Cian Ducrot chats to Atwood Magazine about dropping out the Royal Academy of Music, how he’s utilizing TikTok, his latest singles “hurt so bad,” “anyone but her,” and more!
Stream: “Hurt So Bad” – Cian Ducrot
It’s one thing to take your own personal stories and use them to inspire songs, but using other peoples’ stories is a completely different ball game. A number of Cork-born, London-based Cian Ducrot’s most recent releases have seen him chronicle the harrowing stories of others to craft music that’s immediately accessible, while still crammed full of intricate personal detail. Ducrot’s latest single “Hurt So Bad” is no exception, with the talented singer/songwriter telling the story of a friend who suffered a miscarriage at 19.
Ducrot’s preceding single “Anyone But Her” saw him share a fan’s story of the trials and tribulations that stood in the way of pursuing her dreams. While that song takes inspiration from an extremely specific experience, through resonant lyricism and emotive vocal delivery, Ducrot crafted a song that will be relatable to many. It’s almost become expected that Ducrot will distill extremely impactful and personal experiences into accessible music, without diluting the detail of the story he’s grappling with.
Friday, July 10th, 2020, will see Ducrot release his started in college (mixtape), which consists of two volumes. The first volume comprises a total of ten tracks, including Ducrot’s three recent singles as well as two unreleased tracks. The second half of the mixtape embodies tracks he released from 2018 and 2019, including the likes of “Aftertaste” and “Midnight In Paris.”
With the mixtape, through sharing the stories of others and his own experiences, he has managed to encourage a plethora of different and complex emotions. Ducrot explores both relatable emotions that will universally resonate with anyone who can recall the feelings that defined their early adolescence, and difficult emotions that only those who have experienced excruciating hardships will be able to comprehend.
For many artists, the pandemic-induced lockdown in the UK has impacted their career in an overwhelmingly negative way. But for Cian Ducrot, his fan base has only grown. With the release of “Hurt So Bad,” that upward trajectory looks set to continue. Speaking about the track, Ducrot tells Atwood Magazine, “I wrote ‘hurt so bad’ when my friend shared a really personal story about having a miscarriage when she was 19. The story broke my heart, especially as I had a family member experience the same thing. I tried to tell the story in her words and express it for her. It was really moving for us both.”
Atwood Magazine caught with Cian Ducrot to discuss how he’s grappling with the rapid growth of his fanbase, the honour of chronicling others’ experiences through his music, the backstory behind his single “Anyone But Her,” and more!
A CONVERSATION WITH CIAN DUCROT
Atwood Magazine: Hey Cian! How’s lockdown going for you?
Cian Ducrot: Very good. I don’t know if you know but I started making TikTok videos back in February when I was in LA for the month. Then I got back to London in March and I think I had maybe 70,000 followers. Then within the next month, I think it grew to over half a million. It basically went from like 16,000 to like almost 600,000 in two months or something crazy.
So that’s been like really fun for me. Just like making videos from lockdown with my new flatmates has been like super fun as they’re like my best friends. We just fuck about and make videos or whatever. I post music there as well, which is great. It’s been nice because I’ve been able to build like a really connected fan base really quickly, who are super invested. Also, in a time where they probably need it the most, they’ve been able to listen to my music. I get like so many messages every day about how my music and my videos are helping people. It’s weird because you don’t really think that it really helps people, but it really does. The messages are super personal, and I try to read all of them.
It’s all been crazy. Like I’ve sold my first pieces of merch and stuff like that. It’s crazy. Everything went from 0 to 100 really fast in lockdown. I also work from my bedroom, like I’m a self-sufficient artist, so I don’t really want to do sessions or go out to work with other people. So, it hasn’t really changed anything for me. I basically just stay inside anyway, all day. Then I’ll just go out to the park or something if I want to. Yesterday I spent the whole day in the park because I just didn’t want to work.
I think it was a bit like daunting at the start and I was thinking like “where am I going to get my inspiration from?” Then through TikTok, I’ve been able to make new fans and learn from their stories. I’ve made really great internet friends, which is really weird, but I’ve made some incredible friends over this time, that I talk to every day on FaceTime or whatever. We’ve gotten really close and shared our stories; that’s really inspired me because it’s forced me to take more time to talk to people and hear their stories.
When people do share them with me, it can be really moving and I can learn a lot from it. I can also write a lot from it, which is what I’ve been doing, so that’s been really special for me.
What’s the story behind your track 'Anyone But Her'? How did it come to be?
Cian Ducrot: At the beginning of lockdown, I posted a photo on Instagram which is just like a picture of the sky in Australia. I just said like if anybody having a hard time or whatever or like needs somebody to talk to you, just hit me up in my DM’S. At that time that was like definitely more possible than it is now. To give you an idea maybe that photo got 700 likes as opposed to two months later when my photos will get thousands. A couple of people commented on it and a few people DM’ed me just being like, “hey, I know you don’t know me but I’m just really struggling and I would love to have somebody to talk to.” That happened with a couple of people and we continued like a friendship.
There was this girl from America and we became really good friends. We spoke a lot. She was feeling really down and didn’t know what to do or who to talk to. I’m a really happy guy, who has a positive mindset all the time. I’m really grateful for everything that I have in life so I’m really happy in that sense. I think 99% of the time I’m really, really happy so I know that I’m able to help other people with that in that respect. Yeah. Or at least maybe be that encouragement or positivity in their life. Even maybe just give them insight into how it is that I’m happy.
One of the things I believe is that if you’re grateful inside deep down, it’s hard to be sad. That’s something that I live by. I know that it’s obviously more complicated and there’s extends of that. As a person who really is lucky enough to have gotten to a place where he’s extremely happy, I think it’s important for me to try and like encourage others to be happy and enjoy their life.
So we spoke about that sort of stuff and she basically shared with me a little bit of her story. I always ask people when I first meet them, “what’s your dream? Like what have you always wanted to do?” I think everybody has a dream. As a kid, there was never anything else that I wanted to do apart from music and performing. There was nothing else. I know 100% that was what I was going to do.
I know for a fact that if you want to do something badly enough you just keep going and keep doing it. I always ask people like what’s your dream because a lot of people will say it’s something but doing something that’s totally different. I’m like, “why? You should do the thing you love.”
I always try to inspire people to do the thing that they love. That’s like the key to happiness. Your health is your wealth, like your mental health is everything. If you’re not happy, like what’s the point? I feel like 90% of people that I know don’t do the thing they love because they’re too scared or don’t have the support from their family or whatever. So, I asked her, “what’s your dream?” and she told me like a really devastating heart-breaking story. She was struggling at home and didn’t have a lot of support from her family.
She gave me kind of the short version. One parent was pushing her in one direction to do something that she didn’t want to do, and the other parent didn’t really care. She got into substance abuse when she was at home then she broke away and moved to New York to study theatre. That was always her dream. She wanted to be a singer and a dancer and musical theatre was the thing that she always wanted to do. Sadly, she was obviously was battling with trying to prove herself to the family and having already slipped into like substance abuse to cope with a horrible. When she got to New York, she was facing that mixed with like the most intense sort of schedule of theatre school.
Every night she’d like end up going drinking with her friends and going to school with one hour of sleep. She basically ran herself into the ground, and she ruined her, which ruined her chances at a scholarship. She was auditioning for a Broadway show and so many amazing things were happening, but she just absolutely wrecked herself Then it got to a point where she overdosed. With losing her voice, she lost basically the part of her that was the most important thing to her in her whole life. That devastated me. I didn’t really know any details to this extent, but I was so moved by the very vague story.
I was like, “would you be happy to tell me your whole story and like write it out? Only if that’s something you’re comfortable with.” I was like I would love to write a song about it. For her, that was like the most perfect thing and she was so happy to write it for me and tell me her story. For me, it was like an honour and a privilege to be able to put it into a song.
She just wrote to me like a two-page kind of summary of that part of her life. After I read it, I just like cried. It was so like so intense and so moving. Then I started writing the song straightaway based on her story and I made sure it was 100% factual. I think I based it off her the stuff that hit me the most. Like maybe she didn’t rhyme when she said it though. (laughs)
But she was trying to be anyone but herself and she was trying so hard to prove herself to her parents. Her story just hit me so hard and I just had to write a song about it basically.
You had a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music and then left. Why did that feel like the best decision for you?
Cian Ducrot: In life, I always wanted to try and balance both classical music and pop music. Both my mum and my brother are classical musicians so it’s like in the blood. I did it growing up and competed and everything. I auditioned and got into the Royal Academy of Music, which is like a super prestigious Conservatoire. I wanted to be there because it was like the best. I said to myself, if I can’t get into the Royal Academy of Music, then I’m not good enough to make a career in classical music.
That was my mindset because classical music is so competitive and you just have to be like the elite. And that was kind of what I said. Everybody was like, “oh, but maybe like just audition for a couple of places” but I just had no interest. I was like, I don’t want to go anywhere else. This is the only place I want to go. I had to good enough to get a full scholarship because I can’t afford to pay for it. My mom was like, “we can’t afford that.” So I was just like working my ass off and basically auditioned and I was offered a place on the day in the audition, which was obviously great.
That doesn’t usually happen. So that was kind was great because I got to go back to school and be like, cool I don’t even have to wait to find out about the results or anything, like I know I I’m in. There was a lot that was promised to me and a lot that I don’t want to say they promised to me, but in the audition process, the things that I was told and the way that they kind of sold it to me was a lot different to how it was when I got there. It was still amazing. I made amazing friends and like obviously it’s a super-elite place. But for me, it was just too backwards.
I remember having a conversation with one of my teachers at the time and she basically said to me, the issue for people like me in that school was that 85% or 80% of the people who were there were happy to just as they were told and stick to the schedule. And I wasn’t and for the people who weren’t, it was really hard because of the 80% who were there. For that reason, the school wasn’t too like evolved into a little bit more of a modern mindset.
It was weird because we had some classes that were like super modern that were like telling us to like find our niche and do what you love. They were telling us like you don’t only have a classical musician and end up in an orchestra, you can do the craziest things. We had lecturers who had dropped out of music college and who had ended up becoming like musical directors or having like weirdest jobs and they were teaching. That was like my favourite class. But then, on the other hand, I was getting pulled aside and being told that I had to like fit in a box and I had to like stop shaving or not shaving and stop having a different hairstyle like every month. I was like what does that have to do with anything? Like, yeah, it’s crazy, because it was just the wrong thing.
I was being pushed and pulled around. I remember being in a lecture that was telling us all these amazing things like find your niche and like who here loves playing in like a pop orchestra? Half of us were like, yeah, that’s sick. Then some people are like I don’t think that music is interesting enough and we’re just like, you know, shut up. They were telling us to have as many strings to your bow as possible and like do all these things. So I just raised my hand and was like, “I think it’s our teachers need to be having this lecture not us.”
I was kind of starting to get really unhappy things weren’t really working out the way that I wanted them to. I started to just prioritise my pop career and like London over going to college and that started to lead to me getting in trouble. There were different reasons obviously, like internal stuff that I was struggling with in terms of like the academy and like different teachers and teaching methods. I was kind of losing the love for the music and I basically I did end up kind of almost fixing it and polishing it up and feeling like the third year was going to be an amazing year and I had kind of sat down and really spoke about how I felt with everyone there.
They were more accepting and they were happy to have those close conversations and kind of discuss them and for the first time in like two years, but then I took a trip to LA in July. On day two of my trip in LA, I was like, yeah, never going back to the Academy and I want to move to LA. It’s crazy. With the life that I saw was possible there, I then kind of realised that I was holding myself back by staying in the Academy. I had a scholarship, which is great and would pay my rent and everything. I just realised like, I’d rather be homeless in LA than comfortable on a scholarship in London, not doing the things that I 100% want to do. So I went back, I told my mom and I emailed with my tutor, and I just told her look I need to take a year out and I’m going to go to LA.
She was happier than ever because she knew that that was the right thing for me to do. So, I did that and here I am. So that was in September and I actually ended up going back to Ireland, which is a stupid idea. So, I came back to London, and just kind of managed with the help of a lot of people to stay here.
My manager found me and then she offered me a distribution deal. Then through that distribution deal, she started managing me. I think we just kind of worked really hard and brought out the first two singles from a distribution deal during this lockdown, which is really cool. I took another trip to LA in February, which led to a lot of great things.
When the time was right, I just knew. It was like suddenly something clicked, and I was like, Oh, this is the moment. I remember hearing somebody say like, “there are those moments in your life that you have to make like a really important decision and it just happens and you know if you hadn’t made that decision, that your life would have been so different.
How do you know when it’s the right time to release a certain song?
Cian Ducrot: Most of it is gut feeling. Like gut feeling as well as years and years of thinking about what I want to do and where I want to go. There’s obviously like a lot of strategy in my mind in terms of like, does that make sense to follow up with that song like this. I think all of that, in the end, comes down to my gut feeling as well. So sometimes I’m just like this doesn’t feel right and I just don’t do it.
When I wrote “Anyone But Her” and “Fucked Up All The Time”, I just instantly knew this is the next song. With those songs, I just worked really hard to finish them straight away. Those moments happen where you just know what’s right.
With your artwork, there was a theme up until this year, and then it changed. I’d love to hear about how you decide on those two themes and the shift.
Cian Ducrot: The first group of singles were me on my own in college just like trying to drop songs through AWAL and just like get my career started. I just sort of thought of that idea of like being upside down on the floor with just like items that represent the song. I knew that there were so many possibilities were like changing what I was wearing. Also, I had no budget. So, I just had to take those photos at home with my friend and I had to just edit them on my phone. That’s all I could do.
Then when it got to knowing that I was going to have a distribution deal and was doing a new EP, I wanted to think a little bit more about what I was doing and what I was portraying. I think it kind of happened in the way that we did a big photoshoot and that was pretty much the only photo that I liked from it. It was a fantastic photo, in my opinion, it just like came out by accident and it just like looked great.
I loved it and we knew that that had to be the cover for ‘Fucked Up All The Time’. Then I came up with the cloud idea. When I was just editing it, I found this thing and I just like made like a sort of cloud, which was like representing that feeling of just being like under a cloud, you know?
Then when it came to thinking about single number two, I kind of thought like, what if we continue with just using the same photo and we just change an element every time and that’s kind of the idea. With the colours we wanted a different colour to represent each song. I didn’t want to be stuck in this one colour for the whole of my artist project. For me, that kind of pale blue was just what represented the song for me. So the idea of the artwork there was to have a scribble over me because it was like the idea of like not wanting to be yourself.
You’ve obviously got a following on TikTok. How do you view those platforms in relation to your musical career? You’re not bombarding people with music.
Cian Ducrot: I think it works best is as a platform to grow as an artist and build your brand and bring in fans. I don’t want to be a guy who has a song that like just blows up on TikTok and there’s no substance to him as an artist. Even now if a song blew up on TikTok at least I’ve already got half a million followers and it’s like people know who I am. Like there’s substance there and there’s music there.
It’s never been my intention to make a song go viral because I’m not about like a song and I don’t want to be signed because of a song. I don’t want my career to be based on this like one song that like blew up on TikTok. I want to use it as a place to like grow a fan base by just being myself.
For me, there’s a lot more to being like a massive superstar artist than your music. There’s your personality, your beliefs, the way you live your life and the message that you want to bring. For me, it’s just about like making sure that I portrayed like all of those things about myself. Like I want to share everything like my humour or my personality or what I loved or the songs that I’m in the middle of writing. I just wanted to do all of that and just put it out there.
I obviously never expected to grow a fan base, like to that extent. It was just like, I’m just going to try and post a video every day and see what happens. I had no idea and no expectations about growing fast. At first, I was making videos with my songs that weren’t released. I was just posting snippets to see if people liked them and the reaction was really crazy. So, we’d like make up some more non-music ideas. We were trying to keep the videos within the content that I already make. Some people watch my videos because they think they’re funny so I didn’t want to start making like random things with my songs that were so unrelated to my content that I was already making.
Sometimes my manager is like you need to make a few more TikTok’s or whatever. I’m just like if I think of something, I’ll make it or if it comes to my mind and if it feels natural, I’ll do it. For me, it’s all about doing stuff that feels natural. If anything feels forced people can just see it a mile away. I just don’t want to be that guy that’s just like making stuff for the sake of it.
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