Seba Safe: Music is worth gambling on
© Seba Safe
Embracing heritage, social change and the Irish seaside: Seba Safe leans into songwriting to emerge stronger
My interview with Mike D'Alton doesn’t quite go to plan. When I sit down to meet the Irish singer-songwriter and the life and soul behind Seba Safe, technical difficulties prevent me from connecting with him. Half an hour of wondering, worrying, and speaking to his manager reveal that Zoom let both of us down. When the Internet gods finally smile at us benevolently, I’m even more nervous than before.
I needn’t have worried. A wonderfully bright and smiling face, the unmistakable and charming Irish accent, and kindness from the first words between us already show me a lot about the artist I’m about to interview. He apologises profusely for the delay, despite not being at fault, then tells me that he didn’t mind waiting. He says he played his guitar during that time and is generally quite laid-back, so things like that don’t faze him.
I liken Mike’s demeanour to that of the Irish seaside: He’s utterly cool, refreshing, and energetic, yet chilled out and welcoming. He’s so easy to talk to as if we’ve met each other before.
Originally from Galway, the cultural heart of Ireland, Mike has music running through his veins. He’s worked with the producer of Florence and the Machine and Jamie Callum, as well as a successful collaboration with Æ MAK with I Dance In The Kitchen, which had millions of streams on all major platforms. After a self-produced first EP, he released his second EP, Rainy, this summer, which is taking him on an impressive European tour, including major cities in the UK, Germany, the Czech Republic, and Hungary.
I’ve caught up with Mike just before then, chatting about the influence of his Irish heritage on his music and lyrics, how watching the art scene in Dublin slowly disappear has affected him, and how he bounces back from setbacks and challenges toward his exciting plans for the future.
In your bio on social media, you call yourself The Fresh Prince of Bel-Éire, an ode to your beautiful home country. How has Ireland influenced you and your music?
I think that music has helped me to accept and embrace my Irishness. Growing up, I saw traditional Irish music as being for the older generations, and as a teenager, I was actively trying to get away from it and gravitated toward Americanised pop music. But now there’s been a new wave of Irish folk and traditional music, which is highly respected amongst young people as well. It’s starting to seep into my songwriting in a beautiful way that I’m really looking forward to experimenting with more. It’s in my blood, it’s in my culture. So it's inevitable that it will come out through the sounds of my songs, which in turn is like an ode to my country.
© Seba Safe
Your lyrics always tell a story, and you sometimes mix in Gaelic words and phrases, such as in the song On my way. Is this something that comes naturally to you?
Oró, Sé Do Bheatha ‘Bhaile’, which from Irish translates to ‘welcome home’, is originally from an old war and rebellion song about the pirate queen and her soldiers coming home. It’s a little tune that Irish children and people know well.
I think a lot of my writing is quite personal to me, more like journal entries than storytelling. I just write exactly what's on my mind and what's going on in my life, and what I see around me.
Who are you welcoming home in On my way?
There was a mass exodus of young people from Ireland to Berlin in the last few years, and a lot of my friends emigrated there, too. Dublin is a completely different city now from the city I moved to all those years ago. The art scene is slowly disappearing. We used to play gigs in the pubs and small clubs, but they’ve been shut down to make place for a kind of corporate retreat for big businesses. Obviously, there are still musicians, artists, and young people around but a severe amount of them have gone.
I think that’s where On my way came in, Oró, Sé Do Bheatha ‘Bhaile’, kind of welcoming these stories in a fictional manner, thinking about all of those stories that have been lost and memories that could have been made if people had felt that they could’ve stayed here and there were better opportunities.
Does it feel vulnerable to put your most personal and deepest emotions into songs and then release them into the world?
That's definitely the hardest part because they’re my own words, but then you have to look at it as business, I suppose. I find it very hard to separate the two and release a song to the world that I care so much about, especially if it doesn't do as well as I’d hoped. I have to make sure I don’t take it personally and to separate the music, the product, from myself as the artist.
A lot of your photos on social media, videos, and music videos, as well as the cover image of the EP, feature the beach, seaside, and nature. Can you share why this is and what draws you to them?
Before 2020, I was in Dublin City for ten years, mostly working in the catering industry, in bars and restaurants, after I studied music there. I was writing some songs, but to be completely honest, I was kind of wasting a lot of time going out too much and just living city life. And then COVID happened. I left and went straight to the sea on the Westcoast. That’s when I started taking songwriting really seriously, and I wrote as much as I should have been all along. After a few months, I was contacted by Nettwerk, and a deal was done during the pandemic.
I think moving to the sea and being around this beautiful nature got me into a place of writing and professionalism. I’d say that being in that environment literally changed my life, and everything is so much more positive now in my life and my music. The artwork on my EP sums that up nicely, and I’d like to say thanks and give a little plug to Ellen Duffy. She's the visual artist who created that art from the pictures that have been taken by Rose Tinted HQ. Both of them are amazing!
© Seba Safe
What challenges have you faced, personally and as an artist, and where do you turn to regain focus and strength?
Imposter syndrome, for me, is one of the biggest ones, especially when I look at my friends who’ve been working in their industries for ten years, and they’re building houses, having kids, and then I’m thinking: Jesus, what the hell am I doing here?! Am I just absolutely crazy? Then there is the financial aspect as well; I’m still making coffee and doing some other things to get by. It's a mad roll of the dice! But I think ultimately, if you're not doing your art, you'd be doubly sad. So I think it's definitely worth gambling on it.
I think the funny thing is when you do hit these challenges, the only way out is to lean back into the art. So it's kind of a snowball effect. You have a neverending cycle of worry, art, and fear, and then you just have to pick up the guitar, so it just feeds into itself [laughs].
I also think being around creative people is a great way to stay focused and maybe give yourself that nudge to create something. If you’re surrounded by people who are working hard, I think that's a great way to encourage yourself to do the same.
During the release of your EP Rainy you mentioned that those songs are a “lovely jumping off point to where I’m heading next”. Can you tell us a little more about this?
Well, I'm in a very fortunate position where I have far too many songs, so I need to get the figurative ice pick out and chisel away at them. I've just been writing so much in the last few months; I would say the way I'm going at the moment is almost as if EP one and EP two had a baby! I think lyrically I’ve just hit my stride, and I'm finally in a place, and maybe I say this every year, but I feel like I've finally gotten to a place where I know exactly what I want to sound like.
You’ve got lots of live shows coming up in Ireland, the UK, and also across Europe. Are there any venues, countries, or cities you’re most excited about, and why?
I can't wait to go to Vienna and Budapest l, and I’m also going back to Hamburg. I supported some friends in a band a few months back, and it was an amazing place. But it's tough to pinpoint just one city; I'm really looking forward to it all, and it’ll be great to play my music.
But it’ll be my first gig in Berlin this summer, and I've got a lot of friends from college over there. Berlin is a class city for me to visit, very fun. I actually think it’s too much fun for me, I can’t behave myself! [laughs] It’s an amazing place, so I'm really looking forward to playing there.
Do you think you'd ever move, or do you think Ireland is where your home and your heart are? I definitely think my home and heart are here. I suppose the goal is to get my music off the ground, and then I can travel through gigging. But I don't have an immediate urge to live anywhere else. Maybe I'll kick myself in a few years for that. Let's see.
© Seba Safe
Pouring his heart and soul into music and embracing his heritage with a little help from the Irish coast and seaside, Mike has brought Seba Safe to life. Unimpressed by the pressures of society and Dublin corporate life, the singer-songwriter is riding his own wave of creativity and success. Despite having watched close friends leave his home and wondering what life could be like if things had worked out differently, Mike leans into his music as the only way he knows to overcome personal challenges.
Born and bred in the cultural heart of Ireland, it looks like Mike is exactly where he was always supposed to be: Writing music by the Irish sea, weaving Irish folk into his own melodies, and touring across the world. It’s quite clear that the Fresh Prince of Bel-Éire is on his way to becoming a star.
7th October - Monroe's, Galway
8th October - Dolan's, Limerick
15th October - Whelan's, Dublin
23rd October - Castle Hotel, Manchester
24th October - Slaughtered Lamb, London
25th October - The Victoria, Birmingham