Music appeases the most savage souls or wakes the numb ones. Lisa Hannigan is able to make both at the same time. Her music is pure sweetness. A blissful torrent of musical rage, although her claws are delicate as her voice, and make us fall into a deep infatuation. For the ones that do not know her, she used to make the backing vocals for Damien Rice and in 2008 she started her solo career with a debut album called “Sea Sew”. This work is a careful compilation of folk songs with a huge presence of instruments like mandolin, ukulele, acoustic guitar and harmonium that recreate an intimate atmosphere every time you play it. After the warm success and in the middle of her tour, she composed and recorded “Passenger”. Clearly influenced by her experience on the road, these themes involve another beautiful incursion into the folk genre. I have seen her live twice. First of all in Lisbon (Optimus Alive Festival) which was a huge and pleasant surprise. For the audience, and for her, because she was not used to fill outdoor spaces and to receive such a warm welcome abroad. The concert was spontaneous, fresh, dynamic and very proffesional. She came with a great band and the sound was immaculate. The perfect opener for a long Festival day. And then, I was able to see her in Spain, thanks to Female Voices Festival (Festival Voces Femeninas), in a more intimate and acoustic enviroment: in a theatre (Teatro García Barbón, Vigo). And if I loved her in an outdoor and more “impersonal” space, you can imagine how much I adored her in a closer one. She came accompanied by a guitarist and a drummer and her pure and genuine sound invaded the theather and made the audience long for some minutes more of this dreamy and delicious music. Her personality? Just as her compositions: sweet, kind and natural. Here is my little interview to her. Enjoy it. And please, do listen to her. You will not regret it.
– When did you start in the music professionally? How were your beginnings?
I guess it was at 18 I think. I did my first show with Damien Rice and I was paid 20 quid. I met Damien at university and we started with the shows as a hobby but then that turned into something more serious and quit University. My mother and family knew that was gonna happen. I always wanted to be a singer. And when the project started to get serious I had no time for both things. Anyway, I didn’t want to go to College. I only wanted to play music.
– Which are your main musical influences?
I listen to loads…I love songwriters, beautiful voices, traditional Irish music. I love classic songwriters as Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen.
– Do you have any ritual at the time of composing? And before the show?
I usually write in the bathroom. When I have something in mind I go in there. Or I go out for a stroll. Just to oxygenate my brain. Just watching other people is inpiring for me. And before the show, I have a a glass of wine and I just try to chill out with the lads.
– What triggered your solo career?
Well, I was in a band with Damien, and then this ended. I had been working in my own songs for some years so I thought that was the right time to focus on my career and launch a solo record.
– How would you define your music to somebody that does not know you?
I do not know. I give them a CD (laughs). It is a really hard question to answer. It is like trying to describe yourself.
– What happens in Ireland? I mean, such a small country and so many talented artists: Van Morrison, U2, Sinnead O’Connor, My Bloody Valetine, Rory Gallagher…Is music a basic need in your country?
Yeah…it is an important part of our culture. It is a way of expressing ourselves. And doing it together. We have a great respect and faith in our culture.
Is there any special place where you would love to play again?
Well, I’d love to play again in Spain! We had such such a special time in Galicia in particular.
– What differences do you encounter between your first album and this last one?
I think there is more confidence and gusto to the second record. I feel much happier with my songwriting too and I tried to be more honest and spare about it.
– How was working with Joe Henry and Ray Lamontagne? Did the first influence your way of sounding?
I love working with those both guys. As Joe produced the record he influenced the sound considerably, in the way that I hoped he would. He likes to record live and that’s what I was looking for in the second album.
– What does it mean “Passenger”? What can we find in this album?
“Passenger” is about being away from home and indeed was mostly written while away from home. The nostalgia and sense of transience that comes with that.
– How did Damien influence your music vision and compositions? Any plans of working together again?
Not at the moment. I imagine that everything influences songwriting in some way but I can’t hear any influence there myself.
– If you were not a musician, what would you be?
I would have a bookshop.
– The last record you have bought.
“Philarmonics” – Agnes Obel
– A record for a Saturday night.
“Graceland” – Paul Simon
– A record for a Sunday morning.
“Keep it hid” – Dan Auerbach
Photos: Nacho Iglesias
Thanks to Festival Voces Femeninas organization and Lisa Hannigan for their time.