Loah has been a prominent figure in Irish music since we started off as a publication way back when. As an artist, she’s as comfortable performing solo in intimate venues as she is at festivals with grand ensembles or dueting at her own headline shows.
Through her penchant for collaborative experiences she’s forged her own path and created her own sound. That sound is going to come to light in 2020.
To further help her mature as an artist, she decided to move to New York this year. Before she set off to call NYC her new home, Ireland and indeed the rest of the world went into a state of lockdown and her American dream was scuppered indefinitely. However, in a serendipitous twist of fate Jameson’s The Stay Inn project is bringing The Big Apple to her via Queens rapper and Dreamville Records artist Bas.
We sat down over Zoom to speak about the The Stay Inn, her admiration for Bas and her pathway as an artist.
As soon as lockdown hit, did you as an artist feel you had to come away with a tonne of new material?
Yeah, definitely, it’s a real thing. For me, I felt I could let this be really stressful or I could look at it as a blessing. I have so many great things that I get to do in my life and if you take away a few of them it creates more time for my passion which I’m able to do from home. I’m so thankful that I have something that drives me when I’m at home. I really feel for people that need to leave their home for work.
I’m in a place where I’m feeling pretty motivated anyway. I’ve been working hard on maintaining a healthy mindset towards creativity and it’s paying off.
Have you found it easy to maintain that healthy mindset considering how long lockdown has lasted?
A friend of mine said the lockdown blues sneak up on you (laughs), you really need to be careful of social media because it’s such a tool of comparison and a tool for connection as well, you don’t want to cross that line too much to be thinking ‘oh look what they’re doing’ which can be a source of inspiration on one hand, but if you’re feeling down it can also be a source of self-judgement.
I was meant to move to New York the week of lockdown, the day we were locked down in Dublin was the day I was supposed to leave. I had my flat in NY and everything, obviously it had transpired that there was no point in moving. The industry is in this weird suspended place where everything is just paused and no one knows what’s going to happen.
My old boss asked if I wanted to come back to the chemist and I was only delighted to, suddenly I was thrust from one pathway into a completely different one, I think because I’ve been working in the health services the whole thing feels so real to me and I’ve never felt more thankful for being healthy and able-bodied, that’s been very humbling because it means that every day that I’m at home I have so much drive to do my art. I have no excuse, I literally have no excuse whereas, had I not been as exposed to everything I might have gotten into my own head. Being in the health service has helped me a little bit which is good for the ego.
You went from potentially starting a new life in New York to working on the frontline in the space of a week…
My plans were flushed down the proverbial toilet of life (laughs), I don’t know how I’ve been able to be so chill about it, all I can keep saying is that I’m so glad that I’m healthy and that I can help.
All the things that we think are important are actually way down the list. I was going to America to chase inspiration and a bigger pool of people to give me a shock and make me a bit uncomfortable, it’s like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs you know, the pursuit of the arts isn’t necessarily number one on the list.
How has everything affected your attitude to the “new normal”?
Everything’s turned upside down in terms of the things that drive us. I can’t speak for all artists, but a lot of us are chasing the tour life, the deals and all of that, that’s how the industry has worked for nearly a century. That depends on so many things working though; the idea of gauging how successful you are by being able to tour is now really nebulous so I don’t really know what I want anymore. I too, like so many slaves of the culture have been viewing that as the pinnacle of everything as a musician and when that can be taken away so easily you think ‘was that sensible?’
The truth is I’m still trying to figure it out.
Collaboration has always been a prominent part of what you do, what do you enjoy so much about collaborating with people?
I often find it easier than doing my own work, I think it’s because my ego’s out of it. When I’m forced into a position where I’m working with another person or group for a collective goal it becomes less about me as an artist and more about what really cool thing we’re going to make. It gives me an almost childlike perception of playing a type of game. That freedom and peace about creativity is what I seek in my own writing and I find it harder to attain in my own writing. As a woman, I’ve been raised to feel I have to be perfect in everything or not do anything, so I can get a little bogged down and feel like I’m not skilled enough or qualified enough. That seems to hit harder when I’m alone compared to when I’m in a group, so I think I’m innately a team player.
What is it in particular that you look for from a collaborator?
I’m greedy about genres, I don’t really care what the genre is I just like to catch a feeling. With the type of musician I want to be it’s important to be flexible. If someone’s amazing and I love their work I just want to jump in and take a holiday in their world.
How did the project with Bas come about?
Jameson approached me with this project where Bas is acting in a mentorship role and it’s about creating content during COVID-19 lockdown, I guess it’s a response project to what’s happening right now. Bas picked myself and a guy in America.
I nearly dropped the phone when I found out I was going to be doing it. I can’t go to New York, but now New York is coming to me (laughs), there’s a beautiful resonance to that because I didn’t get to move to New York, but at the same time this project never would’ve happened if I moved. There was a lovely synchronicity there!
I was incredibly nervous the whole time to be quite honest. The first call was really fun, Bas is a really sweet guy and it’s all done now…
How was the working process with him? I presume you’re having the same conversation we’re having now (over Zoom)…
Bas was acting as the sensei, in my situation he was a creative prompter and we had a get-to-know-each-other chat where he asked what I was listening to, what I was watching… Then I played him some stuff and he gave me homework for what I’d need to have done for the following week.
So I had to write a song in a week, I didn’t want to cheat and have loads of stuff prepared and pretend that I had already written it all in a week because I felt like it might not match the scenario. It meant putting myself under a lot of pressure which might have been foolish because it’s nice to live with ideas for a little while to know that they’re actually good, anyway I did it and it was just a piano and a vocal.
I played him the song and he gave me some tips before getting Ron Gilmore Jr. involved to produce it. We had a live production session in Zoom where Ron was playing stuff and trying stuff which was so fun, then he took it away and worked on it a bit more, after that there was a lot of back forth tweaking elements. During this time the theme developed where it was about my sister because I’ve been living with her and she’s the only person I really see right now, she’s the only shit that I have to talk about (laughs).
The second verse turned out to be about Dublin, actually the interesting thing about it is that it’s the only thing I had beforehand, the reason I have it is because I wrote it when I was writing ‘Lonely Night’ with Mango X MathMan, I had this extra verse that I’d shoved into the track that didn’t make sense being in there, everything MXM do makes you think of Dublin so I just got my Mango on and went for it, then obviously MathMan said that’s not going in the song, but thanks anyway (laughs). So that verse has just been swimming around my head for almost a year and I thought this new track is exactly where it belongs.
At the moment the track is with Ron and he’s putting the finishing touches on it. The final version of what you’re going to hear is very much the sound I’ve been working towards.
So if it’s coming to fruition with a Dreamville artist and producer feeling it then it probably means you’re on the right track…
It’s so weird when you say it like that (laughs). It’s been the embodiment of the expansion I wanted in going to New York, but happening through my laptop. Bas is super experienced, has records for days, rhymes for days, has toured the world, is very connected to Africa with him being Sudanese, but also very much a man of the new world. He’s one of the pinnacle types of artists that I would see myself in an arena with in some area of my life, I didn’t think it would happen now though.
The big question for me was am I worthy? That’s the question that comes up a lot and it always surprises you when it does, I didn’t force this on people, I didn’t hold a gun to anyone’s head to get them to work with me – he chose me so I definitely passed some sort of test. I love his music and the Dreamville stuff is so great for so many reasons so I was having imposter syndrome which was so ridiculous once I started talking to him, I was thinking ‘what are you talking about girl?’
One thing I learned during the process of making this and in conversations with my sister was that part of graduating to a bigger level of operating is having a baseline level of trust in yourself; that you’ve jumped through enough hoops and your baseline is solid. Obviously there’s always crafting to do, but on a certain level you have to realise that you’ve already put in the work.
Working with Bas has shown me that I can’t be out there meowing like a kitten every time something is hard or every time I feel like I’m not worthy – stop! You’ve been singing for fucking ages, you’ve written loads of songs, Jesus, focus on the task at hand.
As soon as that happened was it an easier process for you?
Oh yeah, I went back and re-did some vocals because I felt more convicted of what I was singing about. I came up with all these new harmonies and when I played them in the next session they were like ‘yo, girl’, which was really gratifying because I was singing from a deeper place then. My mind wasn’t caught up with if it was good, I was just going with it and trusting it.
The whole process was so intense because it was only two and a half weeks and I went through a whole arc of emotions in that time.
How does the idea of moving to New York sit with you now, has this project motivated you even more?
I’m still reeling from how aligned it is, I feel like now having that connection sets a precedent where I’m not walking into the situation with zero connections or anything, I feel like I’m working myself into that scene without actually being there. If and when the time comes, I’ll be going over in a much more relaxed way which is what I always wanted. I have that really Irish thing where I really don’t like forcing myself on people, it’s too hard to imagine, whereas I feel that if you have people vouching for you already that you don’t have to do as much of that.
What are your expectations for The Stay Inn when it’s released?
It’s such a weird time right now that it’s impossible to say. Right now I’m just so happy with how it went, I pushed past my demons, it was amazing that I got to work with Ron Gilmour on a track, amazing that I got to meet Bas and hear his insights so selfishly I’ve already gotten everything that I could’ve wanted, personally I couldn’t ask for more. The spirit of the song is very much about being grateful and I would really love for the lyrics to resonate with people in some way. Also because of what I’ve done with my career so far has been I realise that what I do is kind of niche so I’ve learned to manage my expectations, everyone thinks they’re going to be Madonna by week one, so I’m going to be humble about whoever appreciates it.
I think the fact that Ron has produced it, he has this way of making things so accessible, smooth and dank at the same time that I trust people will access it through him.
This is coming from someone who’s written a tune with Hozier (Someone New) that was really popular, I still always feel surprised that people get what I’m writing about because I write from such a specific place.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t care if people across the water got it or bumped it because of course I would want that, but I’m humble about what can happen with things.
To watch the The Stay Inn head over to our social pages and make sure to keep tabs on the site this Friday as we’re premiering the finished track.
Enjoy Jameson responsibly.
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