Of all the twists and turns that come along with the release of an album, Ultan Conlon never expected his fourth, There’s A Waltz, to hit in the middle of a pandemic.
“No, I certainly did not,” laughed Conlon, keeping his spirits up at his home in Ireland while the COVID-19 pandemic shakes up the world. “I didn’t see this coming. Even though the news was out on it, it kind of crept up on us all. I think it was the 10th of March before alarm bells went off for me that something was happening. But to be honest, I think we’re all still coming to terms with what’s happening. It’s kind of a day by day thing and it’s very hard to accept. It’s incredible really.”
But like all folks in the trenches who are used to the ever-changing music business, Conlon took everything in, assessed the situation, and adjusted to the reality of promoting a new album without the benefit of playing live gigs…well, at least not in the conventional sense.
“I think musicians and artists, we’re so used to everything changing regularly anyway,” he said. “This time I put out the record was gonna be different than the last record I put out because everything keeps changing with media and radio and streaming. I’ve spent most of my career always learning on the go. And weirdly enough, once this kicked in, you see yourself online and on social media, and musicians immediately tucked in at home and started doing shows and live broadcasts. It’s almost like we immediately knew, okay, another change, let’s deal with it. And that’s something that’s become an instinct in me.”
So, a visit to Conlon’s Instagram page (@ultanconlan) will see plenty of impromptu gigs and interactive sessions with fans that not only keep the fans invested in the singer-songwriter, but have also recharged the batteries of the man himself.
“The first night the lockdown kicked in here, I was sitting here in my house and I said, ‘Okay, I’m gonna do a song every night,’” he said. “I hadn’t seen anybody else do it; it was just an instinct. I needed to keep connection up with people, so this is something for me, as well. And instead of just trying to get my guitar out and playing a song, I started to converse, so every night, the video I put up might by 10 minutes long and there might be four minutes of me chatting about the day and how I’ve been and what I’m planning to do.”
And just like so many artists on lockdown have found out, playing online gigs in this new normal can be magic.
“What I noticed is that the engagement has really upped — people are commenting back and asking questions and emailing me and messaging me, saying I love this song and it’s lovely seeing you every night. This is something I wouldn’t have done had this pandemic not come along and it’s opened my eyes to taking your audience and engaging with them more, rather than waiting for the show to come up or waiting for radio play, stuff that’s out of your control. This is something where every day you see responses to your music. They’re little wins, but they’re the kind of things that keep you going every day as an artist. It keeps the morale up and gives you energy to do it again the next day. So there’s been a strange kind of silver lining in it I found.”
Add in the fact that Conlon’s orders for CDs and vinyl are up and that radio has welcomed There’s A Waltz with open arms, and he’s not doing bad for a guy on lockdown. In fact, one of the most memorable tracks on the album, “World from a Window,” is the perfect tune for these days, even though it was written a year ago.
“I live in a little house in the country, but I’m by a busy road,” Conlon said. “I got a little cat for myself and she was sitting looking out the window and I was getting anxious about keeping her in and was I restricting her life just so she could look out the window all day. And then I realized I’m sitting on the couch with my phone in my hand, looking at Instagram and all of these things. And the cat is looking out at the birds and the trees; it’s a lot healthier. So that’s what instigated the song. We’re all watching the world through a window with our cell phones and computers.”
Unfortunately, it’s a forced reliance on technology as we wait for the world to reopen, but the sentiment remains the same, that we spend too much time reading and posting about experiences than living them. Hopefully, being taken away from such experiences will make us appreciate them more when they’re back. You know Ultan Conlon will appreciate being back on stage and in the studio, but then again, he already knows what he has, and you can hear it on There’s A Waltz.
“There’s a certain ease about it now when I record,” he said. “The people I worked with put me at ease with their talent and they were all so laid back about it. It wasn’t one of them sessions where we were looking at the clock or worried if we would get a good take. There was no doubts playing with these guys that whatever they were gonna add to it was gonna be just right. So that had me at ease as well from a performance point of view. But I guess I am at a point where I’m writing my songs, I’m playing them live, I’m recording them and they are what they are now for me and I’m comfortable in my skin with that. I’m glad that’s coming out in the music.”
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