Inspirations & Sonic Influences for ‘Sandy Hill’- Track by Track

Conor Deery, the mastermind behind Big Romance, delves deep into the inspirations that shaped his captivating autobiographical album, Sandy Hill.

Adelaide’s own musical prodigy, Conor Deery, also known as the creative force behind Big Romance, unveils his latest autobiographical masterpiece, the enchanting albumSandy Hill. This remarkable musical journey takes listeners on a captivating exploration of the abstract landscapes of the human experience. Blending elements of emo, folk, and punk, Conor intertwines heartfelt personal revelations into every note, resonating with the depths of emotion.

With Sandy Hill, Conor embraces a slow and deliberate approach, delving into his old favourites and drawing inspiration from the legends who came before him. From the hauntingly beautiful folk melodies of Francis McPeake and The Corries to the introspective brilliance of Elliott Smith and the raw power of Brand New, Conor crafts a sonic tapestry that is both deeply introspective and relatable.

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Get ready to immerse yourself in the sonic world of Big Romance’s Conor Deery as he shares the inspirations and sonic influences behind each track on the transformative journey that is Sandy Hill.

Big Romance’s Conor Deery pays respect to original writers on ‘Sandy Hill’

Since COVID happened, I went back to the drawing board for this record. A slow & steady approach, listening very intently to some of my old favourites.

Upon Sandy Hill –  Francis McPeake 1st, ‘Wild Mountain Thyme (also known as Purple Heather and Will Ye Go, Lassie, Go?)’ Also sung By The Corries

I had recorded this sample of my family singing this classic folk song. I had it deep in the archives of my field recordings and it was a perfect match for setting the scene of the record. The lead character is about to embark on their journey into the future. Wild Mountain Thyme represents that perfectly to me. The beginning of the hero’s journey, come what may.


The Corries performing ‘Will Ye Go Lassie Go’

OBVIOUSLY – Elliott Smith ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’ with some Fleetwood Mac here and there

I can’t quite place which Fleetwood Mac song this kinda derives from, but it’s a song about rumours in the industry. Musicians treating other musicians like shit in hopes of gaining some kind of self elevation. Quite dark really but sadly, it does still happen. It’s happened to me! A lot of the album is about that very thing in a cynical way, how competitive and desperate people can become when trying to succeed in the world of music. It shouldn’t be this hard, it can be a very unhealthy industry to be a part of. You learn to become more self interested & resilient as you get older. There’s always going to be challenges!

Sonically the guitar work comes from listening to Figure 8 by Elliott Smith, I love how he plays. It’s so flowy and seems to be effortless. Similar to the sentiments of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’ carries similar guitar sounds and the lyrics talk about that potentially bitter relationship with other creative people.


BAIL – Brand New ‘Waste’, Elliott Smith ‘Rose Parade’ & OutKast ‘Chronometrophobia’

This is a dark song about obsession & being put on a pedestal. Mixed feelings about becoming successful or even famous in somebody’s eyes. In this context I’m talking about obsessive love. How it can become very confusing for people, especially artists pursuing a tough career. On ‘Waste’ by Brand New, Jesse recalls being stuck out of ‘phase’ with someone, a conflict in the relationship. I was so attracted to this sentiment and wanted to describe my own experience with something similar.

I love OutKast with all my heart. ‘Chronometrophobia ’ (From Idlewild) was the first time I noticed a beat that swaps out snare sounds multiple times and I wanted to sneak that somewhere into this album. ‘BAIL’ was the perfect place to emulate something like that.

As for the chords in this song, I’ve practiced a lot of songs from the 90s on the acoustic. Elliott Smith’s ‘Rose Parade’ is one I learned from. I was just a fan of how the progression sounds and how it feels to play.


Water Me Down – Alex G ‘Gretel’, Kendrick Lamar ‘FEAR.’ & Brand New ‘157’

I remember seeing Alex G play live in Dublin a few years back. When he played ‘Gretel’ it was so explosive and powerful. An explosive intro with countermelodies that enhance the overall song at every turn. I took this chance to make an effect like that for myself in ‘Water Me Down’.

This song, and the whole album was really challenging for me, I’d never been so explicit and vulnerable about anything in my entire life. I remember feeling very shocked when I heard Kendrick Lamar’s ‘FEAR.’ for the first time. I didn’t even know if I liked it, but the feeling it evoked was amazing. I tried my best to make this song something that could tell a domestic story that’s relatable like that. People who are struggling in their day to day lives. A lot of Kendrick’s work revolves around that! It’s very Salt of the Earth and ‘Raw’. I was inspired to say something similar with this record.

Some of the more sonic aspects i.e. The guitar solo at the end reflects my love for big guitars like Brand New use on their track ‘157’. Just obnoxious AF playing that overpowers everything just at the right moment, the crux of the song! In general, I’m a huge fan of using the acoustic guitar to bring that realism across. Brand New always excel with this, especially in their earlier albums. I was always a huge fan, hence my writing on this song. I feel like it brings images to the front of the mind for anyone who likes to be imaginative when they listen to music.

5. Lost At Sea – Paul Dempsey ‘Theme From Nice Guy’, Tracy Chapman ‘For My Lover’, Something For Kate ‘Private Rain’

Paul Dempsey is an all time favourite for me. There’s something about him that I really identify with. Whether that’s the way he writes his songs or the fact that he’s an Irish dude doing music, I’m not sure. Either way, he’s one of the very best. I love the themes he writes about. This track weighs heavy on the Paul inspiration. Charm can make something happy from a sad situation, lots of catchy hooks and cheesy backing vocals!

Tracy Chapman’s first album is one of the first albums I was really exposed to and I’ve grown to appreciate it more as I’ve gotten older. The songwriting is powerful but not overly complicated. Some of her love stories inspire me to be a better writer. On ‘For My Lover’ she talks about kind of letting love consume you and doing anything to have it with you. I took a lot from it. I use a lot of alliteration and stuff like that in my writing and it’s something inspired by writers like Tracy Chapman.

‘Private Rain’ by Something For Kate is one of my favourite songs. Ever. There’s this massive half time breakdown that you’d never see coming. I love it and it’s subconsciously made its way into my album on ‘Lost At Sea’ . It wasn’t intentional but if I had to guess where my brain got the idea from, I’d say Something For Kate is to blame. Again, it’s Paul Dempsey’s band so naturally I’m a fan!

PATH – Burial ‘ Archangel’ , Ben Howard’s Guitar playing on ‘Another Friday Night’, Leonard Cohen ‘Love Calls You By Your Name’ & Frederick Douglass ‘My Bondage & My Freedom’

I was asking a lot of big questions during the covid era and the making of this album. My roommate recommended I listen to this artist called ‘Burial’. It was amazing, all the samples and textural layers, I was enamoured! It just opened my eyes to being that much more inclusive of sampling in my music and keeping an open mind to any ideas that came through.

I’ve been playing around with open tunings a bit more and on this track, I wanted the guitar to do some of the talking. Telling the story without words. Ben Howard is someone I can always look to for letting his guitar sing. On some of his later work he really lets the acoustic guitar rip, I love it so much. I was vibing big time in my hotel room when covid first hit and I was in isolation. I recorded this guitar line in the same spirit as Ben! That developed further as the process of making the record went on and I combined it with all the samples & ideas I had.

This track really details how life’s kinda been over the last few years, very telling of the times we’re living through. Making sacrifices for people & things you love, hard decisions, compromises etc. Through the perspective of a young man, of course haha. Hence the Leonard Cohen influence, he talks a LOT about women & being a bit of a wise guy. This one’s a nod to those sentiments.  It’s a giant journal manifestation.

On the note of manifestations, I also read a bit of Frederick Douglass. In general, I’ve developed more of an appreciation for writing, but I really grew to like the way he writes. He starts the chapters of his autobiography with these broken kind of summaries of each chapter. All the words are like a collage that allude to the overall themes in each section. I’ve never seen it done like that before, I found it so interesting. Might be strange to say, but I harnessed that energy for this track, it’s general but leaves things interpretive.

{insert ‘Another Friday Night’ by Ben Howard & An Image of ‘My Bondage & My Freedom (Book) by Frederick Douglass’


Fighting For – Brand New ‘Limousine’ & Kendrick Lamar ‘FEEL.’ Alex G ‘Taking’ & Teddy Roosevelt ‘The Man In The Arena’

Over the last few years, it’s been a true test to keep a level head about things. Teddy Roosevelt’s ‘The Man In The Arena’ has been an invaluable sentiment to me. It’s always there in the back of my mind. It inspired me to be as resilient as possible to external stressors and this song, ‘Fighting For’, describes what it’s like to take that position. The man in the arena. I’ve worked a lot of different jobs and often been at odds with myself and the people in my life, as we all have. A conscious punk song in which the protagonist becomes very determined but perplexed by the world around him.

Musically, I took notes from Brand New’s ‘Limousine’. I love that song, it has that old American style writing again, similar to Edgar Allan Poe. Modern poetry. Lots of guitars and change ups that define that time in emo for me.

Another Alex G song I love, purely for its drive and energy, is ‘Taking’. I just love its momentum and the way the guitar layers all interact. I wanted to channel something like that on this one.

Kendrick Lamar’s ‘FEEL.’ is another one that shocked me the first time I heard it. It’s probably one of my favourite songs. It’s just so blunt and upfront and it taught me to be a little bit brutal about my honesty when it’s required for a song. Like it made me feel like I was on a path to making something that could hold that aggressive and frustrated energy. Shock people a little bit. Do what they’re not expecting. For anyone who knows me or cares about this music, I think they can relate to this character amidst the hard times we live in.


Rest My Head – John Martyn ‘Over The Hill’ & Elliott Smith ‘Stupidity Tries’, Edgar Allan Poe.

I was just getting to understand poetry a bit more before I started writing this record. Edgar Allan Poe was a poet a friend had recommended to me for his dark, macabre style. My first record was dark, but I found I could go deeper on this one! There isn’t a particular poem by Edgar Allan Poe, but I just enjoyed the melancholic style and felt inspired to apply it myself.

A lot of the guitar work comes from what I saw during my time in America. Lots of open tunings, I wanted to take what I learned and put it straight back into the music. I figure a lot of that comes from people like Elliott Smith, who have had a huge impact on American contemporary music today. I was listening to a lot of ‘Figure 8’ (Specifically the track, ‘Stupidity Tries’)  again and it informed some of my writing on the record.

Another all time favourite of mine, John Martyn has inspired me on this track. His song ‘Over The Hill’ is basically two chords the whole way through and I did something similar on this track. The chords are like, G to D. It’s a classic progression in Irish traditional music too. I thought it was cool to pay homage to that, as John did before me.


FORTUNE (111) – Nick Drake ‘Horn’ & Alex G ‘Walk’, as well as Shakespeare’s Sonnett 111 – O, For my sake do you with fortune chide.

I’ve always been a fan of instrumental tracks that tie albums together, whether sonically or conceptually. Nick Drake’s ‘Horn’ is so beautiful and everytime I hear it, it hits the same. It’s like it permeates my soul or something. I wanted to capture a similar energy on this track, Pink Moon is one of my favourite albums.

Alex G is another great artist that has interlude tracks like that. ‘Walk’ grabbed me the first time I heard it. I remember being on a flight home from somewhere and just really enjoying its simplicity and the way it made me feel.

This track ‘FORTUNE (111)’ has many meanings to me but it is influenced by an old Shakespeare Sonnet, ‘Sonnet 111’, I came across it one day and it described an experience I had perfectly, it blew my mind! I had to do it justice with my song. I hope people get the meaning they need from it, but I know what it means to me. This track sums up the overall context of the album for me.

alibis. –  Leonard Cohen ‘One Of Us Cannot be Wrong’ & Brand New ‘Batter Up’ as well as Say Anything ‘The Hardest’

As the final track on the album, I wanted to capture a certain bleakness and leave people feeling that mundanity and emptiness. It’s a masculine song about accountability & not being able to love somebody when you’re hurting.

It’s tough to be self aware sometimes, haha. Brand New’s ‘Batter Up’ is an amazing track I always circle back to. The constant guitars ticking away and the depth of emotion is outstanding. The irony of it all of course being that we’re all aware that bands like Brand New got canceled a long time ago.

Certain members act like assholes and do the wrong thing, abuse their power, it’s too common in music. I’m not saying I’m perfect, but that’s what ‘alibis.’ is about. It’s about doing the best thing for someone when you love them, on principle.

Even if it means sacrificing your own pleasures and joys. You refuse to be part of the cyclical abuse that haunts the industry. It’s all very complex, but at the end of the day it’s about giving a shit!

Sonically, I fell in love with Say Anything’s ‘Oliver Appropriate’, such a beautiful album. The way ’The Hardest’ hit me when I first heard it.. damn! I had just gotten out of a long term relationship and this song was my chance to articulate a similar feeling.

The chords, the lyrics, the characters, Max Bemis is an amazing writer and someone I really admire in music today. With this track, I had my friend Aofie Mcguire do some guest vocals, we’ve never met in person, she lives in London at the moment. We met online after she heard one of my songs.

So cool! I heard her sing (Mani Bazaar is her artist name) and loved her voice. She sings really nice, gothic, & dreamy songs. Anyway, Max Bemis will often have a feminine overtone and soft voice singing on his tracks, it’s a beautiful touch! I was excited to do something like that on ‘alibis.’

And finally, on the note of romantic warfare, Leonard Cohen is the master of telling these stories. Since I first listened to him, I’ve been inspired to create a poem or song that tells things from different character’s perspectives.