Róisín O and John Broe, who together are Thanks Brother, have released a stunning music video to accompany “We Are Different.” PHOTO BY DARA MUNNIS
By Colleen Taylor
There’s a new duo in town. “Thanks Brother” is the collaborative project of singer-songwriters Róisín O and John Broe, who have already accomplished a great deal in their respective solo careers. Although technically still at its very beginning, “Thanks Brother” sounds like a long-established master-class in soulful electro pop. The duo begins their career not with a song, but an anthem, prophetically titled “We Are Different.”
For the past six years, Róisín O’s solo career has been vigorously inquisitive, seeking out influences from pop, rock, Americana, new age, even Afro genres to set her songwriting on fire. I’ve been in love with O’s debut album “Secret Life of Blue” (2012) for a couple years now, and her two recent 2016 releases, “Give it Up” and “Better this Way” are each, in their own right, stunning. The daughter of Mary Black, Róisín O is now something of a musical black sheep herself, as her own career takes off in the direction of mainstream pop. She explains her move away from Americana/folk toward her current electro-pop identity as a natural progression: “I grow up in folk music with my mom but also listening to the charts. That album [Secret Life of Blue] is really the first songs I ever wrote—it came out folk just because that’s what I grew up in.”
O’s career and style irrevocably changed when she met producer John Broe three years ago. Broe, who was first known as the singer/songwriter of Irish indie pop band Miracle Bell, founded in 2005, has since done great work as a producer, including for Róisín O. With Broe’s guidance, O wrote her most recent solo releases, “If You Got Love” and “Warm Me of Silence.” In these tracks, O’s folksy vocals pair with electro-rock backing instrumentation that turn lyrics and melody into high production, dramatic, anthemic pop. She describes her collaboration with Broe like an epiphany: “I thought, this is what I’ve been missing.” But O also didn’t think it was fair for Broe to continue to do his work behind the scenes: “I wanted to be in a band with John, and I didn’t think it was fair the songs we were putting out were only Roisin O.” To O’s ears, she was creating a new sound, a new identity, and most importantly, a new partnership. Thus, Thanks Brother was born.
The duo’s debut release, “ We Are Different” (March 2018) is an anthem with a fresh sound and an important message. First written around the time of the marriage referendum in Ireland in 2015, the track seeks to distinguish a new, young Irish generation by virtue of a musical sound and a political ethos. “In Ireland, we have been for however many years under the thumb of the Catholic Church,” O explained, “It’s only in my generation that we have started to move away from that and criticize it. We love our country but we’re also proud that we’re slightly different and accepting of everybody for their differences—while at the same time not begrudging people who have different opinions.” The doubleness Róisín O intimates here, between national pride and the drive to criticize and change the values of that sociocultural legacy manifests in the very style of the song, which is both uplifting and dark. There is a real sense of light and dark—the energetic and the gothic—in the message and sound of the track.
For me, what makes “We Are Different” extraordinary is the old “opposites attract” formula. O’s ethereal, mystical singing voice woven around heavy bass and dramatic, synthesized beats is a perfect contrast. It highlights the optimism of the song’s message of inclusion as well as the dark history of prejudice from which it is born. Still, Róisín O was very clear that she doesn’t want Thanks Brother to be “preachy” or proscriptive: “I would prefer for the lyrics to be open to different meanings, rather than me tell [listeners] this is what it’s about…If it speaks to you, that’s all we’re trying to do.” So, “We Are Different” can be about 21st century Ireland, the marriage referendum, and inclusionary politics, or it can be about a couple, or a family, or even a pair of enemies. Like the value of the song itself, the lyrics are all-inclusive.
Thanks Brother has begun their career with a bang, debuting “We Are Different” on “The Late Late Show,” the biggest and longest-running talk show in Ireland. They have also recently released a stunning music video to accompany the song, available on YouTube. The video is a mini psychological drama, narrating the difficult themes of cruelty and prejudice, and the eventual jubilance of self-acceptance that the song inspires. There’s plenty more to come from Thanks Brother, and if the quality of “We Are Different” is any indication, we have plenty to look forward to.