Never Gonna Stop: Clash Meets 49th & Main

Irish indie-electronic duo just want to give you positivity...

It’s a busy Thursday night in one of Dublin’s many thriving pubs, and 49th & Main are discussing, surprise surprise, Spotify. Fitting on the eve of the release of their biggest project to date, the Irish electro-pop duo are dissecting how they’d redesign the platform, and how they’d make it more artist friendly. It sounds surprisingly like former social media behemoth Bebo. “I feel like it’d be more personalised,” Ben O’Sullivan, the producer of the pair explains, “like a website, with animation, a bit like Instagram; each artist has their own vibe”. “It’s all static images,” singer/multi-instrumentalist/lyricist Paddy King interjects; “it would be cool if you could attach the video to the songs, but maybe that’s a deal they’ve made where they won’t kill YouTube or something, I don’t know”. 

Over the past two years, 49th & Main have gone from plucky underdogs to one of the fastest-rising outfits in Ireland. Since their debut single in 2020, the duo have gone from strength to strength; building up one of the most streamed discographies in Irish electronic music. They sold out their debut headline show in Dublin venue Whelan’s six months in advance, and have since played packed out sets in festivals across Ireland (including their debut main stage set at Bundoran’s Sea Session) as well as making it across the pond to play Glastonbury’s acoustic stage on the saturday afternoon. Needless to say, things have been busy.

First meeting in school in the south-eastern city of Kilkenny, King and O’Sullivan hit it off almost immediately. Initially, it was talk of sports and movies that took up their time, but after a number of years and during a hazy summer heatwave, they sat down and began working on music together.

It started with O’Sullivan recording King’s solo material, inspired by singer-songwriters such as Ed Sheeran and Ben Howard. O’Sullivan had only just started producing music, and it was his first time having to even think about how to record King’s acoustic guitar. Naturally enough for two first timers, it turned into a disaster. “It felt very ‘I don’t know how to do this’” O’Sullivan admits, “it turned out so bad we didn’t revisit it again for a few years”.

It wasn’t until college that the idea of collaborating reamerged. With O’Sullivan studying in Dublin and King in Galway, the friends didn’t see each other as often as either would like, so when the possibilities of joining a group of friends on a J1 in Vancouver for the summer of 2019 came around, both jumped at the opportunity. King came prepared, and almost had a job lined up before even getting on the plane. O’Sullivan, however, did not and expecting to have a lot of time on his hands, he brought his production equipment to get through the days. Every evening, King would return to their shared house (just of 49th & Main street) exhausted and on the quiet nights between parties and gatherings, the pair set out to give collaborating a second chance. When it came time to return home, the pair had written and recording the bulk of what would become their debut project, ‘Neon Palm Trees’. 

In late 2019, O’Sullivan started to feel ill, and on 1st January 2020 he was officially diagnosed with aplastic anaemia, a rare blood disease which prevented his bone marrow from producing enough new blood cells, making him chronically fatigued and prone to infections. Upon diagnosis, he quickly began treatment that left him heavily immunocompromised, alone in sanitised hospital rooms for days on end, before being transferred to his family’s attic. This time in isolation let his mind wander, and with it the determination to try new things. One of which was to release music. “I didn’t know what was happening; and I’d always wanted to release music and so I just thought: why not?” he explains. “If I hadn’t gotten sick, we probably would have waited, wouldn’t have put those songs out when we did and who knows where we would be”. “Music was a massive help,” he adds. “I don’t know what I would have done if it hadn’t been for music”.

Never Gonna Stop: Clash Meets 49th & Main

With music taking up the majority of his time, the ball started rolling on completing ‘Neon Palm Trees’. King would record vocals or additional notes and edits to O’Sullivan, who would spend the day tinkering and fixing before sending final tracks back. It all came to fruition in early 2020, when 49th & Main first appeared on the track ‘Party Alone’, a collaboration with fellow school friend Travis. A few weeks later, with little to no fanfare or expectation, they released ‘Neon Palm Trees’ to the world. Almost immediately, tracks such as ‘Catching Eyes’, ‘Don’t You Like It’ and ‘Lost Without You’ began appearing on some of Spotify’s most popular curated playlists and began racking up streams into the millions. Their unique blend of traditional pop songwriting with dance-infused beats had stuck the algorithm, and it was paying off. 49th & Main’s productivity never stopped, however, and they quickly followed up the project with singles such as ‘Midnight Juice’, ‘Raw Mixer’, ‘Alcoholics’ and ‘Good Life’.

In the run-up to summer 2021, they released their summer-infused EP ‘GOOD LUCK’, which featured collaborations with Dublin rapper Fnych, Irish singer Kehli and hip-hop artist Khakikid. The industry had starting taking notice too, and labels had began reaching out to get the pair onboard. By the end of the year, they had management on their side and were on the verge of signing a deal with Ninja Tune, to join a roster of Bicep, Thundercat and Ross From Friends. Their last act of independence was to release their ‘Rodeo Doors (Covid Tapes)’ mixtape, a collection of tracks written in the five days the pair (also housemates) spent recovering from Covid. Now it was time to get serious.

‘Must Be Nice’ is their first full-length project under the Counter Records banner. Consisting of seven tracks, the project was written entirely in the pair’s shared house, between December and March just gone. “There’s been different bits and pieces that have been around for some time and then some newer elements,” O’Sullivan explains of the process of creating the tracks. “It’s great to get rid of it so we can start from scratch and go again”. Despite their excitement to try something new, there’s a sense of fear and nervousness around the pair, as they worry for the project’s reception. “We’ve built ourselves up to a point where people are probably starting to think it is okay to criticise us, they feel comfortable taking us down a peg,” King notes, “but there’s been a great response to the first three singles, but these next four are a bit different so hopefully people won’t be too hard on us”.

One of the standout tracks on the project in the bouncing ‘Never Gonna Stop’. It’s a dance track ripped straight from the 80s, and is one of the first times the band have committed to going down the dance-centric tone. “I just scrolled through TrackLib and downloaded bits and pieces that I liked and that’s a mesh of two samples I liked from like the 70s,” O’Sullivan recalls of crafting the track. “We talked about it when we were putting everything together, we wanted to have one flatout pure dance tune in there, because a lot of the stuff we’ve made so far is indie pop, and we didn’t want to lose the people that came for ‘Catching Eyes’ so this is what we came up with”.  “I’m dead happy with it,” King smiles; “A lot of people seem to be really loving it”. “I’ve always wanted to use a doo-wop samples,” O’Sullivan adds excitedly, “because I just find doo-wop music so weird, the noises they use are so unique and I wanted to put that in a dance style”. 

With the first big release on a label comes increased attention and expectation, in particular in the run-up to release day. “We clash heads sometimes on a lot of stuff, there’s a lot of box ticking and things like that but I understand it,” King admits, in particular discussing the use of the band’s social media. “You always hear about it with artists, that they’re losing control of their work but we know that everyone just wants the best for us and wants us to do as well as possible; and clashing heads is good because if there was no fighting or back and forth it would mean someone didn’t care”. 

As the conversation comes a close, questions turn to what O’Sullivan and King want 49th & Main to mean to people, and what they want listeners to take from their music. “I’d like them to smile,” King replies, thoughtfully. “We just want people to have fun!”

‘Must Be Nice’ EP is out now.

Words: Cailean Coffey
Photo Credit: Paula Trojner

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