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Force of nature

Dublin actress and singer-songwriter Lisa Lambe told David Hennessy about her new album, how nature inspires her and her time with Celtic Woman.

Lisa Lambe is well known in Ireland from her stint in Celtic Woman as well as her acting career that includes extensive stage experience. The Irish Time have described her as, ‘The finest singer and actor of her generation’.
Originally from Dublin, Lisa studied acting at Trinity College where Oscar-nominee Ruth Negga was among her contemporaries.

She announced herself as a new voice on Ireland’s scene when her debut solo album Hiding Away was positively received.

This month, Lisa releases her second solo album Juniper for British audiences with its Irish release coming in the middle of a lockdown in April.

Lisa told The Irish World that while releasing music during a pandemic is not ideal, she had to think of the bigger picture: “The album is, to me, very important but we have to think as one living, breathing global community and do what’s best.

“I kind of feel time has been a great ally of mine with this project. I actually wasn’t afraid of the fact that things would have to be reimagined.”

Written in Connemara and recorded in Donegal, Lisa describes Juniper as ‘a love letter to nature’. This may have added some extra resonance as the lockdown was encouraging some people to reconnect with the great outdoors.

“I was kind of hoping it was a little gift. I hoped it would be my way of soothing, comforting people.

“I was actually thinking back to the process of making the album. It was made in isolation really but it was chosen isolation, I guess.

“If I finish a theatre piece, I pack the car and I’ll go west or I’ll go to a place that has a lot of scenic beauty and ruggedness about it. I found myself in the west of Ireland after doing a play in the Abbey.

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“I spent about five weeks there. I didn’t know Juniper would have formed in such a way or would be formed at all when I was there but I allowed myself the time to slow down and my mind was able to take on the idea of writing this new project. Every day was like being inside a painting. It was so beautiful but also it’s wild and that’s what I tried to capture.

“All the songs essentially started out as poetry. I was trying to capture those endless starry skies at night. I suppose I was trying to capture a lot of the outdoors but not only for what they are themselves but I suppose to connect them some way with the human sense of emotion. Definitely nature was the driving force.”

Recorded with Karl Odlum of Kila, Juniper sees Lisa writing every single song which is the big difference from her first solo outing and also why it means so much to see it being received so positively.

“I feel everything up to now in my work journey and career has shaped Juniper: The first album, the road with Celtic Woman. What was wonderful about Celtic Woman was the scale of it, the audiences and the interaction. I really learned so much from my time on the road. I love being on the road. I have to say and that’s one of the things I am looking forward to doing with Juniper.

“What’s been a great solace and comfort for me in this period that feels like a waiting room has been that I’ve really reconnected with the fact that I love what I do.

“Being home has certainly I suppose reminded me I’m very lucky to do what I do. I’m delighted and I’m looking forward to the next time when I step out into the world and can do it safely and have everyone there to experience it.

“I hope it is the first of many albums I am going to make. It’s really been the door-opener for me in terms of songwriting.

“The album has been a chance for people to see the songwriter that I am. I’m thrilled that it’s been received so well.

“One reviewer said, ‘It’s great to see there’s dirt under those painted fingernails’. Which I thought was a lovely quote.”

Lisa was in London in February when a crowd was allowed to gather for the launch of the St. Brigid’s Festival at the Irish Embassy with Aisling Bea and Siobhan McSweeney among the special guests.

“That was the beginning of the year and now we’re here. Yeah, it’s incredible to look back. It’s such a different time, it’s a different world.

“That was a beautiful night and I was actually speaking to Ambassador Adrian O’Neill about that amazing night recently because I’m hoping as well to come back to the embassy as part of my time in London when I do go back. He’s been a great supporter of the music as well.”

Lisa was due back for a show at the Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith in June, around when we chatted to her. That show has been rearranged to September and has now been rearranged again.

“The lovely folks at the ICC. Since the beginning of this project coming to life, that connection with the ICC has been incredible. We were meant to have a London launch around about now. We were just talking about it, myself and the musicians.

“It’s a waiting game really. I’m not one to necessarily sit still either so I’m already writing again. I’m trying to keep the writing muscle going even if it’s not necessarily the next album that’s being written. I think it’s important to exercise the creativity as much as possible.”

The singer left Celtic Woman in 2015 to record her debut album in Nashville and says she has a lot to thank her time in the world famous ensemble for.

“It was an amazing experience: To see the world and to perform globally in such prestigious venues. We performed everywhere from the Radio City to Carnegie Hall. There’s many incredible venues that I got to perform in.

A shot from Lisa’s time in Celtic Woman

“The sense of scale is something that’s remained with me. The craft of performing on that scale to an audience of thousands every night is something that will stay with me. I think it’s really informed how I perform in general.

“You have to rely on yourself and your inner experiences I suppose to allow yourself to stand on stage and deliver your performance truthfully, whether that’s to an audience of 50, 100 or 12,000 in Zurich.”

Lisa has been singing and acting since she was an infant but what was her first love? Did either one come before the other?

“They kind of came together. I started in Billie Barry theatre school when I was three years old. I suppose my love of the theatre began at a very young age and has stayed with me. It’s definitely in my DNA at this stage. It’s part of how I see the world.

“How I respond to the world and how I interact with the world is through songs, through music, through theatre.

“During the lockdown, it’s been a great time to reflect on that actually. I feel that in a way I’m really only beginning what I want to say with my music.”

It may be an obvious question but we have to ask, could Lisa choose between them? “Yeah, I get asked that almost every interview and it’s a really great question because I’m actively doing both all the time.

“What I always say, and it remains true, is that I feel both of them are so much part of me since I was so small and yes, training as an actor in Trinity and studying that craft has also shaped the performer I am today.

“Sometimes if I’ve spent a lot of time on the road with music, I’ll really look forward to doing a play and if I do a play for a long time I really look forward to doing my music.

“Certainly with music and with my own music and my own songs it’s much more intimate I guess as it’s Lisa Lambe onstage as Lisa Lambe as opposed to Lisa Lambe onstage as a character in a play.”

Lisa’s stage roles include Anna Karenina and Sweeney Todd at the Gate Theatre, the hit musical Jimmy’s Hall and playing Sorcha in Ross O’Carroll-Kelly’s The Last Days of the Celtic Tiger. What means a great deal to her is having the part of Lil in The Country Girls written especially for her by Edna O’Brien’s, an author she has huge admiration for.

“Edna is truly special and getting to spend time with her during that process was really, really special. I’ll never forget it: Being able to sit in a room and listen to her reminisce and talk to us about the script and how she wrote it. I think how she expresses herself through her writing is utterly evocative and captivating. She’s a truly beautiful woman. She’s beautiful and brilliant. I admire her so much.”

Juniper by Lisa Lambe is out in the UK on 11 September.

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