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From Tallaght To LA: Meet The Man Who's Set For Stardom In Tinseltown

All-too-often in the world of live music, the singers and lead guitarists are afforded the luxury of attention.

Lingering at the back of the stage, however, is usually the person who holds the entire operation together.

"Drumming may not be the most glamorous gig," Dean Byrne begins by saying.

"It's often mistakenly attributed to ‘wild men’ of rock and roll, but it is in reality – usually – a more measured and controlled role, one which is crucial to a live band’s success or failure."

In this feature on Irish Artists, we chat with session-drummer extraordinaire and former staple of the indie music heyday of the past decade in Ireland on his influences, role, life and future plans.

From Tallaght in Dublin, Dean formed two of the most successful bands in Dublin at that time – Neon Stars and Leaders of Men – in-between bouts of session work, before disbanding and focusing on session drumming full-time, becoming a gun-for-hire for a variety of different musicians around the country. 

"I was brought up in a house of music, my Dad was a big fan and we constantly had LPs playing in the house. He’d let me get involved in his collection and pick whatever I wanted to listen to. As I got older, I began to appreciate the quality of music out there and how it was all put together.

"Listening to classic soul and pop, like Al Green, Tom Jones, Elvis, Otis Redding I suppose gave me a platform for which I eventually based my drumming style. All groove. Then, one day, my brother came home with a copy of Thin Lizzy Live and Dangerous. That was it. I was hooked. That year I got a drum kit for Christmas."

"I went and got lessons from a guy called Tony Sherry who was such a huge influence on me. I learned to read music and work on technique in that time, and actually, through all of this training, I learned that simplicity was key."

It was this formal training that spurred Dean to consider music as a career rather than a hobby, leading him to study it at third level. 

"I did an arts degree, music and English. Music because I wanted to learn about the formalities of it and English just to see how much I could butcher the language. I think I was the only drummer in my class and had no other formal training on piano or guitar or whatever so I guess that made me work harder. It was such a great experience."

As soon as his studies were finished, the world was his to play with. He formed bands which eventually went to play in the famous Whisky-A-Go-Go and the Guinness Storehouse on Arthur’s Day for a 5,000-strong crowd. 

"We also started looking at our style a little closer then. A lot of denim jackets came and went and then I discovered denim and suede. I haven’t looked back. I don’t know whether that’s a good thing or not!"

Now, Dean is Stateside and couldn't be happier. 

"I’ve always been attracted to the US. I had gone back to do a Master’s Degree in film studies in UCD, as I always loved film and wanted to learn more about it. In Leaders of Men, I had written and directed a few of our music videos, but only because I knew we needed videos. I didn’t think about the process too much, it was just to get it done. It was only when someone pointed it out to me that I was writer/director of these that I thought that there was maybe an angle here.

"I was still primarily a drummer but the video experience, combined with my degree kind-of showed me that there are ways to tell a story without bashing things with sticks. The degree meant that I could get a visa to come here and learn a bit more about the film and music industries, which are hand-in-hand at times.

"I think I’ll try to stick around the US for a while. It’s such a great place for creativity, artists and opportunity. I think that the level of musicianship is so high here too, that it pushes artists and players to up their game and I’m here for it.

"It’s difficult being away from family and friends, you know I love Dublin, but you gotta look at the big picture. I’ve been speaking to a few people who are happy to work with me, eventually. It’s all about networking as usual, and I think I’ve set myself up well enough to make the most of any opportunity that comes my way.  I think it’s a beautiful thing to see Irish people do well in their field and expand their opportunities. Let’s hope I can keep up."

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