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March 26, 2020

Interview with ONR

Interview with ONR

Practicing social distancing, we interviewed ONR on Zoom!

Please share while we are #togetherathome 🏠

ONR is singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and self-taught producer born Robert Shields who was raised in rural isolation on a sheep farm in...

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Practicing social distancing, we interviewed ONR on Zoom!

Please share while we are #togetherathome 🏠

ONR is singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and self-taught producer born Robert Shields who was raised in rural isolation on a sheep farm in the Scottish Highlands. Despite that – or, even, because of it – his songs have an instant, deep, wide-ranging and international connectivity. Big voice, big melodies, big emotional impact, all created by an artist who, growing up, had little to distract him other than his own imagination and aspirations.

For much of his childhood, there wasn’t much in front of Shields apart from sheep and some more sheep. Much of his childhood on was spent in a cold, damp, stone farmhouse on cliffs overlooking the North Sea.

At least music was inside him. “I loved where I was from, but I also wanted to break out of it and connect with other people.”

Music did that – if only, at first, in his head and heart. It’s why, a decade or later, his lyrics would pulse and glow with a yearning for escapism and a desire to stretch out and touch, to compensate for the isolation of his upbringing. And it’s why, back in his adolescence, he filled his lonely hours by reaching music the only way he could: by teaching himself piano, bashing out tunes, or versions of tunes, on a battered instrument, missing half its keys, that he found discarded in the family shed.

The first CD he owned was Travis’s third album, 2001’s The Invisible Band, a few years after it was released. Beyond that, he loved the big singer-songwriters: David Bowie, a lifelong hero, Kate Bush, Elton John, Bruce Springsteen. Then Radiohead and Coldplay and Arcade Fire, then back through The Cure and Joy Division.

Inspired – not to mention bored on the farm – Shields began writing and performing his own songs aged 12 or 13, encouraged by his parents, who recognized and embraced his musicality.

“They’d ferry me round pubs on the Black Isle in my early teens. I’d play in a little place called Crofters every weekend, me and a Casio keyboard. Covers mostly, all the classics, from Tom Jones to Bryan Adams!” he laughs, “but I’d sneak in a few of my own for the more discerning punters. But in all honesty, it gives you a clear understanding of how audiences work. Or don’t work! You play enough hostile or indifferent audiences, it helps you with writing: you have an idea of what people like. What kind of melodies or structures work.”

While still at school he had his first break: he won a songwriting competition, judged by Coldplay’s Chris Martin which opened a lot of doors. He was offered a place at the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts, founded by Sir Paul McCartney, which he turned down. Soon after, he caught the attention of a Scottish manager part-based in Los Angeles. He loved what he heard and invited the youngster over to California. “I was 16 or 17 when I flew to LA. I’d never been out of the country. It was equal parts thrilling and terrifying.” While there, Shields received some label offers, which he turned down. “I wasn’t ready, not personally, not musically.” He wanted to push on with his own music.

All he wanted to do now was play live. He went back to Scotland, formed a band and toured in a Ford Transit van. “We played dozens and dozens of shows all over Europe. I was still shy but I wanted to improve as a frontman. And I really enjoyed it. I was determined, as I had been from school, to be in music in any way.”

Away from touring, he wrote for film and TV, wrote and produced for other local artists, and wrote for himself. Finally, in 2016, he was ready for the next step. Shields had, after many roads and miles, figured out who he was as a songwriter. Making music that was, at last, true to him, of which he was proud, felt like an honor. So, he became ONR.

He got back in touch with his music manager acquaintance and played him some of his new songs. They released two of them, “Jericho” and “American Gods”, and not long after,


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