Steve Walsh, Operations & DevOps Engineer on Music

What I love most about electric guitar is that it can be the heaviest, most brutal sounding instrument ever – then at the flick of a switch, it can change to soaring cleans dripping in melody and effects. It’s the most versatile instrument but also very simple to get started on and get your sound across. It allows anyone to create a unique voice.

My name is Steve Walsh and I am an Operations/DevOps Engineer living in Dublin. I am one of those lucky few who fell into a job I am extremely suited for without having even thought of it. I didn’t pass any of the requirements to enter into a music course after my Leaving Certificate (self-taught metal guitarist with a disdain for “rules” such as music theory), so I got into an arts degree where I studied philosophy, Greek & Roman Civilization, and computer science. Starting second year, I was given a choice to transfer to a full Computer Science and Software Engineering course or remain in Arts. Against my better judgement at the time, I chose the latter because jobs are apparently an end goal of this whole third level education thing.

Fast forward five years and I had received my Bachelor’s Degree, just returned from a J1 summer spent in New York, and was starting a job in a small start-up as a web developer (which I was terrible at). Luckily for me two weeks after my starting, the current systems admin left the company – in true start-up fashion, I was thrown in at the deep end with a trial by fire. Turned out I had quite the penchant for troubleshooting systems and scripting monotonous tasks. From there, I got my first experience with git pipelines and solutions such as Chef and Docker. Seven years later, I am a DevOps engineer for Aer Lingus.

My main love has always been music and playing guitar, particularly that of the distorting heavy metal persuasion. My Dad inspired my love for music from an early age. Some of my earliest memories are him singing “lullabies” to me and my brothers – the one stuck in my mind has always been Emerald by Thin Lizzy. I remember rediscovering that song in my teenage years on my Dad’s mp3 player (one of the first that came out; I think it could hold 9 or 10 songs and that was it!) and listening to it around the clock, hundreds of times – the version from Live and Dangerous, of course! I would always listen to my Dad’s collection of AC/DC, Thin Lizzy, Alice Cooper, The Ramones, and The Sex Pistols. He even has some KISS on vinyl, but he’s not very proud of that one.

I first picked up the guitar when I was 11 or 12. We were getting something in the attic and I found my Dad’s old acoustic guitar. He got it ages ago but never really played it. It had a tie-dye flower strap on it and a sticker of an alien in dungarees giving the peace symbol. When I was 13, I spent what little savings I had on an electric guitar and I loved it.

Even though my Dad introduced me to rock music, I never really idolised anyone until I started discovering them myself. In my early teenage years, I was getting into metal and I started listening to Nirvana, Queens of the Stone Age, System of a Down, Metallica, etc. But it wasn’t until I heard Megadeth that I became obsessed with Dave Mustaine – in my eyes, the man could do no wrong. Dave Mustaine, and also Jeff Waters from the band Annihilator, gave me the inspiration to push myself at playing and improving at guitar (well, teenage me saw it as improving, but looking back it was just adding more distortion and playing faster; I still get nervous playing slow to this day).

My main and only genre is metal. There are many subgenres beneath that – the main ones being sludge, progressive and groove, but I’m metal through and through. I’ve tried to play other styles to broaden my playing horizons, but they never stuck. I’ll listen to pretty much everything from rap to classical, but when it comes to playing, only pure unadulterated metal comes from these fingertips.

Whereas I used to be obsessed with technical prowess, I now appreciate much more simple songwriting and cohesive music. Restraint is just as important as flamboyancy. That doesn’t mean every song should be a 3 minute 4/4 pop-rock song – I’m very much into my 9+ minute epics with multiple time signatures, but it doesn’t need to be that all the time. Sometimes, it’s the notes you don’t play that are more important; sometimes, it’s that extra note that pushes a riff to something more. There’s no formula. What makes a good guitar player at the end of the day is someone who enjoys every note they play as much as the last one. If you ever don’t enjoy something, you’re doing it wrong.

I’m currently in a band called Grey Stag. We’re a three-piece with me on guitar, Matt on bass and vocals, and Gatt on drums. Our band bio is “Grey Stag are a sociopathic groove tyrant with a penchant for dank riffage” – that’s all it needs to be. At the moment, we are writing our second EP for release later this year. We released our first EP, The Guide, last year and won the Metal Radio Ireland Best Metal EP of the Year by public vote, so we have a lot to live up to. This new one is great so far though!

My favourite experience so far is a recent one – my band got invited to play Ireland’s biggest metal festival the Siege of Limerick in April 2019 and we were blown away. We played the Kasbah stage at 8 o’clock to a packed venue and people just loved it. It’s the first time I noticed people singing along to our songs, clapping during the quiet interludes, and a lovely man crowd-surfing in a dress giving me an eyeful – you know who you are!

I, or more aptly we in the band, don’t have any end goals. We plan to take things as far as we can. First, it was entering the Bloodstock Metal 2 The Masses competition, then it was recording our first EP. After that, it was getting our own merchandise, website, and as many gigs as we can. We were shocked when we got voted best metal EP of last year but it showed our drive was paying off. Our two goals this year were playing the Siege of Limerick and recording the second EP. We’ve also sold out our first batch of merchandise, which is really great. The fact people are supporting what we do means a lot and gives us the means to keep going. The final goal is to become more successful than Denmark (yes, you read that last sentence correctly).

My advice to anyone interested in playing the guitar is to never stop and be happy in what you’re doing. You’ll never be the best, so don’t try to be. There will always be that wonder child on YouTube that can out solo Steve Vai, but don’t hold yourself to those standards. Find your own voice. Have fun.

I think it’s important to share the creative passions of not just people in the tech industry, but every industry. Whether you work with the person or you’re on the phone to them or ordering food from them – everyone is a person and everyone has their own passions. There’s always more than tech, and always more than work. We aren’t born to work, we’re born to create.

To listen to some of Grey Stag’s music, be sure to check the following link:

https://greystag.bandcamp.com/album/the-guide

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