The G-Man Interview with Sí

The below was published in the Cork Evening Echo's Downtown supplement on Thursday, 13th October.

Delicate yet defiant and as spectrally gothic as it is beautiful, Síle Ní Dhubhghaill (aka ) will officially introduce the world to her debut album Great Expectations this October with a performance in Cork’s oldest tea-room :

“I've asked Fellini's vintage cafe and shop if we can have it in there in the evening. It’s my favourite place to have coffee in Cork and I love being surrounded by all the mad vintage stuff they have in there, so it seemed like the ideal place really!”

Dark, sepulchral folk that could have been carved from the trunk of an ancient tree, 's debut exhibits a tenderness that is not as common as one would like these days. The album, Dickensianly titled Great Expectations, was recorded with Fergal Lawler, drummer for the Cranberries, over a two year period in Bunker Hill studios. Introverted folkster and multi-million selling stadium rocker - how did Síle find herself as one half of such an odd pairing?

“I think Fergal always keeps an eye on the music scene in Limerick, where I was living at the time. He found me on myspace and sent me a message asking if I wanted to come out and record a song or two which turned into an EP which eventually turned into an album!“

So what cards did the crafty Cranberry bring to the table?

“There is the experience factor of course but it was way more than that. These songs are my babies but he loves them almost as much as I do. He was really into the music and had a huge artistic influence. When you don't have a band around you to bounce things off I think it’s really important to have someone to discuss things with, who will come from a different angle and have ideas that didn't occur to you.“

A striking presence on the album is the elegant sound of the harp, most notably on heart-breaker ‘Say’.

“My aunt is a harpist so I was aware of the harp from an early age – I don't think its the kind of instrument one randomly picks up! I started asking my parents for one when I was very young but they kept telling me that I was too small and my fingers weren't strong enough yet. In reality they were waiting until they could afford one!”

After years of songwriting, another couple of years of recording and then finding the funds to physically print the album it must have been such a relief for Síle to finally hold the album in her hands.

“It felt a bit like a dream! I remember the day we went to the studio to listen to the [finished version]. I was just in shock I think. Then Fergal handed me the master and I was looking at it thinking - oh crap, no more excuses now, this is it!”

The below section of the interview was not published in The Echo and is appearing on the blog only.

It's quite dark in parts. Without getting too personal Where do you think this darkness stems from?

It sounds a bit silly but even as a kid I was totally melodramatic and a little bit melancholy, despite having a very happy childhood and my sister and brother both being very chilled out, happy-go-lucky people. Maybe I was just born that way. But by getting it all out in the songs it allows me to be much happier in the rest of my life!

Many songwriters find the soungwriting process very therepeutic and the act of writing allows them to put their feelings on paper and then simply move on. Would you agree? What do you get personally from the whole thing?

I totally agree. Writing things down and singing about them helps me to analyse how I feel about things and come to terms with events and my reactions to them. Its almost as if writing a song and then singing it in public is a sort of exorcism. The downside is that you are basically reading your diary out loud to a room full of people, but the advantages outweigh that!

If money and time were no object and you had to write a concept album, what would it be?

Oh god, where to start???? I would love to do an album entirely on harpsichord, based on the French 18th century style – maybe with the stories in the songs based on the court of the Sun King. I'd love a chance to work with an orchestra too. I was really lucky though – time was no option with this one so I got to do a lot of the things I wanted to do.

Was this your first time recording in a studio? How did you find the experience?

Not exactly. My Dad used to be a sound engineer and radio producer so when I was doing my work experience for transition year in RTE he brought me into Studio 8 for a day to record a couple of songs so that I could experience it. There was a Steinway and everything. That was long before I was using the harp for writing so it was only piano. A day in studio 8 when you are 15 is a very different experience though! Recording this album was the first time I was able to record multiple tracks, which was amazing for me. I went a bit nuts on the vocal harmonies – I was able to have a whole choir of myself!

Which song on the album changed the most from being written and then how it actually turned out in the studio?

That would be 'The Boy Who Cried Wolf'. I had chucked that one, and had no intention of recording it. We gave it a try on harp and couldn't get it to work, so one day Fergal suggested trying the hammond [organ]. The little echoes and things he put in after really make the song. I just wanted an excuse to use the hammond really.

'I Was Made Of Stars' is my favourite at the moment but which song on the record are you most proud of?

I couldn't possibly choose! I really like the way 'The Princess Waltz' turned out, and I like the really creepy vibe on 'Great Expectations'.

You went the route to help raise the funds to print the album. Can you tell us a little about that? i.e. How did you hear of it? How did you set the total?

Basically, I heard about fundit from tenpast doing it, although prior to that I had been looking at other sites like pledge and indiegogo and considering my options. The first person I knew of who did it was Laura Sheeran and it seemed like such a great idea. I basically just got a quote from the duplication company and everyone else I would need to pay and put that as my total.

Was there any point at which you felt you wouldn't hit your target?

Most of the way through!

Was there a plan B ready in case you didn't?

Send a pile of promo cd's around the place and keep my fingers crossed... I'm really glad I didn't need plan B!

How much input did you have on the artwork?

Well I chose the photos from the shoot and all that but I'm pretty crap when it comes to things like layout and all that. My way of doing these things is to leave it to the people who know best and then just look at the finished product and decide whether I like it. I think I was a bit awkward because when I got the first proof from Rory tenpast, who did the layout, I decided that the text wasn't what I wanted, but I didn't have the technical terms to describe why or what it was I DID want. So I think it was probably tough for him, but he found the perfect one in the end. The lyrics booklet, which is going to funders, I have left completely up to Jen Connel, the artist who is drawing it all. I just sent her the lyrics and I'm mad to see what she comes up with!

Can you tell us a little about the idea behind it (the artwork)?

I wanted something Victorian looking, as a play on the title of the album being the same as the Dickens novel, and to go with the sort of dark feeling of the album.

How did your love affair with music begin and has it always been a strong presence in your life?

As far as I know, its always been there! There has always been music in the family so it was kind of taken for granted that we would do music lessons. But I always got loads of encouragement from my parents, not just to practise classical but to play all kinds of music and to sing and write. There was always plenty of music to listen to (my dad had a huge and varied collection) and he would always encourage me to learn new songs and play by ear. I always wonder whether I would have turned out the same if this hadn't been the case. I don't think there was ever really a question that I would study anything other than music in college, or have a non-musical job. Its always been my thing I guess. Almost everything I do, from work to hobbies and pastimes, is in some way connected to music.

You have a few Irish tour dates lined up over the next few weeks. Are you looking forward to hitting the road?

I can't wait! I get really itchy feet if I haven't played a gig in a while. I'm glad I've held off gigging for a while though – it makes the idea of the tour even more exciting! And now when people come up to me after gigs and ask where they can get a CD I can say, right here!

Is it a solo tour?

If you mean will I be on my own up on stage, then mostly! Although Caitriona will hopefully be playing a few tunes with me at some of the gigs...

Who are you listening to most these days?

To be honest, mostly classical music at the moment. When I'm out walking the dog I like listening to upbeat stuff like Robyn and The Knife. I'm also listening to St. Vincent at the moment, and just the other day was listening to Birdy. (I can't believe she's only 16). Really looking forward to getting around to the new Tori Amos album too.

What do you feel is the most difficult aspect of the Irish live scene being an unsigned artist and what could be changed?

I think it can be difficult to get venues to book you as an unknown, unless you have a friend who knows someone, or something like that. But the venues have to make money too so I understand them not wanting to book an unknown on faith alone! It seems to me that there is a lot of cooperation between artists within their own cities, which is great, but it would be nice to spread it around a bit.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?

Get over it.

Ever played the animal game before? (Basically you begin with one letter, eg. 'J', and everyone has to name an animal beginning with this letter. The person who cannot name an animal beginning with 'J' loses one life).

The easy animals such as 'Jaguar' are always taken quite early so can ye give me a rare animal beginning with 'j' that I can use as back up for the next time I play the game myself?
A description of the animal would also be helpful as people tend to try and make up names as well as using mythological beasts!
The Wilderness of Manitoba said 'Degu' (a small rat) to 'D' which was far more imaginative than Megafaun's 'Cougar'.

Uuuuuuuuuuummmmmmmmmmmmm Jackdaw? (it is a bird isn't it???)

Upcoming Tour dates :
October 23rd - Fellini's (Cork)
October 27th - Support for Laura Sheeran  (Dublin - To Be Confirmed)
November 6th - Upstairs in Dolan's (Limerick)
November 15th - The Sky & The Ground (Wexford)