There was a point in the not-too-distant past when Richie Egan was considering never making an album again. Born and raised in Dublin, Egan has received multiple critical plaudits for his work over the years with bands including the Redneck Manifesto, and as a long-time solo artist under the name Jape, culminating in him becoming the only ever two-time winner of the Choice Music Prize for his albums Ritual in 2008 and Ocean of Frequency in 2011.
But - as Egan tells me over a coffee in Rathmines in Dublin - having relocated to Malmo seven years ago, he'd started to wonder, at the age of 43, if the time had come for younger bands in Ireland to take the reins creatively. "I was thinking, 'Why should I even do a record?'" Egan says. "I'm older now, and there are a lot of amazing musicians coming up. I was thinking, 'Do I fit in? Do I need to say anything?' "
Many artists would have used such self-doubt to destroy themselves; Egan has turned it to his advantage. On his new album Sentinel, a gloriously deft and layered confection, the title track taps into those feelings and makes a virtue of them. "One of these days/They'll find me out," Egan sings. "So I might as well protect myself./ With some labour of love/For now, I think it's time to finish it off/Crawl across the line again."
If the lines suggest an artist riddled with concerns about his creativity, in person, Egan is a bright and affable presence; easy to talk to, down-to-earth and honest. "I feel really proud of this record," he says. "I hope music can offer solace to people. You put it out in the world and see if it resonates."
Sentinel is already attracting rave reviews from critics. The album moves away from the hookier side of Egan - think of tracks like Floating or I Was a Man - to achieve something more tapestry-like and delicate. It's a record that's designed to unfurl like a flower, revealing its charms.
"What I wanted to do was make a record for people to listen to on a Sunday morning,” Egan says. “I used tape loops, modular synthesisers, acoustic guitar, different vocal effects and harmonies. A lot of hours went into it. The great thing about recording it yourself is you can get really intimate takes. The downside is setting up mics and pressing record."
Egan records by himself at his home in Malmo, which he shares with his Swedish wife Noomi and their two children, Anja and Richie jr. Since his move to Malmo, Egan has also worked in commercial music, making songs for cartoons on Nickelodeon and Amazon.
"I love it," he says. "Having the children in the house, they're the first responders. One of the cartoons is Becca's Bunch on Nickelodeon and I've just finished working one for Amazon called Jessy & Nessy. Making music in any form is good for me.”
Egan has toured his albums in the past, but he doesn't envisage touring Sentinel, in part because the album is a tricky prospect to play live, but also because he understands the toll touring can take on his health. The way he puts it, home in Malmo is a good place for him to be.
“It got bad at the start of the year in Japan,” he says. “I got serious anxiety. I needed to take time to look after my mental health. I cancelled a tour in Slovakia, and I went back and started exercising. Stuff can build up over time. I had depression over the years. You need to make time to look after yourself physically and then the physical stuff helps with the mental stuff.”
At the launch gig for Sentinel in Dublin’s Lost Lane venue on Sunday, Egan did play a few tracks from the new album with assistance from his friends and peers David Kitt and Margie Lewis, to a receptive audience. He says he’s been very happy with the reaction he’s had to the record so far.
"For me, success is that the album will resonate with people,” he says, adding that it doesn’t matter if you’re a big artist or a more alternative one, as long as you have integrity. "You can see truth in people's music. Dermot Kennedy - he's amazing - and he sells 25,000 tickets. I've always thought of it as an artistic chain. If you stay true to yourself, then it's the same thing."
From that perspective, Egan sometimes gets irritated by people who seek to place commercial expectations on him. "I see my musical life as a trajectory,” he says. “I'm still making music I'm proud of. A lot of bands got signed, had one huge album and split up. They're in Whelan's drinking pints and they're bitter and they're not making music anymore. I'm finding joy in making music. It's a need for me.
"I'll be doing it as long as I live."
Sentinel from Jape is out now and available on Spotify