Features - Interviews

Chatting To The Cheesemonger: An Interview with Danny Carroll

A quintessential indie rock showman-turned-millennial songsmith in the classical mode, we have a chat with Danny Carroll ahead of the release of his solo debut LP I Am The Cheese, out this Friday.

Your debut LP I Am The Cheese shares its title with a 1977 young adult fiction novel, written by Robert Cormier. Could you tell us about the poignancy of that title to yourself and this body of work?

It’s a book I read when I was 12 and was pretty haunted by. The final lines of the novel refer back to the folk song ‘The Farmer In The Dell’:

“The cheese stands alone.
The cheese stands alone.
Hi-ho, the derry-o!
The cheese stands alone

This album was a first attempt at standing alone and by the time it was finished that title felt fitting. Throughout there’s a self-conscious push and pull between sincerity and sardonicism. I Am The Cheese felt like a way of owning those two sides of myself. I was also inspired by Nick Lowe calling his debut album Jesus Of Cool. It presents a healthy juxtaposition between an average man’s name and a stupid title.

What you’re doing now obviously carries some of your own hallmarks – deft wordplay, melody, jangle, but musically you’ve shed some of those indicators of youth; tempos and overdrive are dialled back in exchange for intimacy and a broader sonic palette. How did that journey really begin?

To be honest, it was overdue. I felt increasingly unconvincing playing a young man’s game. Maybe in the past some of what I was trying to get across was a bit obscured by an urgent, insecure need to attack the songs at the top of my range – I REALLY FEEL THE FEELINGS I FEEL! Lockdown also put me in a different context. Suddenly I was creating and recording in a second floor flat, conscious of being overheard or disturbing neighbours. They’re different concerns to shouting over a drum kit in a rehearsal space. So the songs started quiet and stayed that way. I can hear myself figuring that out on this album.

Your solo music really cranks the tension between the value of embracing sincerity and the self-aware ironic language of your Shrug Life work – with single ‘Match Of The Day’, you could even say you’re learning to have good, old-fashioned fun? Are you a changed man, or indeed have you become an optimistic person?

I think my tank of delusional optimism varies from day to day. When I wrote and recorded that song in 2021, I was generally at a Postman Pat peak of really happy man. Sometimes I find myself writing a wilfully whimsical song and try to qualify it as ‘just a b-side’ – I’m not putting out 7-inch singles, but it’s a kind of trick to get myself over the finish line. On occasion, as with this song, I get more attached to it than expected. I was reading Robert Wyatt’s Collected Lyrics at the time, thinking about things like ‘Soup Song’, or ‘Team Spirit’. There should be room for humour and fun in music. I get bored by dour, po-faced posturing – all my favourite songwriters have light and shade.

Was it hard to push beyond what was perhaps a ‘comfort zone’ of the sardonic power trio? Did you have any growing pains in that sense, or did anything push you through?

A handful of these songs were written for the popular rock trio Shrug Life, and I’m glad there’s a bit of that energy in the album. The rest were really built from a classical guitar up. Arranging without the consideration of a band format allowed me to throw anything I wanted at the songs.

There’s a lot of Yamaha PSR-175 keyboard on everything. My parents bought it for my brother in Argos about 20 years ago. It’s one of those very entry level things with built-in instrument sounds. So I have ‘sitar’ on the song Pep Talk for example, and lots of ‘flute’ sounds (which I guess is a cheap mellotron) on very many songs. Finding joy in that made me feel like I was on the right track. At the time of recording, my friend Fiachra McCarthy was moving to Kerry and gifted me his acoustic 12 string guitar. I really enjoyed using that on a few things. I got a melodica for Christmas that year, which proved very versatile and Chris Ryan encouraged me to buy a cheap lapsteel on Thomann, which turned out to be a sonic game changer as well.

You worked with producer Chris Ryan on I Am The Cheese, and he’s best known for his work in Robocobra Quartet, and producing the likes of Just Mustard and NewDad. How collaborative was that process, and was there anything that drew you to him, or vice versa?

Funnily enough I first met Chris in 2019 interviewing him for The Thin Air Podcast. I can remember we were in his room, playing back a Careerist recording session on his computer. I noticed on the desktop there was a folder labeled ‘Sitcom Ideas’. I later asked him about it, and he was keen to discuss. I thought, okay, my guy.

In late 2020, we initially spoke about recording the band Golden Cleric, but when that looked to be delayed, we spoke about my personal vanity project. He cares a lot and has immense enthusiasm for what he does. His encouragement allowed me to trust in what I was doing.

The Process has been something you yourself have been involved with – be it in interviewing artists for podcasts or radio, curating A Litany of Failures, musically chronicling a life in music. How are you enjoying the old music these days?

Well, I am still at the music, and isn’t that a nice thing 33 years deep. I’ve recently finished a set of scratchy demos for LP2, so that should emerge in about five years. Beyond that I’ve been really enjoying playing guitar for the Limerick band Fonda. It’s nice to be part of something else and just bask in the camaraderie of it. I’ve also been learning the saxophone in fits and starts. I’m really keen to put a bit of that into whatever I do next. It’s really useful to be engaged in music through curation of Litany and interviewing people for podcasts. Litany keeps my ears open and producing The IMRO Podcast has allowed me to pick the brains of people from completely different worlds. I’d like to think it all feeds into my creative practice.

This record could do well to solidify your long-standing reputation as the owner one of the island’s finest ways with words. Who – or what – has been influential on your thinking of late, and how have those influences changed over the years?

Well you’re very kind and biased of course. The album I’m putting out was recorded in the summer of 2021. The ideas therein are older still. In musical terms, at the time I was seeking inspiration from mellower men – David Kitt, Jonathan Richman, Bobby Charles, Lee Hazlewood. I guess those things sit in contrast to my teenage love of Thin Lizzy or early Weezer, which came out in Shrug Life. Hopefully I can continue to find modes of expression that feel congruent with where I am emotionally. I think consuming other forms of culture besides music, and challenging myself to pick up different instruments could be an important step in preventing repetition.

How do you find the live element of performing now that the gaze is more squarely on yourself? Do you prefer to perform solo or with a full band?

The band I have is filled with wonderful musicians and I don’t think I could’ve gotten started again without them. Lately I’ve really enjoyed doing solo shows – there’s a different freedom on your own, and the connection with a crowd feels far more direct. However, there’s a bigger responsibility to keep it entertaining with less bells and whistles. In 2023 I managed to get around a lot of Ireland and play some places I’d never been before. At this point I’m just down to clown wherever people are willing to listen.

What can we expect from you for the rest of the year? And indeed, what do you expect to be doing creatively?


I’ve plans and notions. Mainly I need to get a second album recorded and released before it’s another distant document. It’s called ‘Go On Go Off’ and really puts the world to rights, one slurred sermon at a time. If you read this far, it would sure be swell if you went to the big Litany Of Failures Weekender on 30th/31st March.

Danny Carroll’s debut LP – out this Friday, 1st March – is available to pre-order on red cheddar vinyl & digital via Bandcamp.

Photo by Laya Meabhdh Kenny

is Gig Guide Editor & guitarist/vocalist with Junk Drawer, PigsAsPeople & Sister Ghost. Appreciator of Neil Young, vinyl, black coffee, Richard Linklater, light & shade.