25-year-old Granard native, Joe Regan, is the guitarist and a founding member of talented young Irish band, State Lights. Photo: Shelley Corcoran
There are a chosen few who reach that crucial point in life where they know exactly what they want to do. Better still, they end up doing it - and being exceptionally good at it to boot. Longford musician, Joe Regan, is one of those people.
Hailing from Ballymorris, just outside Granard, the 25-year-old son of John and Angelo Regan is the guitarist and a founding member of arguably the best up and coming Irish band of the moment: State Lights.
With two new single releases, accompanying music videos and a slot on the Late Late Show under their belts in the past few months alone, State Lights are well on their way to becoming the next big thing on the Irish music scene.
But it all had to start somewhere and, for Joe, that somewhere was with a local band called Paper Planes, who won a big fat cheque in Longford’s Got Talent back in 2010.
“The prize was six grand; we split it up between the four of us, so €1,500 each, which was like getting a record deal,” Joe recalls.
“It was absolutely insane. I vividly remember the night we won, still; it was in Blue nightclub. Do you remember that? I remember being announced as winners and being like, ‘Oh, my God, this is the greatest thing ever’.
“I took the money I got from that and I spent it on the guitar that I have now, which has done well for me for seven or eight years. It's the only electric guitar I play still,” he said, steering the conversation to his weapon of choice.
“Before that, I had a cool Epiphone Les Paul. Once I got that money, I always knew what particular guitar I wanted: a Fender Telecaster Deluxe was the name of it, and the one I got, in particular, has this real road-worn look and it looks like it's been around for decades.
“So many songs have come out of that guitar, you know? When I got it and when I held it and when I played it for the first time, I knew this style of guitar was going to do me for the rest of my life, pretty much.”
From there, Joe’s career took off. Paper Planes were together for another year or two before Joe started to feel like he wanted to do more than just cover songs.
“I was just growing out of it. That's all it was. I was starting to flex my creative muscles to myself, and I had all these ideas and they weren’t being heard.
“All the people that were in that band, I still love them, we're all still friends and very close still, but as with any relationship, whether it be professional or personal, sometimes you just need to say 'this isn't working anymore; there's no chemistry anymore'; you just need to have the strength of character to just say 'this is the end of this; we need to move on to the next thing'.”
The next thing, as it happened, was college - and that’s where the really good stuff started to happen.
In 2013, Joe started studying Commercial Modern Music in BIMM - a music college in Dublin.
The course he chose focused on the music of the last 100 years, rather than classical music or orchestral music, and he learned a lot from it.
“I had a firm grasp on the guitar going into that course and then studying the characteristics of all these different styles of music and how guitar can be applied and changed within different styles opened my eyes so much to songwriting and to the history of music,” he says.
Most importantly, it was at BIMM that he met three other talented musicians, and State Lights was born.
“Me and the guys all met in the first year. There was this particular cover class; basically, you were put into these groups and you had to cover a song and you had to come back the next week and play that song.
“And for that particular class, myself, Shobsy (State Lights frontman, Shane O’Brien), and Paul (Ridgeway, State Lights drummer) were all appointed to one group and we just hit it off. And after we did that little exercise in class, we said, let's organize a rehearsal and just play around a little bit, see what happens.”
The chemistry between the three lads was immediate and they came out with five or six songs within the first two weeks of playing together.
“So we knew there was something great there and we're still doing it now and we're still connecting on great levels. The more we've gone on, our connection has just gotten so strong.”
A year later, the lads were joined by bassist, Noel Perry, and things only got better from there.
“Noel and Paul have saved so many songs from being thrown in the bin, where me and Shobsy have just come to our wits end with a particular idea and we don't know where to go next.
“With the single that we released last year, 'I Need Time'... that's an example of one of those songs, where we literally were about to throw it out and Paul saved it by just doing this new drum beat and Noel locked into that straight away and we just switched around a few things and it literally clicked right away.”
In fact, Joe added, the band's latest song, 'Freedom' was almost abandoned.
Catchy and cheerful, the song is about breaking free from toxic relationships and is accompanied by a beautiful music video, shot in Dublin.
“I wrote that song about three or four years ago. I went out to my studio and I was just trying to write a dance track.
“But it became more than just this dance song and I brought it in to the guys and none of them liked it. They were like, 'it's too poppy; it's too soft'.”
It was after the band's previous single, 'Peace Will Come' was finished that Joe started to take another look at 'Freedom'.
“I listened to my demo of 'Freedom' again and I was like, 'that's a bloody good song'.
“So I brought it back into rehearsal and I was like, 'Lads, can we please give this another chance, because I think it is really good', and so we did and everybody remembered the parts to it and we played through it once and everybody was like, 'Yeah, that is a really good song, we should do that'. So I was like, thank god; next single sorted,” he laughs.
“It's funny how over time your opinions can vastly change on things. We're trying to think of what can potentially break us into the mainstream daytime radio market.
“And 'Peace Will Come' did a good job there for us and we were so proud of that song because it represented, obviously, political views that we have, but as well, faith-based views that we have that no matter how bad things are, if you have that spiritual belief that there will be a brighter day after this, it will come. Sometimes you have to wait around for it.
“It comes from that Christian idea of bearing the cross, you know? That's a fundamental ideology that myself and Shobsy hang onto, that in music, and in life, you do have to suffer a little bit.
“You have to suffer in life a little bit in order to really prosper. It's like the yin and yang, you know? You will have good and you will have bad and that's what 'Peace Will Come' really was. It was just saying right now is a bad time, but there will be a good time as well, so just wait around for it.”
'Freedom' has a similar ideology, Joe explains, but it's a lot more personal and deals with relationships that have broken down.
“It's where you've been in a relationship where things have broken down and you're in a bad position now, or you have been in a bad position mentally.
“But you can't cry forever. You have to eventually move on and you have to live life for yourself and not for another person.
“Because when you're in a relationship, you're living life for another person as well, you know? You're constantly trying to make somebody else happy and you know; that would equal making the collective happy.
“And Freedom is kind of letting go of that a little bit. It's letting go of that idea and saying 'I'm my own person right now; I'm free now and I'm going to live my life on my own terms and be my own person'.
“It's not a selfish thing, that type of statement. Everybody lives life by their own means and if you're in a relationship, by all means you can leave that relationship. Or if you're in work you can by all means walk out the door and quit your job.
“You can be your own person all the time and 'Freedom' is just taking ownership of that idea.”
So far, there has been an incredible reaction to 'Freedom'. It premiered on Joe.ie and was even shared by Panti Bliss on Twitter.
And the band itself is getting high praise nationally. Ryan Tubridy invited the lads on the Late Late Show to perform 'Peace Will Come' earlier in the summer, and Ireland's most popular music magazine, Hot Press featured them in one of its most recent issues.
This popularity comes as no surprise, though, as the band gives listeners a nostalgic throwback to past eras of music.
Shobsy's vocals and showmanship on stage are redolant of David Bowie, Freddie Mercury or George Michael, and there's an incredible chemistry between the rest of the band members as they perform.
“It's really amazing to be thrown in the same sonic bracket as these amazing bands that have come before, or amazing artists that have come before like U2, which is a major one for us, particularly, because U2 founded that stadium rock sound. So to be compared to that is obviously amazing.
“It is cool and hopefully that sound that we have will come back around into the mainstream again because, right now, really what the consumer wants, is very hip hop-based.”
Not that Joe has a problem with hip hop. In fact, he loves it: his favourite artist of all time is Kanye West.
“I think he's amazing, no matter what he says. Artistically, musically, I think he is unbelievable,” he says.
“I've always been into hip hop and bands or artists like Eminem, Kanye West and Jay Z. I used to like 50 Cent an awful lot. and Gangster rap.
“Now I like Kendrick Lamar, who I believe is just a celestial being. He's out of this world. He also explores amazing philosophical ideas related to God and the idea of God, which is really interesting, particularly because we do a little bit of the same thing.
“He really searches for meaning in the word 'God,' and his religious life and his faith and his loyalty to where he's from. He holds great values artistically that we really, really love - and in a world of music, that is so focused on self-importance.
“Certain artists just sing about themselves. And listen, we sing about ourselves as well, but to see an artist that is exploring more philosophical themes, like that, it is actually rare. Especially in a genre like that.”
There's such an incredible depth to Joe Regan that it comes as no surprise he's a spiritual and religious person.
God plays a big part in his life and the songs he has written have a positive theme, inspired by his faith.
“I would say, until last year sometime, I was taking on the agnostic point of view. I was removing myself from the conversation,” he says.
“But being in the band and being creative, I suppose, has definitely reawakened that spiritual faith-based ideology within myself.”
It all started with a couple of instances at band rehearsals, Joe explains.
“It's as if something passes through the room. You're doing nothing - just jamming - and then you might say 'I just got an idea'. And then you're like 'you do that, you do this, you do that' and it all clicks straight away.
“And there's nothing that can explain that. One particular instance for a song we have called 'Lovers', we had the foundation of an idea but it was literally, like I said, one of those instances where there was a movement through the room or something happened, where everybody knew exactly what to do for this six and a half minute song.
“And we played it from start to finish, exactly how it still appears and we hadn't practiced it before that and we looked at each other afterwards and went, 'What just happened there?'
“It's those sorts of feelings that can't be explained. It's as if there's a transmission coming from somewhere else and it just inserts itself in you and you just suddenly know unconsciously what to do, you know?
“So when that started happening in the band, I reintroduced myself to Christianity; certain principals have stayed with me, like the principals to forgive and to really understand people,” says Joe.
“That the idea of listening to people and of people bearing crosses and suffering and being there for people, really, that sort of thing has come back into my life, I suppose, a little bit more in the last year because... it all comes back to the idea of love, I suppose, for me.
“Really, what I believe is if you have love in your life then you have God in your life. Love is God, God is love. That type of thing.
“That's really what I'm believing right now. But the idea of finding yourself within your religion or your faith, I think that never ends, really.
“You can reintroduce yourself to it but I don't know if you ever truly find the definition of what it is that you believe because you can believe in God, you can believe in the kingdom come, and I do. I do, really. But you're always searching within yourself for the deeper meaning or the deeper understanding that you have.
“So my faith is something that I'm always going to be searching for a little bit. But right now I have a greater understanding of what it is, which is just love, you know?”
Whether the music made by State Lights is pure, unfiltered talent, or an idea sent from heaven, there's no denying they're heading to the top.
But no matter how big they get, Joe won't forget where he comes from.
“Longford for me will always be home. I'm living in Dublin now again but Longford is home and Granard is home,” he says.
“And Longford is home for all of the band as well, because we record our music here. And we play a lot of gigs here now, as well. After Dublin, we would have played the most amount of gigs in Longford.
“And the people here have welcomed us in and they've been really kind about our music. It's great.”
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