“I Just Keep Creating” Rory Sweeney Interviewed

Go-to Irish producer breaks down his creativity...

While the name Rory Sweeney may not sound familiar, if you’ve been listening to contemporary Irish hip-hop/R&B over the past year there’s no doubt that you’ve heard his work. A Dublin-born producer (as well as sound designer and video director) of never-ending styles and influences, his blend of esoteric electronica, contorting elements that few would even ponder, has seen him produce on some of the biggest tracks of the past 18 months both in Ireland and in the UK, where he was until, until very recently, based.

“I’m just moving home from Manchester now,” Sweeney explains as he jumps on a Zoom call with CLASH. “I’ve been over the past few months and seen a lot of inspiring art and stuff that’s really changing my mind about a lot of things, but it’s time to move home”. 

“The people I’ve been hanging out with have been from Belfast and around that area, so it’s been great, I’ve really enjoyed it”, he adds. “It’s like Dublin in a lot of ways in that it’s small and in the north of England in general, the people have a reputation for being quite nice and friendly and everyone here is lovely”.

Despite its similarities to the Irish capital, the differences in the cities’ musical textures are unavoidable. In Ireland, Rory Sweeney found it difficult to find listeners, people that connected with his work and influences, whereas in the UK it was quickly clear that people were built of a far more diverse discography. “It doesn’t feel as much of a stretch for people to listen to more than one genre of music. All the rappers here would be going to see Autechre live, which just shows how great a blend it is”.

We’re speaking to Sweeney a week on from the release of his latest project, the historic ‘Irish Hash Mafia’. The first project of its kind from Ireland, it finds Sweeney working under the pseudonym Carlos Danger, digging tracks from a crate of beats influenced by Memphis rap projects and the collectives formed in the 90’s and 00’s, such as Three 6 Mafia and 10 Wanted Men. Written over the course of two years, ‘Irish Hash Mafia’ is the first project documenting the growth and diversity of the Island of Ireland’s hip-hop legacy, featuring rappers from both North and South, side by side, curating the next chapter of the country’s musical legacy.

“Trap music has always been my favourite kind of hip-hop, I’ve loved how insane and punky and bold it is so I’ve been throwing the idea around for a while of making a project inspired by that and I finally got around it” Sweeney explains of ‘I.H.M.’, “most of its been done almost two years but there are bits and pieces I’ve only just finished. ‘Rap Heritage’ for example, I only swapped the beat out in February. On ‘Password17’ then, it was only the loop until about a month ago when I added the intro, the outro and the orchestral elements to spice it up. By the time I finally finished up it was too late to submit for Spotify playlists so it was a risk but it was worth it”.

Working around the clock isn’t something new for Sweeney. Ever since he was introduced to electronic music by his brothers growing up, the likes of Skream and Benga acting as early touchstones, he’s been working and creating at an incredible pace. In 2020 alone, he released six projects, and ever since he began producing would just throw whatever he had made on SoundCloud rather than tinkering with it for weeks and months at a time. “That’s really benefited me now when it comes to how quickly I create music,” he admits. “I was an idiot and didn’t know how to release, I was just putting things out and would often fix stuff even after it was live. Nowadays, a lot of my friends who are artists, really stress and tear their hair out about singles and are making so much less music as a result whereas I really think that six or seven years of just dropping whatever I had really made me less precious about what I put out into the world”.

“When you’re starting out there’s a naivety to what you’re doing which is absolutely fucking brilliant,” the producer continues. “You’re making really interesting and experimental decisions because you don’t know what the fuck you’re doing and being able to go back to them after a few years with a bit more experience is brilliant too because you can really find some gems. A lot of my best tracks have come from just going back on ideas from years ago, listening to everything I made and going ‘Jeez, I was onto something good here’ and just sharpening it up a bit”.

Having released music since he was 16, however, 2021 saw him begin to get frustrated with the lack of interest in his work from home audiences, despite the thumbs up from further afield. It was then he decided to experiment with adding vocalists into the mix, a decision that’s paid off in spades. “I got my friend Pippa and Sarah on it, then Pippa introduced me to Kareem [Ahmed, With Love], then I found Emby who I’d stumbled across when he’d shared one of my songs a few years prior. He had released a few videos of him rapping into his phone, so I decided to bring him in too”.

“I thought that because maybe my name was cursed and no one would listen to a song with just me, that I should put out an album with featured artists and it worked, people listened and some of those songs are the ones I hold dearest to me”.

“All those guys have became close friends too,” he continues, adding with a smile: “Pippa’s on nearly every tune I make nearly, Emby lives over in Manchester and we have like 100 songs together, Kareem as well we have dozens of tracks and it was him who introduced me to Curtisy so that project, in a way, was the start of everything that’s happened since”.

From there, Sweeney’s been on a roll, even working on tracks of one of the most acclaimed Irish albums of the year so far in Tallaght rapper Curtisy’s debut ‘WHAT WAS THE QUESTION’. Over the past few years he’s worked with the likes of Sloucho, Sello, Kojaque, E The Artist and Keanu to name but a few, as well as making up a third of US/Irish rave collective Bitten Twice. His output has seen Sweeney go from unheard to heralded as the one of the country’s most ambitious and riveting DIY producers, his internet-cult following quickly becoming the norm among music fans. He’s started to play shows, rise up the line-ups of festivals, and at the end of last year, Sweeney was named AVA’s Producer of The Year.  “I feel like I was good at music a long time before anything really started taking off” he notes, “so I don’t pay too much attention to it… I just do it, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t mean a lot”.

As well as the world finally opening up to his unique sound and textures, his output has opened up a world of opportunities when it comes to producing and working with bigger, more established acts both in Ireland and the UK. This, however, has not always been plain sailing and Sweeney has often found himself frustrated when collaborators decide to take the easy path rather than trying something different in an effort to stand out. One experience in particular, saw him pushed from a project and his work uncredited.

“Yeah, that was frustrating” he admits. “I had originally made an instrumental for a singer that’s quite big and the original version was very strongly inspired by Chicago footwork music. She sang on it, it was really mental sounding, a bit like Machinedrum. It was so mad but really pop-y and accessible, but she hadn’t heard footwork before and was really into Kenya Grace at the time, so she tried to get me to change it, which I did but it wasn’t really feeling right. Then in the end she just got a different producer to just recreate the instrumental as nearly a Kenya Grace instrumental and she didn’t credit me at all even though I created the chords and melody, it was crazy!”

Unfortunately, experiences such as these are far from unusual when it comes to producing for third parties. “I just get these briefs from people’s management saying, ‘oh I want to make drum ‘n’ bass because it’s really popping’ or ‘we want something that sounds like Kenya Grace’ or whoever and I have no interest in making that stuff”. 

Despite his difficulties with the industry, however, he is beginning to appreciate the art of saying no. “I’m learning to just turn down that sort of work,” he acknowledges. “It was the same with rappers when I started, everyone wanted a Knxwledge beat and I just wasn’t into that, so it was tough but I’m learning to just turn down that sort of stuff now”.

With ‘I.H.M.’ out in the world and his next four projects already ready to roll, it’s looking like it’s going to be a busy summer for Rory when he finally does make the move back to Dublin. Now, more than ever, he’ll be a man in demand, not only his skill and his passion but his ability to rise above the parapet and try something different, create something fresh, and his unwillingness to be bowed in the face of trends or the latest stylings of the day. 

“I just keep creating. I don’t really think about it at all, I just make music to do it, but people seem to be really resonating with it. It’s crazy, I don’t know how to put it into words,” Rory Sweeney notes, taking a brief moment to reflect. “I just create what I create without feeling like I need to put label or limitations on myself. Whatever happens happens, and that’s what makes music so exciting and interesting. You never know what you’ll think of next”.

‘Irish Hash Mafia’ is out now.

Words: Cailean Coffey

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