Wild Youth "I suffer in a way where I overthink, and sometimes it gets on top of me and drives me down these really dark holes. So having been constantly almost distracted by being on tours, that's when I'm happiest, being on stage."
Alice Gee | 19/06/2023
Having spent the last four months traveling around Europe for the warm-up of Eurovision 2023, you could say Wild Youth have been in the thick of it. But it seems there's no rest for Conor O'Donohoe as we get comfy in the foyer of Universal Music Group. What appears to be a relentlessly busy day in London's Kings Cross, we decide after a short walk to find a quiet spot to get candid following back-to-back meetings. I've been aware of Wild Youth for several years, following the success they've been riding the past couple of years. Since their formation in 2016, the band has succeeded in countless endeavours, including a debut mini-album charting at number five in the Irish album charts and numerous support slots opening for names like Niall Horan, Lewis Capaldi, and Westlife. With colourful sets, embellished looks, and screaming fans, Wild Youth has found a home in a fan base that thrives as a community. Fighting what he says others may describe as a cliché, with me, Conor is vocal on the meaning behind their Eurovision bop "We are One" with their intentions ever the same, hoping to create a community and safe spaces. Before the band has a little downtime writing and enjoying a well-deserved break from being on the road, I'm curious to hear about their Eurovision experience, putting rumors to bed, and what's truly important to a band so dedicated to their fans' experience. A: So, let's start at the beginning. Tell me about the formation of Wild Youth. C: The formation started with Dave and me being friends hanging out together and playing music on weekends. We've been friends since 12. So a long time. I was playing football, and then we moved away and started playing music together. We got noticed by someone and offered a couple of gigs, then off the back of those, we got approached by someone who wanted to manage us. We weren't ready to be manage. We were just friends playing songs. It wasn't like a thing. And then, the more it went on, another person approached us to manage us from seeing us play, so we sat down and chatted about it, thinking we should try something. We knew if we wanted to try something, we wanted to make it a band. So we reached out to Cal because he was a drummer that I knew in Ireland, and basically, we set up a band. I wasn't sure the direction I wanted to go. So we tried out change and eventually set up Wild Youth. A: It's pretty hard to keep in touch with people. So 12 years is a long time. We always get told by people it's almost like a brotherhood, especially when you're on tour. It can sometimes be quite isolating, but being brotherhood seems like the right match. C: We have a very close bond, a very close relationship. Even when we're not touring, we're still hanging out together. It's important because sometimes, bands can be very fresh when you've just met people. It takes a long time to get to a place where you're very comfortable with people, where you can be open and turn around and say, I didn't really love the way you said that or I didn't like it. People argue, and I'm like, we do too. But I grew up with my brothers, who are, without a doubt, the closest people to me in the entire world. We're able to argue and hold a very open and honest conversation after we've had an argument. Still, we can solve our problem because we have such a strong bond over a long time. It's like a brotherhood, like you said, which is funny that you say that because that was actually going to be the name of the band before. A: What changed your mind? C: Not having anyone respond to me in the group chat. A: Ahh, we all know that feeling regarding our bright ideas. C: It was okay, a change the direction. But they're always very supportive of me. I think you have to be with someone that has those crazy spays. You know, you need people to be behind it. It's how those crazy ideas come to life. A: The beauty to each of our quirks is they can bring moments of pure genius, something beautiful and enjoyable, and speaking of enjoyable, you've just finished touring for quite some time! C: Four months from February from being chosen. I think I've gotten 40 flights traveling all over Europe. We played everywhere, from Tel Aviv, Barcelona, and Stockholm to London. Eurovision was just crazy. With all these trips, you would go to a city for two or three days, do like 200 interviews, and then perform one song. A: I imagine they were long days, in the best way! C: So, like, that was the craziest fact. Usually, if you're doing a tour, you do an hour-and-a-half-long set and three to five interviews. So it was exciting and an excellent way to get to know all the other contestants by traveling around. But when we tour as a band, that's where we're happiest. It's never strenuous. It's easygoing. I've seen, like, little things here and there. You might be tired or, whatever it is, but we generally try and go and have the best time. We always try to ensure that the show is never affected by having the best time and delivering the best possible shows we can. We always like to walk around wherever we are and spend a whole day together, do the show, have the next day off, or go out for beers wherever we are, pure laughter and trying to make it an incredibly fun time. A: That's pretty normal. And as you say, it's healthy. You must be in a good, comfortable, secure place to be honest with people. I know you've spoken about the idea of escapism. Is that something you've focused on within your music? C: Yes, and it's one thing that is always very important for me. I know I go through my own struggles, so I always try to connect groups of people who go through the same struggles by allowing them a safe space to talk about it, go to shows, and meet up. The reason is that when we were doing one of our first shows, I think a girl tweeted she was so nervous. I retweeted it for others to connect, and now those groups have become best friends. And years later, they still go to all of our shows together. That, for me, is everything to me and means the world because, for me it is also escapism. I think that's why I say sometimes touring is when you're happiest because you're busy. You're on the road, surrounded by people, and it can keep your mind off things. I have suffered from ADHD, although I don't really want to say that I suffer from depression. But I suffer in a way where I overthink, and sometimes it gets on top of me and drives me down these really dark holes. So having been constantly almost distracted by being on tours, that's when I'm happiest, being on stage. Hearing people sing songs you've written from sometimes being in dark places, especially as writing songs, can be an escapism. It can be an incredible feeling. Tapping into the emotion of the darkest point in your life can be difficult, whereas having the release of being on tour and doing shows is escapism for me. A: Sometimes stopping can feel daunting as there's time to think.
C: When I stop, that's when it's complicated. When I first went to a therapist, I didn't know what to focus on. Like, I'd go to bed and couldn't sleep because my brain went into overdrive. And then sometimes I need help to compute things. People often say relax, but it's hard. ADHD is more than being at school and not being able to focus. For example, If I want to wear a white T-shirt, if it's not that white T-shirt, it starts to take over my whole life in a way that's very hard to explain sometimes. People associate you with being in school and not being able to focus. A: There's so much stigma involved. C: I remember when I went to therapy, and the therapist was saying to me is like, if you can imagine you have ADD, what's happening in your brain is like a hamster spinning on a hamster wheel. When the hamster gets off, that wheel still continues to spin. And it will turn whether it's positive or not, so like what we were talking about, when you tap into crazy ideas, it can be amazing for me in a way where I'm up at 7am in the morning, bang, bang ideas, ideas, songs, titles, colours, artwork, and I'm in the studio, with constant ideas flowing but then also when I stop, when I sit down, I get left alone with my thoughts, and that wheel spins just as fast. And if I latch on to the negative things, that can make me spiral into a crazy place. If I see a negative comment online or a negative tweet, sometimes people close to me will say something. And then, two hours later, I'll address it because that tiny little seed that went into my head has now grown up to be huge, and I've just catastrophised it. Even if it's a joke, I will have catastrophised everything in my mind. A: It can be hard spiralling when something feels like it's off from within my mind, which can be challenging for others to balance. C: Especially with partners, it is hard for people to understand that whatever it is sounds ridiculous. People can probably think you're being precious, but once I get this idea into my mind, like I'll have Thai food for dinner. If that gets thrown out, it's almost like my brain can't compute because it's gone and built this whole thing up in my head that starts sparking off further. A: One of the easiest questions to ask and the hardest to answer is something that you're looking forward to or a standout moment? C: The last four months were a very cool moment, even if we didn't qualify for the semifinals. It's an incredible moment. I think, to go through what we went through in terms of the ups and downs of, like, the last couple of weeks, I'm not sure if you know, all the details, but even with everything that happened with some online stuff, it's been great. A: How have you been managing it? C: I never actually really spoke about some of it. But now it's just a good time as any. So after Eurovision, there was this whole thing that I had stormed out, supposedly. When we didn't get through, I did leave. But when we were set up for the semifinal, something different occurred regarding an announcement where we would have to stand on the stage. It was going to be like an X factor moment, where if it goes off, you'd walk off the stage. So when they called the last act, and we didn't get through, we hadn't been told differently. So I was like, I'm gonna walk back to the dressing room. I walked out to the dressing room and just got changed. And then went to all my family who were in Liverpool for it. I then put up an Instagram post that we didn't get through. But it wasn't a negative. It's pretty hard for a country like ours with a lack of budget, stage planning, and our whole team being three people. It's different from some who have budgets. So I just took it down. I wasn't able to handle more bad press on Twitter and online. I really didn't mean it from a negative place. And I didn't tell it as a slave to the competition because the competition was amazing. They were some of the best four months of my life, obviously some highs and some lows, but it was one of the greatest experiences we've ever had. And yeah, we didn't get to the semifinal, but that's that, you know, that's what happens in competitions, you get through, you win, or you don't get through. We were lucky to get the opportunity to see some countries, play in countries and meet some people that are now our friends for life. We're doing a tour now in Ireland and will add some UK dates with Joe Gregory. Like I speak to him every day. We've honestly made some friends for life. I'm incredibly grateful for everything that the competition gave us, which is why I hated that people thought I was saying it as a negative towards the competition. That's not what I was saying. Sometimes the circumstances are made very hard by the facility. That's nothing to do with competition. So I just took it down because there had been this whole onslaught online.
A: I can't imagine it's easy when people have perceptions that aren't the truth. C: There was another situation with someone who had been a choreographer and stage planner for us initially, and he'd worked on many big TV shows. We were informed of a series of tweets where he fat-shamed someone. He commented about Ukraine winning the Eurovision and the Ukraine war negatively. So obviously, everyone involved with Eurovision is very open and accepting place, LGBTQIA+ plus community and home for many people there, so rightfully so we had to stand with those communities. In my tweet, I was like, I'm sorry that people were hurt by these tweets. It's not what I stand for. I would never be okay with anyone saying that, and we stand with the community. But what happened was, then, a group of people on Twitter were hyper-focused on other things we don't stand for. They latched on to one article where someone said they identified as a woman, got into a female prison, and then assaulted someone. We stand with those and how they identitify, not those actions. Someone from the opposing side got that article and used it, saying that we fired him because of his comment against what gender they identified, which is an article I'd never spoken about nor referenced, never highlighted. Then that started to catch fire. And then JK Rowling retweeted us. Suddenly, it was a big thing that we were like supporters of horrendous actions. I've never ever even spoken about this. We were getting the most horrific comments of all time on Twitter. I was very vocal about the Eurovision and how much I loved it. And that's why our song was called 'We Are One'. I know people can say it's too generic, but that is the whole message in Eurovision, that we are one, that it's a community. Everyone's accepted. It was something I spoke about and how much I loved it, how accepting people were, and how people could be themselves. So when I was made aware of all these tweets he was making, we couldn't work with him. I just eventually deleted Twitter from my phone. I couldn't actually believe that people could go that far. A: I've always found the disconnect between reality and online social media baffling. On a positive note, what have you got coming up? C: We have a bunch of shows in the UK. And we're looking at some European shows. Which is so cool. Maybe festivals in Europe. We are looking at releasing new music, writing new music, and enjoying the whole journey. I love being busy and active all the time. I don't mind traveling. I like to be over here and write all the time. I'll write a bunch of songs that when everyone's happy with and I'll go to Ireland, and we'll record everything there. A: Do you still get those pinch-me moments? C: I get that with every show we ever do. Every time we ever put a show on sale. A: That's nerve-racking as well. Anxiety-inducing? C: We put something on sale in Dublin. It went on sale on a Friday, and I remember I didn't email the promoter because I was too nervous. I was terrified after Eurovision and wasn't sure what he'd say from it all. When I emailed them on Monday, he said it had sold out. A: It must feel rewarding seeing the response from fans! C: It's great to see a result from my work. But again, it all comes back to playing live shows and seeing certain songs that connect with people. When you see people singing back to choruses, new songs, that's magic for me. Obviously, people buying pieces is such a cool feeling, and we're part of the music they listen to daily. But it all, as a band, first comes back to playing live and everything being driven by playing the songs we love. That's the magic for me. Words Alice Gee Photography Mollie McKay