Tanya O’Callaghan was raised with the incredible opportunity of seeing all aspects of the music industry by learning from her father, a promoter. Growing up in the beautiful town of Mullingar, Ireland Tanya began her music career as a teenager when she first picked up a bass, and has been playing non-stop ever since. Known for her talent and professionalism, Tanya has toured the world with the best of the best. Today she brings together musicians from all walks of life for multi-genre jam sessions in her Gold Blend web series. We caught up with Tanya as she packed for a trip to California in preparation of NAMM.
EV: Welcome to Entertainment Vine, Tanya. You are gearing up for an exciting new year starting with a visit to Los Angeles to attend the annual music expo extravaganza that is the NAMM show. I bet you are somewhat ready for a break from the cold Irish winter for the warm California sun which I’m really missing right about now.
Tanya: Thanks for having me here Jan. Yes I am very much looking forward to kicking off 2015 at the Namm show, it really is musician’s heaven!! It is always such an amazing environment with people from all walks of the industry in one building for 3-4 days performing, networking, and meeting up with friends old and new. Great vibe all together! And yes as much as I love my wonderful country Ireland in all its cold and rainy glory, I am definitely in need on a dose of Californian sunshine.
EV: What projects are you most looking forward to in 2015?
Tanya: Well 2015 is very much still in the planning for me, I had such a hectic 2013 and 2014 I barely stopped, so I haven’t thought much past Namm to be honest (laughs). I am booked for several gigs and studio sessions early in the year, mainly for friends projects and I want to plan a few new jam videos for my YouTube series “Gold Blend”. I also want to start working on some original ideas and co writing projects that have been floating around.
So I guess you and me both will have to wait and see what might come my way this year, let’s hope it’s another epic musical adventure.
EV: After spending a year on tour with Riverdance: Heartbeat of Home are you ready to plant some roots and stay in one place for awhile, or do you crave touring and seeing the world?
Tanya: Yes and no, as anyone who tours/travels a lot knows it’s always nice to stop and be in one place for a minute after being on the road a lot, your body definitely needs a break from all the long haul flights and hotel hopping, but in saying that I always have the itch to get back out on the road with a new musical venture. I love touring, and being able to see the world, meet new people, experience different cultures, try new foods etc. etc. all while playing music for a living is just such a blessing!
EV: Heartbeat of Home brought you to my new home Shanghai, China. Were you able to experience the city while you were here by seeing the sights and braving some of the street foods?
Tanya: When I was in Shanghai unfortunately the pollution was so crazy I believe they call it “red alert” whatever the levels of toxins in the air were, it was crazy and very sad to see. Here’s hoping the human race start cleaning up our act going forward. Luckily one of the days while I was there it cleared up and we were able to see the incredible Shanghai skyline, stunning city when not engulfed in smog! As for street food, I had a hard time finding anything veggie friendly but I did stumble across a few amazing vegan restaurants thanks to some very lovely friendly locals pointing me in the right direction.
EV: Were you able to see The Shanghai Tower at all? It is China’s tallest building and is only second to Dubai as the world’s tallest building.
Tanya: We could only see up to a certain point of the tower as the top was beyond the dense smog line at the time. The architecture in general in Shanghai is magnificent!
EV: I’m excited to take an elevator to the top floor as soon as the Tower opens. Speaking of Dubai, you were on tour there a couple of years ago with Sharon Corr for her first solo tour. What was that experience like?
Tanya: Yes, Dubai was amazing! That was a really fun trip with a great bunch of people and it was my first time to play a lot of traditional Irish music within a set. We even played St. Patrick ’s Day out there so the whole thing was very patriotic (laughs). Playing outside in 40plus degrees was interesting to say the least, my basses took a while to settle in that heat so there was a bit more work for our guitar tech. Instrument techs are magicians, they can just solve all problems in all climates.
EV: I can’t even fathom that heat. You mentioned how it was difficult to find veggie friendly food here in Shanghai. I imagine you run into that a lot all over the world. What are some ways that you are able to adapt on the road?
Tanya: Well I’m a major foodie and love good food so when I’m travelling I always bring some healthy food on flights with me so as to avoid plane food which has been processed and dehydrated within an inch of its life ha! I have an amazing app on my phone called ‘Happy Cow’ lol .. It shows up all of the veggie and vegan restaurants and grocery stores nearby wherever I am in the world!
EV: With a plant based diet how do you find enough protein sources to stay strong especially with a grueling tour schedule?
Tanya: Honestly I think as people we are programmed to think we need way too much protein than we actually do, we are not all training to be body builders and nor does protein have to be from an animal source anyway. It’s almost like people get freaked out and think they will get weak and die if animal protein is taken from their diet. I refused meat at about 5yrs of age and haven’t touched it since and I am far from weak and lacking in protein. I always say look at elephants, the world largest land mammal and totally plant based, food for thought! But back to your question, I get my protein from veg, nuts, seeds, quinoa, tofu products and an abundance of other tasty food sources. When on a heavy schedule with touring or studio I just make conscious food decisions, but that’s also because I don’t enjoy fast food or the processed easy options, every meal should be enjoyed not just to fill a void!
EV: What are some other ways you are able to find health and balance between being on the road and life at home?
Tanya: As well as eating well I thinks it’s important to stay fit. I wouldn’t say I’m a big gym head or anything, but I do enjoy keeping fit. So whether at home or on the road I’d always work out 4-5 per week, be it a heavy cardio session and weight training in the gym, or a hike in the beautiful Californian canyons, or a walk in the rain in Ireland, it’s just good to get yourself moving!
EV: Before picking up the bass you played drums. What led you to the change and do you still pick up sticks?
Tanya: Ha!ha! Yes well I wouldn’t say I was anything near a drummer, I had a few lessons when I was 16 and was getting pretty decent but then abandoned it once I discovered bass (laughs). I started a music course in my hometown of Mullingar at 17 and enrolled myself as a drummer, but when I got accepted to the course I realized they only had an electric drum kit in the building which I just couldn’t warm to. One day I saw a great local musician Niall Masterson playing some Primus and Tool on bass in one of the rooms and I was fascinated, so that was that, I asked could I switch to bass there and then.
EV: What are some of the lessons you learned growing up around the music industry that still saves you time and trouble today?
Tanya: That’s an interesting question! I think one thing you learn in general in life, not just the music industry, is to not rely on other people too much, if you wanna get shit done go ahead full steam yourself, don’t allow lazy or slacking people around you to stop your going forward in your career path.
Arriving prepared and on time for any rehearsals, gigs or studio is a must and goes without saying really.
And a habit of mine is always to get up earlier than needed when expected somewhere, because the extra half hour/hour the morning of new session or gig will be well worth the time for a coffee and a ponder about the day ahead without rushing around in a panic.
EV: That’s a great idea to get up earlier than needed. Saves on the chaos if something goes unexpected (like traffic). You have played with such amazing and diverse musicians in various genres from heavy metal to Riverdance with swing, funk, jazz and rock in-between. Have you found it fairly easy adapting to different genres?
Tanya: I have been through a few extreme jumps over the years alright (laughs). I was giging around with my first band that was heavy metal just before landing my first real session gig with the very poptastic Brian McFadden of Westlife, that was a pretty drastic jump that week ha!ha!. I then ended up doing a lot of pop gigs behind the likes of Westlife, Boyzone, Cher Loyd for this big concert in Ireland called Childline. I then started giging with a 9 piece swing jazzy type band before I got invited to write and record with Maynard James Keenan of Tool which was more experimental prog rock I guess you’d say. To be honest, I never thought too much about the adapting, I would just put my head down and learn what was expected of me for the gigs and when it comes to studio I love jamming and experimenting with other musicians. Once I’m playing and there’s a great vibe in the band or in studio then I don’t think about the genre.
EV: In your Gold Blend web series you bring in all sorts of musicians who might not otherwise play together then you film their jam sessions. How did this idea first come about?
Tanya: Yes, the web series kind of just came about because I was playing around with a lot of bands in Ireland over the years and had met so many incredible musicians that I just had this notion of trying to gather various musicians in random line ups and have a jam and see what happened. Two of my great friends have a brilliant production company in Ireland called Kerbute Productions and they were so amazing to come on board and help me with the whole vision. It’s always been a very chilled side project kinda vibe, I don’t over think it or do much promo or anything, there’s several episodes up on youtube and there will be many more to come, they tend to come about when I have some downtime and can gather the masses (laughs).
EV: (laughs) Do you have a favorite bass to play?
Tanya: I think I can speak for the majority of musicians when I say my basses are like my children and I can’t really play favoritism (laughs), but in saying that certain guitars always have a soft spot.
I was delighted and honored last year to become endorsed by the Xotic guitars family, and have to say I’m totally in love with my Xotic XPJ-IT Chuck Rainey custom, she’s my favorite blonde. I’ve also had my very first Stingray with me everywhere I go for the past few years so it still holds a special place. I’ve played such a wide variety of basses over the years, P’s, J’s, Gibsons, Warwicks, Ernie Balls, depending on what the session needed sound wise so I love them all for different reasons. There is so many incredible luthiers making boutique guitars also, so it’s hard not to be a kid in a candy store wanting them all!
EV: You are an inspiration to young women who want to break into the industry, but are intimidated by the lack of female bassists. What have been some of your most rewarding experiences that would in turn encourage others to follow their dreams?
Tanya: This topic often comes up between myself and other female musician friends and we generally have a laugh about it because as any musician, we don’t wake up in the morning thinking about “hey I’m a female or I’m a male and I play music”. There are actually a lot of very strong female musicians on the scene and some incredible female bassists at that, I definitely agree it’s great that it is inspiring to young woman who are out there learning instruments and trying to get out there gigging etc. But, I do strongly believe that it doesn’t matter what sex you are, if you’re talented, or unique, or driven enough you’ll break down any barriers. Being female in this industry doesn’t matter unless you let it matter. Being yourself and being good at what you do and a great person to work with and be around will get you everywhere.
EV: That’s a great answer, thank you! Last question, your hometown Mullingar, Ireland is famously mentioned a bunch of times in James Joyce’s novel “Ulysses” as well as in his novels “Finnegans Wake” and “Stephen Hero”. What are some of the things about Mullingar that has inspired you?
Tanya: Yes, James Joyce even knew how great Mullingar was. I am very proud of where I’m from, I love my town and I love the people in it. We have such a rich music scene so when I was growing up there was live music on everywhere, every night of the week. I’ve nothing but good memories. The town is surrounded by beautiful lakes and encircled by the Royal canal so I’ve taken many a long walk and gained much inspiration from that. Then also just having “the craic” as we say in Ireland a lot (laughs).
EV: (laughs) Thank you very much for taking the time to hang out with Entertainment Vine. Hopefully you’ll tour China again soon.
Tanya: Thanks so much for asking me to be part of Entertainment Vine, great chatting to you! If I find out I’m coming back to Shanghai anytime soon you’ll be the first to know and we can grab a drink at the top of the Shanghai tower if its open.
EV: Sounds good to me!
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