By David Hennessy
Renowned as a performer whose musical output reflects her own eclectic mix, folk and country star Sarah McQuaid has recorded a new album that takes her in a whole new direction.
Her last collection The Plum Tree & The Rose was widely acclaimed, making it onto many publications’ best of 2012 lists but Sarah and Gerry O’Beirne (Midnight Well, Patrick Street, Sharon Shannon Band), who had produced all three of Sarah’s albums up to then, decided it was time the performer stepped a little out of her comfort zone for its follow-up: “The Plum Tree and the Rose was the third album that I had recorded with the same team: Gerry O’Beirne producing and Trevor Hutchinson (Waterboys, Lúnasa) engineering and a lot of the same musicians playing on all three albums.
“Gerry and I felt that after three albums together, and three albums I was really happy with, I really should try and stretch my horizons a bit and work with a different producer.”
Sarah was born in Spain, raised in Chicago, spent 13 years in Ireland and currently lives with her family in Cornwall. Her search for a new producer ended with her travelling back to America to work with her member of her own extended family as her cousin Adam Pierce came on board to co-produce.
“I wanted to work with someone from outside the folk music world entirely, I wanted to work with somebody who had new ideas that I wouldn’t have thought of myself, someone who was going to surprise me and challenge me and I had the bright idea of asking my cousin who is quite successful in the indie music world. He has his own band Mice Parade and he’s produced albums for all these cool indie artists, a very different world to the one I have played in but a world that I admire and respect.
“I think it’s a step forward for me. I was very happy with The Plum Tree & The Rose, it got a rapturous critical reception but I think it was important for me to move forward and start to push the boundaries a little bit and the new album just did all that in spades.
“The Plum Tree & the Rose was recorded over a three year period, I had the luxury of time with that one which was good but with the new album, I was under a lot more time pressure. Because I had had such a hectic tour schedule for the few years leading up to it, I had tonnes of song ideas, I had more song ideas than I could fit on an album but I didn’t have any finished songs at the point when we actually booked the studio time so in the two months before we flew over, I had to quickly finish a whole load of songs and I did that and I think as a result of that, the new album is the most coherent piece of work I have ever produced, it really hangs together nicely as an album.”
Was having to work with a new time and under severe time constraints not a lot to ask? “It added an extra level of anxiety, travelling over to the US to record this new album with this new group of people: That was quite scary.
“The recording was quite intense because we had just three weeks and we actually managed to get it done in that schedule which I’m astonished and delighted about for everybody concerned.”
Will the new album see Sarah’s music take on more of an indie sound from the new team? “Some of the tracks have quite a big sound but there are also a couple of tracks that are just me and my guitar. Most of it is quite acoustic but I definitely think it will appeal more to people from outside the folk world than my previous albums did but I don’t think it’s so off-the-wall that it’s going to alienate people who like what I’ve done already.”
And what was it like working with her own cousin in the studio? “ It was (funny), he’s a cousin I didn’t know very well. He’s quite a lot younger than me so the last time I had really spent any time with him, he had been a little kid and I was a teenager, it’s not that big an age gap but he was in and around 8 years old when I was about 13 but that’s a big difference when you’re a kid. And then I was getting updates from his mum, my aunt, about what he was doing and where he was at.
“He’s quite an amazing guy, when he was 16 years old he was in a band that flew over from the states to England to tour and was invited to play on not one but two John Peel sessions and he’s worked with some amazing people and he’s toured all over the world and he’s an incredibly talented musician. He’s one of these people who seems to be able to just pick up any instrument and play it really well.
“I’m positive we’ll work with the same group of people for the next album, definitely.
“Gerry co-wrote a song with me because even though he wasn’t going to be involved as a producer or musician, I wanted him to be involved in some way so I was really happy when he agreed to co-write a song with me.”
Sarah just wishes her new collection could be released sooner as it is set for a release in February next year but fans who go to see her at upcoming gigs are likely to get a preview of some of the fresh material: “I’m trying to gradually do a few new things at all of my gigs so that when I come out with the new album next year, I’ll be all ready and I’ll have everything played in. People have been coming up and saying: ‘I really like this (new) stuff. Can you let me know when the new album’s out?’ And I have definitely noticed an increase in mailing list sign ups since I started talking about the new album onstage so that’s always encouraging.”
Sarah is currently touring in Ireland. Ireland is where she started her music career and it is clearly a place that means a lot to her: “I do (love Ireland). I lived there for 13 years and my children were both born in Ireland and my husband’s from Ireland so it’s always nice to get back for a tour, I’ve got really good friends there.”
Sarah is currently touring Ireland and plays Coughlan’s in Cork on Thursday June 5, The Hot Spot in Greystones, Co.Wicklow on Friday June 6, Ballina Arts Centre in Mayo on Saturday June 7, Monroe’s in Galway on Sunday June 8, Ballymore Acoustic Gigs @ Mick Murphy’s, Co Kildare on Monday June 9, Theatre Royal in Waterford on Wednesday June 11, Waterside Theatre Cafe Bar in Derry on Thursday June 12, Ards Arts Centre in Newtownards, Down on Friday June 13, Crusoe’s in Castlerock, Derry on Saturday June 14, An Creagan in Omagh, Co. Tyrone on Sunday June 15.
For more information, go to: http://www.sarahmcquaid.com/.