Tucked away in a cosy nook of a busy pub in Ballina, Co. Mayo a usually softly-spoken Rafino Murphy raises his voice over the distorted whirring of a hoover that sounds like it had sucked up one fag butt too many.
“So I was in two minds, I did astrophysics in college in Maynooth and then after that I was thinking of doing a masters in London in gravitational physics…”
To start a conversation with a question about his college education would usually seem a strange one, but for Raf aka Uly, it’s an important part of his personal story. An unorthodox one that piqued my interest after hearing his work as one third of INNRSPACE on the Nealo joint ‘Just My Luck’.
Intrigued by the jazzy sounds of the three piece instrumental crew I dived a little more and found Uly’s solo work. Laying down frosty and emotive vocals over instrumentals akin to the likes of Skinshape, the astrophysics graduate is steadily affirming his decision to forgo academia for a career in music.
Cutting short his own chatter that had evolved into an impassioned explanation of the science behind what he describes as “jitters” in the universe, he pauses for a second.
“I’m making a balls of explaining it here,” he laughs.
Slicing through the noise in the pub though, is his passion for two distinctly different disciplines. While placing his focus on music now, it wasn’t always an easy choice of what career to pursue as a young buck heading to college.
“I was like this could be cool, I didn’t know what I was going to do, originally I wanted to do a split honours in physics and chemistry and do secondary school teaching. Then it didn’t really work out. I hated chemistry after the first year and then I was like astrophysics is quite cool, I realised this is where I need to go.”
Keeping a lid on both academia and a more creative pursuit in music is no easy feat and both interests entail different work flows and approaches.
“It’s kind of like everyone has multiple passions or whatever, but sometimes you feel like they are at odds with each other.”
That’s not to say they can’t exist harmoniously. Giving the example of famed Canadian astronaut Chris Hatfield, he believes there is room to carry dissimilar interests successfully and asserts having an academic passion provides him with an alternative career path if he decides to ditch the music.
“That is the whole idea when I started college, I was like maybe I’ll have music as a thing on the side and get the degree out of the way… I had some kind of affinity for it and maybe once I get that out of the way then I might give music a proper go”, he explains.
“After college I didn’t end up doing a post-grad or anything and spent six months abroad in a physics lab in Japan, there was an internship programme and a physicist from Cork ran a lab out there. The long and short of it is I ended up out there and I came back and was like that’s not for me.”
For many people the thing you love the most, you can never really get away from. In Uly’s case this was music and after leaving Japan he realised he had to centre his focus on a passion that took a backseat while he completed college.
“Where I’m at now, the thing I always end up going back to is music. I never really gave that a go and gave everything to it, so now working in that field I’ve got a flavour of what that might entail. Given where I am, in terms of what i’m actually capable of and stuff like that, I know I want to do music.”
Like any journey, it’s had its rocky parts and getting the balance hasn’t been an exact science. Darting back and forth between his two darlings is only natural and his breezy attitude towards life has evidently bled into the soft sounds of his work.
If I had to describe these sounds in a word it would be patient. It’s the type you play as you meditate over an important decision. His tender falsettos bring comfort while the dusty drums simultaneously massage the nervous system, encouraging you to trust your intuition.
While the atmosphere of the room couldn’t be any further removed from the intimate world his music resides in, he still appears at ease.
Looking to the future, nothing is set in stone however, despite the ambiguity one thing that is for certain is he wants to stay involved with music in some way.
“I have a weird relationship with music, because it’s been such a big part of my life and only recently I’ve gave it as much time as I wanted to. The end goal in whatever way shape or form that happens would be as a recording artist or maybe a producer working for other people or maybe someone that runs a practice space.”
Switching our focus from the future to the present, the conversation is coming to a close. With it being Uly’s debut at Other Voices he’s keen to embrace the communal spirit at the showcase in Ballina.
“This is my first time at Other Voices not only just playing but as being part of it as a spectator. From what I’ve heard from other people there is a very strong sense of community and there is very, very wholesome vibes.”
It’s clear that throwing himself into whatever he does is intertwined with Uly’s being, whether it’s jetting off to the other side of the world to work in a lab in Japan or putting a pause on one passion to pursue another. While he can’t say for certain if he’ll manage to balance his two passions in the future, he’s keen to keep doing what he loves.
“It wouldn’t be easy, but pursuing some sort of academic career with music on the side would be possible people do it all the time. To be enthusiastic and keep your ears to the ground on what is going on in physics and doing music that’s also doable.”
“A marriage of the two would be sweet.”