Releasing your first single can be a daunting step for anyone. But releasing it in the middle of a pandemic?
“I was really nervous about it. Firstly because my track was called Can’t Escape, so I was worried people were going to think I wrote this for lockdown,” jokes Lucy Gaffney.
But, more significantly, the social restrictions introduced last year put a sudden end to gigging – the lifeblood for artists such as Belfast-born Lucy who are trying to carve out a creative career. “There’s pressure releasing a song when nobody can see me play live, I can’t back it up with anything,” she adds.
Send Me Away
But this singer-songwriter is certainly no stranger to the stage and was working on her musical CV long before lockdown hit. She started out with music lessons as a child, before taking to busking on the Belfast streets as a teenager and forming the band Southern with brother Thom. But, in the last couple of years, a period of illness for Thom led to a period of reflection for Lucy.
While the Southern experience had brought her from Belfast to London and then Liverpool, touring with Catfish and the Bottlemen, Bastille and Hudson Taylor, she describes that scene as “very male dominated” and she “wasn’t totally happy” with the genre she had found herself in. She started toying with new sounds and eventually, with the support of Thom, decided that maybe it was just time to be Lucy Gaffney.
“When I did my first gig and my first tour on my own I thought, ‘Woah this is really different – it feels a lot more comfortable’. I was always trying to write pop songs and now I can be a bit more alternative,” she says.
Lucy has released two tracks so far – Can’t Escape (which is not about lockdown, rather “a bit of a heartache song about someone I really fancied”) and Send Me Away (“more of a daydreamy vibe track”).
Both are centred on dreamy vocals and guitar, sharing a sun-soaked alt-pop vibe. It’s Clairo without the electronic edge, Phoebe Bridgers without the dramatic desolation. But Lucy finds her sound difficult to describe, as it’s really something that she is still in the process of developing.
“With these tracks, it was the first time I’ve ever gone into the studio to do my own stuff and it was a discovery process. But I kinda of feel over the last four of five months, during the lockdown period, I’ve figured out what I wanna sound like.”
“When I did my first gig and my first tour on my own I thought, ‘Woah this is really different – it feels a lot more comfortable’"
So what might be expected from her next? Throughout our chat Lucy lists plenty of interests, from an early love of the Beatles and the Spice Girls, to discovering Radiohead, Beck, Cat Power, the Cranberries, the Stone Roses. More recently, she’s been influenced by Mazzy Star and the Cocteau Twins, and “simple songwriting” from the likes of Kurt Vile and Mac DeMarco.
She says the tracks that she has released so far are “kinda poppy” and she sees herself heading in more of a shoegaze direction. “Every song is different,” she adds. “When I write, it’s really in the moment, it’s really personal. I don’t like anyone else to be in the room with me. It’s a bit embarrassing cos you really are exposing what you’re feeling – well I am anyway.
“I’ll always write on the guitar. I’m self-taught so I’m kinda winging it most of the time, I like to figure out the chords by ear.”
With gigging largely on hold for now, Lucy – like many other artists – has turned to social media. Gigging is “super competitive”, she says, so this shift has given her a different route to reach people, even if it was “real learning curve” at first.
“I would say I’m quite shy. So doing stuff on my phone all of a sudden, it actually forced me out of my comfort zone and to really sit down with my acoustic guitar.”
Lucy started posting acoustic covers of classic rock songs, doing her own versions of Arctic Monkeys, Paul Weller, the Stone Roses. “I think I like the way those songs are written by male artists, so I’m kinda taking something and interpreting it completely differently,” she says. “There’s something interesting about singing someone else’s song, cos they’ve written a story and you can flip it on it’s head.”
But one video in particular, a rendition Oasis’ Songbird, garnered significant attention, with Liam Gallagher leaving a comment to say that it was “celestial”.
“When I put it up I didn’t think anything of it,” Lucy says. “I thought it would get five likes and one of them would be from my uncle. But someone messaged me and said, ‘Look who’s talking about you’. And I thought, ‘Is this actually real?’ The night it happened it was almost overwhelming. My phone kept lighting up, it was crazy.”
While she may not be rubbing shoulders with Gallagher brothers every day, Lucy is very familiar with the UK music scene as she’s been based in Liverpool for several years, having moved there soon after she got her A-level results.
“I was still so young when I got to Liverpool,” she says. “It was like my university, it was like an education. I love going into all the bars with someone playing Beatles’ covers. I made friends with people from the Wombats, The Coral. I met so many people who taught me a lot about music.”
When the pandemic hit, however, Lucy came back to Belfast. “Being back in your hometown is good, but it can also make you lazy I suppose,” she says. “When you’re in the big city, surrounded by loads of other musicians, it gives you that drive.
“But it’s been good to have that relaxation at home. I’ve definitely written my best stuff to date. So, even if lockdown has been a pain in the ass, it has been beneficial.”
“I was still so young when I got to Liverpool. It was like my university,"
Can’t Escape and Send Me Away were written and recorded “ages ago”, Lucy says, and so she’s now eager to get this new material released. While she remains tight-lipped about the producers she is working with, she seems pretty excited, describing it as a “big deal” for her.
“I can’t wait to get this stuff out. I feel having two songs online isn’t enough, it doesn’t encapsulate an artist. I don’t know what direction this new stuff is going to go in – but I think I’ve definitely got some cools songs.”
These songs may form the basis of an EP in 2021, while a full album is likely further down the road. “I’ve definitely got an album’s worth of material but I don’t feel I have an ‘album’ yet,” she adds.
It’s hard to predict what the new year will bring for any of us, but Lucy is certainly hoping that the live music scene will bounce back, that gigs will return in some form, and that she can get her new music out into the world.
But until the day that she can return to a stage in a crowded pub in Belfast or Dublin or Liverpool, Lucy hopes to keep connecting with people online through video performances.
“I was watching Beck do one the other day and thought it was so cool,” she says. “He’s in LA in his house, in his natural habitat, and I can just watch him from my room. Lockdown has taken away this mystique that some artists have and has almost levelled the playing field for everyone. I like that, I like people to be honest.
“That’s why I’m excited about releasing my new songs – they’re honest and the kind of music that I want to be listening to.”