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Embracing the single life

Indie folk singer- songwriter Étáin told David Hennessy about her debut single, not being able to kick a GAA ball and why it was so special the time a packed out Whelan’s sang her Irish language song.

Glasgow-based Leitrim singer- songwriter Étáin has released her debut Single At Least One.

Produced by critically-acclaimed US producer Noah Weinman, At Least One is about being in a long-distance relationship and realising you can’t be there for the other person in the way you wish you could be.

Of course it was written during lockdown.

Étáin told The Irish World: “I wanted to write something that was a bit more realistic than maybe the usual love songs.

“I think as a songwriter, maybe it’s quite easy to grab on to those more extreme emotions of being really, really euphorically in love or having this devastating heartbreak.

“I wanted to capture something that’s in between.

“It’s the love, it’s the difficulties that are a normal part of every relationship.

“I guess it’s about that kind of longing to be with people.

“During the pandemic, I think a lot of us felt that way where somebody’s going through something, and you can’t be there for them, you can’t even give them a hug.

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“One thing that I noticed a lot if you’re on the phone to a friend and they’re going through a difficult time, during the pandemic, there was no, ‘I’ll pop down to you. I’ll come down the road and I’ll just come in for a cup of tea and we’ll talk this out’. And you could give them a hug.

“You just couldn’t do that.

“It felt like you were a little bit restrained.

“You had this longing to kind of support the people that you love, but you couldn’t.

“That kind of feeling is what really motivated that song.”

Étáin released her award-winning debut EP Sacred Renditions in 2017 and followed it with her second EP In The Kitchen in November last year.

Why has she never released a single up to now? “I released them (the EPs) as a collection, but I’ve never released a single on its own.

“With the two EPs, the songs on them just came together.

“It made sense to release them as a group, as a collection.

“I guess the idea of ‘the debut single’, I always considered it to be something important.

“You hear a lot about ‘the debut single’, it’s kind of considered this important release.

“But I think with this song, especially with my collaboration with Noah Weinman, it just made sense for me that this would be the debut single and this would be the first song to go out on its own, you know?”

Does the release come with pressure in that case being ‘the debut single’? “I guess it is a big deal but no, I don’t think it’s pressure.

“It’s exciting more than anything else to have it out in the world.

“Because it’s something that’s special to me and close to my heart, I’m excited to get it out there.”

Étáin’s style combines ethereal vocal melodies with mystical guitar sounds.

There was a long gap between Étáin’s first EP and the second. She took this time to work out the kind of singer-songwriter she wanted to be. While Sacred Renditions was full of songs written by her teenage self, In The Kitchen was a mature record. At Least One continues that progression.

“After the first EP, I took a lot of time out to kind of think about what my sound was and what I wanted to do with music.

“And what my purpose was as a songwriter.

“And then having found that, I suppose my second EP was an introduction to what I discovered during that break.

“I suppose I’m hoping to carry that through everything that I do so it does have that common thread there of vulnerability, I guess.”

Étáin has previously opened for Áine Cahill, R.S.A.G., Naoise Roo, The Coronas, Daithí, Wyvern Lingo, and Moya Brennan of Clannad.

She has played Electric Picnic, Sea Sessions, The National Concert Hall in Dublin, the famous venue Whelan’s and  Liverpool’s famed Cavern Club.

Does any one in particular stand out as a highlight? “Yeah, I think the one that really jumps to mind is when I played Whelan’s downstairs just before the pandemic.

“There was one moment during my set where I was singing- I have a song I haven’t recorded yet but it’s in Irish and it’s called Is Do Ghrá meaning It’s Your Love.

“And I always like to kind of get the audience to sing along.

“And I remember that night having the whole venue packed out singing one of my songs in Irish.

“And that was the first time an audience had sang one of my songs back to me.

“It was just a really special moment.

“And I think because it was in Irish and the Irish language is something that’s really important to me, it just felt really nice.

“It’s such a legendary Irish venue and everybody in Dublin who was there on the night singing in Irish, it just felt really special.”

The Irish language means a lot to the singer- songwriter who told The Irish World before about how her grandfather moved to Glasgow with no English at the age of 14.

“It’s definitely something that makes me feel at home when I hear it or when I speak it, you know?”

Has she noticed the resurgence in the language of late with Irish language rappers Kneecap and Irish language films being lauded? “Definitely, definitely.

“I think it’s becoming really popular again, especially among artists.

“I think it’s definitely more popular. I think people are trying to- I guess even people who weren’t brought up with the Irish language are trying to kind of learn it.

“I know a lot of my friends are on Duolingo trying to learn Irish.

“The way that it’s taught in schools can kind of knock your confidence a bit.

“That’s something that, as an Irish speaker, I even find sometimes.

“I speak it fluently and then I’ll make a grammatical error when I’m speaking and kind of suddenly find myself thrust back to the classroom again, and my confidence takes a knock.

“But you have to remember I’m speaking to you in English now probably making loads of grammatical errors and not realizing it.

“I think the most important part is speaking it and immersing yourself in it and just enjoying it really, because it is, as Irish people, our language so it’s there for us to kind of rediscover it as part of our identity.”

More recently, Étáin worked with Ash on their forthcoming release.

“I was working at a studio as an assistant audio engineer on Ash’s forthcoming release. I think it may be an album, I don’t know.

“There were mentions of it potentially being an album, but I think they’re waiting to see how it turns out.

“It was a great experience.

“I grew up listening to Ash and just absolutely love them.

“I remember one of my first memories of playing Electric Picnic the first time I remember Ash being on stage, and I think it was Girl from Mars was playing and you could hear it from the main stage across the whole festival park.

“It’s a song that can kind of like take you back to a place or a time straight away. It’s just a classic.

“It was really great to work with them.”

Étáin has also opened for Molly Parden, Junior Brother and worked on collaborative projects across multiple genres with artists such as BeCharlotte, Gemma Cox, and Mabel Chah – the last of whom she has worked with on a bilingual project in Bikom and in Irish.

Étáin’s debut EP Sacred Renditions included the song Take it Again which won her the Young Songwriter’s Award.

The EP also saw Étáin win the Sea Sessions Unsigned Competition and the Bluestacks Songwriting Competition.

She was also nominated for Pure M’s Best Female (Solo Artist) 2017.

In 2018, Étáin was shortlisted for 2FM’s Play the Picnic Competition and in 2019 was the first solo artist to be chosen as a finalist in Trinity College Dublin’s Battle of the Bands.

At the beginning of 2021, she was commissioned to compose and perform the theme music for the official Her International Film Festival podcast.

Have such awards been important milestones in her career? “It’s nice to get the praise and everything but the most important part of those awards for me as a songwriter was the validation it gave me, the fact that it kind of showed me that I could do it, ‘You’re an okay songwriter, you’re not bad at all actually’.

“And it kind of just gave me renewed confidence in myself.

“I think that’s been really important because you need to take risks as a songwriter, as a musician, or any type of artist, but you need confidence to do that.

“Those kinds of awards gave me the confidence to take risks and to believe in myself whenever I had an idea not to question it, just to go for it, see how it turns out.”

Étáin began writing at an early age, inspired by her childhood spent by the Lake Isle of Innisfree and her musician parents.

Did she always know she wanted to play music growing up in such a musical house? “It’s an interesting one. It was always around but it’s funny because I think when it’s always around, you just think it’s an ordinary part of everyday life.

“I suppose like cooking. If you cook dinner every night, it doesn’t stand out to you as a career until you kind of get that passion triggered.

“And I think it was when I was between nine and 12, I’d say I started to kind of get more into it.

“I started writing little bits of songs when I was nine, just little melodies without lyrics.

“And then I started learning guitar when I was 12 or 13 and then that’s when it started to kind of come together.

“I started to get really, really interested in music and it became a bit more than just a hobby.

“It became a real passion for me and something that I really wanted to do.”

How big an influence were her parents who were in the band Diesel Heart? “They have been very encouraging.

“They had the kind of experience and knowledge to sort of guide me a little bit when it came to gigging and the basic things you need to know.

“But obviously my musical education I would consider to have come from them.

“So the base of everything that I know about music started there, and they kind of shared my passion.

“And all those little pieces obviously build up to form my sound as it is now. So they definitely contributed to that.”

Her proud father got to see Étáin perform recently in what was a poignant moment due to Glasgow having such an important place in her family’s history.

“My dad managed to see me play live last weekend.

“And there’s a song that I wrote about my first family home that I included in the set.

“It’s called 12 Woodlands Avenue.

“And I think when I was singing that with my dad in the audience and Glasgow being a place that his parents had kind of emigrated to and lived for so many years, and him growing up hearing all these stories about the city- That whole connection was definitely a really lovely and poignant moment.”

Although she is based in Glasgow, where she works with the charity Help Musicians, Étáin also spends much time in London and at home.

Étáin spoke to The Irish World ahead of her county Leitrim coming to London for the Connacht Championship quarter-final.

Does she have an interest in GAA? “I do.

“Well, I have an interest in Leitrim GAA, I’ll put it that way.

“And I did (know about the game). My dad did mention it to me but my knowledge of actual rules of GAA would be limited to whatever I learned in primary school and playing on the primary school team or whatever.

“But I do have to support the local team, you know?”

Étáin spends much time in London and if she had been in London she says she would ‘absolutely, absolutely, definitely’ been in Ruislip for the match.

She remembers travelling to Dublin to support her local club back in 2009.

“There was an old show on RTE called Celebrity Bainisteoir.

“The team from my village, St. Pat’s in Dromahair, were on Celebrity Bainisteoir and it was Katherine Lynch from Mohill who was managing them and they got to the final.

“I went up to Dublin, I think it was in Parnell Park, with all the like team colours.

“We lost but it was the whole village up in Dublin and it was a great day.

“I think I was just excited to be there.”

Etain says she played a little bit herself in school but she is not going to overstate her GAA achievements.

“I think I might have played one match.

“And then they said, ‘Look, Etain, you can’t kick a ball. You can sit on the side and watch. You can be supportive’,” she says laughing.

“I definitely wasn’t a main fixture or their star player.”

The single At Least One is out now.

For more information, click here.

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