Only Real first gained attention back in 2012 with “Cadillac Girl,” a lo-fi pop gem that situates Niall Galvin’s unique vocals — they land somewhere between stoner rap and drunk busker — between waves of mirage-like guitars. Since then, the 22-year-old West Londoner has delivered a series of scratchy demos and DIY music videos with impressive consistency. Galvin may sound like a slacker on his drowsy, sun-soaked songs, but his work ethic is exactly the opposite. Every few months, he releases another song — among them, “Punks and Potions,” “Backseat Kissers” and “Pass the Pain.” Galvin recently landed a deal with Virgin EMI and is adding the finishing touches to his first full-length, enlisting the help of Ben Allen (Washed Out, Deerhunter, Bombay Bicycle Club) and Dan Carey (Franz Ferdinand, Nick Mulvey, the Kills).
Galvin took a break from gigging around the U.K. and hopped on Skype from his West London digs to talk about his unconventional vocals, the story behind his name, and what to expect from his ambitious upcoming album.
Why did you choose the name Only Real?
I was 18 and had just started making songs, and I wanted to start a new project. My friend, who’s in a band called Childhood, suggested the name Only Real to me and it immediately evoked a lot of things that felt quite right. It’s ethereal. You can find your own interpretation of it. They are two really simple words but when you put them together, they can be quite meaningful. For people who are into Only Real, I think — I hope — it just makes sense.
It’s tough to describe your sound to people who aren’t familiar with your music. Do you call yourself a rapper?
Everything started happening with Only Real in the beginning of 2012, but I’ve been doing this forever. My brother had a classical guitar, and I started playing on that and finding my “vocal delivery.” I still don’t know what to call it, but I honed it during my teenage years. I couldn’t sing well, and I really liked rap and hip-hop so I just combined the two to find a way to get my thoughts out there. What I call my music depends on what day it is, really. Sometimes I really like saying, “Yeah, I’m a rapper!” I’m so not a rapper. But there’s no real need to define to it.
I’ve listened to some of your songs so many times, and I’m still not confident what the lyrics are. Do you hear that a lot?
I like that people have different interpretations of the songs, and that the lyrics mean what they mean to you. I think it’s quite rewarding. You have to listen to my music a lot of times, and you’re always hearing things you didn’t hear before. You kind of have to work for it. One line will have 10 different meanings to 10 different people. There are a lot of metaphorical abstract moments, and I think that’s cool.
Were you really into music growing up?
When I was a kid, I couldn’t listen to music because it was just too intense. I would start crying if I heard it. It sounds kind of pretentious, but it’s honestly true! Music unlocked a certain something in me. I couldn’t handle it. Even like really, really bad U.K. garage music, just horrible dance music at bowling alleys. When I was about 10, I started skateboarding and I started understanding the world a little bit more. From then on, I listened to a lot of ’90s hip-hop and bands like the Clash, the Libertines, Blur, Pulp and the Beach Boys. When I was 14, I went through a big stage of listening to U.K. grime, which was the new exciting thing at the time. Then I started listening to indie — Deerhunter and American bands like that. I don’t really listen to U.K. music anymore. These days, I listen to loads of U.S. hip-hop. I love the Pharcyde, Nas, Big L, Outkast, Hieroglyphics and modern hip-hop as well. I love A$AP Rocky.
Your debut LP just got a name, Jerk at the End of the Line, and a release date of March 30. What can we expect from it?
The album is quite a leap forward. I’m honestly so proud of it. It portrays me better than anything I’ve ever done before. It has got moments of real darkness and melancholy, which is something that up until this point I haven’t really explored, at least publicly. It’s got the tone of Only Real, and it’s very recognizably me. It’s quite ambitious, because there are a lot more instruments and productions. One of the big aims, and also challenges, was combining that without losing the grittiness. I think we nailed it — the music is exciting and fuller while still having that rough quality to it as well.
There are a few songs that have been out before, mostly ones that have meant the most to me and have been part of defining Only Real. Some of them have been redone in quite drastic ways, some less so. But it’s 80 percent new stuff.
You recorded some of your early songs alone in your bedroom. How did that compare to working on your album?
As it happened, the production was split between Dan Carey in London and Ben Allen, who’s based in Atlanta. I spent a lot of time there with him, and it was an amazing experience. It was quite validating to have been able to go to America to make music, especially to work with someone who’s done some of my favorite albums. I came across Ben because I was looking up to see who had worked on albums by Deerhunter and Washed Out. He’d also worked at Big Boy Records in the ’90s, so he gets the hip-hop side of things. I hit him up on Skype a long time ago, and then I got signed and my label had money, so we made it happen. I worked with Dan in South London on the other half, which was great because he’s a wizard at psychedelic guitars. Now he’s now one of my best friends. He’s such an amazing guy, just so sweet and kind. His studio is in the bottom of his house, so you become part of his world when you’re there. I’d hang out with his wife and kids.