Interview: Tanya O’Callaghan – Bassist with WHITESNAKE

Whitesnake have had many line-up changes over their history. However, never someone originally from Ireland. I was lucky enough to be able to have a chat with the newest Snake, Tanya O’Callaghan, recently. As a huge Whitesnake fan and a former native of the Emerald Isle, it was too good an opportunity to pass by.

ANTIHERO: The last two years of a global pandemic has been a difficult period for the world at large. I see that you have a diverse range of interests outside of music. Was it easy to fill that time that was afforded to you when you were unable to tour?

Tanya O’Callaghan: I have different things outside music and activism. Obviously, none of us wanted it to last this long. And shit, coming off the road for two years. But I hadn’t been off the road in almost 10 years. I was back-to-back, because all the gigs I did just, by chance, ran into each other. It was 8-10 years of solid touring with different artists. So, it was nice at the beginning because everyone was, okay, cool, a break from traveling. And what it allowed me to do was finish a project I had, a plant-based TV show I had with Derek of Sepultura. So, we did a lot of editing on that. And then I did a lot of studio work. So, I count myself lucky in that I stayed busy the entire pandemic because I have a lot of other passion projects and studio work, but I can’t wait to get back on the road, now. It’s alright. The road dog syndrome is real. When you’re so used to living on the road, you want to get back out there.

ANTIHERO: Growing up, I’m not too familiar with Mullingar. What musical opportunities were there for you growing up? When did you first decide that music was your forte?

Tanya O’Callaghan: I was very late to music. I was surrounded by it because Mullingar’s a very musical town. We have the Dolan family; Jo Dolan and all the showband shows. And, of course, Niall from One Direction is there, and Blizzards, and there’s an awful lot of musicians in town and local tribe players. So, I was always surrounded by it. And my dad loved music, and I was very much exposed to music. But I worked in an animal rescue shelter from 8 to 18, and I never touched an instrument. I took a total turn, and I picked up a bass when I was about 17, and I just became obsessed. So right away, I joined bands.

And Ireland has a lot of that wedding band scene and corporate gigs. So, I jumped right into that. And then, I had my own heavy metal band in my hometown called Severed. I was always gigging, immediately, and within weeks of playing. I was terrible, but that’s the whole point, right? You jump in the deep end. So, gig-wise, especially in that timeframe, there were a lot of wedding bands, corporate stuff, covers gigs, local pub gigs. So, Ireland was always great like that. And then, you’d go up to Dublin, or Galway, or Belfast, and play all the venues. So, I think it was a great culture to grow up in, but I was very, very late to it. I was late picking it up, but then I jumped in, and that was it. The rest is history.

ANTIHERO: Were you entirely self-taught, then? Or did you take some lessons along the way?

Tanya O’Callaghan: No. I’m self-taught, completely, really. I did a very brief stint at New Park, when New Park Jazz College, before, just as it was about to become an affiliate of Berkeley. But we were in this funny year, it was just, they call it PMTC year, where it was just a lot of bands jamming together. But, at that time, I was already starting to get a lot of TV work, house band stuff for the Late Late Show, and all this stuff. So, I decided to just stay a working musician, and yeah, it was always self-taught, outside of that.

ANTIHERO: So, what prompted your relocation to America? Did you get an offer that you followed over there, or was it something that you just felt personally, you needed to break out of Ireland, and spread your wings a little?

Tanya O’Callaghan: It was a little bit of both. So, I had done all of the gigs that you could do in Ireland, at a certain point, I was busy. I was one of the busy working musicians, and it was great. And I had a bunch of bands going, but then I got invited by Maynard Keenan over to Arizona. That’s God, Jesus, 10 years ago now, or more. I can’t even remember. But that was Arizona. So, Maynard asked me to be a guest on the Puscifer stuff. So, he had this rotating line-up. The whole, for anyone that knows Puscifer, it’s all about guests. So, obviously, that’s a complete honour. I grew up a massive Tool fan, and I love all of Maynard’s work. So, when I did that, I went to Arizona, and I was in the U.S. for a couple of weeks, whatever, recording and writing with him and a bunch of other musicians.

And then, when I came back, that had left the whole thing in my head, Jesus, if I go over there, that’s the level of people that I can potentially work with. So, I was back and forth then a lot for years, because visas are a whole complication. And I was busy in Ireland. I was trying to make that decision because I had a couple of bands in Ireland that were doing well. And then at some point, I just, I always liked the hired gun. I love that. I love this world. So, I just decided, about six or seven years ago, just, fuck it. If you’re going to go, just dive into a scene. And I was going to London, but the climate’s way too like home. I didn’t want any more rain. So, I just decided to come over to L.A. and feel it out. And it was just a total leap of faith. And I went back and forth a couple of times, and you just start to meet people each trip, more and more. And I went back and forth, and then I got my visa, and I just moved here. And I went, “fuck it. I’ll just dive in and see what happens.” And I just started doing all the local jam nights, and you eventually start to meet people, other session players, and hired guns. And it went from that, into my first gig with a U.S. artist, and then so on, and so forth. But yeah, it was wild. It’s been a wild ride.

ANTIHERO: So, it’s been a gradual step. Obviously, you’ve worked with some massive names, Steven Adler, Dee Snyder, just to mention two. Was that something you were comfortable fitting in with, and working with legends, pretty much?

Tanya O’Callaghan: Yeah. Yeah. That’s the other thing, for me, I love Dee, I love Steven, and I love all these people I work with, because I don’t have any, there’s no part of me that’s ever star-struck, per se. It’s just an honour to play with people like that, and it excites me. So, I knew Steven for years before I played with him, from the jam scene, and from the local scene. And it was just such a blast to jump in. That gig really gets you chalked up since it’s such epic bass lines. And Dee was supposed to be a one-off. We were supposed to do one gig when he appeared. And I ended up touring with him for two years. And it was just a blast because these guys keep you on your toes. And it’s a lot of touring, and it’s great. But yeah, it’s just a total honour. It’s not, I don’t find it daunting. It’s just, it really is an honour. And it’s, let me in. Same with Whitesnake, I’m, I can’t wait. Jump in.

ANTIHERO: And you’re able to mix your music, you mentioned, with an alternative career as an activist and a speaker, as well. Did you just follow your heart, in terms of subject matter and your passions? Did you take any training to communicate, to speak to audiences, or is that just something that flowed naturally?

Tanya O’Callaghan: No, that’s a good question because that’s the thing. It really is as corny as it sounds to some people. I’ve always had an obvious and clear vision and purpose, since I was a little girl, long before I’d played music. So, it was always something that was, for me, and the more my music platform grew over the years and continues to grow, that, to me, is, I have a platform, so I want to use it for something that’s…I don’t want to talk about myself all day on fucking social media. It might still have a purpose, but, and my compass has always been very, very navigating the same activism, purpose, all along. But the speaking stuff and all the work I do in that realm is, it’s purely just from passion. I would talk about it all day long. Here are the ways that we can really help this planet, while we’re on it, and add some rock and roll to it. But yeah, I just love it. And then, it’s where you are, it’s who you’re meeting along the road. People ask me, “Wow, you are really passionate about this. You should come and speak at this thing.” And I just end up doing these things because I’m a real believer in follow-up. And I always say that, as well, following up on leads, and really, surrounding yourself with good people. And, but yeah, it’s just, there’s a lot of just letting it unfold, and following your passion, and not forcing.

ANTIHERO: What about cooking, then? What about your interest in cooking? Was that something that you’ve always had, from being very young, or is it something that’s developed over the years?

Tanya O’Callaghan: Well, it developed as a necessity. When you’re the only vegan in the village. (laughs) And touring, I just, I love food. The overused term, these days, everyone’s a foodie. But yeah. I just, I absolutely love just how explorative plant-based cooking is. And I love…that’s one of my favourite things about touring is the food that you get to try all over the world, and the different cuisines. And then, as people start asking you, you secretly, it’s that annoying thing, people post their food and ah, I’m one of those people now. But I also have a travel food show, so I have a free pass on posting food. But yeah. It’s just, I wanted to be able to stay healthy on the road. I love to cook. I find, personally, cooking to be very meditative. So, when you’re so busy all the time, and I can take an hour or so out, or whatever, and just turn on a podcast or music, and cook. I just find it to be so… I love the process because it isn’t work.

ANTIHERO: Ok, just getting back to music and creating music yourself? A lot of the artists that you’ve worked with, obviously, you’re playing material that already exists, albeit you can put your own spin on it. Have you ever had any desire to do something, maybe yourself, that it’s all your ideas, rather than following structured songs that are already there?

Tanya O’Callaghan: Oh yeah. I have, like most musicians, on our hard drives, we have an album that’s been in the making for 10 years. No, totally. I have a bunch of stuff that’s half done because I’m always working for other people. It’s very hard to get it finished. But what I’ve been doing is using some of the music in the editing for the TV and documentary world that I’ve been working in. So, you can use it for editing. And I do intend to, eventually, bring a collaborative album out, because I’m doing a song right now for Sea Shepherd. You probably, well, you can see the flag in the mirror in the background. So, working, because I want the music, also, to have some… Because it’s a very different industry, right? It’s not as simple as putting out an album, and everyone, you play all the musicians off. It’s an impossible world in this digital age for musicians. So, if I’m going to put out music, I want to try and tie it to a foundation I believe in. And there’s that, so I’ve been developing a lot of that. But yeah, to answer your question, I do have quite a lot of original music out in the world.

ANTIHERO: If then your solo album should ever see the light of day, is it fitting in one style, or is it a reflection of what you’ve done in the past, where you dip into different musical styles and genres? A bit of a mix?

Tanya O’Callaghan: I think it’s a bit of a mix. And I might end up doing a couple of instrumental pieces with friends, but I have so many amazing vocalist friends that I’ve been…. because people, I can sing, but I’m not a singer. And, I really want to use my super talented friends, as well. So, I think it’ll be a collaboration. It’s more in the, I want to say, heavier, proggy. I love odd time [signatures]. But it’s just, it’s been a process. I’ll write the majority of it with my closest friends, and then hand it over to see what one singer does with a melody or have a guest drummer. I’ve had some amazing guests play on some stuff, so I’m very lucky to have the friends I do in the music world. So, yeah. It’s going to be a bit of a hotchpotch, to be honest, but it’s not a bass solo album. I leave that to Stu Hamm and Billy Sheehan and the lads.  Yeah. It’s more songs and collaborations, but obviously, bass-centric, because it’s mine and I can.

ANTIHERO: And of course, the big news, which you’re probably used to now, Whitesnake. Has it fully sunk in what you’re going to be a part of?

Tanya O’Callaghan: Probably not, to be honest. But it’s also, it’s funny because it feels normal, in a way, already, just because it’s such a welcoming camp. And I knew some of those guys already. We toured the same circles. So, there’s that feeling of, it’s just a giant welcome party, which has been wonderful. Now, just now, we’re, what? Eight weeks out, or so, from starting. I’m starting to get the music, and I’m trying to, oh, send me the songs. What are we going to do so I can learn everything? Because I got to get in the shed big time on this stuff because I didn’t grow up with it. It wasn’t the music that I really listened to. But obviously, there are endless epic hits, so you want to do them all justice. So now, the next few weeks are, getting all my gear back up to scratch, what I need, all my rigs for different continents, and getting all my guitars ready. And yeah, it’s going to be a blast, but the songs are unbelievable. The more I listen to stuff… it’s one of those bands. 

ANTIHERO: So, what about the actual recruitment process itself? Did you get the call, we’re interested? Were you approached directly? Was it through a third party? How did that happen?

Tanya O’Callaghan: In our industry, it happens that, obviously, your peers promote you, right?


ANTIHERO: Close-knit musical community. Everyone knows everybody else or knows someone that knows someone.

Tanya O’Callaghan: David would’ve known of me, and we played the same festivals. And he called me directly.


Tanya O’Callaghan: Yeah. It was a direct call, and yeah, just a straight ask. But it is a process of putting the years in and being out there in the scene. There is no magic formula. People ask, “How did you get the gig?” It’s just this bizarre unfolding of, I’ve been working my ass off for years touring, and people are seeing you play, and you must have a presence. And, obviously, your CV speaks for itself. And then, it’s just, I don’t know if the universe aligns, and Whitesnake happened to need a bassist. And I’m very honoured that David called me, immediately. I guess it was in his head, from seeing me play. It’s a total honour. And it’s an amazing band. And just all amazing players. And Tommy Aldridge.

ANTIHERO: I was going to just say to you – I could be totally honest – Whitesnake are my favourite band of all time. I’ve seen them many times.

Tanya O’Callaghan: Oh, that’s awesome.

ANTIHERO: They were one of my first bands. I saw them in Belfast way back in 1984, probably before you were even born.

Tanya O’Callaghan: Nice.

ANTIHERO: So, you mentioned Tommy Aldridge. Obviously, for me, it’s almost that connection between the drums and bass that’s key-vital to a band’s definitive sound …especially on stage. Have you met David yet? 

Tanya O’Callaghan: No, I met him before a festival, but we haven’t met for rehearsals yet. Because they don’t start until April, but he’s such a legend. Just ridiculous. I’ve been, since the beginning of my career, even in Ireland, I’ve always been lucky when I look back, I’ve always had amazing techs and amazing drummers. And I’ve played with some of the best drummers over here. And then, to find out that Tommy’s doing the farewell tour, as well, is also just, as a bass player, you’re in fucking heaven. So yeah, it’s just, oh my God, do it justice. Jump in and lock in with this legend. So, it’s going to be a blast. And they’re just such a nice camp. They really are.

ANTIHERO: I was lucky enough to interview David for the second time, a couple of months back, and he indicated that after the tour, Whitesnake would still release music. Has there been any talk of you being part of that, or is it just, at the moment, for the tour? 

Tanya O’Callaghan: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, no, it’s one of the things he asked me. So obviously, can’t predict when or what it is, but yeah. He fully intends to retire from touring, but then, he’s just such a song machine, and the line-up that’s there has written with him, and he, yeah, he absolutely mentioned studios. So, that would be fantastic. Obviously, it would be an honour to throw down some studio tracks with him. That would be amazing. So, I can see that happening, which would be great.

ANTIHERO: And you mentioned that tour rehearsals haven’t started yet. Have you dropped any hints about, maybe, the inclusion of songs, or do you feel that’s maybe not your place? Do you have any particular favourites that you would really look forward to playing live with the band? 

Tanya O’Callaghan: It’s so wild because when you start going through his catalogue, you’re just, there’s so much that you’re overwhelmed. And then, this amazing album with Jimmy Page, I just started listening to the other day. I honestly don’t know yet. I don’t really have a setlist yet. I won’t…it’s starting to come to shape, but I’m, can’t wait to get it. But everything I’ve listened to, “Burn,” this morning. Obviously, “Deep Purple,” is unbelievable, and “Still of the Night.” And I love that, “Trouble is Your Middle Name.” It’s one of the newer albums. That’s really my jam. So, there’s just, and of course, all the hits, but yeah, I honestly don’t know. Yeah, what the setlist is going to be. I hope to find myself, soon.

ANTIHERO: Yeah. Just the final one, then. As I indicated earlier, you’ve already probably done many interviews, many interviews over the years. If the rules were reversed, what personal hero or inspiration would you like to sit down and interview?

Tanya O’Callaghan: Oh, my God.

ANTIHERO: Maybe not a musician.

Tanya O’Callaghan:  I was going to say, I’m not going to say a musician. I’m going to say, David Attenborough. I would. I adore David Attenborough. He’s been my hero since I was a little girl, and I believe he’s 93 now. And he’s just the epitome of this amazing human who talks about using your platform. Because yeah, you’d be here all day saying, “I’d love to talk to this musician and that musician.” But honestly, my immediate thought was David Attenborough.

ANTIHERO: That’s fine. Okay. That’s brilliant. Thank you very much for taking the time to talk to me. Look forward to seeing you. Let’s see, Manchester is part of the UK tour.

Tanya O’Callaghan: Yeah, we’ll be in the UK for a good few shows. So, I can’t wait. I can’t wait to get home. Opening night is in Dublin.

ANTIHERO: Friends and family then? But you have that bad weather, though.

Tanya O’Callaghan: I know. For sure. I’m only popping home for a visit. I’ll come back there to get a bag of chips. Be home, see my granny, and play a Whitesnake tour.

ANTIHERO: Yeah, that’s brilliant. Thank you very much.

Tanya O’Callaghan: No worries, man. Thanks for having me.


Mark Dean

I'm a 40+ music fan. Fond mostly of rock and metal - my staple musical food delights. Originally from Northern Ireland, I am now based in the UK-Manchester. I have a hectic musical existence with regular shows and interviews. Been writing freelance for five years now with several international websites. Passionate about what I do, I have been fortunate already to interview many of my all-time musical heroes. My music passion was first created by seeing Status Quo at the tender age of 15. While I still am passionate about my rock and metal, I have found that with age my taste has diversified so that now I am actually dipping into different musical genres and styles for the first time.

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