Maria Doyle Kennedy may be well known as a recording artist in her native Ireland but this week sees her release an album for the first time in the UK in the form of Sing.
We caught up with singer/songwriter to chat about the new album, the change in sound and what lies ahead of her for the rest of the year.
- You are about to release your new album Sing so what can your fans expect from the new record?
I suppose in some ways it is a simpler record than we have made for a while as it is very much focused around the voice and the acoustic guitar - there is some beautiful decoration around that but not too much.
We found that we just kept taking things out rather than putting things in as we tried to make the sounds… what people are saying to me is that they are connecting emotionally very easily and it just seems to sing directly to them.
- Well you have touched on my next question really the album is quite stripped back and the voice really does take centre stage so what made you go down this path - it is a bit of a change as you say?
When we started writing songs for this album we had been playing with a full band - I play with some great musicians.
But something when you are writing it is easy to disguise a half good song in a really good wall of sound but I just really wanted to find the truth in the songs and I really felt like I was onto something with what I was writing.
So we started to tour, just Kieran and I, acoustically and then more and more I started to love that sound and what we could create ourselves.
Kieran and I are partners in real life as well as musical life and we have been making music together for twenty years now and so we have an almost telepathic communication when we are playing - making music with somebody is not about using words anyway as you communicate on a more instinctive level.
But if you are doing with someone who you have such a deep history with it just became really clear to me that this was what we should do for the album and we didn’t need to involve too many other people. So that is what we did.
The songs developed that way from the two of us and we just started to love them and we felt that they didn’t need any incredible adornment. A few people did come… John Prine came and sang and so did Damien Rice and Donal Lunny come and played with us and some other friends came and added some beautiful touches. But the core of it is Kieran and I and what we can make together.
- There is a real other-worldly and ethereal quality to the tracks on this album so how has your sound developed over the years?
It changes all of the time and I think that that is good. Other artists have other different ideas about that and some people feel that you just miming the same thing and it is all variations of the same thing.
But I have a very low boredom threshold and I really need to challenge myself. Also life is evolving all of the time and you are hearing new music and having new experiences and I think it depends what is happening around you and that influences me.
What people are saying about this album is that it is a very joyful and that is great - I think we could all do with a bit of joy in the world at the moment (laughs). But I didn’t realise that that was the path that it was going to take.
I started writing the very first song just after my youngest son was born so I was probably in an uplifted place. Sometimes when you are not feeling really good is when you tend to write songs because you are internalising everything and you are examining your thought process and you are quieter and quite still so it is when you write things down.
Sometimes when you are feeling fantastic you tend not to write songs because you are too busy out having a great time.
I stopped keeping a diary for that time as I looked back over it one day and realised that I was only really… I wasn’t strict about it and I didn’t do it every day but more and more I was doing it when I was in darker places and I just thought ‘my god if anything happens to me and I leave this behind it’s just the writings of a mad woman and they will think that I never had a happy moment in my life’ (laughs).
But yeah somehow I found a space to see more joy and something came though on this album.
- And how have you found the response to the album so far?
It has been overwhelming, it has been absolutely overwhelming. I am so proud of it. You can’t make records to suit other people and so I don’t ever do that but at the same time I didn’t just make it to play at home in my kitchen.
I really believe in it and I am really proud of it and I really want the proud to hear it. Luckily when people do it hear it they are reacting really positively to it and that is fantastic.
We have released the album on our own record label and the wonderful thing about that is you get to make the music that you hear in your head.
But the difficult thing then is how do you tell people about it? As you don’t have a big machine behind you but the fact you want to talk to me is great and word of mouth is how it is going for us.
- You have mentioned the likes of Damien Rice and John Prine already so how did those collaborations come about?
The first one was John Prine really and we wrote the song Yes We Will, it is a song about staying in love, and just after I had written it I heard Jon Prine singing in my head - I was completely sober at the time.
He is a big hero of mine but I hadn’t been listening to him that week or anything so I don’t know what it was really. But I found a way to send him the song - I didn’t know him or anything but he recognised my name - so he listen to it and he rang me and said ‘Maria I love that song I would love to sing it with you’.
So that was just… god you can’t imagine what that was like it was just an honour. But also is gave me encouragement because someone else could hear what I heard in my head and that was just great. We were trying to figure out how we were going to record with him as he lives in Nashville but he was due to come to an Ireland a month later and we met up with him in Ireland.
We threw the microphones in the boot of the car and went down to visit him in the countryside and we recording in his front room. It was such a great experience. But then as the other songs began to come I just started thinking about voice that would be interesting to put with mine.
Damien Rice and Paul Brady I know but I know that they are very particular about what they do and neither of them would have agreed to sing with me just because they had met me at a festival or something - I too am very particular about what I do.
I didn’t ask them because I was asking them I asked them for particular musical reason and I could really hear something that their voices would offer to the particular song that I chose.
I think that I chose the right songs as then I sent them the song they could hear it too and they said ‘yeah I really like that I can hear something that I could do’. So we went round to visit them and record with them and it was great.
- Sing also sees you team up with your partner once again so how do you find getting into the studio with him?
It is a constant process really because we write all the songs together as well and then we record and Kieran produces - he produces albums for other people as well and I think that that is probably a much easier experience than working with me (laughs).
But for me it is kind of fantastic because I don’t play an instrument - I play a little bit of piano but not very well - but he is just a genius, guitar is his instrument but he can play anything.
The fact that we have such a history together I can express… I wouldn’t have the facility to say to someone ‘this bit of song should go from D to B’ because that doesn’t make sense to me and I don’t understand that language.
But I can say to him ‘I think it should be more like that film we saw a few weeks ago’ or I can talk to him in terms of colour, mood or atmosphere or even a cultural reference such as a book or a film that we shared.
So it is a great gift to me to have someone who understands the working of my slightly demented mind (laughs) and be able to pop it out in musical form.
- So where did your love of music first start? Did you always envisage yourself having a music career?
Nobody in my family plays music professionally but I definitely grew up around the culture of when my parents got together as well as a lot of eating and drinking going on they would also sing - they sat around in a circle and everyone had a party piece.
Some people only had one party piece while others were singers and had lots of songs but a couple of people really didn’t like to sing and I remember this one man would tell jokes.
So I certainly grew up around the tradition of where it was considered a good thing to gather together with people and share songs and sing together I grew up watching this when I was small and it certainly had a big influence on me.
I always loved music and would listen to the radio and watch out for new stuff. When I was about nine or ten I would go around to me friend’s house on a Sunday when the top twenty was broadcast on the radio at 6pm and we would tape it on a cassette and then we would take turns in sharing it over the next week.
- You have enjoyed success as both a musician and an actress so how do you find juggling both careers?
It is just different. I don’t really see myself as having a career at all really. It is all part of me and they are different ways of telling a story - I suppose the difference about music is that I am telling my story and when I perform live it is the most open that I ever am anywhere.
I don’t think when I am playing live, it is probably the safest play I will ever be, and I just am. And of course the words are obviously personal expressions of things that I see or believe.
But music is just a massive part of my life and even if I wasn’t recording or gigging I wouldn’t spend a day without singing - I would just sing to myself or listen to music.
Acting is something that I really love when I am doing it as it is interesting and fun to pretend to be someone else but I don’t ever miss it when I am not doing it. Certainly it has been handy every so often to get a job and get paid I must say.
But I think it sometimes seem that I do more of it than I do because you see something that has been on the TV every week for three months and you think that it has taken up that big block of your life but my part may only have taken a few days. So yes it is part of me but it is not the biggest part of me.
- Finally what is next for you with your music and acting?
At the moment it is just the music because Kieran and I are just so proud of the album and I just really think it deserves a good shout.
We are gigging and we have a big launch gig coming up at the end of September and we are then going to do some touring in the Czech Republic and Spain.
We hope to be back in Britain in November. People can check out website at mariadoylekennedy.com to see when we are gigging.
Maria Doyle Kennedy’s album Sing is out now - read our review of the album here
FemaleFirst Helen Earnshaw