‘All My People’ may be Maria Somerville’s debut album, but don’t get it twisted, she’s been a staple in Irish music for a while. Her first show was in 2013, supporting David Kitt in Galway and she’s since gone on to perform at nearly every festival the country has to offer. Playing every corner of Ireland allowed her to hone her folk/electronica/post-punk hybrid sound, and having met some creative friends along the way now she’s ready to share her first fully-formed body of work with the world.
Six years ago Maria moved from her remote hometown in Galway to Dublin, but never left the spirit of the Cornamona area behind.
Her new record was released on vinyl (which is now sold out online) and digital at the beginning of March, distributed by Rush Hour. The pieces were recorded across Dublin, Cornamona and Inis Óirr and draws on the nostalgia of growing up on Ireland’s west coast, “smoking ‘on the sly’ down laneways and bóithríns” near her house and exploring the wilderness.
“I wrote it with a strong feeling of place and experience of rural Ireland. Influenced by traditional folk ballads and melodies as well as experimental, ambient and club. It explores the equanimity of rural freedom while touching on it’s supernatural aura and mysticism.”
We caught up with Maria over email to discuss collaboration, the importance of independent radio for alternative music and the instances of duality in ‘All My People’.
I know you’re super busy at the moment, I appreciate your time. Speaking of being busy, as an independent artist how do you find managing things outside of actually creating?
It’s been a really nice process self-releasing the LP. I’ve had the opportunity to work with great people.
‘All My People’ came out on March 1. Was it a conscious decision not to go with a label?
I am self-releasing and Rush Hour are distributing the record. It happened that way naturally. It’s good to get a grasp of your own vision before releasing with a label.
Has the process of self-releasing been what you expected?
I’ve learnt a lot. I’ve had the opportunity to work with friends on the release, visually and musically.
Even though you’re a solo artist, there seems to be a collective around you. Do you find it difficult working with collaborators on artwork, visuals, or do you tend to work with friends?
I’ve really enjoyed working through that with them. I don’t have anything to compare it with as I’ve only worked with people I know.
I can’t think of anyone who’s making music like this at the moment. What was your goal sonically when you sat down to write the new record?
I wanted to achieve a good balance between live and electronic instrumentation. When I write I try not to consciously do anything. I endeavour to be and let be as much as possible. The writing process is the one place for me where I can be in a good flow state.
The single ‘All My People’ made me well up the first time I heard it, it’s really beautiful. I read that it’s influenced by traditional folk ballads and melodies as well as experimental, ambient and club sounds. What made you explore this concept of duality? It crops up a lot in your work.
Thanks for the good words. There’s a duality that plays out in the west I feel a sense of hopefulness underlying even in the murkiest of days. It’s transcendental there for me by nature. There are moments when the instrumentation is mimicking the attributes of the west of Ireland both in its beauty and its darkness. For me the contrasts are equally as important. It’s the yin and the yang. Light and dark.
Beauty isn’t all about prettiness. I like to explore traditional, pop, avant-garde with little or no division as a way to arrive at a place of truth. I’m interested in a dialogue of sorts between pop, traditional and experimental.
I also read a quote that said ‘All My People’ explores “the equanimity of rural freedom while touching on its supernatural aura and mysticism”. Can you expand a little on that?
Growing up on the west coast of Ireland, the landscapes and the freedom there was like an invite for my imagination to grow. The west of Ireland historically has a strong sense of mysticism, folklore, tradition and storytelling.
I read that your interest in electronic music stemmed from listening to Donal Dineen’s Small Hours radio show. You’ve appeared on NTS and ddr., what do you feel radio brings to alternative music in 2019?
Platforms like ddr. and NTS radio are so important and vital for artists who aren’t making ‘commercial music’. The shows are free of advertising and playlisting. Each presenter brings a passion and imagination to their show. I have a lot of respect for the people behind them.
The NTS show you did was called ‘The Invisible World’ and was inspired by the words of poet John O’Donohue. The show was a genuine piece of art in itself. Is that what radio is now, with Spotify being the algorithmic curator, has radio become more of a medium to express art?
It’s a good way to avoid advertising being pushed down your throat and a way of discovering great music you might not normally hear. Presenters of these shows are really championing the artist’s work. It’s a labour of love. It’s how I’ve found a lot of my favourite music.
In the interview with John O’Donohue that the show was based off he talks of growing up on the west coast of Ireland and a “life-long fascination with the inner landscape of our lives”. How important is the west of Ireland to your work?
The concept of ‘place’ means a lot to me personally. Growing up, life in Connemara was very different in so many ways to my life now in Dublin city. There is probably a tension that exists between country and city as well as contrasting ideas of home which gets released through the music I make.
You recorded some of the new record at Inis Óirr and some in urban areas as well. Can you hear the difference in tracks recorded in both places?
I don’t know necessarily if there is a big difference between the physical location recordings of the music, because wherever you go you are the same person. It’s more life experiences that contribute to the outcome of the atmosphere of a piece of music and perhaps the technical set up determine the quality of the recordings. When I was on Inis Óirr I experimented more using the zoom and working with field recordings.
Maria Somerville plays Bello Bar on March 22.