Only Real interview: “Not many people know that I am terrified of jellyfish.”

14.04.15

When Niall Galvin aka Only Real first dropped out of the sky and into our headphones, it was 2012 and he’d been posting lo-fi, Ableton-crafted pop gems online from his bedroom, in the hope that someone, somewhere, might hear them. Three years later, and after spending some time recording in Atlanta, he’s released his drawling, sun-drenched album ‘Jerk At The End Of The Line’ and we’re having a chat over a lazy lunchtime pint on Portobello Road. 

In person, he possesses all the laidback swagger and easy eloquence that you'd expect from his music. He’s easy to get along with – like someone you might share chips with at the skate park, or a bloke you knew from school. He tells me he’s nervous – not because of our interview, but because of an interview afterwards, where he finds out whether he’s got his year-long American visa or not (which will mean he can tour the US and get one step closer to world domination).

But we don’t talk about that for long. Instead, we have a laugh about his music video with the blue egg yolks, his intense phobia of jellyfish, and that time he lied about his dad winning a load of cash.

So, tell me about Only Real. 

Only Real: "Only Real is my project. I’d say it’s 95% the music I make, but also the world that goes with it. I got all this equipment for my 18th birthday and I downloaded Ableton and started making tracks. Then once I had that software, I made some demos and put them online and it snowballed from there to where I am now. As for the name, my friend Leo from the band Childhood suggested ‘Only Real’ and it stuck out as quite evocative and ethereal."

Can you talk me through ‘Jerk At the End of the Line’?

Only Real: "There’s a bit of love stuff, anger, joy and inner insecurities and self-deprecation and questioning; it encompasses all those parts of me. It’s a very personal record. People have told me that they’re surprised at some of the tones as some of the songs are maybe darker than they expected."

You’ve got a really good way with words. Do you read a lot?

Only Real: "I wish I could say I’ve read loads of literature as I think that’s cool, but I haven’t done. I like poetry, but I don’t read much. I suppose it comes from music and films. I’m reading Graham Norton’s biography at the moment. He’s quite eloquent, isn’t he?"

"People have told me that they’re surprised at some of the tones as some of the songs [on the album] are maybe darker than they expected." – Only Real

Do you ever think of yourself as a rapper?

Only Real: "Sometimes I do and sometimes I am. There are songs on my album that I would describe as leftfield rap songs. I think that’s something I definitely want to explore in the future, as it’s something I’ve always been hugely interested in. Maybe I’ll do a mixtape that’s more down that road."

What do you do when you’re not making music?

Only Real: "Well, I don’t skate anymore – it got too painful. But when I was writing the record, I’d get up really early in the morning and go and skate at Meanwhile Gardens as it’d give me a break from writing in my room."

What’s your favourite skate video?

Only Real: "Good question. I like Girl's Yeah Right and the Blueprint and Chocolate ones. That was the era that I liked. I wish I was so good at it, but I never really was, and it starts to hurt and not be acceptable when you’re 24 and still not very good. I suppose in that sense, I’m glad I’ve found safer hobbies to pursue."

Who would your dream jam session be with?

Only Real: "I’ve been thinking about this recently, actually. I’d like to work with Dangermouse, that’d be really cool."

"I never really was [good at skating], and it starts to hurt and not be acceptable when you’re 24 and still not very good." – Only Real

What album most changed your life? 

Only Real: "Nas's ‘Illmatic’ would have to be up there. That really opened me up to the lyrical potential of what you can do with music. I still listen to that album to get inspiration for lyrics. The way he says stuff is so basic and simple, but so spot on and nails that period of life, which I think is really inspiring. He wrote that when he was a teenager."

Speaking of which, what advice would you give to your 16 year-old self?

Only Real: "I’d say ‘don’t go and be a builder in France.’"

But you never did that, so you probably wouldn’t need to say that.

Only Real: "It would be nice to have a bit of assurance back then, for somebody to say, ‘Keep going along, keep chugging! You’ll get a chance to make an album!’, which was my be-all and end-all at 16. Now it’s actually here, I’m onto the next thing. I never get that feeling of satisfaction, because when you get there, it just becomes the norm. But that’s a good thing, as you then go on to achieve more. But I suppose it’d be nice to have a bit of an indulgent feeling."

Would you say that since you’ve gotten bigger you’ve had any tag-a-longs? People that wouldn’t have been your friend before and now are?

Only Real: "Not really, but maybe I’m being naive. When I was at school, there was this football match on and I told everyone that my dad had put a huge bet on it and won millions of pounds. And then I honestly saw loads of people come up to me and try and be my friend."

Are you a romantic?

Only Real: "I think I am a romantic. I like to think so. Of course people have broken my heart but you get over these things and bounce back and you live and you produce happiness and serotonin."

Tell me something that nobody knows.

Only Real: "Not many people know that I am absolutely terrified of jellyfish. It’s a proper phobia. It’s not even to do with them stinging. Once my friend and I were surfing and he said there was a jellyfish so I ran and the cord got caught so I fell over and I was panicking in the shallow water and rolling around. He knew all along that it was just a plastic bag. I think it’s quite a reasonable phobia, though."

What are you hoping for, looking to the future?

Only Real: "I’d like to explore different things in the future. I’m quite into the idea of keeping Only Real as this broad thing that encompasses everything and slowly develop what it means. I see that with certain producers that are a little bit older, and they’ve almost got a brand, just from their name. That’s something that I’d like to work towards in the most natural way possible."

"Not many people know that I am absolutely terrified of jellyfish. It’s a proper phobia. It’s not even to do with them stinging." – Only Real

Your videos are always stand out. How much of an input do you have in those?

Only Real: "Until recently, I’d directed or co-directed all of my own videos and they were all my ideas. Then on Yesterdays, I came to this super cool guy who shares my vision who had just done a video with A$AP Rocky and I really like hazy, colourful quality of A$AP Rocky videos, so I came to him. I really liked his ideas and I could trust him to put it all together. I think it’s cool that it’s a bit more polished as well. My music is developing and it all I’m ambitious with the videos too as they’re a big part of the aesthetic. The video for Can’t Get Happy is fucking cool as well. As it is with production, it’s just a case of finding the right people. Collaboration is really important."

What are you going to do next?

Only Real: "A big Europe and UK tour and then festivals over the summer. I want to get it out there live as much as possible."

Music or sex?

Only Real: "I suppose music is less likely to get awkward. I couldn’t go without music. That’s the right answer, isn’t it? I hope I’m never going to have to make that choice, but it’s always good to be prepared."

Virgin/EMI released 'Jerk At The End Of The Line' on March 30th 2015 (buy).