Eurovision, lockdown and…. zombies

Dublin songstress Laura Elizabeth Hughes told David Hennessy about her EP We, Myself and I, the surreal experience representing Ireland at the Eurovision in Lisbon in 2018 and the mortification of telling a risque story onstage only to then remember her dad was down the back.

Dublin songwriter Laura Elizabeth Hughes has established herself as a rising talent among Irish songwriters.
Her unique voice has seen her build a substantial fan base from around the world. She has even caught the ear of Grammy nominated R&B star, Joss Stone.

Tony Clayton Lea of The Irish Times andCulture Vultures, said of Laura: “We all know that singer-songwriters are 10 a penny, but Hughes can easily make a claim for having that little bit extra to add to the mix, and being a little bit different from the norm. Gentle yet steely, formidable yet tender, Laura’s a keeper.”

Laura was part of the song writing team which penned Ireland’s Eurovision 2018 entry, the first time in five years to make it through to the live finals. The song Together and its message struck a chord with many people around the world.

2020 was set to be a big year for Laura. It was in February last year that she came over to England to play two shows. It seems unthinkable to do now but this was just before the world changed.

“At the time it was so easy to do. This was literally three weeks before. I was over for Valentine’s Day last year. I was only thinking about this the other day. I was saying it to my mam, ‘Jesus, I could have brought anything home’. Mental.

“I was like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe that this time last year I was sitting in a packed penthouse apartment with people on top of each other’. There was 130 people crammed in. You couldn’t do that now.

“I find myself looking at TV shows filmed pre-pandemic going, ;’They’re very close, aren’t they? They’re standing a bit close together’.

“I think it’s messed everyone’s brains up a little bit.

“I can’t believe it’s a year ago. Because here we were kind of told, ‘It’s only going to be a couple of weeks. We’ll get this under control’. You kind of had this rolling sense of uncertainty. Those first three weeks of lockdown was just filled with, ‘Our gig in April will be fine. It’s six weeks away, we’re going to be grand’. Rolling uncertainty just kept going and going.

“I am fortunate. I live in my family home with my mam and dad and my brother so I was never stuck for a little bit of socialisation but my partner lives in Cork. We were only about two months into going out and then I was like, ‘Oh great, now I don’t get to see you for four months’.

Laura would get to play two more shows on her return to Ireland before the live industry was taken completely off the agenda.

“What I’ve really felt the low of is not performing. The music that I write I play for people because of that human connection which I have felt a little bit difficult to get through live streaming. I didn’t feel that there was the same connection as standing onstage and being in the physical presence of other people. That was one of the low points.

“I started writing because of listening to other people perform their experiences. Most singer-songwriters write from their own experiences so listening to other people’s music and getting a sense of solace in knowing I’m not alone in something.

“So when I write, I write with the idea of standing onstage performing the songs in front of other people who might hit across a line that I’ve sung and be like, ‘Oh man, that’s exactly how I was feeling…’ So having that human connection amongst strangers. That’s what the live performance was for me so not being able to get that across live streams was an awful one.

“I was on the cusp of feeling like I had my life together. My job was going great. I’m in college at the minute, new relationship, music going great and then Covid came along and ripped the rug from under me.

“I was trying to deal with thinking about how all this was ‘stolen’ from me and it was around the uncertainty of whether or not I was going to have a relationship at the end of it, whether or not absence does make the heart grow fonder.

“I feel like my music was on a really, really nice trajectory, I had so many gigs planned and support slots and bits and pieces of touring that were just gone, in one day just gone so there was a lot of loneliness. I was trying to get myself to go with the flow of life a little bit more. My coping mechanism for anxiety is planning. I’m a list person. I can make plans and look forward to the future and get myself in check but with this, I couldn’t because nobody can plan for anything. It’s trying to find different ways of coping with those feelings of across the board loss.”

Something positive that did come out of the pandemic for Laura was her current, and what she calls her home made EP. Although she admits she found it a struggle to get creative with live gigs being so uncertain, it has been said her latest collection We, Myself and I is her finest work to date.

Informed by the bleak times, the songs explore themes of isolation and uncertainly as well as the absence of interaction, comfort, solace and love. Laura admits it was not always easy to find the motivation to create.

“I started writing the EP because I was watching everybody on my social media have this upsurge of creativity and I was sitting like a little potato going, ‘I can’t deal with all of this’. I was frustrated, I was anxious with all of the uncertainty that was going around. I was like, ‘Right, you need to keep some form of creativity flowing. The motivation to get going was my issue. I had the stuff written. I ramble write a lot so it’s actually getting the song from paper to recording is my challenge.

“I was feeling like there was so much uncertainty around live gigs that I genuinely got a point where I was like, ‘What’s the point?’ And that was a sad day. I didn’t know when gigs were going to be coming back. The whole reason that I write is to perform and to play in front of people, to have that connection. Recording just to put stuff out into the ether didn’t really seem like it would do me any good. I’m so glad I did in the end because I think the EP is the most sonically me thing that I’ve released so I’m quite proud of it.

“What I ended up having to do was physically set everything up. Everything was plugged in 24/7 so that when I had the little click of motivation, I didn’t have to go through the obstacle of setting everything up.

“The motivation was difficult. I’m lucky that I have my manager cracking a whip every now and again.”

Has the EP’s positive response made up for not being able to play it live? “It does and it doesn’t but it does insofar as I’ve seen the song reaching more places than any of my previously released music has. To see that I’ve been added to playlists in the Netherlands, in Germany or Namibia, Vietnam, everywhere. I’m getting radio plays in these places so it’s been a little bit more far reaching which has been really lovely.”

It was in 2018 that Laura co-wrote Ireland’s Eurovision entry. Laura reveals it was an emotional experience when she travelled to Lisbon to see Ryan O’Shaugnessy perform Together, which he had written with Laura and Mark Caplice. The song was positively received for featuring two same sex dancers. The song qualified for the final and was Ireland’s first appearance in the final since 2013 and finished in 16th place.

“Surreal is the word,” Laura says of the experience. “The scale of what we were doing genuinely didn’t hit me until I was sitting on the white couches in the green room the night of the semi-final. It just hadn’t hit me. I was kind of riding through this, ‘Oh I’m in Lisbon. Here I am. This is grand’. Getting to the stadium for the semi-final I saw the sheer vastness and volume of people and the space and just sitting there, it hit me. It was the most bizarre thing I have ever done in my life bar nothing.

“We were all nervous wrecks going over. I remember getting sick before I got on the plane. I was like, ‘What am I doing? This is mad. I’m going on a plane to go to Eurovision. I wrote the song. What is this?’ It was just a whole bunch of surreal. It just didn’t feel real at all until the first time I had seen the performance. There are videos going around the green room and I think at one point when the snow started falling on the stage over the two dancers I just burst into tears and the camera catches me doing this dramatic little tear sweep. That little moment encapsulates the entire experience, it was mad.

“Because it had got such a mixed reaction at home- I know that the Irish media is not the biggest fan of the Eurovision and the entries we’ve sent over in the past so I suppose we almost feel like we were hindered before we even got out of the start gate. I didn’t have any expectations of it either way. I obviously had a niggling hope that something good would come out of it and it did, it went down a storm.

“I think the whole thing made a little bit of a difference to a lot of people. I wasn’t a performer, I wasn’t at the front of the stage or centre of any of the goings on. I was getting messages on instagram and Facebook and stuff from people who were living in countries where homosexuality is illegal and thanking us for putting something like that on a global stage. Something that for us was a couple of weeks in the studio to change somebody’s outlook, it was really special, really really special.”

Laura loves to interact with her audience but has made herself cringe with some of the things she has said mainly because they are said momentarily forgetting her proud father is there somewhere.

“That happens me all the time,” she exclaims. “Obviously all of my songs are coming from my life and I’m not a child anymore but my dad still goes to all my gigs. Except for the ones that were abroad he hasn’t missed a single gig. When I’m in that moment when I’m up onstage and obviously if it’s a dark room, you kind of forget who is in the room.

“One of my songs is about having too much to drink and being at a weekend party with a friend of mine. There was always something there, neither of us had said it out loud and then having something to drink and then being like, ‘Shall we?’ You know that kind of moment.

“Having said that and then remembering that my dad was down the back. I don’t think I have ever been as mortified: Telling a sex joke or anything like that in front of my dad while his little girl stands up onstage. I was mortified but you know what? It gives the audience a good giggle.

“When I get nervous, I have this awkward bumbling banter where I have been known to say anything. The word vomit starts to come. You’re like, ‘Laura shut up, stop talking’. The next thing I know I just stop, ‘Should probably start playing the next song so…’

“I think it alleviates the sombre nature of a lot of my songs, that there is a bit of levity in between.”

Something that left her audience bemused was when she started telling about the crazy dream that inspired her single Pandemonium but without telling them it was a dream.

“It was about a fever dream of the end of the world with my best friend down in our mobile home in Wexford. It was going to be released in May 2020, that was our set date anyway and then everything went mad in the world.”
The song’s message then took another meaning in the uncertain times.

“Given the time, the messaging and the lyrics in that song, ‘We’ll be fine when the waters come, we’re going to be fine in this pandemonium…’ That hit home with a lot of people which was really, really nice for me because it kind of spurred me knowing that my music would still make that little bit of a difference even thought I wasn’t gigging.

“It was the most far reaching song I’ve released, I think it got 60,000 streams.

“The first time I gigged that song, I forgot to say at the start of the story that it was a dream. So I started talking, ‘Myself and Ruth were in Wexford and she texted me saying, ‘Did you see the news? The end of the world is coming.’ And the next thing I know there’s zombies running across the dunes and I had to shut the windows because there was something crawling in and Ruth texted me again saying, ‘I’ll meet you down by the old oak tree. You bring the flask, I’ll bring the biscuits’. So the plan was just to sit under the oak tree while the rest of the world is happening, have a cup of tea and a couple of biscuits’.

“But I remember telling that story and looking at my dad and he was like, ‘What is she on?’

“I was like, ‘Oh no, that was a dream I had that inspired the song’. I must have sounded like an absolute loolah but it makes her (Ruth) cry every time which is lovely because we’ve been going down to that place since we were small. She’s my best friend. It’s nice to memorialise something like that among my fever dream madness.”

While international travel was off the agenda for this past St. Patrick’s Day Laura remembering getting to spend the festivities in New York two years ago.

“I was visiting a friend and she was staying in Brooklyn. I went over for two weeks and Paddy’s Day just happened to fall right in the middle.

It was just great. I’ve never felt as much love as an Irish person.

“I just remember the atmosphere being so joyous. In my head I couldn’t fathom that joy outside of Ireland, do you know what I mean? It was a funny old day, great craic though.”

We, Myself and I is out now.

For more information, click here.

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