Ailbhe Reddy told David Hennessy about her new album that contemplates themes such as growing up, letting go of youth and motherhood.
Dublin singer- songwriter Ailbhe Reddy releases her second album Endless Affair this Friday.
Ailbhe first came to prominence with her 2020 debut album Personal History, which was nominated at the Choice Music Prize for Best Album.
Personal History dealt with themes such as independence, loneliness and coming out as gay.
Ailbhe’s music has been championed by the likes of BBC 6 Music, BBC Radio 1, Clash, DIY, Dork, Gigwise, The Guardian, The i Paper, The Line of Best Fit, NME, NPR, Pitchfork, The Sunday Times and The Times.
Endless Affair is an album of two halves.
Tracks such as Sh*tshow, Inhaling, A Mess and Last To Leave reflect on the wilder side of a youth before these give way to more introspective and personal tracks such as Pray for Me, written after the passing of Ailbhe’s grandmother and Motherhood where Ailbhe pays credit to her mother’s sacrifices and questions if she could ever take on such a responsibility.
The name of the album comes from the very first line of the first track and one of the early singles.
Ailbhe told The Irish World: “The first track Sh*tshow, the first line says, ‘Tell me how did I get here, this endless pitiful affair’.
“It’s about being at a really sh*t party.
“It’s kind of about an inability to let things go, like being at parties that you just don’t want to end. You’re there having a great night or not a great night, but you still don’t want it to end, you’re hoping it’ll turn into a good thing or you’re trying to hold on to a good thing.
“And then having the same issue with relationships that you just can’t really let people go.
“That was one of the most common threads for the album.
“The last two tracks are about my grandmother and my mother, those other very grounding things, the difficulty of letting all those things go as well.
“Or having to learn that in life, you have to let things go.”
Was the ‘album of two halves’ thing always an intention? “Yeah, kind of like a vinyl side thing.
“I would generally always go into an album thinking about the vinyl sides and that one side is like youthful abandon and rebellion and then stupidity and hedonistic kind of behaviour so that’s the Endless Affair party wise and then it moves into my relationships.
“The first half feels very much like my relationship with myself and the second feels like my relationships with everyone else around me, romantic relationships that I’ve not been able to let go of or not maybe behaved that well in and then going into the more solid relationships that you have from birth like motherhood and Granny and stuff like that.
“So it’s the kind of duality of a person, you can be an absolutely crazy mad yoke, mad thing at these parties, and then you can be a good partner or a bad partner, good friend, bad friend, good daughter or bad like someone who doesn’t visit enough or call enough or whatever that that like and then you can also be really kind.
“That can all be like wrapped up in one person.
“Those are all just behaviours. It doesn’t mean who you are.”
Is the main theme letting go of youth? “Yeah. The first half is really analysing all that madness and also what things you’ve given up for that, for the fun, just things that you did not think about or value that much when you’re younger, because you just want to have fun.
“And then the second half is more like these are the things that really matter.”
Pray for Me was written by Ailbhe after her grandmother passed away. Will it be hard to play live? “I’ve desensitised myself to it by now.
“I’ve actually played it live a few times, thank God.
“So many songs, you kind of like first verse curse: You write a bit, or you have an idea and you kind of slave over it and try to get it exactly right.
“That was one of the songs that I just sat down and wrote in 20 minutes, and those songs are kind of like a real rare joy, I think because they just come out of nowhere.
“It feels like really your subconscious has just completely come out. It almost feels like you weren’t really in charge.
“I didn’t sit down and go, ‘I’m gonna write about this’. It just happened.
“So yeah, playing that song is easy enough for me now.
“I mean, it makes people cry a lot.”
If it came flowing out like that was it a case of you writing it the day after your granny’s passing?
“No, it was maybe nine months.
“I think so much of your subconscious thoughts come out through music and that was one of those things where it really felt like I didn’t really know that it had hit me that hard at all.
“I was kind of like, ‘Yeah, grannies die’.
“I was sad about it obviously, I’m not a monster but I wasn’t completely in bits over it. It was a very hectic time.
“And then it was almost as if my subconscious was like, ‘No, actually this did scare you. This did make you sad’.
“And it came out in the form of that song.”
Hearing the song has made many cry for their own departed grandparents.
“They think about their own experiences which is the best thing about songs.
“You write a song, you put it out and then it’s no longer yours. It’s everyone else’s, it’s everyone else’s experiences.
“I’ve played it at lots of shows and people will be like, ‘Oh, it made me think of my friend or maybe think of my own grandmother, made me think of my mother or my aunt or my friends and stuff’.”
The last track on the album Motherhood is about Ailbhe’s mother.
“The older you get the more you appreciate that your parents are other human beings.
“When you’re a kid and stuff even when you’re a teenager they’re meant to be this like, ideal. So every time they fuck up, you’re annoyed and as you get older, just accepting the fact that they’re people as well.
“And also if you’re lucky enough then you’re like, ‘Wow, you did a really good job considering you’re just a person who was going through their own shit. Figure it out as you go and then also have other kids and have so many dependents on you.
“The appreciation of being like, ‘You were just a girl who grew up and had their first kid when they were like 23, And fair play.
“And also I think that song for me, it was like, ‘Wow, am I ever gonna be able to do that? I’m older than you were then. I can’t imagine being able to do that.
“So it’s kind of an appreciation of like, ‘What the fuck? How are you able to do that?
“Yeah, I mean, as we get older, we view our parents totally differently.”
Ailbhe is 31, having contemplated it in writing the song, does she feel she will be ready for motherhood or what have been her conclusions? “Don’t know. It’s hard to know.
“I mean, depends where life pans out I guess.
“It’s definitely not in any way in the cards in the near future for me.
“I’m sure it’d be nice, but I wouldn’t do it if I wasn’t in a position to do it.
“I don’t think I was like born to be a mother or anything, but I’m not opposed to it.
“It’s not on the cards for me at all.”
Ailbhe was getting into the album when someone uttered the phrase ‘sh*t show’ giving her the title of one of the first singles.
“I find it very hard to resist a challenge.
“Tommy and I were just starting pre-production on the album.
“Tommy said, ‘this album is going to be a sh*t show’.
“I was like, ‘I’m gonna put that in a song’.
“And there had been a song that we’d been working on together and I ended up putting that in the second verse and calling the song that and we just thought it was the funniest thing the world.”
Didn’t someone suggest calling the album that? “I think it would it would really hinder sales,” she laughs.
The track Last to Leave has garnered some very different responses just form the night of the week people hear it.
“Depending on people’s moods, people view that song so differently.
“Some people find it really fun and other people are like, ‘Oh..’
“If you play that on Saturday night, and you play it on a Sunday night, you’re getting wildly different reactions.
“I’ve played that on certain nights where you’re doing the ‘and another one’ bit and I’d encourage people to do shots while I’m singing that bit.
“People are in party mode, I guess so they’re kind of loving it and it’s fun.
“But if you play it on a Sunday, people are just a bit more solemn and maybe a bit hungover, and just a bit more like, ‘Oh, wow, that song’s kind of sad, isn’t it?’
“It’s funny just watching the different reactions.”
Ailbhe released her debut album in 2020 and she is now preparing to tour her follow up never getting to tour the first one.
“It is odd that I didn’t get to tour it.
“Because someone will always be at a show who’s picked out a very random song from it.
“That you’re like, ‘Okay, I didn’t know someone was actually like listening to that one. I don’t have that one prepared’,” she laughs.
“It’s kinda funny, it’s like not having your own homework on your own album.
“It’s a nice problem to have.”
Is it strange to say you can’t play your own song? “Yeah, I can play like a bit of it but then I’m kind of like, how does that go? and you don’t really want to publicly mess up your own song.”
Ailbhe tours the UK in April and is currently touring the US which includes getting to play SXSW festival, something she was due to play in 2020 only for the pandemic to scupper those plans.
How good does it feel to be finally getting to do something that was cruelly taken away three years ago? “Really good and mildly overwhelming.
“So great to be able to do it.”
How did you cope during the pandemic, was it a case of getting on with things and only realising what had been lost later on? “I stayed busy as much as I possibly could.
“I wrote this album while I was going through that, but no, I was definitely feeling it in real time.
“And then also just despairing over it for months. Also it’s not like you lost that stuff and you’re off doing other things.
“It’s like you lost that stuff on your own f**king sitting at home doing nothing and wondering if those opportunities would ever come back around was the worst.
“And because it felt like there was maybe nine months where everyone was going, ‘Will gigs ever be a thing again?’ That was the worst.
“Getting to go to gigs is special again like, ‘Oh, my God, for a while, I thought I’d lost this’, not just from a career point of view, which is so important to me, but also like, just as a music lover, that’s also a huge thing.
“Most of my socialising is done going to gigs so the thought of that all being gone was so scary.”
Did it make you consider alternatives to music, weren’t you training to be a teacher at one time? Excellent career, big respect to teachers, teachers and nurses not appreciated enough in society, among lots of other things but those are the two close to my heart.
“But I’d probably go back and do a psychotherapy masters, I have a degree in psychotherapy. So I would happily go back and work in that.
“I guess I was kind of thinking, ‘Maybe I can do that. There’ll certainly be enough f**ked up people in the world after everything being shut down for two years,” she smiles.
In 2020 Ailbhe was part of Irish Women in Harmony, a female collective spearheaded by RuthAnne and also including Sharon Corr, Imelda May, Moya Brennan, Una Healy and many more.
They topped the charts with their cover of Dreams while also highlighting the gender imbalance on the Irish airwaves.
Three years later The Irish World wondered if Ailbhe thought things had changed regarding that issue.
Sadly it seems not so much.
“The places that were supporting women are still supporting women, and places who weren’t doing that as much are still not doing that as much.
“RTE One have been brilliant and have always supported me, and RTE Two have supported me a bit as well.
“There’s the individual DJs who generally have great taste and want to play and want to support but have their hands tied.
“So, I mean, it’s very much the same.
“I don’t think I’m an authority on it but you see it yourself all the time. Anyone can see festival line ups don’t have a 50/50 balance or anywhere close, and even when they do have some kind of a balance, the billing is not very balanced.
“They have lots of women at the bottom and then all the main stuff is male and straight.
“I don’t think it’s changed.
“In 10 years, it’s changed a lot.
“In 20 years, it’s changed a hell of a lot.
“In two years, no.”
Ailbhe has moved to London in the last year. It was something that had been planned before Covid hit.
“I really wanted to live in London.
“I love London.
“It’s close to home so I can always get home and everyone I work with, everyone on my team is based in in the UK.
“It makes more sense because rather than doing endless zoom calls, we can like meet for lunch.
“it’s nice having a personal connection with people that you’re working with, who are working on something that is so important to you.
“I love it. I wish I’d done it sooner.”
Endless Affair is out now.
Ailbhe tours the UK in April.
For more information, click here.