Irish glam-pop sensation Jack Rua chats with Nathan Young about his new single Isolation, as well as his creative process, life in lockdown, and queerness in Irish music
Normally, one could ask an artist what inspired their latest project. With the world being in the state it’s in, it’s not hard to see what Jack Rua was thinking about when he wrote Isolation, his new single. Instead, we began by discussing what his thoughts on the interplay between this shared experience and his art were. “The song was written organically, I didn’t really plan it, it’s just kind of what happened” he tells me. “I was just sitting with it for so long, and the song was always stuck in my head, so I was like ‘I think this is something I need to put out’, because I just really enjoyed the song, I really enjoyed the song writing process, and it really felt organic to me”.
Jack Rua released his album Narcissus in June. Full of club-bangers, it was written before the world succumbed to pandemic. While promoting that project, Jack Rua noticed a problem; “I would often read on the sites it was like ‘Do not send us quarantine themed music’ and that was me knowing full well that that was going to be the next thing”. He stuck to his creative independence, as he put it “to be quite honest I don’t really think that anyone has the right to police you on what to do”.
On the pandemic as inspiration, he says “I kinda got the shock out of my system with that song ‘Isolation’ and another EP I made with an artist in the US. I don’t really sit down to write a song and I’m like ‘I want to write about being in lockdown’ or ‘I want to write about being in isolation’. I’m very much a feeling-driven songwriter, which is quite detrimental at times because sometimes you’re just going about your day, and then it’s really hard to sit down at a piano and write a song. I’m actually in self-isolation at the moment, so I don’t really have a massive amount going on in my life so as a songwriter, I was just writing a song about going out and clubbing... sometimes it’s like pretend, it’s like theatre”.
It’s hard to imagine how Jack Rua could have ignored the pandemic in his work. A concert celebrating his Narcissus album, The Narcissus Ball, was meant to be performed in March. This gig was cancelled, along with so many live music events. “I remember I was meant to be doing a gig in March which was my big headliner in Whelan’s, and I’d done a lot of planning, we’d done a lot of rehearsals, I had a full band, and then that got cancelled like two weeks before because of the very first lockdown. So that was rather damaging”.
It’s happened again since. A launch gig for ‘Isolation’ was due to take place in the Button Factory, but had to be cancelled as Covid-19 case numbers rose and restrictions tightened. “So the gig was meant to be last week, and the song was meant to come out next week, so it was meant to be my big reveal, being like ‘Here’s the new single, woo!’ but obviously that didn’t happen so I don’t get my grand magicians trick. That was annoying, but to be honest it was probably the seventh gig that I had cancelled this year so I’m just like whatever at this point”.
I enquire if he’s resigned to shows being cancelled for even longer. “Sure it’s already rescheduled, but even that reschedule date is probably going to get cancelled the way things are going. Luckily that gig was only meant to be me and my friend Chris...so there wasn't a massive amount of damage....This one was more just we had all the songs rehearsed. It’s just disappointing, I do miss performing quite a lot, which I know a lot of people can empathize with. For me I was just really looking forward to being back on stage and then it was like ‘Baam!’, you know?”
Despite having all of his in-person shows cancelled, Jack Rua has had the chance to perform as one of the artists featured on Hot Press’s Y&E (Young and Emerging) online concert series, supported by the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. I asked him about this experience. “I thought that was a good initiative, I tune into them all the time. I was actually kinda dreading it because I didn’t really know what to expect. When I get on stage I don’t really plan things, I don’t really rehearse, I just feed off the energy in the room, which can be really detrimental at times because if there’s no energy in a room I’m just standing on stage like “Hello everyone”, but with that one I didn’t really know what to expect but once I got into the situation I just played up to it. It’s just a bit funny, you’re just in a room dancing around and singing, pretending there’s a crowd there, and then just waving to your phone. It’s a bit funny”.
Physical intimacy, or lack thereof, is the main theme of Isolation. He tells me that “the story of that song is that I’m in a relationship, but that was two months into our relationship, or a month into our relationship, where it’s just that honeymoon stage, and it was instantly taken away and we didn’t get to see each other for a few months. For me personally there was massive desire within me to be around them, [but I couldn’t be] for a reason that was completely outside my control....it was incredibly frustrating. This space that I was in was incredibly claustrophobic, as a result of the lack of people around me, so that’s what I was trying to communicate in this song and also in the video. I do think it's been really hard for a lot of people and why, especially back in march, people where expressing this existential depression and it was just, we’re social beings and we need that not even physical affection, just the intimacy of being close to people and I think a lot of people really missed that”.
Queerness and sexuality are themes of great import to Jack Rua’s work, with singles such as ‘Rise’ and ‘Curious’ confronting sexual desire and curiosity head on. ‘Isolation’ is also inherently queer, as he says “I’m just a queer person who is expressing those feelings and that makes it inherintly queer”. He tells me that, for him, “Everyday is not like Pride, everyday is not like ‘Born this way, hey!’, it’s not always ‘Baby you’re a firework’. It’s not always coming-out stories. It’s not always ‘I have a secret love and he’s a boy’...Those are all valid narratives, but for me, what I try to address in my songs is not necessarily a queer narrative, I’m just a queer person who’s saying them so therefore they’re inherintly queer”.
He admits that “artists get very bogged down in the sort of niche marketing side of queer music...it’s a little bit vague to me”, concluding “I think the thing about queer music, and the thing about queer people, is that we are regular people...we’re not walking Pride marches all the time”.
I asked him if he thought there were unique challenges for queer artists, and he immediatly said “absolutely”. He elaborated on this with reference to the report on Gender Disparity on Irish Radio by Linda Coogan Byrne, published in June. The report found that only one station, RTÉ Radio 1, had parity between male and female artists. He told me “Highlighting this issue is great and there was this massive kind of like uproar and people started making changes and that was great...but for me I was kind of sitting their like “It’s not just boys vs.girls, its heteronormativity in my opinion, it’s not just men vs. women, it’s this indie, sort of alt thing, that is definitely kind of favoured [over] a more queer aesthetic or pop-leaning thing” he adds “I just wish it was a little bit more inclusive of the different identities and the different minorities that aren’t getting a look in. That is quite annoying and we are under represented in the scene”.
Speaking about how the rest of his work is impacted, Jack Rua explains that “The thing about making music in the modern day is that it is kind of all digital. The traditional outlets of promoting or marketing your music are sort of, not obsolete, but when you’re at an independent level digital, social media are the only ways to really go so those have been even before lockdown, even before Covid, those are the ways we excel. Especially me, especially because I don’t try to appeal to the Irish performing Arts scene, so I try to appeal to online communities like the people who really love queer music, the people who really love pop music. The only thing I’d say is that it’s incredibly difficult to run a social media page and to run a PR campaign. Even I’m in the middle of it now and it’s so damn frustrating when people don’t reply to your emails and you have put years of work into something and they don’t even bother to open it. It’s something that you have to be prepared for. It’s disheartening sometimes. It’s not really what I enjoy about being a musician most to be perfectly honest with you”.
And for Irish music as a whole?“To be honest I don’t really know what the future is. Obviously for the time being we need some kind of great innovation when it comes to performing. I can’t really think of what the future might be for the performing industry because it needs some great innovation. Like, it’s an industry, it’s a service that people need. It’s like escapism so it really needs some sort of innovation from...Obviously I think the upper echelons of the political world see the performing arts as almost a hobby, it's what that British chancer [Chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak] was saying yesterday. Like , why don’t you just get another job, while you’re waiting? Like, shut up. I just think that’s completely the wrong attitude to it, it’s a vital service that people do need. We need entertainment. I know I do. It’s been since I’ve seen a proper gig. Well, actually I went to a pretty cool one. The answer to that very convoluted answer to that is I don’t know what the future might hold. I really hope someone innovates. I think online gigs are pretty cool but it’s not really the same and it’s not very sustainable so something needs to change.
Pandemic or no pandemic, Jack Rua’s creativity is firing on all cylinders. As a final question, I asked what was next for him. “Well the thing about me, I’ve quite a hive mind when it comes to music, like I write all the time and I wish I had a bit more of a focused mind because it would mean that I finish projects a lot more but i'm constantly writing and I have probably the next single done, I’ve an EP, I’ve written a whole album that I want to record next year which is like ‘grants, please’ pending. I’m constantly writing, constantly recording, collaborating, and I’m currently studying a digital marketing post grad, so it’s all very ‘Go’”.
“It’s not just isolation”.
Jack Rua's work can be found on Spotify and YouTube.