originally printed in the Event Guide
By Aoife Barry
Tipperary-born songstress Gemma Hayes released her third album ‘The Hollow of Morning’ early this year, after taking a break from music and upping sticks to Los Angeles. But as Aoife Barry finds out, there really is no place like home for this talented 31 year old.
“I was talking to a friend of mine this morning, and we were like ‘Oh God, I’d love to be in Ireland now, all wrapped up in a woolly hat.” It’s not the type of statement that you’d expect to hear from a young woman from Ballyporeen who’s now based in the sunnier climes of Los Angeles. But despite moving to a city where every day is a summer day, it seems that all Gemma Hayes can think of is a wintery evening in Ireland. If anything, it shows that she certainly hasn’t forgotten her roots – and, she laughs, “the grass is always greener!” – but it’s obvious that life in la-la land is suiting Gemma well.
“Things are going really good,” she enthuses. “I just recorded an EP last week, kind of like a mini-album or EP that I’m going to put out on my website and sell at my shows in November and yeah, things are going well. It’s being mixed at the moment and then I’m making a video this weekend for one of the songs off the album, a song called ‘Home’, just to throw it up on Myspace and a few other sites. God I wish the days of MTV were back!”
Yep, she may only have released her third album a few months ago, but she’s already onto a new EP – and for Gemma, this is something that helps her keep creative and focused. “It’s sort of like, for me anyway, there’s less pressure. You know I kind of feel like with an album it’s usually a year or two between albums and it’s a really big job. And I kind of feel like an EP keeps the juices flowing and keeps the machine oiled. You can just keep recording, and yeah it’s a great time to experiment and try working with different people, try different musicians and things like that. It’s kind of like the short film of the film world. You make the short films and then you make big feature films and there’s so much more pressure with that.”
So how does making EPs give her a chance to try something new? For starters, there’s the chance to experiment with different styles. “I’m beginning to accept that my style is a mishmash – it’s a bit of rock, down to acoustic, a little bit of folk, a bit of acoustic, this [EP] is just a little bit more focused on folky music,” Gemma explains. “It’s just sort of acoustic guitar and strings and cello. I’ve managed to sort of keep it on the one track as opposed to jumping all over the place.” Ironically, however, in trying something new, Gemma was trying to keep things sounding the same. “I love the album by Hope Sandoval, she has an album called ‘Bavarian Fruitbread’, and what I love about that is the sound never changes; it’s like all the songs were recorded at the same moment, or on the same day. And everything was mic’d the same and nothing changed. I think it’s just a really brave thing to do, to not want to mix it up so much. So I kind of wanted to do that; but then I was kind of cheating. It’s only a five-track EP so it’s not changed that much,” she laughs.
Although she may not experiment with vastly differing genres, Gemma was first signed to Source, usually seen as a dance label, and her own music can vary from a full-band rock sound to stripped down melodic electronica.“It’s kind of like a blessing and a curse,” sighs Gemma. “I’ve had people go: ‘Gemma, you need to nail your colours to the mast and really sort of be more definite with your style’, and then I kind of go: ‘But that would bore me, I’d get really bored’. I like to mix it up. I kind of think of someone like Glen Hansard. Like he has The Frames where he can make these really big rock songs and then he can bring it right down to a whisper with the acoustic guitar, and I think it’s great to be able to do both.”
On the subject of lyrics, Gemma’s influenced by those who aren’t always easily understood. “That whole thing about Sigur Ros or the Cocteau Twins where you don’t even know what they’re saying, yet it doesn’t matter ‘cos you still feel it…” she muses. “I love lyrically driven songs, I love Bob Dylan, those people who really make it about the lyrics, but at the same time for me it’s a taste thing. The melody is what stirs feeling and then the lyrics are just there to guide, to just put some focus on the song. It’s nice sometimes to kind of keep it a little bit loose, the lyrics, so it can be whatever it is for other people. But in saying that, that will be the case for one song and then with the other song I will completely contradict myself and write a folk song that’s definitely about a specific time and place. But I sort of dip my toe into all different sorts of writing.”
A lot of Gemma’s lyrics seem quite personal – but she doesn’t use her songs to lay bare her innermost thoughts. “It’s funny because some people go, ‘Wow you really expose yourself in your songs’, but I don’t feel like I do,” she says. “I don’t feel like ‘Oh my god that’s so personal and I’m really letting people in’. I really don’t. Obviously they’re personal, but a lot of the time it’s the melody, there’ll be a chord change that just breaks my heart, and it’s a private thing, do you know what I mean? You can really feel it, but it’s not me singing about ‘This is what happened to me and I’m now really happy and now I’m really sad’. I don’t feel it’s too personal; I really don’t.”
For now though, Gemma’s main concern is her impending Irish tour, where she’ll play a few dates with a full band and then go out on the road on her own. “I’m gonna jump in the car with a bunch of guitars and try to do my best to entertain people for an hour!” she jokes, but then admits that she is quite nervous. “To be honest it’s kind of nerve-wracking thinking about it. I don’t have a band with me for the whole tour, and that can be like a crutch.”
Perhaps these shows will make her feel more confident in her ability to perform, I suggest. “Confident? Definitely it’s terrifying. And then you kind of go ‘My god if I can do that then, yeah, it’s really empowering’ – that’s if I can pull it off,” she laughs. “If it doesn’t work out then it’s going to have the opposite effect, but I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to do something different.” And with that she’s off; into the LA sunshine, dreaming of an Irish winter.