Interview: Lyra

Dream Chaser...

Like the booming drums that have rapidly become her signature sound, the profile of Cork musician Lyra has exploded recently thanks to several television appearances and a number of ‘Hot tip for 2017’ recommendations. Totally Cork catches up with the London-based singer to see where she’s been, where she’s at and where she’s going.

There are so many reasons to leave home these days, most heavily weighted with negative connotations: fleeing from conflict, financial pursuits, deportation. So it’s refreshing to hear a young voice forthrightly explain their own positive motives for moving – to chase a dream. A Corkonian through-and-through, Lyra’s dreams have taken her across the Irish Sea to London where she’s throwing herself into her work. What specifically brought her to England’s cultural epicentre?

“Music. I really want to give it my all this year and I've found some amazing collaborators in London so it just makes sense for me to be there most of the week,” explains Lyra, speaking from Dublin where she’s in our own capital to catch up with family and friends following a “mad few weeks” of television appearances. Anyone who visits London finds that as soon as you step foot on a London pavement, the feet tend to move that little bit faster than at home. Lyra has found it no different. “Yes, I’ve definitely found that to be the case. It's really fast moving over there. I get up at 7am over in London to try get as much into the day as I can where at home it seems more chilled and easy going and less pressured almost. But when it gets too frantic I head to the sea, I find water so soothing and calming. Weekends by the beach for me whatever the weather!”

Oddly enough, although enjoying the vast fruits of opportunity presented for picking across the water, Lyra’s latest high profile gig takes place in her homeland in May. A prominent arm of Music Cork, a new music industry showcase featuring sessions and talks with industry veterans (including key note speaker, Darcus Beese, President of Island Records who personally signed chart-toppers such as Amy Winehouse and Sugababes) will be a music trail packed full of up and coming Irish bands and musicians across Cork Opera House, Cyprus Avenue, Triskel Arts Centre and The Old Oak. Lyra will share a bill with poptronic twosome Le Boom and Dublin songwriter Ailbhe Reddy in Cyprus Avenue on Thursday 11th May. It was less than a year ago that the same Caroline Street venue provided the location for Lyra’s first ever Cork show. “I was shaking like a leaf,” gasps Lyra when asked to relive what it was like to finally introduce her new pop persona to a home crowd. “I was so nervous for all my family and friends to finally hear what I had been up to and for the public to meet me for the first time. After the first note it was electric and I loved every second of it!”

Nervous or not, Lyra seems perfectly at home on stage, even more so under the unnerving glare of television cameras. A rising profile stretched further upwards recently when invited to perform on RTÉ’s reality show, Dancing With The Stars. In stark contrast to a programme full of celebrities awkwardly coming to terms with uncomfortable routines, Lyra’s performance of ‘Emerald’ exuded poise and panache. It’s as if singing from a podium backed by half-naked percussionists with two expert ballroom dancers gliding around in front of her is an everyday occurrence. “I love to perform and having tribal drummers [Wexford percussive collective Extreme Rhythm] was just amazing. I'm a believer that if people come to see you, you should give them a proper performance. If not they might as well just play your music at home. The music comes first but additional visual elements all add to help making it a show. I really was crazy nervous though. I had never used in-ear monitors before so that was a first which was a little strange actually. I loved it so much I just wanted to keep going.”

Expect Florence & The Machine comparisons to flow freely in the coming months, mainly because of the gargantuan drum sound that forms the backbone to Lyra’s music with the singer weaving her own Celtic patterns around them. “I love big drums, I've loved them since I can remember so for me that was always a natural part of my sound. I also love cinematic music so I incorporated some strings. My sister and I grew up singing in harmony together so the layering of vocals is something I always had to have. As a result Emerald now has over 200 vocal parts which was crazy to record in half a day.”

The engineer tasked with untangling this web of complex vocal arrangements was Rupert Christie, who has worked as an arranger and producer with chart heavies such as U2, Coldplay and another artist to whom Lyra often finds herself compared: Kate Bush. “I love Rupert,” beams Lyra, reflecting on the origins of a long-running collaboration. “He is like a gentle giant. We had a writing session together and he just loved the music and wanted to be a part of the project. We have so much fun in the studio, and work so hard. We really work well together.” Youth versus experience can sometime be a losing battle. Have battles ever had to be fought to retain ownership over her musical direction? “To be honest I'm very lucky that my manger is one in a million and loves what I do and loves my sound - so it will always sound and look like me because we're both on the same page.”

Lyra’s sudden emergence can be sourced back to one particular moment in January with the inclusion of ‘Emerald’ on the soundtrack of RTÉ’s solicitor drama Striking Out starring Amy Huberman. “I knew my track was being used but I didn't know at what point,” says Lyra, reflecting on potentially the powder keg moment of her fledgling pop career. “I was just sitting at home with my mum, stuffing my face with chocolate when I heard it and I nearly fell off the sofa. I was over the moon! My phone went nuts from all my friends. I will never forget that night. It was so, so cool.”

Musically, what’s next for Lyra and what plans are there to build on previous forays into the studio? “Oooooo,” oohs Lyra, mulling over the thoughts of releasing new material. “I have some new music I can't wait to share with you so watch this space. I know everyone says that but I'm so excited about what is coming! My first EP was called W.I.L.D. A blog called it “This is Wild” at some point and it's caught on,” laughs Lyra, whom I’ve learned to be the daughter of a biochemist and an avid fashion fan during our chat. “W.I.L.D. stands for Wake Induced Lucid Dreaming. W.I.L.D. was my first musical baby and I always like to say that - as any parent would know - while still keeping the tricks you learned with baby one you grow with experience that you use when you get to your second baby.”
Creating art involves constantly making significant life choices which usually come stockpiled with personal sacrifices. Of this, Lyra is only too aware. “I have made a lot so far and I can imagine it's only going to happen more. I have missed birthday parties, family weddings and holidays but I know it’s all part of this world and it's a sacrifice I'm willing to make so I'm lucky everyone around me are so supportive and understanding. The best decision I’ve made? To pursue my dreams no matter where it takes me. When you realise you can do anything that you dream of, it's really liberating. I'm not afraid to go for it anymore, I just need to work hard and keep moving forwards.”

*The above article was originally published in the April edition of Totally Cork magazine

For more on Lyra visit:

Lyra plays Cyprus Avenue, Thursday 11th May with Le Boom, Jack O'Rourke and Ailbhe Reddy as part of Music Cork.
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