How Dubai-based Irish music producer Shaun Warner went from McDonald’s to Billboard charts


Irish dance music producer Shaun Warner has hit many big milestones in his career. He topped a number of iTunes charts in the region with his 2017 debut album ‘Shaun Warner & Friends’, and his second album ‘Stay’ made it onto the prestigious US Billboard Dance charts.

However, this Dubai-based musician — who as a young lad used to work at McDonald’s before getting into DJing — was not immune to the slump that many people experienced during the global pandemic. He had released two successful albums before COVID-19 took over the world, and his third one ‘Resuscitation’ was a work in progress for three years before it finally released to the world on September 15.

The nine-track record was a labour of love that emerged from loss and grief, and almost seems like the proverbial phoenix that rose from the ashes.

“It feels like a weight off my shoulders, to be honest,” he told Gulf News over Zoom. “I think it’s been ready for over nine months. But the majority of tracks have been finished for like well over a year. During the pandemic, I just wasn’t able to get my head into completing projects.”

The dad-of-two had been working from home, and said he “should have had ample opportunity” to work on the album but couldn’t quite find the motivation to get the album wrapped up.

He added: “Then one morning, I just woke up and there it was back again. I was like, ‘Cool, let’s get this finished’. Because after the first album, it was less than a year when we released the second album. So the second album happened really, really quickly. So I kind of thought that that would just keep going. But yeah, this took me a bit longer to get out… That’s why the title is ‘Resuscitation’ because it really felt like I was coming back to life from a musical sense after probably a tough couple of years from a pandemic point of view, but then also from a personal point of view.”

In an interview with Gulf News, Warner opened up about his unlikely start as a DJ and the journey he had to take before releasing his newest work.

How did you get into DJing and music production?

When I was 16, I was working in McDonald’s. I was in school full-time, but then I was working also full-time. I was trying to save up enough money to buy a motorbike. And then when I went back to my parents, I was like, I’m going to get a motorbike. They were just like, I don’t think so. I was a bit annoyed. I was like, what can I do that’ll make a lot of noise and annoy my parents, like a typical 16-year-old. So I get this crazy deck setup and my mom was like, ‘Oh, that’s great’. My dad was like ‘I want to show you something’. And he brought me out to the shed and he showed me his old turntable setup. He launched the first nightclub in my city. He was like ‘come here, let me help you. I’ll put your setup together’. Instead of annoying them they became really, really supportive. My mom was dropping me to my first gig when I was 16. She’d come and pick me up afterwards because I was still too young to drive. It was supposed to be quite rebellious, but it ended up being the most supported rebellious act in history.

The album ‘Resuscitation’ came from a bit of heartbreak. Is that correct?

My marriage fell apart. And at the time I just felt very lonely. And it was my first time being by myself. So I kind of had to put a brave face on things while I went through my own stuff. Because obviously, I didn’t want anything to trickle down to my two boys. But yeah, it took a little while for me to come out the other side. But yeah, that definitely played a role as well. I had a couple of friends die in quick succession.

It made me really feel thankful for what I have. So yeah, that’s where the track ‘Man Up’ came from. Because [I was] just fighting that urge to just chuck it all in and to run. Yeah, it was a tough period. Now I’m at the other side. My boys are really, really good. I’m in a great relationship with an awesome girl. Me and my ex are very respectful. Things are very positive. Yeah, so life is really good.

How would you say your album is different from your first two one?

I think the first album was me putting together a collection of songs that I was just really happy to finish. Because I didn’t think that I would ever be able to put together an album. So there wasn’t any continuity and every time I finished one track, I really didn’t believe that I had another song in me. That’s why on the album, I threw everything in there.

The second album I was in a very, very good place… I wanted to do something that I’d be able to show my kids that look — ‘Life is good’. It was a very pop-y, happy-go-lucky sort of album — because at the time, everything was.

This one, [‘Resuscitation’], I didn’t release it in chronological order. Because if I did nobody would get past the second track; people will be so depressed. That’s why the ‘Man Up’ track is three, and then the ‘Eye to Eye’ track was four. They’re probably the first few tracks written… Whereas ‘Can You Keep a Secret’ is a really nice, pop bubbly track about that moment when you’re falling in love again. So I thought that’s a better way to start it than to finish it.

I like to understand the process behind how music is made. So it’s very interesting to hear how things come together because there’s obviously so much that goes behind the scenes, right?

If you saw me write a song, you’d be like, ‘Why did I waste my time interviewing this guy?’ Even though I write all the music, I don’t play any instruments. I’ve always thought that if you know where you’re going, you can get there. So if I know the melody I want to get in my head, it might take me half a day to come up with it but I’ll figure it out on the piano. If you asked me to play it live, no chance. But can I write the notes? I already have the song in my head, now all they have to do is just find the notes to match it. So I think if you’re persistent enough, and kind of dumb enough, they you can get anything done.

Shaun Warner
Shaun Warner
Image Credit: Supplied

You’ve hit the Billboard chart with your music, and you topped iTunes. What is your proudest moment as a musician?

The second album ended up charting pretty well in Ireland. And there’s a radio station that doesn’t do much music… It’s called RTE, but it’s the biggest radio station in the country. It’s the national broadcaster, it’s very serious. And [my parents’] phones are blowing up because all of their friends were like, ‘Oh my God, [they’re reviewing] your son’s album’… They gave it like a four and a half out a five. So my parents were like, is there a different Shaun Warner or is this you? They couldn’t believe it. And that meant a lot to me. The fact that my music was being played on a radio station that I grew up listening to… and they were taking it seriously… it was a very, very cool moment.

What’s the future like for you in terms of your music and career?

I’d like to keep writing. I’m hoping that the well never dries. At the moment, my son has started doing stuff on [music software] GarageBand. He’s seven and he did this independently. And when I saw him do it, I was like this is really cool, this is something that we can do together. So regardless of whether it’s putting out music or helping my kids with whatever they want to do, be it music or whatever, I think that would be really cool.

I’ll hopefully release at least one more album. I’ve got three or four songs finished, ready to go. So maybe, within another year or year and a half, I might have something else. Music is an outlet for me. Whenever I’m going through something, it’s really therapeutic to be able to sit down and put it into words. So I guess if I can keep doing this, it’s quite healthy for me mentally and it’s a lot of fun.

Shaun Warner’s playlist

Most romantic song: David Gray – ‘This Years Love’

Most inspirational song: Shaun Warner – ‘Dig Deep’

Party song: Fatboy Slim – ‘Praise You (Purple Disco Machine Remix)’

Best electronic: Bicep – ‘Glue’

Saddest song: Snow Patrol – ‘Run’

Best classical: Ludovico Einaudi – ‘Experience’

Best song ever written ever: Queen – ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’

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