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From pop star to rock chick

Ailsha has found her rock sound now after initially setting out with a more pop flavour. Pictures: Julie O’Brien.

Ailsha told David Hennessy about finding her rock sound after launching herself as a pop artist, growing up surrounded by music and how bullies initially robbed her of the confidence to pursue music for a time.

She recently played Whelan’s Ones to Watch and Wicklow rocker Ailsha is one to watch for 2023.

Ailsha’s father is the Belfast- born composer Shaun Davey who is known for Brendan the Voyage. Her mother is Dublin singer Rita Connolly. She is also the younger sister of singer- songwriter Cathy Davey.

It was her lockdown inspired track Quarantine that brought Ailsha online attention before she followed it with tracks like FBoy  and RIP (Dead to Me).

But now that she has done plenty of gigging around Ireland, Ailsha has found her sound of fast paced rock/ punk which is displayed in her recent single Sucker and the latest offering Red Flags.

Ailsha even announced at that recent Whelan’s gig that it was a ‘funeral’ for her old stuff.

Already gaining traction on the BBC, it is a plan of Ailsha’s to branch out into the UK more.

Ailsha told The Irish World about the new music: “It’s got a great response which I was obviously thrilled about because I’ve changed genre.

“I had been making pop music and I spent the last year gigging all over Ireland and figuring out what I wanted to do with my music and then I just realised through performing that I wanted to make this heavy punk/ rock sound.

“It’s been really exciting.

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“I was always a rocker, even when I was making my pop music.

“If someone asked what kind of music I made, I would kind of feel embarrassed because I felt like I wasn’t being true to myself.

“I’m a lot more comfortable writing rock music and performing the rock kind of sound.”

Does that mean you’re more proud of this new stuff? “Yeah, absolutely.

“It’s just more fun for me personally because I’m writing music that I actually enjoy writing now and it’s all fast paced stuff which keeps it exciting and lyric-wise, I’m writing about whatever comes to my mind out of the blue whereas before I was putting so much thought into my lyrics and how to make them kind of witty. Now I’m just kind of going with whatever I want to write about.”

Ailsha’s February single Sucker represented a new beginning for Ailsha.

“The last gig I did was at Whelan’s Ones to Watch in January and I said at the start of the set, ‘This gig is sort of a funeral for my pop songs and we’re gonna play the new stuff at the end’.

“It’s kind of just gradually rebranding the sound entirely to be what I’ve always wanted to do and what I’ve always wanted to bring to a live audience so yeah, it’s totally a new beginning so I’m just thrilled that people seem to like it.”

Of course Ailsha grew up in a very musical house.

“(It was) all kinds of genres. My dad composed it.

“His breakthrough piece is called The Brendan Voyage which is like a symphony for the uileann pipes with an orchestra so it kind of blends traditional Irish and classical music and then my mum is a folk singer so we were always surrounded by different types of music and learned all about different types of music.

“My dad used to bring me to concerts every Friday evening in the National Concert Hall here in Dublin and that’s how I learned all the instruments of the orchestra and what they did so initially I kind of came from a classical music background if I’m being honest, that’s what I grew up liking and then eventually when I was in my teenage years I discovered rock and that was the main genre I listened to.

“But there was always music in the house.

“It was kind of unavoidable that I would want to end up following my parents’ footsteps.”

However, Ailsha worked for many years as a make up artist before decided to give music a go.

“It’s something that I always wanted to do.

“I was bullied in my teenage years and that kind of put me off wanting to do music.

“People would just slag my little demos that I used to make.

“I always liked the idea of having a career like my dad who is a composer but I never thought I could do it.

“I just was so low on confidence so I actually worked in make up for seven years and I did the odd solo pub gig here and there but then when the lockdown happened I isolated with my parents out in Wicklow for three months and started writing songs and started to release demos and stuff online.

“Then I went back to college and I retrained to be a composer for video games so I ended up getting where I wanted to be in the end but I think I needed some time on my own to figure things out and to figure out what I wanted to do.”

It’s awful that the bullying robbed you of the confidence to do it for all that time though..

“It was a shame but at the same time I feel like I eventually got there in the end so I’m not bitter or anything over that, and I’m kind of grateful that I went through all that to be honest, it’s a lot of material to write about.”

Is songwriting a form of therapy? Do you see it as a place to work things out? “I think now I do, now that I’m writing more rock songs because I feel they’re like explosions that come out of nowhere for me.

“Before when I was writing pop songs, I didn’t find that therapeutic because I think I was so focused on writing things that I hoped other people would like, whereas now I’m like, ‘I’m going to make music that I actually like myself and just hope that other people like it’.

“(Trying to please others) is not the goal but I think before I think that was the effect of the bullying. I was always hoping to impress other people whereas now it’s, ‘Here you go, this is my music, hopefully you like it’ and not thinking too much about it anymore.”

You say you got there in the end but it was lockdown that really mad a big impact on it, do you think you would be here now if it hadn’t been for lockdown? “I think it would have happened because my song FBoy was a song that I wrote literally just before the lockdown and at that point I had already gone back to college to retrain to be a video game composer, so I think it was always definitely in the works and it would have happened eventually.

“One of the songs I wrote and released a music video on YouTube and stuff was called Quarantine and it was all about the lockdown and stuff. It was a jokey song to try and make my friends laugh, that got a little bit of attention and I think that definitely contributed towards my music starting to get noticed.

“But I think it would have happed eventually at some stage.”

Ailsha also composes music for video games, working on the music for Big Brother: The Game.

“Growing up in the countryside in Wicklow, there wasn’t a whole lot to do out there, we didn’t really have neighbours we could play with as kids so a lot of my time was just playing video games and I was obsessed with the soundtrack to the Harry Potter games and I used to learn how to play all the pieces of music from them on the piano. Then I started to make my own compositions inspired by those. I’ve always produced my own songs to an extent and I always throw in things that sound like they should be in video game music and I think when I started to change career from make-up to music I just thought my sound and the sound that I tend to produce would be suited to the video game industry. I work really fast when it comes to composing instrumental music so I just thought that it would make sense.

“At the moment I’m working full time for the company who make the official Big Brother game so that’s my 9 to 5. Then I have the solo career on the side of that, the two compliment each other and to be honest I learn so much that helps my own music  composing music for them.

“It’s always really fun.”

Ailsha mentions her previous life as a make up artist. She was also known as an animal rights advocate, creating the blog Flawless and Pawless to advise people how they could stay away from products that were tested on animals.

This is still a passion of hers but got too much.

“It was too full on,” she reflects.

“The whole thing I was trying to do was provide a resource website with all of the products that were available in Ireland that were cruelty free as in not tested on animals but it was just really difficult to keep up with and there’s a lot of false information going around.

“To be honest it was basically becoming an unpaid full-time job. I still live by those principles that I had back then and I still advocate for cruelty free cosmetics where I can but it was just too difficult to monitor the website. This was literally just before I made the decision to change career as well so it was just a lot going on at the time.

“It’s still something I’m really passionate about. I’m very grateful that I had the opportunity to do all of that stuff, because I like to think that what I was doing did make a bit of a difference and that it did help educate people a bit more about making more conscious consumer decisions.”

Looking ahead now, Ailsha is excited to go forward with her new sound and hopes to get to gig in the UK before too long with the BBC among those already giving her airtime.

“I feel like it’s been a long journey the last couple of years trying to figure out exactly what it is I wanted to do career-wise and sound-wise with my art and stuff but I feel like I’m excited now because this is exactly where I’m supposed to be.”

Red Flags is out now.

For more information, click here.

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