Only Real Gets Real

Published December 1, 2014

ABOVE: ONLY REAL. PHOTO COUTRESY OF BELLA HOWARD.

Born and raised in West London, Niall Galvin, known onstage as Only Real, mimics–and perhaps mocks–his posh surroundings. The 23-year-old sublimely sings about daily experiences and his music videos feature only himself and his friends. The plots are simple: driving through London, hanging around town and in apartments, always with plenty of Fruit Loops (sometimes even a bathtub full of them).

Last week Galvin released “Yesterdays,” the first release from his upcoming debut album, which will be out during the first quarter of 2015 via Harvest Records. Prior to “Yesterdays,” Galvin recorded almost all of his music in his bedroom, but for the album, the process changed. Galvin traveled to Atlanta where he worked with producer Ben Allen (Deerhunter, Gnarls Barkley) to find a balance between mainting his old style and introducing new techniques. He keeps his lackadaisical approach toward pop music with a lo-fi sound and spoken-word and rap-type lyrics, but simultaneously introduces heavier drum samples and upbeat synths. Only Real’s sound is particular–recognizable the minute it plays–but it defies a genre. Some call it rap, some call it pop, and some even say it’s a form of indie rock. 

“I try not to let my music become too fitted,” Galvin explains. “I think it’s better to let it manifest naturally, because it means it’s more honest and there’s more of a chance that people are going to connect to it.”

Aside from daily experiences and emotions, bands he grew up listening to–ranging from The Clash to Die Antwoord to The Beach Boys–also influence the musician. Just before the release of “Yesterdays,” we caught up with Galvin over phone while he was on tour in Europe.

EMILY MCDERMOTT: Ben Allen is the first actual producer you’ve worked with, but your overall sound is the same with “Yesterdays.” What did you work on developing further and what were some points you wanted to keep the same?

GALVIN: The guitar sound was something we were like, “Let’s not mess with it too much,” and so we used a lot of the effects that I had done with it previously. I think something that Ben and Dan [Carey, a Brixton-based producer]—the two people I did the record with—kind of got me into and showed me was drum machines and doing more than just a simple program drum on some software, like going back and finding drum samples and drum machine loops from the ’80s and ’90s and stuff like that. I think drums are a big part of it and that fills it out quite nicely. And having loads of gear, like synths, and messing around with all the equipment, and getting their take on where things should go. I think it was just that collaborative process that was quite helpful.

MCDERMOTT: Atlanta is much different that London and you’re very much so a London act. What was it like working there?

GALVIN: It was funny, actually. It was just so chilled out—they’ve got their own thing going on. I think it’s maybe because America’s obviously such a bigger place than England. In England everything’s more interconnected, but in Atlanta it felt like it was their world of being in Atlanta: they have their scene, the bands that play there, and it’s kind of quite separate [from the rest of America]. But that was great, because it allowed me to get completely immersed in that world, be with Ben all the time, not have any distractions, and soak up the vibe. It was nice as well because it was really sunny and really warm. I could wear shorts. [laughs]

MCDERMOTT: How long were you there for?

GALVIN: I went for about a month twice, so about two months total, maybe a bit less. It’s definitely somewhere now that I hold very dearly in my heart and I’m really looking forward to being able to go and play a show there.

MCDERMOTT: Is a show in Atlanta part of your tour?

GALVIN: I don’t think it’s been sorted yet, but I know we’re going to do some shows in America. I think we’re going to South by Southwest and then doing some more shows or a tour around May [2015]. So hopefully we’ll get to go there and we’ll go to New York as well.

MCDERMOTT: I read that you really hated music when you were younger, that you really didn’t like listening to it much because of the intensity. I was wondering when that changed and what made it change for you?

GALVIN: [pauses] I think maybe when I was about 14 or so I started being able to fully appreciate music. There were a few bands before then that I liked, but I think it was around then when I started understanding what I liked about music and my emotions. When I was about 14 I started listening to hip-hop, and that was also when grime was coming around in London, so that was another thing I’d listen to a lot of. On the band side of things, I got into The Clash–watching skateboarding videos, hearing the music, and being like, “Oh let me go check this out.” 

MCDERMOTT: What was the first CD or record you bought that you were really like, “I really want this”?

GALVIN: I bought Dizzee Rascal’s Boy in da Corner (2003). I remember buying that. Then I think it was an Oasis album, actually, that had already been out for quite a long time, but that was when I bought it.

MCDERMOTT: When did you first start pursuing Only Real as more than a hobby?

GALVIN: When I was about 14 I also started playing classical guitar, writing little rhymes, singing, and stuff like that. Then over the next nine or 10 years it developed. At [the age of] 19, I got some software for my laptop and it was a basic set up. I made a few demos and put them online. Around then it became Only Real, I think. I made these songs and I was ready to throw them to the world, so I decided on the name and then pretty quickly, actually, I started getting on a few books. Then it kind of felt like that was a thing.

MCDERMOTT: Looking back on Only Real thus far, what’s one experience that really stands out as a formative moment?

GALVIN: I threw this party at a place where I grew up and I played at it. All my friends and loads of other people came along, and the bar was completely rammed. It was a tiny little place but it was kind of hazing and people were climbing up the walls and crowd surfing. It was a really hot summer’s day and people were on the street as well. That was an amazing feeling. It was also one of the things that helped me be found as well, so that adds another importance to it. That’s probably my fondest memory of stuff that’s happened so far.

MCDERMOTT: I wanted to ask what drew you to work with Ben in particular for the production of your album?

GALVIN: When I first got signed my manager was like, “Think about who you might wanna work with,” before starting to suggest stuff. I was looking at who had produced some of my favorite albums and I was looking at Halcyon Digest by Deerhunter and Ben did that. Then I clicked on his discogs and he’d done Washed Out [and] Youth Lagoon and loads of hip-hop stuff in the ’90s with Bad Boy Records. He seemed to be ticking a lot of the boxes that people would see as being related to Only Real. I was like, “On paper, this guy seems like he’s really perfect.” Then we had a few Skype conversations, were back and forth-ing some music tastes, and then I met him when he came over to England and we got on and carried on talking. When the time was all right I went over and started recording. It was quite a gamble going to America to work with someone that you’ve not worked with before. It was the first thing my label paid for, so I was kind of like, “I hope it’s good.” I was quite lucky it worked out really well. 

MCDERMOTT: What are you listening to right now?

GALVIN: Some of the stuff we listen to in the van is ridiculous. I don’t want to talk about that. But I really like Tobias Jesso Jr.–piano singer-songwriters that write really cool, really, really sweet songs. I really like Jungle’s album and Beach Boys; I’ve always listened to The Beach Boys. 

MCDERMOTT: I also wanted to talk a little bit about the visuals for your videos. What do you use to record them? They all have a very nostalgic feel.

GALVIN: I’ve either directed or co-directed them all, so I make a treatment or make a treatment with someone. Then I don’t really know much about cameras, but the things that are key to the videos are that they’re me and my friends. I think it’s nice to have that continuation of my world. That’s something I really wanted to keep in the videos. Then, depending on the song’s vibe—if it’s a trippy vibe or something–that comes into the editing, which I generally do with someone. But I’m doing this new video for “Yesterdays” that’s going to be amazing. It’s just so purple, so many different cool things happening.

MCDERMOTT: Can you give us a little preview?

GALVIN: If we can get it, there’s gonna be a remote control sofa. [laughs] So that should be cool. I’m letting this one guy direct it because I’ve got so much respect for him. I think it’s gonna be amazing. We’re shooting it in two weeks time.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON ONLY REAL, VISIT HIS SOUNDCLOUD OR FACEBOOK.