Like many second generation immigrants, Canadian artist Nyssa is drawn to Ireland in search of connection. Her Belfast roots loomed large in her upbringing - she listened intently to her grandfather playing The Chieftains and bonded with her mother over Sinéad O’Connor. A spiritual journey towards paganism further cemented these connections.

Nyssa recently wowed Ruby Sessions and is set to make her Irish headline debut with a show in Little Whelan’s this Thursday, and she is keen to make solid long-lasting connections with Ireland during her stay.

“I inherited The Line And the Cobra as one of my all-time favourite albums,” she says earnestly over zoom from Canada.

“I think the thing that really draws me to her (Sinéad) is being a container for this feminist rage. You still don't hear a lot of rage in women's voices and that's something I find really inspiring as somebody who contends with those feelings.”

As a teenager Nyssa began experimenting with witchcraft, undertaking a spiritual journey which would eventually lead her to paganism. Connecting with the old gods, the land and the seasons tightened these childhood connections to Ireland, leading Nyssa to seek out Newgrange and the caves of Keshcorran as well as bringing her mother to Belfast for the first time since she was five.

The 2022 visit had a profound affect on Nyssa who was inspired to write her latest single, ‘No More Bodies’, which examines the phenomenon of the untended grave and how we must pay our respects to our ancestors.

“Based on my understanding and the research I've done, we as human beings become sick: sick mentally, sick emotionally sick physically when we don't contend with the ancestors or give them their proper place in our lives. I do feel that idea of no more bodies in the family plot, it's this idea of an untended grave and when we don't tend to those graves then we start to lose our sense of self and ability to foster a healthy life.” 

No More Bodies is twinned with Blessed Touch and highlights Nyssa’s unique ability to weave the pagan with the everyday, with a broken washing machine the jumping-off point for this cry for help to the universe.

“It sat full of dirty water for a week and the landlords tried to gaslight us and tell us that we had bought the washing machine. It was a whole thing but eventually we got it fixed,” says Nyssa, who notes, “My partner also had a broken ankle and was trying to do this and it was just this moment of please, if there's anything, have mercy.”

“I didn't quite realise it, but they are kind of sister songs on the upcoming album,” explains Nyssa when we enquire why she decided to do an old school double A-sided single.

“They both reckon with these kinds of moments of desperation, and I almost want to say madness in the face of daily life and the strain of just keeping a body alive and just existing.”

“I think they bookended this experience that I had, and I wrote them a couple of months apart, so it feels very natural to release them into the world together. I also think they are the most distinctly spiritual, pagan songs. The whole album is very pagan, but they're the most distinctly addressing of some sort of divinity on the album, so it made sense.”

Nyssa’s forthcoming second album, ‘Shake Me Where I'm Foolish’, the follow-up to her 2020 Polaris long-listed debut ‘Girls Like Me’ also features the singles 'Werewolf' and 'Breakup Party', which all pull at various threads of the pandemic from feeling cooped up to dying to be free.

Nyssa describes the process of creating the material as channelling the songs rather than writing them.

“The songs on this album all arose out of this songwriting group a friend of mine in New York started at the beginning of lockdown. We met up once a week and we all had to share songs, so most of these songs I wrote, I wrote within an hour before showing up to these classes so there isn't very much inhibition, most of it just came out very quickly," she explains, adding, “So with these songs, they are very much channelled. I really allowed them to come out in their entirety so I would say they are very channelled these lyrics.

This intuitive vein of songwriting was twinned with a simplification of instrumentation, which allowed her to get to the emotion of the songs quicker by opting to use simple chord structures for the basis of each song.

“I started playing guitar in high school but then I moved away from guitar and moved into producing my own songs on Ableton.  I was very much writing to loops but then I couldn't handle my computer during the pandemic, so I returned to acoustic guitar but the loopiness is still something I still really work with.”

This return to simple chord structure’s and unvetted expression in Nyssa’s songwriting approach was mirrored in her return to paganism in her day-to-day life, which was prompted by the slower pace of life during the pandemic.

“Everything completely shut down, so I was looking for new ways to contend with time. I got really into learning about the wheel of the year and lunar cycles and tracing those movements within myself and setting intentions and trying to live more intentionally in communion with those natural cycles,” says Nyssa before further pondering her journey of self-discovery.

“I also learned to read tarot cards so that was another means of connecting myself to these more sort of esoteric schools of thought, and I got very much into mythology and Jungian exploration of fairy tales and shadow work."

“All of that unfolded for me over the last few years and I think Ireland has always represented this treasure trove of myth and magic and fairy tale and beauty and within the new traditions of witchcraft, all of the holidays in the wheel of the year all follow the ancient Celtic wheel of the year.”

Nyssa adds that she has just started taking Gaelic singing classes and is really excited by modern trad bands such as Lankum. “I'm learning these fairy songs... it's really something else.” 

The album’s title is borrowed Carl Sandburg’s poem 'Baby Song of the Four Winds', which Nyssa describes as a “really beautiful, sensual, almost bluesy invocation of the four directions.

“It's this almost very erotic engagement with the directions and I felt that Shake Me Where I'm Foolish…really encompassed what I was trying to do with this album.”

Following the release of ‘Girls Like Me’, Nyssa shared a stunning interpretation of Lee Hazelwood’s 'It’s A Nice World To Visit (But Not To Live In)', which was produced U.S. Girls powerhouse Meghan Remy who has become a positive presence in Nyssa’s Life.

“I felt more of a kid going into that process but then working with her and seeing how she works, I think it gave me some tools to grow up a bit,” explains Nyssa of working the Canadian musical luminary.

“She really fosters this almost like a mother of an album [presence] - the way that she referred to the help that she gave me on the other songs on my first album Girls Like Me, she called herself a doula.

“She really does bring this calm, grounded energy that allows something to be birthed as opposed to forcing it or pulling it out and that's something that I found really inspiring - this idea of letting something come out and encouraging it rather than forcing it and she certainly inspired that approach in me.”  

More recently, Nyssa was able to connect with her own mother in a meaningful creative way when they collaborated on the artwork for Nyssa’s 2023 cover of Joni Mitchell’s ‘A Case of You’.

“That's another song I shared with my mom. I feel like a lot of mothers and daughters have shared Joni and in particular that song, so I've always loved it so much.  I think also it was never a song I thought I'd be able to sing.

“I certainly don't think I could ever have come close to doing it justice. So it also felt for me like a way of accepting more maturity as a singer, ‘This is my voice and my voice can find its way through this song’, and this is such a challenging and powerful song so it felt spiritual to be able to sing it and take my own approach.”

Nyssa’s mother provided the artwork for the track, which was recorded in collaboration the Polaris Music Prize, the Canadian equivalent of the Choice Music Prize.

“I love the box of paints with the little door 'cause that was always the line we would have the most fun singing: ‘I'm a lonely painter/ I live in a box of paints’ so that's the one she went with for the art. I'd like to do more of that, for sure, she's a wonderful painter.”     

Nyssa plays Little Whelan's This Thursday Tickets €12.00 here