Ailbhe Reddy has had a strong year. The Dublin based singer-songwriter, known for her deeply honest and emotional lyrics that stay with you long after listening, has played at almost every major Irish festival and is currently embarking on a tour of The UK.
Homogenous indie music still has its place today, but Ailbhe is constantly setting herself apart, using her lyrics to battle stigmas and not holding back when it comes to showing her vulnerabilities and fears through lyricism and soulful music.
Her haunting voice arrests her audience and her minimalistic style immediately reels you in. With the simplicity of just a woman and her guitar, she’s somehow capable of making a whole room instantly shut up to let the rawness of the music resonate. Since starting out, she’s evolved her sound, incorporating a full band, expanding the live set and bringing that set up to the upper echelons of music with a performance at Glastonbury. Ahead of an upcoming headline date at Whelan’s, a haven for rising alternative and indie artists, we caught up with the Dubliner.
You’ve mentioned in previous interviews that you’ve always written songs with the hope that people can relate to what you’re feeling. Especially with the minimalistic nature of folk music, you’re giving yourself to your listeners and people who attend your shows in such honest and vulnerable ways. Do you find it tough being so open?
I think most people are writing to be understood in some way. There’s something kind of exciting about being boldly honest and publicly saying things you couldn’t usually, just because you’ve hidden the message under a melody. I find it easy to be that open, eventually. When I first play a new song it’s scary, but by the time I’ve gigged a song 10 times it’s as much mine as anyone else’s. You kind of let go of the feelings a bit after every play.
Would you like to weigh in on the ‘Ireland doesn’t support it’s creatives, so they’re all leaving’ argument that we hear all too often these days? Why do you think this is? Do festivals like Hard Working Class Heroes help combat it?
I think that criticism is levelled towards the lack of funding for modern music from the Department of Culture. It’s also a criticism that isn’t just from creatives, but plenty of young people in other fields too. Rent is impossible in Dublin (yet we need to be in Dublin to avail of opportunities), creative spaces are few and far between. There’s not a lot of support for young Irish people in general, and it’s even worse for creatives as they are often going down the road less travelled.
With regards HWCH, the opportunities are there for you to take. I did it in 2015 when I didn’t really have my act together and didn’t gain much traction. However, in 2016 I had released an EP, had a tight band together and I went to all the industry meet and greets and benefitted massively. Through that I got to go to The Great Escape, and through that I signed my publishing deal, which was my most important career moment to date. First Music Contact in Ireland is an incredible support system that facilitates artists working together, as well as educating us all on how to navigate the industry.
You’re quite open about having to juggle a job and music, this seems to be such a common problem for our country’s top musicians. How do you think this could be combatted?
More funding, which is something Angela Dorgan of First Music Contact has been fiercely fighting for.
Which Irish artists are impressing you at the moment?
I’m sure you’re more than aware of everyone I will name: Maria Kelly, LAOISE, Pillow Queens (I like to act like I’m their honorary fifth member), Bitch Falcon, Basciville, Rosa Nutty… I could name heaps!
You’re often praised for your clever lyricism. What spurs these lyrics on?
To me, lyrics are the most important part, I think melody can attract you to the song, but lyrics are what keep you listening. I spend a lot of time writing down lyrical ideas that often never make it into songs. I try keep note of anything that might be a good idea for a future melody. Generally I work off an idea I have first and write the music around that. I’m currently on a tour of the UK, so I’ve found myself writing a lot while I have downtime on trains. You need that distracted time for your mind to wander and write something worthwhile.
As you mention, you’ve been playing quite a lot around the UK, plus Ireland and you had a date in Canada. How have you found touring?
I actually like travelling alone, so parts of it can be really pleasant. I love taking trains around and listening to music. However, you can definitely go a bit stir crazy when you haven’t spoken to anyone in a full day. I’m in the middle of 18 days touring in the UK while I write this, so that has been really interesting. Over the last 18 months I’ve played in Canada, the UK, France, Spain, Germany and Austria. It’s really amazing, because you see places and meet people you usually wouldn’t because you’re offered a gig. So I really appreciate that aspect of it, although travelling can be exhausting too.
Does touring hamper or inspire creativity?
It kind of depends on how busy you are, if you have a lot of down time and a lot of time to think and process ideas you can be really productive and creative. But if when I’ve toured around Ireland and I’ve been driving from place to place I’ve never found it to be creatively stimulating, because I’ve constantly been engaged in the process of getting from A to B and soundchecking and then doing it all over again!
You mentioned before in an interview that the Irish music community is quite tight-knit, and I can imagine that’s definitely true for the more intimate genres of indie and folk music. Have you been finding that overseas too?
It seems to be similar in different cities, that artists within communities band together and help each other out and tour together. I suppose it’s essential as a DIY movement grows within the indie music sphere and artists move away from the traditional label structure in favour of self-releasing and promoting. It’s certainly important to be able to ask for advice and support from peers who are doing the same thing.
‘Attach to Memory’ has been noted as being really raw, stripped back and honest compared to your debut EP ‘Hollowed out Sea’. Where did the decision come from to release a surprise EP, and to make it so honest and bearing?
I didn’t decide any of it for any particular reason, really! I had really meticulously planned my first EP and spent a year recording and fine tuning it with the wonderful Darragh Nolan (Asta Kalapa studios). I kind of started recording ‘Attach to Memory’ accidentally, I went in to record ‘Never Loved’, then went in and recorded ‘Disconnect’ with the band… Then I decided to make a four-track EP and released it with a single about three months later. It kind of just happened that way.
I wouldn’t say it was any more honest or bare than my first EP, but I had recently gone through a break up that kind of gave me a bit of a shake, so I think that might have come across in the recordings!
Ailbhe Reddy plays Whelan’s on November 23.