John Martin Tierney


Meet the multi-talented singer, songwriter, and guitarist John Martin Tierney. As well as his band Janaj and his solo work, John is the rhythm guitarist and enigmatic force in Galway’s rock n’ roll band Dead Horse Jive. Self-titled ‘the busiest, most punctual, best-dressed band in the country’ they are currently taking the country by storm. Unafraid to take on topics like toxic masculinity, growing up during an economic crisis and Brexit, Dead Horse Jive deliver with gusto, charisma, and craic.


Generation 20 is a photo and interview series by Julia Monard focusing on the new wave of artists in Galway.

Can you tell us about all the different facets of your music?

At the moment, my main thing would be Dead Horse Jive. In March, we did a tour called Hard Rock Soft Border – a satirical take on Brexit and trying to comment on how it would affect artists. We did a lot of gigs in the Republic, in Belfast and Derry and close to the border. Then I have my own band called Janaj. We’ve been quiet for the last while because our other singer is in France on Erasmus, but we’re working on a campaign for late summer. I also do a bit of my solo music down at the Open Mic at the Roisin.


What are Dead Horse Jive up to right now?

Our current tour is the Wild Atlantic Tour; our biggest one to date. We’re taking in the best pubs and snugs along the West Coast for 17 dates, from Bantry Bay to Derry Quay, including Sea Sessions Festival in Bundoran, and Fever Pitch Festival in Galway. It’s our first time playing those festivals, and I’m really excited to finally play one in Galway! It’ll be unreal to play with the likes of Aslan, The Stunning, and The Waterboys; all bands I’ve grown up admiring and taking inspiration from.


How did Dead Horse Jive come to life?

The three initial band members – Joycee, Shaughs and Martin – have been playing together in some form or another for about ten years under different names. A friend of mine told me that they were looking for a rhythm guitarist and I thought, ‘I can do that’. We belong in the rhythm section with the drums and the bass guitar, to create a foundation and a bedrock of sound. A rhythm guitarist gives a platform for the lead guitar or singer to lock into, so that they’re not left naked, so to speak. Myself and the lead singer Darragh came into the band about three years ago. As we’ve grown together as a band and toured together, endured bad gigs and really enjoyed great gigs, we’ve really gelled together. Even though I’m the youngest in the band, I don’t feel the gap at all.


If you could get people to listen to one of your songs, which would it be?

She’s Got a Master’s Degree, if they were checking out the video as well. If they were only listening to a song by itself, then maybe Cracked Train from our Should’ve Stayed In EP. It’s a short song but it captures our vibe – you’re taken in by a fun heavy guitar and the intensity increases and you’re nearly singing along to the chorus by the end of it.

What do you think are the essential ingredients to nurture a creative spirit?

A full kettle. A good night’s sleep. Plants and nature. I always feel really inspired sitting on the grass. There’s something about that connection with the ground. People – surround yourself with great inspiring people that push you to be better. Two years ago, I wasn’t half the guitarist I am today and that’s because the lads pushed me. I also make a point of remembering what went poorly in a gig on my part and making sure I never do that again.


Do you remember what the first spark was that lit your fire for music?

There was always music in my house. My parents got me started on guitar lessons, but I wasn’t overly enthusiastic to begin with. Then I saw a Bruce Springsteen concert on TV and I think it was the first thing that flicked the switch in me. The way the people in the crowd were looking at him, the way they were screaming back his songs. They knew every word, he could stop and they would keep going. I just couldn’t take my eyes of it. I was enamoured and I knew I wanted to do that with my stuff. I must have been about nine or ten at the time.

“When I get a writer’s block it’s very easy for me to get into a mindset of blaming myself. It’s my fault that I can’t come up with anything – because I didn’t get up early enough or I stayed out too late or something.”

What is the best aspect about playing music?

I don’t think I can put it down to one thing. It’s about having created a thing and other people responding to it in real time. Looking down and seeing someone, even just mouthing the words, there is genuinely no other feeling like it. Or when people hear something for the first time and you can see in their eyes that they’re feeling it.


Where do you feel most free?

On a really sunny day at the Spanish Arch with a guitar. There’s something about being beside a river for me, the water moving, it’s soothing and re-aligns you somehow.


If there were no restrictions, what would you be doing?

I would be in a big room with lots of rugs and couches and I’d be making something really good every day. I know exactly what the house is – it’s in the middle of nowhere, there’s no Wi-Fi, everything is just going into the computer. There are all the amps, guitars and instruments I could ever want – I am just creating forever. At the moment, time is lacking, as well as the literal space to do that. I don’t have lots of expensive gear either at the moment, but I am a bit of a gear nerd. I like watching reviews of pedals and when new stuff comes out I get excited.


How would you describe Generation 20 in your circles?

I would describe the Dead Horse Jive lads as inspiring and challenging – it’s the most difficult but the most rewarding connection I’ve had. We laugh, we cry, we fight and at the end of it, we go and we play and we forget about everything. They look out for me the most and from an artistic point of view, they’re always onto me to be better. They’re infuriating and excellent and uber talented. Then the open mic group – they’re just like family. I’ve never had such a consistent group of people in my life. People often drift apart, it happens, but these guys always give me so much love and that makes me want to give them love in return.


What is Galway to you?

I was born in University Hospital Galway and I’ve lived in Moycullen my whole life. Galway has this funny thing where if you’re here for too long, you feel like it’s choking you and it’s not letting you escape. Then you go somewhere else and go, ‘I miss Galway so much, why did I ever leave?’ When you come back and take the first breath of air here, you realise this is it. As soon as you get off the bus, you can likely hear music playing. You walk down the street and there’s music in every pub. There’s physical art everywhere. Galway for me is the best place to meet the best people, if you you’re looking to be better, both in a personal sense and to grow your talent.


What would you like to see happening in Galway in 2020?

I want to see things consistently that wouldn’t be able to happen without 2020. Macnas parades happen without 2020 but I would like to see Macnas ‘on steroids’. I want to see a month of Big Top gigs, a month of gigs in some other new venue that pops up, big art installations on the walls, up on buildings. I want to be walking down the street in 2020 going ‘Wonder what I’ll see today?’ Galway has events month-to-month already, but I’d like to feel like that every single day. Even in rainy, cold, grey, depressing January.

What do you think is missing in Galway in terms of culture?

Money. Obviously, it’s the same everywhere, because we’re such a small country and a small town and there’s only so much to go around. But there are so many people that have stopped playing music and have gone back to ‘real jobs’ because they don’t have enough funding. I’m lucky that in my job, they allow me to take time off for music when I need to.


What’s guaranteed to lift you?

Getting a vinyl record in the post. Aside from that, I love being able to go to a gig and give them money, because I know how much it would mean to me. It’s an eco-system – I pay for a cd, then that money goes toward their fuel to go home or to do more recording. Then they play another gig, make more stuff and buy something off someone else.


How does Galway allow you to be an artist?

You can give it a go and pretty much everyone will applaud you for it. They’ll listen to your song, they’ll go to your exhibition. They won’t write you off straight away. If you give it a go, they’ll give you a go.


Are there any struggles you deal with on a daily basis?

When I get a writer’s block it’s very easy for me to get into a mindset of blaming myself. It’s my fault that I can’t come up with anything – because I didn’t get up early enough or I stayed out too late or something. It’s a vicious cycle then. If I am angry at myself, I don’t feel inspired and then I am angry for not being inspired. You gotta look after yourself, but also sell yourself as an artist. If you write happy songs, you feel like you have to put on a happy face all the time. No matter what kind of music or art you do, actually, there can be a sense of pressure to maintain like everything’s cool and effortless.


Three things to do before you die?

Play at the Olympia Theatre, buy my own house, write and release five albums that I would be happy to retire on.


Three words to describe the art you’re doing?

Fun, engaging and challenging.

“I am happiest with a full cup of tea, that guitar and all the time in the world.”

What is a quote that most represents you right now?

‘Keep the peace by preparing for war.’ An Irish artist called David Keanan came out with a song recently and that’s a line in it. For me, personally, the times of war would be times of writer’s block, or feeling low, for example. I prepare for writer’s block by not stopping and writing absolutely everything down whenever I do get the inspiration. So at a time when I am feeling super uninspired, I have stuff to go back to. For times of feeling low, it’s things like buying a new guitar from my first paycheck. Though I had no money left, the feeling of having a new guitar carried me through the next few weeks.


When were you happiest?

Happiness is an old guitar. I have a lovely old acoustic guitar at home and the neck is sinking into the body; it’s hard to play but I still love it. It makes me really happy and I’ve written some of my better songs on it. I am happiest with a full cup of tea, that guitar and all the time in the world.


Can you talk a little bit about Dead Horse Jive’s latest single?

Our latest single is called ‘Leaves’; we released it on 13 May with an accompanying video directed by Conor Quinlan. The song itself is an anthem for people in this generation who came of age during the most recent economic crisis. Everyone in this generation has had to say goodbye to a friend. Some have gone temporarily: friendships kept alive through social media. Others are gone forever. ‘Leaves’ is a song for the ones left behind; a song for young people who have beaten the odds, who have survived, who have clung on and given absent friends something to come home to.

‘Leaves’ is out now across all music platforms.

Generation 20

Generation 20 is a photo and interview series focusing on the new wave of artists in Galway. With each interview and portrait, we aim to uncover their motivations, aspirations and frustrations. To get the full authentic picture and find their common link, bring them all together and into the light. How does their journey relate to Galway and where would they like to see it in 2020? We want to see the people in the budding stages of their expression, those that are quietly grafting and doing wonderful things.

Open, bold and colourful, this is #generation20.

Photos and interviews by Julia Monard.