It might seem like Cian Ducrot & his incredibly catchy tunes have appeared out of nowhere, but a career as an artist has been his goal before he even really knew what being an artist entailed.
Growing up in Ireland in a household where music was at the forefront, it was natural that Cian spent his formative years honing his craft and figuring out the type of artist he wanted to be. His independent mixtape ‘started in college’ was released last year, catching the eye of Justin Lubliner, the man who discovered Billie Eilish. That, alone, could be considered a crushing amount of pressure on Ducrot’s shoulders, but he’s been taking it in stride. Rather than getting caught up in TikTok challenges and insipid music trends, Cian has stayed focused, concentrating on the thing that matters above everything else: his music.
1883 had a chat with the rising singer/songwriter about his new single ‘Crocodiles’, the inspiration behind the music video, and why being an artist is a lot more than just having good songs and a good voice.
You released your mixtape ‘started in college’ last year — how do you think you’ve grown as a songwriter since that body of work?
I’ve found my sound and myself more. The biggest thing I learned is there’s never really one best way to do things; you have to push yourself to try and do things differently than what you’re used to and what’s normal for you. If you find you keep getting stuck, it’s probably because you need to change things up, and that’s what I did. Approaching ideas or applying different songwriting formulas in a new way give you different perspectives has helped me grow and evolve as a songwriter.
You blew up on TikTok last year and one that I loved was you with the billboard for your single and you talked about being homeless and couch surfing in LA a year prior. I know you spent a lot of your teen life busking, too. How do you think growing up with those experiences helped shape who you are as an artist and songwriter?
I don’t feel any different, to be honest. A lot has changed for me but I just don’t feel any different. It’s odd—you would expect those types of things to change you or affect you a lot, but you still have the same difficulty every time you sit down in the studio to make music or stress about something else you’re working on. The exterior might look different—I might have new shoes and nicer toys to make music within the studio—but it’s all still me and all the struggles and everything I went through to get to where I am and be who I am today. I like that it didn’t change me or make me any different because I almost was expecting it to, but it’s nice to know I’m still the same.
I feel like TikTok is so saturated now with artists trying to break out by constantly creating content. For you, it seems very natural — you’re just uploading whatever you want rather than trying to abide by trends. Has it ever been difficult for you to focus on the music rather than trying to garner followers and likes?
Definitely. It’s something I think about a lot. It’s hard because you watch other people posting and taking it seriously and maybe I just don’t. It’s difficult to not watch what other people are doing but sometimes you have to remember what you’re focusing on and what your true goal is. I see people posting the same thing over and over again because they know it’ll get them likes and views. For me, my priority is making really good music, getting better at producing, and using every day to get better at songwriting. I want to be happy with that stuff rather than getting joy from TikTok interactions.
Sometimes TikTok views don’t translate to actual streams, too.
Exactly. You see people thrive on TikTok doing covers and you see their original music online and it doesn’t even scratch the surface. I don’t have a problem with that but I would much rather use my time to make original music that I worked thousands of hours on rather than getting some likes. My thinking is that my priority is to be an artist which means focusing on the music. I’m happy with the music that I’m releasing. I’m happy I’m believing in trusting my gut.
There’s a parallel there between you starting by playing covers when you were gigging on the street and playing in pubs and made that conscious choice to focus on your original music.
You have to focus on if you want to be an artist. If you do, the most important thing is your music. I feel like a lot of artists forget that or a lot of people who are trying to be artists prioritize social media and covers. They forget the important stuff isn’t followers and likes; there are people out there who have millions of followers and they release music and no one listens to it. It’s like no one cares because the artist wasn’t focused on making music in the first place. It helps grow your fanbase which is great, but spending too much of your mind on it can’t always be good.
Ireland has had some incredible acts pop out over the last little bit — with Niall, Gavin James, and Dermot Kennedy to name a few. How has the music scene in Ireland influenced your songwriting?
Definitely focused on staying in my lane. If anything, I try to not listen to their music too much! I don’t want to be too influenced by stuff people are doing now. It’s a balance of acknowledging and respecting other music and listening to it. I’m a huge Dermot fan and Gavin James was someone I was a big fan of when I was younger; he shared my covers and was always really kind to me. There’s so much talent in Ireland and so many great artists coming out of Ireland writing amazing songs and doing their thing, I think in the end what makes them great is that they’re doing their thing. they’re not focusing on what everybody else is doing; they are just trying to make good music.
This year you released your first single ‘Not Usually Like This’ since signing with Darkroom/Interscope Records. Darkroom in particular is a huge force in music right now as they are the team behind Billie Eilish. How did it feel knowing they wanted to sign you?
[Laughs] Honestly? Crazy. I didn’t believe it at all. I was secretly recording the Zoom calls I was having because I just didn’t believe it was real. I would wake up and listen to them and freak out. It feels like a big joke being played on me, but I’m going with it. You know when you’ve been working towards something for so long and then it happens and it feels fake? That’s what it’s been like. It’s been amazing to learn from Justin [Lubliner].
‘Crocodiles’ is your second release this year. Can you tell me a bit about the song and the inspiration behind it?
It’s a song I wrote after experiencing a really difficult experience with some friends. They weren’t there for me when I needed them the most. It was really hard for me to experience that for the first time. All I could think about was how much I would do for these friends and they couldn’t do the same for me. It was hard to write, but a great experience to get that out.
I feel like there aren’t a lot of songs about toxic friendships, too.
Yeah, it’s not spoken about enough. Friendship in particular, in my opinion, is a lot more important than your romantic relationships at times. Your friends are there for all of the big moments. It’s funny because I wrote this song with a really good friend and he had no idea I was writing about my own experience. When I told him, he was stunned.
I just caught the music video right before this chat and it seems to be a pretty personal snapshot into an experience you had. Can you tell me a little bit about it?
It was pretty traumatic actually, I’m not going to lie. It’s weird to experience the whole thing again; the awkwardness, the sick feeling you get when you’re in an apartment where you’re not welcome. It was hard to be treated like that by friends. I wrote the whole treatment for the music video because it was a no-brainer for me. It’s as authentic to that experience as it possibly could be.
Did somebody invite you over to have dinner after seeing you busking?
Yeah! There is that contrast between what we call ‘the stranger’ and my friends in the video. She represents the twist in the story. I met her on a trip to LA before I dropped out of college. She saw me perform and she reached out later, she found out I was fundraising for some studio gear, and she bought me a laptop and paid for me to stay in an Airbnb. Then I had to move back to London and she said if you need to be in London, I’ll help you. She honestly saved my life.
I have chills.
I would not be here if it wasn’t for her. She believed in me so much. She put a roof over my head and food on my table. That’s what I was representing in the video. It’s something I’ll forever be grateful for. I told her I’ll take her to the Brits and the Grammys if I’m ever able to go.
It’s nice that you could take this traumatic experience with your friends and contrast it with someone who didn’t even know you and went to the ends of the earth to help you.
I didn’t even realize that aspect of it until I realized you could flip the meaning of the song. On one hand, how can you be friends with someone you don’t even know? And turn that on its head and say, how can a stranger offer you that much kindness when your friends can’t? At the end of the video, you see me with these two strangers, the kindness in their hearts, welcoming me into their home. It’s touching.
Your post for mother’s day is something that touched me. I know your mum is a classically trained musician — was music something that was always encouraged in your house and why was it so important for you to speak as openly as you did with that Instagram post?
Both of my parents were classical musicians—that’s how they met in Paris. Early on as a kid, I was just straight into music right away. Since things were difficult at home, music was something that brought my mother, brother, and me altogether and made us so happy. It also gave my mother the ability to put food on the table and clothes on our backs. It’s interesting to look back because even then when I was a kid, no matter how difficult things were, somehow I always knew I was going to be where I am today. It was just a dream I believed in. When I was younger I would think in my head about how despite everything, I’ll be okay eventually. Music played the biggest role in our lives; it gave us purpose and brought us together.
Is it important for you to speak on topics like mental health on social media?
Absolutely. I think about it a lot and I think about how much I want to talk about it a lot. It’s hard because you always want to say the right thing and you want it to be correct the first time. It’s important to me, as an artist, to create a place where people feel safe. It becomes more than the music at that point. Music was a safe place for me so if I can make money and put it into places like charities and foundations that helped me or help others, why wouldn’t I? With my platform, I know I have the opportunity to reach people and discuss hard things and that’s what I want to do. I can try to show people that even if you’re just a kid from Cork in Ireland with a single mother and starting right from the bottom, you can still reach your dream.
I read an interview you did with The Irish Examiner where you said “Being an artist is so much more than being able to sing well or write good songs” and I really admire you for saying that. It kinda feels like right now music is so saturated, it’s hard to differentiate. I think your openness and personality and desire to share your artistry rather than have it crafted for you sets you apart. Was this something that naturally came to you?
Growing up I was attracted to true artists. I feel like it’s so much more than a good voice and good songs. The true artists in this world have something unique in how they are as humans and the things they have to say. They can speak to masses of people and can make those songs personal and universal at the same time. It’s a big responsibility which is why there can only be so many great artists. It’s a really special thing to have a true artist exist in your lifetime; I don’t think they come around regularly. You form an attachment to them when you’re growing up, you see them play a gig, and you’re just completely invested in the magic in that room. That’s the goal.
Interview by Kelsey Barnes
Check out Cian Ducrot’s new single & music video for ‘Crocodiles’ out now.