For Those I Love

For Those I Love

“I’m not sure how I’m going to feel about people dancing to my own sadness,” David Balfe tells Apple Music. “When I was writing this at first, it was never meant for the public. I pressed 25 copies and gave them to my friends, who this record is about.” For Those I Love is about one of the Dublin artist’s friends in particular: his closest friend, collaborator and bandmate, the poet and musician Paul Curran—who died by suicide in February 2018. This extraordinary album is a love letter to that friendship. A self-produced, spoken-word masterpiece set to tenderly curated samples and exhilarating house beats, breaks and synths (“our youth was set to a backdrop of listening to house music in s**t cars, so it made perfect sense to retell those stories with an electronic palette”), it’s also a tribute to working-class communities, art, grief and survival. “Growing up where we did in Dublin, my friends and I learned very young that life is a very fragile and temporary thing,” Balfe says. “We first navigated the world in survival mode, but we soon realized that you have to express love. Because it haunts you as a regret if you don’t. An expression of love could be the difference between somebody’s being here or not being here. For us, that’s where being that vocal about love came from. I hope that’s not rare.” Read on for Balfe’s track-by-track guide to his important, thrilling record. I Have a Love “I wrote 75 or 76 songs for this album—this was the 15th, and it was also the first one that actually made it onto the record. It set the tone for how I wanted it all to feel and sound and flow, with the density and the texture that I wanted. The vast majority of samples that made it on had a very weighted significance to myself and my friends—they were very complementary to or important within the singular relationships that I was writing about. Here, the opening piano chords are from Sampha’s '(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano.' It’s is a very important song for myself and Paul. It dominated so much of the soundtrack to our intimate moments. I had written the instrumental before Paul had passed away and it was already going to be a track about my relationship with him. I was very lucky that I got to play that instrumental for him before he passed, and I got to share some of the lyrics. They very much had to do with this endless love that we both had. After Paul passed, the weight of the song and the samples themselves took on quite a different life me, and allowed me to reframe how I was writing the lyrics. I revisited '(No One Knows Me),' and I revisited [the song’s other sample] 'Let Love Flow On' by Sonya Spence. Despite having this disco heart, I’ve always found that to be a warm safety blanket of a song. A gorgeous reassurance of hope and love against the difficulties of live and tragedy. The main refrain—'I have a love, and it never fades' was written long before Paul passed, and I was very lucky to have been able to share with him. I think a lot of people have the impression that it was something I had written in response to his death, but it wasn’t. It was a response to our friendship and 13 years of being inseparable. It’s quite curious and tragic that it held so much more weight in the aftermath. So I rewrote the whole history of that song and the whole history of our life around that refrain afterwards. It’s a strange song for me.” You Stayed / To Live “This is a song that’s very much rooted in storytelling. So many of my relationships with my friends involved fields and barren wasteland—hanging out and spending time just being together, discussing and planning our ideas. It was rare to walk into these areas without there being a fire of some kind. I’m still entranced by it—I find even the visual of fire to be very intoxicating. Anyway, most of the record was made in the shed at my ma’s—but this was made up in the box bedroom. It was a Thursday night after training, and I was laying on the bed writing about this time that myself and Paul stole a couch and walked it over the motorway to this field at three in the morning, intending to set it on fire the next day and film it. We woke up the next morning and the couch had already been set on fire. There’s something magic about that field—time does not work in a linear fashion there. As I was writing the song, one of the cars across the road got set on fire—over a debt, I found out. There are so many things about the recording of this album that has made me rethink how I engage with the world in regard to fate, or observations of spirituality. And I get it: everything holds this other significance when you’ve gone through that kind of tragedy, and you read into things as a source of comfort more than anything. And you allow yourself to be enchanted by it. Really, of course, it’s all just chance.” To Have You “This is built around ‘Everything I Own’ by Barbara Mason. The start of the track also has this audio clip from when the band I was in with Paul [Burnt Out] were filming the video for a track called ‘Dear James,’ and the song continues from there. We wanted to have this atmospheric smoke bellowing out of our bins in the lane behind my house. One of my best mates, Robbie, was like, ‘I can make a smoke bomb out of tin foil and ping pong balls.’ And we did it. For us, it was just this moment of such monumental success. It was like this really traditional, hands-on success of our labor. I wanted to bring a reminder for myself and my friends of the things that we had done together and felt so much collective beauty for. We’re never going to lose that memory now. This is also the only song on the album that includes my harp playing, which has allowed me to not feel guilty about buying a harp in the first place and not following through with learning how to play it. Paul was always like, ‘You’re a f**king lunatic for buying that. But deadly, cool. Go for it.’” Top Scheme “The synth patch that I used is something I built years and years ago for a project that I did with one of my best mates, Pamela [Connolly], who’s now in a great band called Pillow Queens. We made music together in my ma’s shed for years for a project called Mothers and Fathers, and I wanted to bring a nod to that—it was important to me that I acknowledge so many of the different parts of my shared musical history with my friends for this album. Myself and Paul also had plans to start a separate project called Top Scheme, which was going to involve biting social commentary over some electronic, very aggressive, off-grid punk. We’d started making demos, but kept putting it off to focus on Burnt Out. I wanted to write a spiritual successor to that project and was very conscious where it would fit into the record. The song starts the curve from speaking very much about the love that we all shared together, into capturing about the worlds we grew up in—with this song speaking very specifically about the economic and social inequality that we faced being in a 1990s’ working-class community. It also speaks about the worlds we started to move into—when the geography of your world opens and suddenly you feel that sense of alienation that you once felt as a young child. You might be experiencing an economic disparity or a social divide that you’re unable to bridge. You hear people absolutely dehumanize others and reduce people down to scumbags based on their economic standing or, particularly as this song speaks about, really punishing people verbally for being addicts. Stripping them of their humanity, not caring about the sickness that ails them and seeing them as a plague. Just seeing them as a plague. This song speaks to that anger and disassociation—but there’s also supposed to be a very dark humor across it.” The Myth / I Don’t “This is the darkest moment on the record, and it’s the most difficult one to revisit because I am very much walking back into a mental and physical space that I’ve fortunately recovered from. It talks about where I was at before I had access to therapy and medication, then when I did and was trying to justify the exorbitant cost of dealing both those things—trying to value your own health over economic stability. It was very important that the music was sonically intoxicating. It spirals and I tried to make its density change and shift over time—with the shape of each sound morphing slowly and sometimes frantically towards its peak. I wanted it to feel like the same chaos, discomfort, and internal fear I felt during that period, but also capture the same drive toward this one singular end point. It needed to move towards this sonic oblivion at the end, because that’s what I was seeking at that point in my life. It’s also worth noting that for all the darkness that that song does bring, the times where I’ve gotten to perform it have probably been the most giving and actually traditionally cathartic things that I’ve been able to experience.” The Shape of You “Some of the samples took months to clear, but the Smokey Robinson one here went through like clockwork, overnight. I don’t know why, I didn’t ask why, I don’t need to know why. It’s a defining moment on the record for me—I listened to ‘The Tracks of My Tears’ when everything was going to s**t and I felt heard in somebody else’s music, and suddenly understood that within my own music I could have somebody speak for me with an elegance that I would never be able to get. The beauty of sampling is being able to be intelligent enough to recognize when the choice to use other people who have walked that ground before is the right one. The lyrics cover me breaking my leg at a Belgian punk festival in 2007 and experiencing this terrifying, very chaotic time—before the relief and beauty and safety I felt when I saw my best friend arrive at the hospital. Everything that could possibly go wrong had gone wrong, but your best mate is there beside you, and you suddenly feel like it’s all going to be OK—and that you might even find some value in the chaos of it all.” Birthday / The Pain “One of the important things about this track is the juxtaposition of its make-up. It was quite a methodical choice. I understood that if I was to write about something like a dead body on bricks being found on my street while I was six years old with the sonic palette you would usually anticipate, then it would never have the comfort level for people to engage with that story. It’s a little bit of a cheat in order to allow people to find an entry point into the reality of that kind of world. The song’s built around a sample from ‘She Won’t be Gone Long’ by The Sentiments. It’s a slow dance, that song, and I find it to be quite a comfort to fall into the rhythm of it. The other special part of the song is the inclusion of crowd chanting at the start—from a specific game at Tolka Park, where our [soccer] team, Shelbourne FC, play. It was the first match of the season after Paul had passed and we were scattering his ashes that night on the pitch after the game. It was one of those games where you channel everything you have left in your life into those 90 minutes, into that jersey. It was 3-2 Shels in the end, with a 93rd minute penno. It’s all of us and the fans chanting, recorded on my phone. It was important to be able to bring the importance of that audio, that team, those friends and those strangers onto the record.” You Live / No One Like You “I think this is the best song, musically. It has all the warmth and texture that I want in a piece of music. I wasn’t trying to write pop anthems here—and that’s nothing against great pop anthems at all—because you can get so much into the weeds, the maths and the make-up of a song that way. But really it’s my favorite because it’s a song where I get to most clearly speak about my greatest love: my friends, and the survival that we’ve had together. It’s the song I get to most directly speak about them by name and channel years and years of friendship into this one moment. It’s therefore the song that gives me the most hope. And it gave me the most hope when I recorded it, too. It’s a lot easier to feel affected by something when you observe it than when you live it, I think, and to see my friends so emotionally invested and elated when they see and hear themselves immortalized, that’s where the value lies for me. It’s also nice to be able to revisit and revel in so many of monoliths of Irish culture—stemming back to people like John B. Keane and Brendan Behan. The song is very much a place of warmth, where I can go to remember what’s good, what’s left and what I value still.” Leave Me Not Love “I felt it was important to me to be able to close the book on this record and bring the listener back around to its inception. To really focus on that eternal return to the same, coming back to the original notes and scale that open the album. Where this track moves in quite a different direction to the others is at the end. It’s perhaps the only time where I unapologetically express something without hope. I turn back to the reality that I lived at the time, which was something explicitly void of hope and embedded in pain. I felt it would have been disingenuous of me not to bring the album back to the really graphic darkness that’s still there. I think I’m responsible enough to offer pockets and avenues that I have found to escape it, while stripping away any pretense and present the reality of that grief. What follows is ‘Cryin’ Like a Baby’ by Jackson C. Frank, which is a song that was very important to Paul and I, and speaks very directly, with a finesse I couldn’t have found by myself, to the days directly after Paul’s passing. It was the only way to end the record.”

Select a country or region

Africa, Middle East, and India

Asia Pacific


Latin America and the Caribbean

The United States and Canada