass with them. I played bass (still do) with them for the last 6 years and we released several EPs and a record called Alright, Check It Out. We’re currently all busy with a myriad of things so I got back on to Paul and asked him would he have a listen to some songs I’d been working on. He liked them and helped me produce the EP and get the project off the ground and was and is an integral part of the project.
O: Why the name Participant? Does the name have significance?
ST: I have had the name for years, knowing I’d want to work under it one day. The name comes from the idea that you’re not the main focus of your life. How you sometimes feel like a supporting character in someones story.
O: Why not operate under your given name?
ST: It was just something that never crossed my mind really. I had a vision for this project from the outset and the name was a big part of it for me.
O: How does your songwriting process work?
ST: For the EP I started with very acoustic songs. I then tried my best to pull as much of the out of the song before it fell apart. Using layers and found sounds and a lot of electronic elements before putting the live instruments back in.
O: What kind of programs and tools did you use to make this EP?
ST: I used Ableton Live and Reason mainly. One of the main rules of the project was I wanted to sample my past projects and bands to create something new. So I used the programs to turn hi-hats and chatter and various other sounds from demos and EP’s and other recordings I had made since I began playing music to create the sounds on this EP.
O: You are giving away your EP for free. Why did you decide to do this?
ST: I’m going to put it back to 4 euro now the Hard Working Class Festival is over!
O: Do you have any plans for an LP?
ST: Not currently. I’m thinking more of a companion EP to Bit Slow, perhaps early next year.
O: What inspires you to write music? Do you have some kind of muse?
ST: I just love playing.
O: What are your songs about? What themes do they cover?
ST: This EP deals with, miscommunication, frustration, and procrastination. So it’s amazing I finished it!
O: What contemporary music are you into?
ST: At the moment Caribou, Blood Orange, Jon Hopkins. I can only ever go a few days without listening to something by TV on The Radio, too.
O: What’s your favourite TV series/album/book? Why?
ST: The Wire. Dear, Science (hard question!) by TV on the Radio. Lolita.
O: What did you do before you were a musician or what is your other job?
ST: I’m back in college at the moment studying event management and working part time as a humble sales assistant, although I took a lot of time off to get the EP done earlier this year.
O: What do you do when you are not writing and performing? Hobbies?