Comrade Hat

Neil Burns AKA Comrade Hat has been living and breathing music ever since learning piano by ear at the age of seven.

Currently a member of the Inishowen Gospel Choir, Great White Lies, Strength, Velvet Alibi and also pianist for Victoria Geelan, it’s safe to say that Neil is in high demand, yet he still manages to find the time to release his own music.

This month Comrade Hat has been profiling a different song from his previous winter themed EPs every other day on social media from December 2nd until Christmas Eve and is currently working on a new album which will be released in the spring of 2016. February of next year will also see the release of the first single from his forthcoming album so Comrade Hat doesn’t seem to be taking the foot off the gas just yet.

What were your musical influences growing up?
The very early days I didn’t really have a lot of influences, there wasn’t a lot of pop records at home as I was growing up. We had quite a few classical LPs and I would have played piano by ear. The only record we had was by Simon and Garfunkel so I listened to that a lot. Later I started listening to the Beatles and other classic song writers like that.

Where does Neil Burns end and Comrade Hat start?
It’s a question that I like to leave fairly open. I wanted a name that was different from Neil Burns because I am known for doing so many different things, so I found it useful to have a separate persona for doing my own songs. But there’s definitely a lot of give and take. They are in a constant dialogue I suppose!  
I try not to think too much about it I guess. I write some songs that when I am working on then I might think ‘hmm I don’t know if these are Comrade Hat songs’ and that’s when Neil Burns comes in.

What is that you like most about winter because it seems to be a season take most inspiration from?
Yeah it seems to be. There are a number of factors really. A few years ago I started making EPs as Christmas presents for friends and family and it was good because it was an enforced deadline, I couldn’t move it.
Also, they’re a fun thing to do. They don’t have to be in your usual style and it gives an opportunity to experiment, to try things you might not have normally tried. But aside from that, there’s something about icy wintery sounds that appeal to me.

Your music covers a lot of genres; does that reflect your current musical influences?
Yeah I think so. I think on the new compilation you can hear those multiple genres coming though. It also gives an overview of the things I have been doing over the years too. With it being December and influenced by the winter season, I wanted a different way of presenting it, a way that might grab people’s attention which is why I have been releasing a track every two days in the run up to Christmas.

Comrade Hat - Guiding Star

Video 'directed', filmed by and starring Neil Burns, Kelsey McNulty and Sammy Bayefsky, on location in Banff, AB, Canada, November 2014.

You have collaborated with many artists over the years, is that something you take a lot of enjoyment from?
I would definitely like to do more because my experience of collaborations have been enjoyable. Last year I had a song writing and arrangement based residency in the Banff Centre in Canada which was a great experience. Songwriters and composers would be working together with the aim of performing live at the end of it.
I have a list of artists in my head who I would like to work with in the future, but I can’t share that just yet!

You studied music at university and went on to receive a PhD in composition, do you think that has influenced your style of music?
It’s a difficult question to answer because I don’t know where my music would be if I hadn’t have gone on to study music, I definitely learned a lot about the technical aspect of music. I’ve been playing piano since I was seven and was able to read music from an early age too, though I suppose knowing the technical side can increase your options with writing and possibly can give you too many options at times so you have to be really careful not to over think things.
In the Winter takes it all EP I feel I hit on something that I would like to explore further, a different direction. On the new album, I want to reconcile some of those different directions I have been going in. There’s definitely going to be an electronic slant and I will bring in some of the jazzier classic song writing influences too.

You have a new album and a single out next year, what’s the latest on that?
I’m still working away on the new album at the minute, but I am at the editing stage at the moment. It should be ready to release in the spring. The new single will be out in February and I was actually over shooting a video in Amsterdam recently for it which was fun.

You can keep up to date with all the latest news with Comrade Hat via Facebook, Twitter or Bandcamp. He will also be performing songs from the album in Bennigans Bar on the 19th December with the Inishowen Gospel Choir.

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