David Hennessy chats to Tipperary singer-songwriter Gemma Hayes about moving to London, becoming a mother and her new album that reflects on mortality
“When I was writing the album, and I don’t know why, I was just becoming aware of the fact that we’re pretty fragile as human beings and we’re encased in this body or a bunch of bones,” Hot Press Award and Meteor Music Award-winning Ballyporeen singer-songwriter Gemma Hayes explains the thought process that brought her to naming her forthcoming fifth album Bones + Longing.
“But it seems that there’s so many people looking for something, an everlasting life whether it’s through spiritual means or creative: They want some legacy, they want to live on. It just seems that we’re longing for an eternal life but we’re encased in this mortal bag of bones, it’s just that longing that for some reason I myself am wondering about what the hell happens when we die. It got into the album so it just seemed appropriate to name the album about the theme of the album which is just chasing something which is bigger than us.”
Does Gemma take comfort in that her body of work can serve as a legacy? “If there is nothing after we die and we just disappear forever and we only exist in people’s memories and on photographs on a mantelpiece, sorry for getting so dour- you were happy when you phoned- but it would be nice to think that my music will be out there for anybody who wants to hear it or for my family or my grandchildren and so on to have something, they can hear my voice, they can have some sort of creative objects that I did where they hear what I was thinking, what I was going through. Worst case scenario, that there’s nothing after we die, I’ll be happy with that: To have a few albums out.”
Doubtlessly connected to Gemma contemplating the issue of mortality is that in the last year, she has become a mother. Gemma, her ten month old boy Max and husband now live in London where she is “enjoying the rain”. On her adjustment to motherhood, she says: “It’s good, it’s tiring but you know, as a musician, I’m used to late nights so it’s not new to me.
“I see other new mums around. They’ve got that shell shocked look on their face because they’ve been up at 4 or 5 in the morning but I tend to write at around 3 or 4 in the morning anyway so it’s fine. It’s taken me a minute to get used to it for sure. I’m being nonchalant about it. If you had asked me that last week, I was pulling my hair out. I would tell you it was the hardest job in the world but he’s really good today so now all of a sudden, it’s manageable.
“I’m really enjoying it (London) at the moment. It’s a city that is alive, people are out doing things. There’s so much art, there’s so much culture, I’m really actually enjoying being in London at the moment so hopefully long may it continue.”
Bones + Longing boasts an audible progression from its predecessor Let it Break. Asked if it is her best album yet, she says time will have to dictate as hindsight often changes her feelings for better or worse.
Asked if it is her most experimental collection, Gemma begins: “Do you know what it is? It’s actually the most raw album I’ve done. It’s like I’m deconstructing the songs as opposed to building them up these days. I love the idea of having a song with just the most important elements and nothing else so there’s some songs on this album where it’s the first vocal take because that’s the one that I meant when I sang it. It might not be technically perfect but I definitely meant it when I sang it. I’ve gone for the truth of it. I want to make sure that everything has the right feel.
“It’s great if it’s technically good. It’s not a sloppy album in terms of technicality but I’m going for the vibe and the feel which is a really big step for me because once I’m in a studio, I tend to slice and dice everything and make it perfect and this time around, I’ve just let things go out there which are in a way imperfect but I know that I can’t better the vibe and the sentiment so it’s a very strange place to be.
“There’s one song on the album called To Be Your Honey and it was recorded on an iPhone. When I was writing the song, I recorded it on an iPhone and when I went into the studio to record it properly, it technically sounded beautiful but it didn’t have the same feeling as the iPhone recording so David Odlum, the producer, just said: ‘Look, why don’t we clean up the iPhone recording and use that? Because there’s something about that take and there’s something about how rustic it sounds we’re just not getting the studio’. So we did that so one of the songs is actually a song recorded on an iPhone and then we added stuff around it. I’ve never done that before.
In a way, it doesn’t sound like it’s progress, it sounds like it’s going back. For me it’s such progress because I’m actually relying on the performances as opposed to me going in and perfecting everything. It’s a very performance based album and that’s kind of scary.”
Bones + Longing was created using the artist platform PledgeMusic that allowed her to engage her audience from the very start of the album’s creation with her fans pledging money in return for exclusive goodies: “The one thing that I didn’t expect was the amount of responsibility that I felt. Sometimes I take three years to make an album, it just takes however long it takes. But this time around, I was like: ‘Oh my God. I feel such responsibility. I have taken people’s money. I can’t just go away now and decide I’ll drop the album for two years and get back to it in a year’s time’. So it was a great way to get me focused. Obviously being a mother can be a bit distracting. When I go: ‘Oh, I’m going to put the album aside for a few months’, a little voice in my head would be, ‘Come on, Gemma, just stay focused. It’s not just you now. There’s all these people who have got involved’. It was great and I think part of the reason why the album was made in a year and not three years. It’s a great set-up, Kickstarter, PledgeMusic, all those things where there’s a lot of middle men taken out.”
For the full interview, see the November 22 Irish World.
Bones + Longing by Gemma Hayes is out on November 17. Gemma plays Oslo in London on November 17. For more information, go to gemmahayes.com.