The start of 2021 has been huge for Irish pop/rock band Picture This—from signing to Joe Jonas’ new record imprint, performing on James Corden, and releasing their new hit single ‘Things Are Different’.
After releasing 2 hit albums, garnering millions of streams, and touring the globe non-stop since the band first formed, Irish rock group Picture This was not ready to slow down… until 2020 happened. True to their name, bandmates Ryan Hennessy, Jimmy Rainsford, Owen Cardiff and Cliff Deane took what they all experienced throughout last year and took a snapshot in the form of a song. ‘Things Are Different’ is the band’s own version of a call-to-arms; a track that both uplifts the listener and serves as an optimistic reminder that despite everything that has occurred around the world and in our personal lives, we still have the bonds we’ve made with our loved ones.
1883 caught up with frontman Ryan Hennessy and drummer Jimmy Rainsford to discuss the band’s new single, the creative plans for their third album, and why they feel right at home when they are on-stage whether they’re performing to a crowd of 65,000 or just 25.
It’s been 2 years since Modern Love and four years since your self-titled. How do you think the band has grown as songwriters since then?
Ryan: Four years — that’s mad. We haven’t thought about that at all. We’ve changed completely, both as regular people and songwriters. It’s funny because the first album was the soundtrack of my teenage years and ‘Modern Love’ was how our lives changed after the release of the debut album. This next album will document all of that as well; it goes back to my teenage years and the touring we did throughout ‘Modern Love’. For me, I changed so much during that time because they were such formative years when we started this band. I was 21 and I’m 25 now and in those years you just change a lot, no matter what industry or job you’re in. We’ve always stayed true to ourselves throughout that time and always stuck to our guns regarding what we want to do as a band. I just continue to write real songs with truth, heart, and personal experiences in them. We’ve definitely all developed as songwriters and producers, but we’re still who we are when we started.
It’s funny you say that because I was going to talk about how your self-titled sounds like a coming-of-age record and ‘Modern Love’ focuses more on relationships and what it’s like to grow up in this generation. When you are writing, are you thinking about concepts and themes or does that just happen naturally?
Ryan: It’s a bit of both. Sometimes it’s a conscious decision but a lot of the time it depends on how I’m feeling when I’m writing. I could be in the mood to write a ballad or a banger, it just depends on what’s going on in my head that day. Even recently in the studio, we were in for a few days just writing songs and messing around with a big uptempo vibe and synths and it just wasn’t how I was feeling. I had the stuff to get off my chest and I needed to follow that, so we pushed the other stuff to the side and ended up writing a heartfelt ballad. I think it’s important to chase after how you feel, not after what’s cool right now. I hope that will serve us in the long run. In regards to concepts, we’re very much a conceptual band. ‘Modern Love’ definitely had an arc throughout it. We find the concept aspect of it—whether it’s part of a song, a live show, or a music video—is very important to us. Things need to fit together to tell a bigger story.
The last year put a hold on a lot — you guys were touring and recording non-stop for the last few years. Did you find that the way you write or record music changed a lot with the downtime that you had to reflect on the last few years of the band?
Jimmy: Yeah. We’ve gained a lot of experience and skill with how we do things that we learned after doing our first two albums. When we did our first two albums in America with massive producers in these crazy situations so you learn a lot. For me, I learned a lot with the technical side of things which enabled us to use that to our advantage now. It’s important to marry that with trying to regain the innocence of the first two records while making something new and different. In terms of songwriting, I know for Ryan it’s important to have that naivety and marry that with the know-how of making it accessible and making it sound great is important. To write an amazing song at the ground level and blend it with a sonically great production is integral for us. It’s become a lot easier to do that anywhere now that we know what to do because we can be instantly creative anywhere.
I think that is great because you aren’t stuck to any place; you don’t feel like you have to wait to record something in LA because that’s where everyone and everything is. You can do what you want when you want.
Ryan: That’s exactly it!
Last year you released four songs — Winona Ryder, Troublemaker, If I Build A Home On The Moon, and Unconditional. Were those songs that you had recorded for an album originally and things changed because of the pandemic?
Ryan: They were originally likely going to go on the album but with everything changing, we changed our minds. It’s weird because between our debut and ‘Modern Love’ we released two songs—’This Morning’ and ‘When We Were Young’—which both became massive songs for us, but it just didn’t make sense to put them on ‘Modern Love’ at the time. We moved on and I feel like that’s what’s going to happen to those songs. I’m not ruling anything out, there’s a possibility one of them might be on the album but Jimmy might disagree.
Jimmy: Yeah, maybe…
Ryan: One or none, I would say. I just think, for the fans, I love for them to have fresh music all the time. I don’t want to give them an album of songs they’ve already heard because it will help to stream. I’d rather just give them what they want which is new music. I know as a fan, I want new music from my favourite artists. Originally they were going to be on the album we were going to release in October 2019 but then life happened.
Jimmy: In February 2019 we released ‘Modern Love’ and then we were planning on releasing a double album later that year in October…. But then we didn’t do that.
In a similar vein — 2020 and the pandemic has influenced your songwriting with the song ‘Things Are Different’. I’m sure you can’t tell me too much about the upcoming third album, but what are some of the themes or topics that you explore on the record and what can you tell us about the new record?
Ryan: It’s very conceptual. It’s very much one theme. I can’t wait for us to announce it so we can start the album cycle. ‘Things Are Different’ is the start of this next era of Picture This.
Jimmy: We like to break it up into eras which I think we’ve done quite well so far.
Ryan: It’s important to us that there’s a complete circle from the start and finish for each album. It’s a whole new concept that we’re stepping into…. But, as I said, I can’t say too much! We’re just really excited to announce it and let everyone into the world we’ve created.
You’re starting this new era with your first Number 1 on the Official Irish Homegrown Chart and the track already has over 1.2 million streams. How does that feel? It must be pretty exciting to have that start your album campaign.
Ryan: It’s amazing but most importantly, it’s confirmation that we’re doing the right thing. I try not to listen to too much praise and feedback because it gets into your head, but it’s good to know we’re on the right track. The fact it’s connecting on such a level, even though we’re going into a third album, is a great sign. I always forget we’ve only been a band for five years because sometimes I feel like we’ve been a band for ages. People still being super engaged with us means a lot. ‘Things Are Different’ is an advanced sound and it’s slightly different lyrics than what people expect because it’s not relationship-focused at all. Everyone has latched onto it and got behind it, which has given us a great vote of confidence that we’re on the right track for the new record.
Were there any records or artists in particular that you guys listened to last year that inspired the new song and album?
Jimmy: With production, I’ve found myself listening to a lot of different genres. When you start to listen to all kinds of music you figure out what’s missing or how to give your unique spin on it. It’s not so much taking inspiration from other people and using what they are doing, but it’s the opposite. I want to do what people aren’t doing. I haven’t taken any influence from anyone, not consciously anyway. It’s hard to explain when you’re in a creative place because you never want to just repeat what someone else has done. This album sounds like a Picture This album in a unique way. When you are trying to make something sound like a song that’s already been created, it never works.
Ryan: I always find this hard. I used to be blasé and say I’m not influenced by anybody because I always thought I wasn’t, but subconsciously I’m influenced by a lot of things. Like Jimmy said earlier, it’s about chasing the feeling of whatever we’re going through at that moment. We don’t chase what’s cool on TikTok or what everyone is doing on the radio. It’s how we feel, at that moment, as writers and artists. We have to reflect ourselves in what we put out and that’s more important to us than reflecting the sound of the time.
I know the band are lovers of poetry and are influenced by a lot of poets — the poem you released for ‘things are different’ was beautiful. Do your songs typically start as poems?
Ryan: It does crossover sometimes but it’s usually quite separate. I don’t think any sounds we’ve released have started as poems. I have a weird separation between them in my head; I compartmentalize poetry and songs. I don’t know why I do it, but it just works that way in my head. For poetry, it’s more of a stream of consciousness and free-flowing, a place where I can just be creative and say whatever I want to say. For me, songwriting is a lot more structured in certain ways, but it’s all just a love of words. Mike Skinner of The Streets and Biggie Smalls which, when you listen to Picture This you are not thinking of those artists, but their ability to articulate the room they are in or what they can smell is incredible; you can just picture what they are saying. It’s why we are called Picture This because whenever I’d show Jimmy a song he would say he could see the scene in his head like a movie.
I’ve seen you guys play in a very tiny 500 capacity venue in Toronto and also opening up for the Jonas Brothers in Dublin at 3Arena which was amazing to see; you guys command a crowd regardless of where you’re playing. Did it feel like a bit of a shock to get off a huge tour with the Jonas Brothers to be stuck in the same place for such a long time?
Ryan: Yeah, it’s something I think about a lot. When we did the five nights at the 3Arena in 2019, that was the biggest thing ever. We were the first act to do it. Then, a month later, we were in America playing tiny clubs to people who don’t even know who we are. New York is always great for us and Toronto has always been incredible, too, and we can pull a good crowd. When you compare those to shows in places like Salt Lake City or Columbus, you wonder how people even heard our music. It was great that we did that tour right after those big 5 nights because it’s humbling; you’re back in a club, really working to win people over and put on a show. Everyone comes to support you, but you have to put on an amazing show regardless of the size of the venue or whether you’re playing to 65,000 people or 25 people. It might sound a bit contrived, but I think it’s something we do well as a band because when you love the music so much, it doesn’t matter how many people show up — we’re still going to express our music in the same way. It’s why I love playing those small shows because of the intimacy of it, you can see the whites of people’s eyes and you can see an instant reaction.
Jimmy: The pandemic has just come in and wiped it all out which is hard because I always thought our live set is such a huge part of our band; people discover us after being dragged to a show by a friend.
Yeah, I dragged two of my friends to a show and now they are both big fans. I started listening to you after some Irish friends recommended your debut.
Ryan: I think that happens a lot because people expect us to be a pop band, but our show is very rock ‘n’ roll. It’s not just a mediocre gig; it’s a real show. The pandemic coming and stopping all of that has been a kick in the teeth. It’s my favourite part of being in a band and having that experience both with the crowd and with the boys.
That gig at 3Arena when you were touring with the Jonas Brothers is where you debuted Troublemaker live for the first time if I’m not mistaken.
Ryan: God, we did debut it there. That’s crazy
I thought when looking back at that moment was interesting to compare how you recently debuted the live performance of “Things Are Different” at an empty arena, With lyrics like ‘We don’t know how much longer but we know we’re gonna come back stronger’ juxtaposed with an empty arena, it very much feels like a cathartic and uplifting song. What mindset were you in when you were writing it?
Ryan: Very different, like you said. ‘Troublemaker’ is a really fun song that you can have fun with. It doesn’t have this big message like ‘Things Are Different’ has. There’s a lot of hope found in ‘Things Are Different’ and we’re addressing how that even if the world is going to change, the relationships we have with one another as a band, with our fans, and with our loved ones, are always going to stay the same no matter what happens in the world. Your relationships with the people in your life will be the one thing that’s always going to be there. The song was written in September of last year and it was just everything I was feeling throughout the year up until that point. I felt like it would’ve been remiss of us and me as a songwriter to not comment on what’s going on in the world, especially since we keep in contact with our fans online a lot through Twitter. I could see how down everyone was, I could feel how down our families and friends were. I wanted to send a message of hope to the world again. A lot of people were releasing and listening to sad songs and I did not want to hear a sad song at that point — I wanted to hear a song that’s going to tell me everything is going to be okay.
I bet it was cathartic to write, record, and release it into the world.
Ryan: Yeah, it wasn’t intentionally set out to be a cathartic experience but it was. I’ve found writing has become cathartic for me even more during the pandemic. I’ve always used it as an expression but never paid attention to whether it was healing me or anything, but it helped me put things into perspective.
Lastly, when the album does come out, what do you hope people feel or take away after listening to it?
Jimmy: I like to compare albums to movies. A great album will give you the same feeling you get after watching a great movie in the cinema or how you feel after having an intense dream and you feel emotionally drained when you wake up. We want that to happen; we want this album to be something you listen to and you want to replay it to feel that moment in time.
Ryan: With streaming, it can sometimes feel like songs just pass you by so quickly. It’s important to us to have a narrative arc to it so something is connecting the songs from start to finish. We want it to be a real moment for both the people listening and, of course, a moment for us in our careers, too.
Interview by Kelsey Barnes
Check out the new single ‘Things Are Different’ by Picture This now!