After building his musical foundation in Dunedin, Ciaran McMeeken made the move up to Auckland in 2015 to pursue the most courageous venture – making music. Despite the growing acoustic and folk movement, McMeeken has continued to make music that matters to him, while still making sounds big enough to help him stand out from the crowd in the New Zealand music scene. This is something he has definitely achieved, as McMeeken has been announced as the support act for Andy Grammer’s New Zealand show – an announcement that he is certainly excited about and will undoubtedly set him up for further exciting opportunities.
The first sneak peek at McMeeken’s debut album was That Feeling, an instantly uplifting, sincere and romantic ballad, accompanied by a similarly sweet music video full of couples in various states of intimacy. Borne of his efforts being involved in the APRA Songhubs, the basis of the song was formed in 20 minutes when he was paired with pop icon MoZella. The inspiration for That Feeling was grounded in “the feeling of meeting someone for the first time and falling in love with them” – but McMeeken notes that it is, of course, deeply personal and unique for everyone who hears it.
Similarly uplifting is the track Which Way Shall We Go?, the music video of which includes McMeeken and friends travelling around the country, with a camera attached to the fretboard of his guitar. The buoyancy of the track perfectly reflects the beautiful scenery in the video and is a much-needed reminder of happier, sunnier days. McMeeken, accompanied by his friends, travelled around the South Island with a GoPro in order to get the stunning shots in the video.
“There’s nothing too artistic about it, the video just really catches what the song is about. But I love that simplicity, and I think that people just really connected with – again, I think that goes back to how lucky we are to live in this country. All the summer road trips, the beaches… it’s amazing.”
Growing up in Arrowtown, McMeeken remembers that he had been fairly into sports and athletics when he was younger, until he moved to Dunedin for his formative years – where the school made it compulsory to learn an instrument. Unknowing what this might lead to, McMeeken’s parents bought him a drumkit, and he started a band. But it wasn’t until he listened to Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit that he was struck by the power of music – “since then, I’ve never had a song that I’ve connected with so deeply.”
In addition to this, McMeeken also notes that Ben Harper played a big role in shaping his later teenage years – “I really connected with his vulnerability and honesty, and that was when the whole singer-songwriter world opened up to me.” Another influence has been John Mayer, who McMeeken regards as the perfect blend between singer-songwriter and band; as well as Ben Howard, Matt Corby, James Bay and Hozier – “this artists who are writing really honest songs about what they’re experiencing in life.”
Moving up to Auckland in 2015, McMeeken notes that he felt instantly at home – a feeling shared by many of his fellow Dunedin friends, who have moved up to pursue music careers, and have been uplifted by how much they have sunk into the lifestyle and the industry up here. “It really is just such a great place to live, as a human, but as a musician as well.” Reminiscing over his humble beginnings in Dunedin, McMeeken shares that it was “a great place to lay the roots and a foundation” – but in terms of taking the next step, Auckland has been his inspiration.
A concept many Aucklanders are familiar with, McMeeken talks about his itchy feet and how getting comfortable here has led him to think that maybe it’s time for him to move “just to keep things – just to keep on your toes” in addition to how important it is to be bold, and take big steps “for life’s sake.” For those in the creative industry especially, momentum is important, and a change of scenery can only be good for the soul, as McMeeken mused,“two things that are really inspiring – relationships and travel.”
Releasing two EPs – The Valley, in 2014, and Screaming Man, in 2015 – it seems that McMeeken has had very little time where he isn’t creating new, vibrant tracks to enthral his listeners. He had barely finished Screaming Man, he notes, when he had already written the first song for his debut album – “so there is a little bit of overlap” – but over the last two and a half years of writing, he had accumulated over 50 songs. In terms of deciding what made the cut and what didn’t, McMeeken said he chose the ones that best represented who he is.
“It’s been a big, big process, this one, really awesome start to finish. So, really just excited to share it now, you know? I’m ready.”
The biggest change in production has been the introduction of a band that he has been playing with for the last couple of years. While he is still a solo artist, this has contributed to the natural development of McMeeken’s sound and he gushes that they are a significant part of his musical life.
“The sound that they’ve all brought, I feel, has been so distinctive and it’s a real trademark – this album’s a real trademark – of our sound.”
Outside of this, McMeeken says that having the band – “having mates who have my back and we can play shows together and rehearse with every week and share that comradery… It’s made the whole thing a lot more enjoyable.” Another difference has been the opportunity to collaborate, as a majority of the songs on the album were co-written.
In terms of his favourite song on the album, McMeeken notes that he inherently leans toward the more “melancholy and introspective songs”. The last song on the album, Spanish Steps, is particularly important to McMeeken, who says that initially the song didn’t work on the album, but his producer pushed him to record it, and once he revisited the lyrics and changed a thing or two –
“All of a sudden, the song just hit me in the face. Like, wow, this is what it’s about. And I really related to it so much. It’s really about that search, you know, and that really longing for that sense of home, or oneness, wholeness. It’s a very human song, very deep down, craving that feeling. For me it really encapsulates and captures the essence of the album. So, it means a lot, that song.”
Towards the end of our conversation, McMeeken mused about how musicians are in a unique position to reach a great number of people – not just with their music, but with what they say, “like on social media, or in interviews and stuff. I really love guys like Jack Johnson and Xavier Rudd, who are really making a positive impact in this world and getting involved in the community and fundraising events and really using their opportunity to connect with millions of people for the good.”
In a world dominated by so many of the same thing, it’s easy to create manufactured content, and lean toward capitalistic pressures rather than maintaining an authentic and down-to-earth connection with fans. To be able to create music and make a living out of it is a triumphant feat, but McMeeken also notes the importance of giving back and “doing something decent with your life.”
McMeeken is an undoubtedly sincere, thoughtful and gentle soul, as he thinks over the last few years of having had to cope with depression, struggling to maintain confidence and getting through adversity. But now that he has tackled these hurdles, he sees it as – “now what do I want to do with this opportunity?”
Though the creative road is a tough one, McMeeken stresses the importance of commitment, relying on your support team, working hard everyday and doing what you can to make it work. Overall, he is excited about the future, and we are definitely looking forward to see what his upcoming projects entail.
“I want this album to be someone’s best friend, for a time. Even if it’s a couple of months, this album could be that solid friend that we all have, but there’s nothing quite like having an album that’s got your back. If this can just be – if people can really connect to it, there’s so many different themes and emotions and topics in the songs. I feel like it covers an array of human experiences, so I think people will really connect with it.”
His debut, self-titled album is available on Spotify, and Ciaran McMeeken’s Auckland show will take place at The Tuning Fork on August 10th – tickets can be found right here.