‘This is why I got into music in the first place’ - Gareth Dunlop on the simple pleasure of ‘making a racket’ with his band

David Roy speaks to Belfast singer-songwriter Gareth Dunlop as he prepares to bring his excellent new album Welcome To The House of I Don’t Know home for a show at The Limelight...

Gareth Dunlop
Gareth Dunlop's new album is out now. PICTURE: Andy Earl

“OUR heads are a little worse for wear today – but we’re in good spirits,” admits Belfast-based singer/songwriter Gareth Dunlop when he takes our call on a precious day off in the midst of the UK tour for his new album Welcome To The House of I Don’t Know.

At the moment, Dunlop has plenty of reason to celebrate with a light ale or three: he and his band launched his third record with a triumphant release day show in Bristol on Friday night, and are currently working their way towards a big homecoming next Friday night at the Limelight in Belfast followed by a summer of festival shows and big support slots with the likes of Damien Dempsey and James Blunt.

“The Bristol gig was class,” enthuses Dunlop, a regular member of Foy Vance’s live band (he also produced his Signs of Life album) who spent almost a decade working for a Nashville-based music publisher penning songs for/with other artists before making the decision to concentrate on his own burgeoning career.

“It was really, really cool. To be honest, each one of these gigs has felt like a celebration or a party. From when we first went into the studio last August, it’s all been leading up to this moment where I’m now staring down the barrel of a microphone and making a racket on stage.”

Fittingly, Welcome To The House of I Don’t Know finds Dunlop exploring a bigger, bolder and more anthemic strain of synthpop-tinged songwriting. This somehow complements the naturally soulful, croonsome, rootsy qualities which won him fans via his previous two albums Animal (2022) and No 79 (2017), not to mention copious live work, including high profile support slots for the likes of the aforementioned Foy Vance, Snow Patrol, Van Morrison and Jeff Beck.

Read more:

The album sleeve for Welcome To The House of I Don't Know
Welcome To The House of I Don't Know is out now

Powerful, sing-along friendly singles such as the defiant Go Down Swinging and I Don’t Feel You, the playful social anxiety-fuelled Small Talk and current, ‘live in the moment’ release Just In Case seem tailor made for raucous full band performances, sitting easily beside more intimate moments like the smooth pop vibes of For The Rest of Ever, the piano and vocals-led ballad Naive and All We’ll Ever Need’s gently swelling/surging love song.

“Animal was was mostly pulled together by myself in the throes of lockdown,” explains the Belfast-based musician, who decided he wanted the input of his regular sidemen Pete Wallace (guitar), Matt Weir (drums) and Si Francis (bass) in the studio for the making of his third album, which they also helped co-produce.

“I was very conscious that I didn’t want to make the same record twice. I wanted to try to get out of my own way, and not fall into my own habits, I guess. So I was super-excited get into a room with other human beings and go off that gut reaction of, you know, ‘Is this cool? Are we digging this?’.

“In a lot of ways, it felt like why I got into [making music] in the first place – kind of just making a racket with your friends.

“I think just having that camaraderie and that energy going forward feels really important.”

Dunlop and co are currently enjoying the joyous crowd reactions to the likes of Go Down Swinging, a song which he wrote for his daughter, Joanie, when she was going through a tough time.

“That song seems to have resonated with a lot of people, which is super-encouraging,” the father-of-two tells me of one of his most anthemic compositions to date.

“You know, I write songs and I know what they mean to me – but whether they’re going to connect with other people, you don’t know until they are out there. Seeing the reaction to that song in particular has been kind of mind-blowing.

“We played London there on Saturday night, and when we got to Go Down Swinging it was the weirdest thing – a good lot of the crowd were singing along to every word. It was like, wow, that’s a ‘moment’, you know?”

There will doubtless be a few more moments to remember (and heavy morning-after heads to endure) for Dunlop and co next Friday when they return home for a show at The Limelight.

“I cannot wait,” he enthuses, “it’s going to be great to get up in there and give it stacks.”

Welcome To The House of I Don’t Know is out now. Gareth Dunlop, Friday June 28, The Limelight, Belfast. Album and tickets available via garethdunlop.com