Interview: Maria Doyle KennedyTweet
We sat down and spoke to Maria Doyle Kennedy on Wednesday about her stunning new album ‘Sing’, about looking for alternative performance venues in Ireland and about how she met her husband and professional partner Kieran Kennedy. Fans who supported the album on pledgemusic.com received an early download of the album on Tuesday evening. ‘Sing’ is available on general release in Ireland on Friday 24th and in the UK on 10th of September.
So the fans and supporters who contributed on pledgemusic.com got a preview of the album on Tuesday night?
Yeah, they did. I thought it was only fair that people who supported us would get to have a little bit of a listen before everyone else so they got theirs. It was great.
Yeah it’s a great idea. The early response has been fantastic and the Twitterati have been singing it’s praises. So have you had to promise anyone you’d jump out of a plane yet?
No, no. [laughs] No one bought the plane jump. I was prepared to do it, I have to say. That’s how much I believe in ‘Sing’. I am absolutely terrified of heights but I would have done it. Anyway, it’s probably for the best that no one did though.
Are you relieved to have the album out or nearly out?
I’m very proud of it. I think it’s the best thing we’ve ever done. It’s great to be at this stage. It’s very daunting. When you’re making an album, you’re climbing this massive mountain and you’re trying to find the truthful way to each song. When you’re in the middle of it, it could go many different ways. So you just need to nail the right one, that each gets the right end. We got the most beautiful artwork done. Really thrilled with that. It just felt right to me. If you’re running your own label you have to figure out how to tell people about it. Then you realise you’ve got another even bigger mountain to climb.
How was the recording process this time? Did you do it in little sections or stages? I read that you recorded some of it in John Prine’s Irish holiday home?
Yeah, we did. This is our 5th recording on Mermaid Records. We have the equipment we need to record it but we generally don’t really record in the house. We don’t have a designated room. We’d set up some stuff in the kitchen but it’s not very practical. When John Prine agreed to record it I was overjoyed. There was just something about the song that I knew was right for his voice. It was encouraging. It made me think what I was hearing about the song other people were hearing too. We were wondering how it would work because he lives in Nashville for most of the year but he was planning on coming back to Ireland a month later, to Kilsaran. So we put all the microphones in the car and went off down to meet him.
What was it like meeting one of your heroes?
It was brilliant. I was so excited that he agreed to do it. On the day we were rocking up to his house with the equipment and I got kind of nervous. Cos’ you just wonder how it’s going to go. You’re communicating on a deep level with no words and I was just wondering how easy or awkward it would be. It turned out he was actually feeling the same way. He was very welcoming and completely unassuming. I’ve come to refer to him as a big ball of grace on legs. He’s very economical with his words. He doesn’t speak when he doesn’t need to. I feel the better for having spent some small amount of hours with him. We didn’t get everything we needed on the first trip so we went back to see him.
What about the duet with Damien Rice? He’s been very quiet in Ireland, I know he’s been gigging a bit in Europe but it seems you might have pulled him out of hibernation a little bit.
[Laughs] He has been touring this summer, yeah, quite a bit in Europe. I mean, I know Damien and Paul Brady. We live on an island and I’ve been making music for 25 years, so you tend to meet quite a lot of people from playing on the same festival bill or they come to your gig or you go to theirs. I did know Paul and Damien. But I know they’re extremely particular about what they do, as are we and I knew they’d have no interest in singing on something just because they’d met me. They just responded and thought they could hear what I could hear. I picked the right songs for the right people I think. We travelled to Damien’s house and to Paul’s. We also had Dónal Lunny, a great hero of ours. He came in and played bouzouki. Kieran played most of it but every so often we had these delicate bits of friendship. When someone new comes in it offers you some new perspective. You get fresh ears. Working with all those people is going to bring the best out of you and make sure your game is up there.
Do you have a favourite track on the album or are you equally as in love with one as the other?
It’s very difficult because I do feel like they’re my children and you know where they all came from and I certainly don’t have a favourite child. I mean, you’ve obviously listened to it have you?
Yeah, I have. I feel like it’s a proper album. It’s difficult to single out an individual track, it’s definitely one that you need to sit down and listen to as a whole to take it all in. I heard it last night for the first time and I’ve been listening to it on repeat ever since. It’s really fantastic.
Aw that’s great. Thank you. I’ve listened to a lot of very different kinds of music and sometimes that comes out in my work and I make work that’s quite eclectic. This album seems to be bound together really clearly. It is very much one body of work. I think at the moment The Most Beautiful People are Broken, which was inspired by one of my children, I’m quite drawn to that one in particular but they all mean something quite special to me.
When I was listening to it I found I was really drawn to one song and then even more to the next. Sparky Personality is great.
Yeah, a lot of people like that one. I think you hear different things when you listen to it. They seem like very simple songs but the more you listen the more you hear counter melodies and different chords.
When did you start recording it?
I wrote the very first song about 4 years ago but I think mostly it was about 2 years work. We were talking about that the other day. It takes me a while to make albums but I was so galvanised by this project, it came together properly and clearly in the end. I’ve been really inspired by a book I’ve been reading so I’m hoping the next one will start quickly enough. Some people sit around and write a lot of songs. I have a family, I have a lot to do. So sometimes I leave the songs to percolate in my head for ages until their banging to get out. I don’t really play an instrument, a little bit of piano but I’m not sitting around playing guitar everyday.
Asides from recording you’ve been keeping busy with other projects like Downton Abbey, popping up in gigs like Turning Pirate’s New Years Eve Mixtape gig at Vicar Street and you sang Set Fire to the Third Bar with Snow Patrol at the Phoenix Park, to name a few.
Yeah, I mean we’re busy. I grew up with that. My parents are extremely hard-working and so are Kieran’s actually. I still think it’s a great privilege to be able to survive.
How do you feel about the Irish music scene in Dublin at the moment? Do you have a favourite place to play?
Yeah, I mean recently we’ve been enjoying playing in venues that aren’t actually venues. Last week we played two nights in the top of the lighthouse in Howth Head. We were crammed in this little room just under the light, we left some of the windows slightly open and the storm and the waves were crashing up against these 6ft stone walls. You could hear the storm raging and crashing against the lighthouse in between the songs and that definitely added to the magic.
The weekend before that we played on some islands, we went to Inishark and then Bere Island so we had to load up the car and take the ferry to our gig. Lots of people travelled over and had to then run back to the dock and get the last ferry home. I’m interested in adding to the magic of it. In Dublin our big album launch is in Vicar St on the 29th of September. I love playing there. It’s bigger than the lighthouse but it’s a venue where you always feel particularly close to your audience. I do think in terms of music, what’s happening in Ireland at the moment is just extraordinary but in saying that I don’t really remember a time where it wasn’t. I’ve been enjoying a band called Come On Live Long from County Roscommon. Laura Sheeran is fantastic, visually as well, she’s great. It’s a really strong element of her performance.
There’s lots of talent emerging not just in Dublin but in all of Ireland and other countries seem to be welcoming the Irish with open arms. Am I right in thinking that this is the first of your albums that’s being released in the UK?
Yeah, it’s our label and the great thing about that is you get to do what you want. You don’t have someone trying to influence your music. The difficult thing about that is how do you find a way to get it out beyond you. The Internet is great but often the Internet is full of shite and people that aren’t that great make albums too. Often, for a lot of musicians, blowing your own trumpet and marketing yourself doesn’t come that naturally to them. This year we’ve signed with Intuition who are going to market it through Warner in the UK as well. It’s getting legs of it’s own or something.
What kind of music did you listen to growing up and how do you think it influenced your sound today?
It’s constantly changing and that’s the incredible thing about music. It’s still there for me at this age and expresses how I’m feeling when I didn’t even know I felt that way. Billie Holiday and lots of the other female singers sang how I was feeling before I had the words to describe it myself. I also listened to The Cure, I love Patti Smith, she was like a beacon [for me]. An example of a woman just really doing her own thing and aware of her artistic intention. I really love the incredibly great cheese of the Carpenters, Future Bible Heroes, My Bloody Valentine. An American band called Low, are one of my favourite bands of all time. Their album the ‘Great Destroyer’ is flawless. My children sometimes turn me onto new music as well and that’s exciting.
When did you know that you wanted to be involved in music? Was The Commitments the first major thing you’d done?
No, no, I’d been singing way before that. My mother said she could always gauge my mood based on the amount of singing she heard coming from my room. It wasn’t until I went to college that I met people who played instruments that I just thought, well of course, this is what you do, you all get together and make a band. I didn’t know this until much later but [before I knew him] Kieran knew that I was a singer. He said he was making a demo and asked would I sing on it. I asked him to send me a copy so I could see if it was something I liked or if I could add something too. So he got a group of musicians together to record this demo and convinced someone to pay for the studio time and literally made a band so he could ask me out. We fell in love and got married very quickly and he didn’t tell me until about ten years later that when he asked me to sing there was no band he just didn’t think I’d say yes if he just asked me out, so he made a band.
That’s a great story. So you’ve been recording with Kieran for the last twenty years then?
Yeah. We’ve found a way to work together that really suits the songs and the music. We also get to travel, to perform together. It’s really great, we understand what works. Working together has kind of made our relationship deeper.
You’re often posting videos of tours in various cities like Prague or Vienna. Do you enjoy touring? Do you bring the family?
Yeah we tend to do guerrilla touring, where we go away for a few weeks and then come home but we can’t go away for months like some of our friends do. That just wouldn’t suit us. We don’t spend much time away from our children or each other. It’s just the way we do it. We know what works. We’ve a few gigs here, then we’re going to the Czech Republic for ten days. We’re going to play in Spain as well. That’s one of our favourite places in the world. We just really like the culture, the music and the language. We’ll stop off in Switzerland too. I’ve played in Germany but still haven’t played in Berlin. I’d really like to. It’s really culturally happening at the moment. I’ve loads more places to investigate.
Great, we’re looking forward to the gig. Thanks for taking the time out to talk to us.
Maria Doyle Kennedy plays Vicar Street on the 29th of September. Tickets available from usual outlets. For more information check out www.mariadk.com or Maria’s Twitter www.twitter.com/mariadkennedy .