What can you tell us about your new album- The Same Sun for those who have not heard it yet?
It’s absolutely fabulous! A lot of love and hard work went into it and I spent about 2 years writing it. The difference with this one is that I have written with other people on this record. I have written by myself and also with other people such as my producer Mitchell Froom who’s a wonderful producer. I have also worked with another singer songwriter so it has broadened my horizons as a songwriter and I think I have got better because of it. Each song on the record is like a little story in itself- a little vignette. They are all stories of things that I have been through and what I have thought about. It’s a very emotional and very vulnerable album.
You have drawn from song writing of the 60s and 70s, so who are you a fan of from this time and how have you gone about adopting that sound in your own music?
It wasn’t an idea of adopting the sound. I’ve always had this attitude but when people ask me ‘where do I draw my inspiration from?’ – I draw it from the great singer songwriters who don’t hide behind auto-production and auto-tuning and sing their own songs, write their own songs and get up there and deliver a bloody great performance! It’s more about what any artist should aspire to rather than ‘this is what I tried to make my album like’. From that era I would listen to (even though I wasn’t born then) Joni Mitchell and am a great fan of Neil Young- it’s what those guys did as songwriters and what they produced that was free flowing and organic because it was so powerful and so true. Joni in particular lyrically; she knows no bounds, she knows no boundaries- she is not afraid to express herself and as a woman I still think she has a giant message today because I think that she was a real powerhouse for equality. She was not held back by the sexual era that she was from and I think that for those reasons she should still be a great inspiration today because in some ways we have gone a little bit backwards. We were almost there at the equality level and now we are taking a step backwards. That is how I feel in the industry. It's from the point of view of the truth of the music and the intelligence of the music, the purity, the ability and the talent. That is where I draw my inspiration from. There are lots of people today that I am absolutely loving- a young band called The Mighty Oaks that I absolutely love; they are three independent guys living in Berlin. One is from the UK, one from Italy and one from the States. They are singing and writing their own songs and producing a very raw beautiful and organic sound and that is what it’s all about really- being able to deliver what you say you can.
I personally always feel a sense of calm when I listen to the The Same Sun- is this something that you wanted to achieve with this album?
I think I am calm and I think it delivered a sense of me. I am very happy where I am at my stage in life and I think I am being very true to myself. That then makes people feel calm because truth makes people feel calm. People navigate the truth rather than anything that is superficial or a lie. Because I have kept to these pure, organic instruments and it’s not over produced- it is beautifully produced- I feel it makes people feel comfortable because it mirrors real life. Real life is not like a Lady Gaga record, it’s not like full on barrage, it’s not a giant production. Real life takes many corners and meanders and it’s slightly gentle in a way.
Can you tell us a bit about your transition into solo music from being with The Corrs?
That was unusual- I suppose for me not many people expected the violinist to strike out and be a solo artist, so I came up with certain walls from that level. The fact that The Corrs were such a huge hit and I am so proud of that, was almost like a deterrent for people to fall behind me. I have spent so many years just getting people used to the fact that I am a singer and a songwriter and that I do come without three other people. I do arrive on stage and do a complete gig without the others. That is changing now and my second album is really stabilizing that and people are recognising it. For me I feel that there was a transition- I was, for fifteen years on the road with The Corrs. When I was writing a song more often than not Andrea would sing it, so I was writing songs that the band would do rather than I would do. I almost had to get used to what my own voice wanted when it came to song writing. I almost had to learn to write for myself rather than write for The Corrs. I also had to fall into that front of stage role to inhabit it and feel comfortable doing it. I was like a duck to water- my first gig was in at the deep end-I did the Isle of Wight festival and was a little bit nervous beforehand. Once I got out there I felt like I had come alive and that I was in the right place. There was a little adjustment- I had to relearn how to be me but now that adjustment has gone and I can keep moving forward and discover more and more about who I can be.
You are a Grammy Nominee and Brit Award Winner so how does winning an award affect your confidence as a performer?
It is wonderful. Some people become intimated by themselves which is not a great response. It’s great to be noted for what you have achieved in life. The instrumental I wrote was nominated for a Grammy and I was so thrilled and I felt that 'I must be able to write if I am getting nominated for a Grammy!' That stuff is a lovely endorsement of what you are trying to be and tells you that you have achieved that- so keep going- it’s a lovely thing.
You say on your website that ‘music is what makes me tick’, so can you tell us about your musical journey that started at such a young age?
I was immersed in music from being very young. My mum and dad; apart from having regular jobs, had a band together and music was their love affair. They even called their band The Sound Affair- they adored it and it got them out of the mundane. My father was in a job that he hated, but he was bringing in the money so he did his job and my mother was a housewife. I think she was meant for bigger things but they did it for us and their music was what they loved. I was playing piano from being extremely young. I started learning violin at 6 so I was writing songs at around six. They were probably crap but I was doing them regardless. I started in orchestras because I was playing classical violin and I did orchestras for a few years. Me and my brother Jim got a modern fusion Irish band together to make some money and we really discovered the fusion of modern pop music and melody with instruments from our backgrounds. Then we got the four of us together and the rest is history. Then it went crazy and exploded! My whole life has been spent in music and I don’t feel normal without it in any way and I will never choose to be without it in my life- it defines me to myself.
How did it feel to get asked to be a coach on The Voice and how does it help your own development to mentor a newcomer to the business?
It was funny because up until I was asked to be on The Voice I hated those talent shows- I hated The X factor and still do. I think because I really thought it was a circus and it was almost like the contestants were being treated like animals in a circus, which is obviously not a good way to be treated. I felt it was an opportunity to laugh at people so I thought it was really low grade TV. I was asked by a fabulous director who is currently working here in the UK. She is super and I have a lot of respect for her. If she came to me with anything then I was going to be involved. I had never heard about The Voice before and I went online and I looked at it and I thought ‘Oh wow! You guys are actually trying to do something different’. It’s genuinely about their voice because you can’t see how they look- they have the voice first- they have no choice but to listen. They are also very genuine about coaching these young possible stars and amazing singer songwriters. I thought I can stand by what I choose to do because I value my integrity in the industry, I value what I do and I value sticking to that. I felt that I could maintain that while doing it. I also started out in my solo career with the policy of being open to everything. I believe in thinking about something or working it out before I ever say ‘no’. I really felt that I needed to broaden my horizons because I was very used to writing in a very familiar environment. I think that you can get a little afraid if you don’t test the water often enough. It was great- I loved it and I’m on my UK tour which starts September 14th and taking one of my team from The Voice. A little guy called John Gaughan who is a superstar. I think he’s just an amazing singer and songwriter and he is coming out to support me on tour.
Some of the lyrics in The Same Sun are inspired by your trip to Tanzania for Oxfam so can you tell us a bit more about that?
I’ve been working with OXFAM for four or five years now. I started working with them in Dublin and I really got on with the people involved and they said to me at the time ‘would you ever be interested in doing a trip?’ and I said ‘you only have to ask I would be really interested’. They were starting a new campaign called Ending Poverty for Women- they invited me to go to Tanzania to launch the campaign. I was there to bring awareness to people at home and interview the women involved in the campaign. We talked about the issues that they are experiencing on a daily basis and tried to increase the donations that were coming in for the campaign. It was a momentous trip- it was quite something. We brought a camera crew and the photographer that I work with all the time Barry McCaul who is a beautiful Irish photographer. We all went on this trip together into the unknown. I spoke to these ladies about their lives and the issues like- women have no rights at all, they have no voice in their community. They have no right to land- the land keeps getting passed on from man to man and the women are doing all of the farming. If a man moves on, she loses the land and loses the crops- so the possibly of feeding her children and possibility of survival. The women suffer horrific violence on a daily basis and it’s a cultural norm. It was a very emotional trip, very empowering and beautiful in some other ways too. These women were incredible. I wrote this song when we were on a dirt road, for about 8 hours when we were travelling between villages. We would often get stuck in the mud and need help to get out. I was a real basic experience in many ways. I was writing what I was seeing, into my I pad- I was recreating the images of what I was seeing on my I pad because I knew that I was experiencing something very amazing. I didn’t want to write a charity song, I didn’t want to write a speech telling people how I want them to behave or judging people for what they do. I just wanted to recreate the feeling of what I felt out there and what I saw- the people. One of the lyrics is ‘a shepherd boy who smiles at me beneath the lone acacia tree’ and sure enough- a little boy smiled at me underneath a lone acacia tree! It’s about putting you back into the moment. All I could think was the sun is so beautiful here and the landscape is so beautiful. We are under The Same Sun in the Western World. We all depend on it, we are all nourished by it; we all exist because of it. It really equalises us. If felt that we live such different lives. I can go home but home is a very different life for them. I felt it was a very global title for the album- The Same Sun just felt very unifying.
Can you tell us a bit about your personal musical process from lyrics to stage?
Putting ideas down on an I Pad is an odd way for me to do it, although I do it more often than I used to. It’s a couple of times before that point that I had written a short story and turned it into a song. More often than not, what happens to me is that I sit at my piano, which is my best friend and my territory. I play a cord progression that I like and it sounds like it’s got potential, the things that I’m thinking just start to come out. It’s almost like I follow them rather than I chase them. I try to direct the process onto the page of what I’m feeling rather than analysing and telling it. It’s a very different process- it’s as if you are drinking a drink; it’s about tasting it rather than thinking of the idea of the drink that you are drinking. It’s the taste. That’s normally how I write.
Lyrically, I try to make it as close to the emotion as possible so for me it's like a train of thoughts, rather than ‘I said this and she said that and that annoyed me’. It’s to show rather than to tell. It’s always about trimming back and making the expression pure all the time. It can be anything- like Raindrops- the first track on the album, I was having a really shitty day and couldn’t explain why- you know when you are just in a mood. You are really down and close to tears and you have no excuse. There was nothing wrong that I was aware of. I had this awful day and I got the kids to bed and I was sitting at the piano and this literally fell out of me. It had been raining all day as well so maybe it was just the atmospheric pressure or so many different things. The release I got after delivering the song- I was happy after it. It’s just like this really great therapy.
When I write with other people- I wrote Upon an Ocean with Mitchell Froom, he had had this idea and he had packed it away in his music case. He knew it would be coming out at some stage and he knew it was a progression. He started playing it on the piano and immediately I imagined a ballroom of the fifties with the guys at one end and the girls at the other end. A few drinks later, the guys are brave enough to come across from the other side of the room. It just set me in this period in time and that’s why you kind of get that retro feel in the album. That is what came out of Mitchell and I together, it just automatically felt retro. I just imagined the woman and this unrequited love and she is stuck in those moments forever like in Great Expectations- she can literally never get over this guy and he’s never coming back. A little bit sad but beautiful hopefully. Many different ideas for many different reasons.
You have children now so what is your advice for women out there who want to have a career in performing as well as quality family time?
Go for it! Don’t hold yourself back. I think as long as you are making sure that they are not feeling left out or unloved and that you are fulfilling your role as a mother. They don’t necessarily need to be mutually exclusive. I am happy with my children because I get to do the thing that I love. When I am with them I tour and I do all the rest. My children just spent 3 days with me I the Costa Brava because I had a show in front of a beautiful basilica. We got to spend three days in this gorgeous place- they got to hang out with the fans and stay up late, eat chips and chicken, it’s a very exciting experience for children. I think absolutely go of it but be careful not to let them be the ones who are sacrificing. You have to make the sacrifices, you have to work harder and they are not feeling like ‘mummy just wants to do this more than be with us.’ It’s a tight rope- it’s incredibly difficult to do. You also need to have the right husband or partner. He needs to be super understanding, he needs to want your dreams for you and you for him. If I didn’t have my husband supporting me- I don’t know what I would do. He’s a lawyer, he has many things on the go but he was looking after the children while I was rehearing in the Costa Brava. You need a strong confident man who doesn’t feel undermined by you having a career. Or you being the boss in some ways. It’s difficult to achieve but you might not think that you have reached your full potential if you hold back. I don’t think that your children would want you to look back at your life and feel bitter that they stopped you from doing what you wanted to do because they were there. I think you can do both.
The final song on the album Christmas Night always brings a tear to my eye, so do you ever find that when you sing such lyrics that it affects you emotionally?
That song- I find very difficult to listen to, it does make me cry because it’s about my mum. Christmas is a time when you are almost forced to enter into this super cheerfulness and everyone thinks Christmas is going to be great. There is a giant build up and we clear the shelves at Sainsbury’s and hurry home. But you are always missing the loved ones who are not there. Christmas is still joyful and I not a bah-humbug person but the reality is I miss her so bad and your past is so present at Christmas. More present than any other time in the year. I watch my dad trying to keep upbeat and missing her so. It’s the paradox of Christmas. The cheer versus missing the people who are not there. I literally wrote that after Christmas one year because it had made me feel sad and it also brought me a lot of happiness as well because our children were so happy. We always have conflicting emotions at Christmas.
What is next for you?
After the UK tour I then have a tour of Brazil, then a tour of northern Europe. After that I plan to take a break at Christmas then I will hopefully end up in Australia and New Zealand and possibly the States. I like to tour and by the time I have finished the tour I will have released the album in almost every territory. I am focusing the next four months on the UK because it’s a big territory and very important to me. Then I will start thinking about the next album I suppose.