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Having just released her fifth album, the stunning Sing, Maria Doyle Kennedy chills out and reflects on where it all went right.
Olaf Tyaransen, 13 Sep 2012
“When you’re making an album you’re climbing this massive mountain, and you really try so hard to find the right voice for the songs and to complete it,” says singer Maria Doyle Kennedy. “And when you’ve made the album and you’re happy to say, ‘I’m done, I’m finished now’, you kind of go, ‘Phew!’
“And then you realise that actually that was a tiny mountain! Now the real mountain is, how do you tell people about it? And that’s the really tricky thing. If you run your own label and you make an album, you have a responsibility to try to get it heard. You have a responsibility to figure out how to do that but, fuck, it’s hard!”
It’s a wet, windy Wednesday afternoon in August and, with new album Sing in the can and ready for release, Maria and the entire staff of Mermaid Records have set up shop in a Dublin city centre hotel for a day of mountainous media promotion. Given that the entire staff comprises just herself and her husband, Corkonian musician Kieran Kennedy, they’ve drafted in a couple of clipboard-wielding PR types to assist.
“Mermaid Records is really just us,” the raven-haired Dubliner explains. “We are the actual definition of cottage industry, and our kitchen table is mostly our office! It’s a bit mad, but we feel it’s worth it, I suppose. The songs keep coming so we keep trying to figure out a way of getting them to people.”
While they’ve released a couple of compilations over the years, the label is ostensibly a vehicle to promote her own efforts. Her debut album Charm came out over a decade ago; Sing is the 47-year-old’s fifth solo release. Co-written and produced with Kennedy (who also plays most of the instruments), it’s a near-perfect blend of country, folk, avant-rock and balladry, with well-measured dashes of flamenco rhythms and Celtic, Mediterranean and Appalachian airs.
“I suppose the album took us about two years probably,” she muses. “Although I started writing the first song four years ago. It takes me a while to make albums. Some people write lots and lots of songs I don’t, really. I write a few and then it takes me ages to finish them. I always get to half of the idea. Some songs come really quickly and they’re fully formed, but lots of the time you get a bit of something and then it’s hard to get it to a place that you are happy with it. You’d much rather start new ones rather than finishing off the ones you have.”