The Plant-Based Bassist: How Changing Your Plate Can Change The World | Tanya O'Callaghan

Added: Apr 26, 2024

In this podcast episode, Tanya O'Callaghan, a heavy metal bassist from Ireland, shares her journey from a young rebel to a passionate animal rights activist and musician.

Early Life

Growing up in a small town in Ireland, O'Callaghan developed a deep connection with animals from a young age. At four years old, she made the decision to become a vegetarian after realizing the connection between the meat on her plate and the animals she loved. This early experience shaped her moral compass and set her on a path of activism.

Animal Activism and Volunteer Work

O'Callaghan's passion for animals led her to volunteer at an animal shelter from the age of eight to eighteen. She was deeply involved in animal rescue work, including undercover investigations, rescuing abused animals, and advocating for animal rights. This experience exposed her to the harsh realities of animal cruelty and instilled in her a sense of purpose and determination to make a difference.

Transition to Music

Despite initially pursuing a career in veterinary medicine or marine biology, O'Callaghan's path took a turn when she picked up a bass guitar at the age of 18. This decision came after dropping out of school due to a lack of fulfillment in the traditional education system. Inspired by a local bass player's melodic playing, she switched to bass and joined her first band shortly after. Self-taught and driven by passion, she immersed herself in music and found a new avenue for her activism.

Early Music Career in Ireland

After joining multiple bands and gaining experience in the Irish music scene, O'Callaghan had the opportunity to record with Maynard Keenan from Tool in Arizona. This experience was a turning point for her, as it opened her eyes to the possibilities of pursuing a music career in the United States. Despite facing challenges and financial constraints, she was determined to make the move to LA.

Challenges of Moving to Los Angeles

Moving to Los Angeles was a challenging experience for O'Callaghan, as she found the city to be lonely and overwhelming. She struggled to make ends meet and had to navigate the competitive and transactional nature of the music industry. Despite the initial challenges, she persevered and attended music conventions and jam nights to network and meet other musicians.

Collaborations with Music Legends

O'Callaghan talks about how she started playing with different bands and how she ended up touring with Dee Snider, the lead singer of Twisted Sister. She mentions that what started as a one-time gig turned into a long-term collaboration, and she eventually became Dee's musical director. She also recorded some tracks for Dee's record. She then talks about filling in for Steven Adler from Guns N' Roses and eventually joining Whitesnake. O'Callaghan shares how she became a part of Whitesnake and the experience of playing with legendary musicians like David Coverdale.

Riverdance Experience

One unique experience that O'Callaghan had was being a part of the Riverdance band for 18 months, performing around the world in iconic venues. This experience added diversity to her resume and showcased her ability to adapt to different musical styles and genres. Despite the confusion some people may have about her diverse background, her experience with Riverdance was a significant part of her musical journey.

Highway to Health Series:

O'Callaghan discusses her collaboration with Derek Green on the "Highway to Health" series, where they explore plant-based nutrition and its impact on health. She talks about filming the series and the challenges they faced in finding a platform to release it. She mentions that they decided to release the series on YouTube and are planning to continue making new episodes in the future

Maintaining a Healthy Lifestyle on Tour

O'Callaghan shares her strategies for maintaining a healthy lifestyle while on tour. She talks about the challenges of finding healthy food options on the road and how she prepares by bringing snacks and focusing on eating sides and vegetables. She emphasizes the importance of fueling her body correctly, especially when performing in front of large crowds. She mentions that she prefers to avoid fast food and opts for healthier options like fruits, nuts, and water.

Live Performance Experiences

O'Callaghan reflects on some of her most surreal live performance experiences, including playing at festivals like Hellfest and touring in countries like South America and Japan. She shares a memorable experience of playing with Steve Vai at a Whitesnake concert and the emotional response from the audience. She also talks about playing in Sarajevo with Bruce Springsteen and the special connection he has with the audience there.

Influences and Future Goals

O'Callaghan discusses her musical influences, mentioning bands like Radiohead, Fleetwood Mac, and Gojira. She expresses her admiration for musicians like Miles Davis and her love for diverse genres of music. She shares that she practices diligently before a tour, listening to the music and internalizing it before learning to play it by ear. She also talks about her desire to continue touring and collaborating with other musicians in the future.

Personal Life and Homecoming

O'Callaghan reveals that she tries to go back to Ireland as often as possible to visit her family, especially her 96-year-old grandmother. She mentions that she plans to make a pit stop in Ireland during her upcoming tour to spend time with her family and friends. She also shares her love for home cooking and how she enjoys cooking for herself when she's not on tour.

The Vegan Movement in Ireland

O'Callaghan highlights the positive impact of the vegan movement in Ireland, particularly due to the influence of individuals like Steve and Dave Flynn from The Happy Pear. She acknowledges the challenges faced by farmers in transitioning to more sustainable practices and emphasizes the importance of unity and collaboration between different groups within the food industry.

The Influence of Travel and Conversations

O'Callaghan credits her extensive travel experiences for shaping her perspective on different cultures and viewpoints. She emphasizes the value of engaging in conversations with people who have diverse opinions, as it allows for personal growth and understanding. She expresses her belief in the inherent kindness of individuals and the role of systemic factors in perpetuating division and conflict.

O'Callaghan shares her observations on the divisive nature of political discourse in the United States and the importance of bridging the gap between opposing viewpoints. She highlights the need for respectful dialogue and the dangers of echo chambers that reinforce existing beliefs without fostering meaningful change.

Promoting Plant-Based Lifestyle

O'Callaghan discusses her approach to promoting a plant-based lifestyle to individuals who may be curious or receptive to making dietary changes. She emphasizes the accessibility of plant-based foods and encourages incremental shifts towards a more compassionate and sustainable diet. She tailors her message based on the values and interests of the individual, whether it be health, animal welfare, or environmental sustainability.

O'Callaghan addresses common misconceptions about veganism and advocates for a nuanced understanding of the movement beyond labels and stereotypes. She emphasizes the holistic benefits of plant-based eating for personal health, environmental conservation, and ethical considerations.

Documentary Project with Veterans

O'Callaghan discusses her upcoming documentary project with veterans, focusing on their mental and physical health. She shares her motivation for the project and her desire to make a positive impact on the lives of veterans who are struggling with PTSD and other health issues. She aims to raise awareness and provide support for veterans through this project.

Advice for Achieving Dreams

O'Callaghan offers advice to those who are pursuing their dreams, encouraging them to follow what excites them and take bold steps towards their goals. She emphasizes the importance of showing up, taking action, and not being afraid to fail. She believes that it is essential to stay true to oneself and to keep pushing forward, even in the face of challenges.


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