Singer-songwriter, producer, and author – Dar.Ra does it all.
He’s played in numerous bands, been signed to various labels, including EMI, and done production for Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Tears For Fears, and Savage Garden. His music has appeared in Hollywood films, like Snakes On A Plane. He’s also published novels, including Road Tales and The Night That Jimmy Died.
Then he went solo, releasing his debut album Soul Hours (2010), followed by Live 4 Love (2015), and Battle Hymns. He recently dropped a new EP, called Dirty Lil Secrets, which is taking care of business: hitting the Top 30 on Radio 365, receiving beau coup attention on Spotify, and accumulating stellar reviews.
In order to find out more about this latest manifestation of the British Invasion, I spoke with Dar.Ra about his influences and inspiration.
How would you describe yourself?
6.3, Green Eyes, Black Hair, God Fearing, Irish Boy with a Passion for the Passionate.
What is the most trouble you’ve ever gotten into?
Lots. One that comes to mind was saving my Guitarist from getting shot in Australia when we were on tour down there, long story involving a drug deal that went wrong and he was in the back of a car, calling me with a gun pointed to his head. You did ask!
What’s your favorite song to belt out in the car or the shower?
“Bohemian Rhapsody” then probably “Phenomenal” on the Dirty Lil Secrets EP. It’s a Mantra that you can use as an affirmation to get you through the day.
Who is your favorite music artist?
So many. But if it was a desert island disk it would be John Lennon. I don’t know why but I was drawn in by The Beatles when I was like 8 years old, just loved every record they made. The talent, the charm, the insight, he had it all and looked every bit how a Rock Star should look pre-1967, that is for me anyway.
What kind of guitar do you play?
I have been a Fender Telecaster boy all my life, but a few years ago I walked into a guitar shop in Brighton, England, owned by a friend of mine and he took me over to a corner of the shop and put a Vox CE in my hand. It’s the best guitar I have ever owned and I love the way it can sound like a Gibson SG and then a Telecaster by the pull of a switch.
Why did you become a musician/singer-songwriter? What’s the backstory there?
I wanted to be involved with Electronics, fixing stuff, but I got stuck in a factory soldering PC boards for nothing money, and I was sitting there one day and just thought, if this is it, then I’m going to join a band and do what I Love. I went for an audition initially as a drummer and didn’t get the job. Then I thought I’m not a bad singer so I went for an audition for another band as a lead vocalist with a Reggae band called Bass Culture and I got it. We were playing from the get go with massive UK acts like Steel Pulse and Mysty In Roots.
I started writing songs for the band and had a feeling for lyrics and just picked up the piano and guitar from there. After that I got into house music and got signed to EMI / Chrysalis with a band called Taste Of Paradise and had a few hits in the ‘90s with different labels and acts. Got bored of that and wanted to create my own sound which I did when I was working out in Australia, initially as a Producer for Festival Records/ BMG, making house records and remixing people like Tears For Fears and Frankie Goes To Hollywood for the dance scene over there.
I met my then-Guitarist from Manchester who I saved from a bullet. We just hit it off creatively and wrote some killer tunes. One of which “Super Hyper Real” is the blue print to what I do now, a mixture of Rock n Roll, Soul with that Dance Tip, which we now call Rock Step. I just feel it’s a sound I can call mine, not trying to fit in with any other scene, just create my own. Sure I still remix for different worlds, but the core is the songs and the way we play them.
What musicians influenced you the most?
All the classics: John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, Steve Marriot, Otis Reading, James Brown,, Pete Townsend, Ray Davis, Paul Weller, Prince, Dave Grol, Chris Cornel.
How, if at all, do your musical influences shape and impact your music?
I think the early ones are imprinted on my DNA, I’ve been a music addict since birth. My Mum and Dad played a lot of Jazz loud when I was in the cot, so it’s all in there. I can dial up any record and hear it clear like a jukebox ringing in the space between my ears.
If I get stuck writing and just ask myself what would they do and let it flow, normally something comes about. So although I say the sound is mine, it’s more like made up of fragments of those guys mixed with my vibe. Songwriting is more about refining ideas for me now. I get the initial idea and then keep refining it until I get something that plays well, before I lay it down. Like the track I’m writing at the moment, called “Ghosts.” I have been jamming it for a month and only just started to get it into a shape that I like.
How would you describe your style of music?
Like I said it’s a mixture of all the classic artists I roll called and what I feel at the time with this 21st century production vibe around it. What me and my co-producer Harvey Summers call Rock Step.
You’re also a writer. Do you have a different muse for writing as compared to music, or are they one and the same?
Story-lines are the key to songs and books and scripts, if you do not have a tale to tell then what’s the point? It’s just someone signing about how great they are, or about what they got, like some massive ego trip. That’s just a boring cliche now. Who really cares if you got a 100 grand boat and a helicopter, it’s just lazy writing to me. There are so many issues that we face as humans that we should be addressing.
How has your music changed since you released Soul Hours?
The production has got better but the concepts are still at the core. Soul Hours dealt with Religion and asking why Love is not at the core of all Religions. Patriotism and Nationalism on “Red White n’ Blue,” Abortion on “Shadow Of The Sun,” Falling In Love With A Trans Gender person on “Girl Like You.” I could go on but you get the picture; it’s about the storyline.
When you decide to write a song about a particular topic, do you make the decision consciously – “I think I’ll write a song about that” – or does it just happen intuitively?
It can come from anywhere really, experience, or I might hear someone say someth, or see a film, or the news. It’s the full spectrum of the human game that I try to capture. I write it, then if I feel the passion for it, I will complete it, take it into the production stage. Then it becomes an obsession to finish it.
There is a track on the next EP, New Kinda Normal, called “Heavier Than Rock N Roll,” which took months to finish. Every time I came back from the studio and listened, I would be like No. It went through three studios and two co-producers. Once I met Harvey, I knew we would eventually nail it.
What is your songwriting process? Do the lyrics come first, or the music?
Either really. Might have a lyric or a little melody or a chord run or riff, so many different ways to do it and make it go bang.
What’s the story behind your name – Dar.Ra?
Well, being an Irish lad, my full name is Darragh, who was a randy Irish Bishop that my Mum liked and she thought I suited that name. When we moved to England no one could say it properly as the English could not get their heads around anything other than Jack or Danny, so I thought I would make it easier to say, so I split the letters up so you have to say Dar.Ra. To be fair, it still doesn’t work, as they still say it wrong.
What was your inspiration for “Heart Shape Pill?”
Salvation and Redemption is the core of the tale. It’s about someone who has everything and nothing, the empty void of an empty soul that is desperate to find some meaning to his life, is the driving force behind him, calling out for sanctuary.
He eventually finds it in a ‘Heart Shaped Pill’ given to him by a Messenger from God. Once taken, he finds enlightenment and is set free from the merry-go-round of the game he calls his life.
Will you be doing any touring?
Well, I would love to tour the States in 2019, but it’s all about building up enough interest to fill the seats. We have some killer new tracks coming out with amazing new videos being shot, as we speak. I would like to bring some Love back to the world through bringing people together, finding the things that we have in common rather than that which sets us apart. That would be a good reason to Tour.
With the incredible team I have around me it’s just a matter of time to it happening though!!
I would like to say a Big thanks to you for inviting me to have a natter, and to all the US Radio and TV stations that are supporting the Dirty Lil Secrets EP.