Winner of The Voice of Ireland Pat Byrne chats to Meadhbh Park on the release of his debut, his college experiences, and his future in music.

There’s something undeniably powerful about Pat Byrne’s voice; somewhere in the gravel and the emotion is pure honesty, and that’s what makes Byrne so likeable and genuine. Sitting in the lobby of the Westbury hotel, it’s easy to spot him, with auburn hair and a navy t-shirt and jeans, it seems fame hasn’t gotten the best of him and he’s still keeping it real. In fact, fame is new and alien to the Carlow boy, who comes from humble musical beginnings.

Years of gigging around various pubs and venues around Kildare, Dublin and Carlow gave Byrne the experience he needed, but the step to go on television was not something he thought he would ever do: “I always said I wouldn’t… but I was always doing the same venues every few weeks and it just got boring and I saw myself doing that for the rest of my life and I said I’d do this, just to see if I could get into more pubs or get more money, I didn’t see myself getting this far or releasing an album or anything like that, but now that it’s happened, I’m delighted.”

Byrne started off as a drummer for a metal band called Incisor when he was just 12. This allowed him the time to find his musical strengths at an early age, beginning with drums, learning guitar at 16, and at 17 he decided that singing was what he felt best at: “I enjoy singing a lot more; it’s a lot more expressive.”

Taking inspiration from such musical giants as Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan, Byrne began to realise that he wanted to take the chance and make music his life. He went to Maynooth to study music and anthropology, yet never took his education there too seriously: “I went to college to keep my parents happy. College was the best time I ever had, I loved college, but I really just went there just to keep people happy but I always knew I’d be doing music.”

However, he never wanted to sell out to the music industry, the most important part of music for him is keeping true to himself and his style. He entered The Voice singing Bruce Springsteen’s ‘The River’  and it soon appeared that Byrne was not going to be changed, that he was going to keep to the music that made him happy. After he won the competition, Byrne sat down with mentor Bressie and Coronas singer, Danny to pen songs that would eventually end up on his debut album.

“Very surreal to be sitting down and writing songs with those guys; I needed those guys to give me a nice balance between commercial stuff and alternative stuff, I needed the commercial stuff to keep the fans happy and I needed the alternative stuff to keep myself happy.”

Bringing new music into the world is one of the most exciting and humbling experiences a person can have. Byrne was lucky enough to be given a professional session band and the opportunity to record in the leading London Studios, Metrophonic Studios where such acts as The Wanted, JLS, Sugerbabes and Olly Murs have all recorded. Byrne was not the usual clientele and in the generic pop-hits factory, he surprised them with his alternative take on music.

“They had a lot of Olly Murs type tracks for me; that’s not me at all. Then we got to know each other and they seemed to really relish what I was doing, it was a nice break for them and they really want me to go back”

But in this world where pop and indie are on the throne, is there much space for alternative old-school rock? Byrne seems to think so, when asked if he ever feels pressured to keep up with the changing trends of the mainstream, he replied: “No, I don’t feel pressured, although to be honest a lot of the stuff in my album isn’t really alternative, it’s mainstream enough, but it’s me.” But surely it must be far too easy to compare yourself to other TV song contest regurgitations? “I cringe a little when I see them, but I’m thankful I was given time to write some good songs and it wasn’t about getting an album out as quick as possible, they wanted it to be a good album.”

So from pubs in Kildare, Pat Byrne has won The Voice of Ireland, written songs with Bressie, played in bands with Robbie William’s keyboardist, recorded in the London studio, and sat on Phil Collin’s couch watching his music being brought to life, all in a year. Now with the release of his debut album, All or Nothing, has he got any advice for other young musicians looking for that all important break? “Just practice, gigging is really important, get as many people to hear you as you can and be true to yourself, that’s the best advice I have.”

Although good luck has definitely come Pat Byrne’s way, he hasn’t let it get to him or go to his head. It can be easy to lose yourself in the pandemonium of fame, but he’s standing his ground and he definitely hasn’t forgotten his beginnings and takes every step of the way with gratitude. When asked what it was like that moment when he won The Voice, he simply said: “It was a great confidence boost that so many people voted to get me there, it was really gratifying.”

The future looks bright for Pat Byrne. He has a tour coming up with dates yet to be announced and he has hopes of eventually breaking the US and even perhaps making collaboration with the talented Lisa Hannigan. All we can do is hope that he won’t just be every other reality tv show graduate, but Byrne seems to have all the marks of one who wants  to stick around.

Pat Byrne’s debut album All or Nothing is out now.