Simply put, Ro, Bee and Teddy C go hard on and off the road, often at the expense of personal relationships. But they do it all for art’s sake. “We wrote for four weeks, every day, all day. It was 12-hour days. Once we hit that groove, we had to try to get as much of it as we could,” says Teddy C. “By the end, we had an EP. We were looking at it thinking, ‘That’s probably a body of work right here.’ Then, all of a sudden we had a name for it and artwork. That was it, and it was within the space of three or four weeks.”
Even within such a polished, commercial soundscape, their feet are firmly rooted in folk tradition. “You don’t even really think about it when you’re young. Folk music is just what you learned to play first through your families. There was definitely no hip-hop when we were growing up,” says Teddy C. Musically, The Odyssey Project carries obvious influences like Malone and Scott, whose Astroworld proved to be their most prominent muse. “On the tour, before every gig, we had a playlist of songs just to hype us up a little bit,” Bee notes. “That playlist would have had both those artists, along with Migos, A$AP Rocky, Skepta from the U.K. We listened to that playlist for two weeks constantly.”
Billboard hopped on the phone with the trio of musicians for an in-depth discussion on their humble beginnings, how they left folk music, their decision to cut back on drinking, and their EP and its stunning mythological imagery. The band also gives a track-by-track breakdown of their debut, out April 12 on 3 Beat (a joint venture with Universal).
What was your childhood like growing up in the middle of Ireland?
Bee: Irish culture is very much centered around the pub, not to get too stereotypical. Anything that happens usually always ends up in the pub. That’s where people come together. They celebrate or mourn anything. Growing up, that’s your social hope.
Ro: Even with the cover band, it was all playing in pubs on weekends. We’d go two or three nights a week in different pubs around Tullamore. As it went on, we went around the country. We were mainly playing out at parties in pubs or were just background music in a pub.
What were your hobbies before music?
Teddy: All of us were very sporty. Me and Ro played a lot of soccer. Ro played a lot of hurling, too. Bee played rugby. We were far more interested in that than music when we were in school growing up. It was probably cooler to play music than sports at the time.
Ro: Our first dream was probably to be a professional football or soccer player.
You’ve spoken in past press that your teacher Stacy Hogan was instrumental for you early on. What was her role, exactly, in pushing you forward into music?
Teddy: Me and Bee were in the same class. There was a competition with the local radio to go in and record a cover. Then, it was judged at the end for a winner. So, Stacy got me and Bee together and asked us to do it. We were working on this cover and thinking, “Right, I think we need someone else.” We knew about Ro. We said to Stacy, “Can we go and get him?” She said, “Yeah!”
Ro: I still remember being in class. Bee actually knocked on the door and interrupted the class and asked if I could leave for this competition. [laughs]
Bee: We actually did Gnarls Barkley's “Crazy” for the cover. We went into the radio and played it. We didn’t win the competition. [laughs] But it was the start of our musical journey, anyway.
Was your collaboration as a covers band soon after that?
Bee: Yeah, so that was probably a year later.
Teddy: That probably went on for two years? I suppose, we gained a lot of live experience playing in front of crowds, which we think has done us well.
Bee: From being in a covers band, you’re literally learning so many songs. You’re actually also learning how to write songs, because you’re learning how a song is constructed. You’re learning how songs are put together, lyrically and rhythmically. Doing covers for two years helped us develop as songwriters and musicians. It was a very necessary thing for us to do.
Through your burgeoning success, you made the conscious decision to cut back on drinking alcohol. Given your cultural heritage, and the importance of the pub, was that an easy transition?
Bee: Well, there was a point when we were working on music, and our process was like...if we go out and go drinking, that’s a whole day gone and probably the day after, too. You’re gonna be hungover, tired, whatever. We were thinking, “We can’t afford to do that.” There’s people working 24/7, and if we’re not working as hard as them, how can we possibly expect to get where we wanted to get. We called off drinking. It wasn’t just drinking, but it was everything apart from music. That was relationships and family, even. We knew the sacrifices we had to make to gain any ground.
Ro: After a month or two months, we realized how much more productive we had been. Overtime, we became obsessed with work, I suppose, where going out or drinking never came to our minds. We never wanted to do that. It wasn’t a struggle for us not to go out.
Bee: We’ve found a better balance now, though. We will have a drink now, but it’s very rare, really. It’s maybe when we’re celebrating. We might have a drink before a gig just to settle the nerves or something, but it’s never anything major.
Have family and friends been pretty supportive of your style change?
Bee: When we first started, I think they were a little bit surprised and didn’t feel it was right for us. There aren’t many people from where we’re from, or even from Ireland, that have made this music. For our families and friends, it was a little bit like, “Oh, I’m not sure that’s going to work or anything.” At that time, we had nothing to show for it. We were just making this music, bringing it to them and saying, “Here, what do you think of this?” They’re like, “Yeah, it’s good, but like, it’s heavy.”
Teddy: In many ways, we would have been doing quite well with folk music or our cover band. Our families would have seen us gigging an awful lot. We were obviously doing well with that, so when we stopped, it was a big change. We’re so lucky that our families, our parents never once made us do anything we didn’t want to do. When we made our decision, our parents were still supportive.
Bee: Our hearts were just not in the folk music. We were listening to hip-hop. It was becoming a chore to go out and play. We wanted to do the music that was really resonating with us and carve out our own thing. Obviously, when we started getting some success, it was a lot easier for everyone to digest then.
How did you come to cultivate your sound?
Teddy: I suppose, the big change was acoustic instruments to electronic. We dove in and purchased music software. We were used to creating on guitars and stuff, so we changed it all to making beats on a laptop with synths. That was the biggest initial change. At the beginning, we tried to incorporate acoustic instruments with digital, but that quickly dropped out. It was all digital after that.
Bee: One of our biggest advantages was our understanding of real instruments. Everything we knew about music was in terms of real instruments. When we went to go to digital and using software, it was a challenge. But because we understood how a bass works, how keys work, how drums work, physically, it was easier to make the music sound like how we wanted it to sound on a computer. If we were to start on digital software with no knowledge of a musical instrument, it would have been very difficult for us.
Your EP cover art calls to ancient Greek mythology, particularly the figure of Cerberus, the three-headed dog. What led to that as a representation of you?
Bee: Funny enough, I was playing a game on PS4 called Assassin’s Creed. We were obviously in the creative process of writing, and my whole life was recording and going home really late and playing this game. The word “odyssey” just stuck with me. I looked it up, and it’s from the Greek mythology of someone on a journey and going through trials and tribulations. At that point, it really hit home for me. Back to that Gnarls Barkley “Crazy” cover to changing styles to a sold-out headline tour to writing a body of work, the word “odyssey” felt right. I’m a bit of a history nerd, as well, so I thought it was very cool.
Teddy: Cerberus’ three heads represent past, present and future. It really has summed up our journey perfectly.
Do you feel you’re blazing a new trail for Irish-bred acts -- or at least playing a small part in a new era?
Bee: We like to think that. [laughs] People are doing a lot of good work for this type if Irish music. But we’ve always set out with the mindset of a legacy or creating one. If you asked us what our ultimate goal is, it would be to have a legacy. When all is said and done, we hope people look back and see how we brought this to an international level and not just an Irish level.
What moment did you realize things were really beginning to take off for you?
Bee: One of the things was people kept saying, every time they heard us on the radio, “They can’t be Irish. There’s no way they’re Irish.”
Ro: When people did find out we were Irish, they assumed we were from Dublin. They never thought we’d be from a very rural place.
Bee: That straightway made us think there was an obviously universal sound there.
Teddy: Hearing ourselves on the radio and getting such a positive response was definitely a moment.
What do you hope people learn about you from this EP?
Bee: We want to show with a body of work that there’s more to us, artistically. We have a massive interest and obsession with different and unique production and show that with this EP. We don’t think we’ve showed as much with the singles. We have much more to offer.
Ro: With singles, it’s hard to understand what an artist is about. So, through this EP, we want people to understand us more. Throughout the EP, we talk about Tullamore or T-more (for slang), so we want people to get that image of where we’ve grown up.
Bee: During that period of the tour, we were working long hours. This song is about literally coming home at 12 or 1 o’clock at night and going to sleep. Then, the first thing you think about when you wake up in the morning is “I have to get to the studio.” That particular morning, I was in bed, and my girlfriend works (she’s a makeup artist) and was going to work at 6:00. She has LED to do her makeup, so these lights bang on in the morning. And I’m barely awake. Instantly, I think, “Right, I need to get to the studio.” But it’s 6 o’clock in the morning, so it’s a bit extreme. I jump out of bed, text the buddies and we get to the studio. The song really comes from getting up and getting into the grind. It’s putting the work in. It was literally written in that moment.
Teddy: Sometimes, in this industry, you can go through stressful, dark times. But even just in life, in general, everybody goes through tough times. This song is a weather-the-storm track. It’s one of those songs that says, “If you can just stick out this period right now, things afterwards are going to be worth it.” It’s almost like a brotherhood kind of thing, too, for us.
Ro: It goes back to when we had a lot of people doubting us and saying, “They’ll never make it in music.” At the start of our journey, people overlooked us. Sometimes, it was because we’re from the middle of the country. We weren’t city kids. We’ve had lots of personal experiences of people saying, “What are you doing? Who do you think you are? You’re from Tullamore, not LA…” These people who were saying all these things aren’t as loud anymore. We’ve proven a lot of people wrong. It’s a little bit of a tongue-in-cheek song, like “Look at us now!” But even more, we wanted to do our family and friends proud, really.
“When You Met Me”
Bee: This song is more of a love song. I sometimes feel I can be a difficult person in a relationship, just from my personality. It’s about my girlfriend, and sometimes, I feel like she would be better off if she weren’t with me. I can be so difficult. [laughs] It’s looking at a real, honest reflection of yourself.
Teddy: It’s no secret that we love a banger. If there was a chance we’d have a body of work, it would have a banger. 100 percent. I go back to how we have slang or nicknames for everything. If you have a party, we’ll rank it on a phase one to 10. It’s like levels of partiness or madness or whatever you want to call it. [laughs] “Phase 10” is obviously the max. This song is the journey to that. It’s always, “Tonight, we’re reaching phase 10!” When we started writing electronic music, we were really just writing songs that us and our friends could party to.