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Zen and the art of motor-psyche maintenance
When Cathy Davey's acclaimed third album The Nameless shot to the number one spot in the Irish mainstream and indie charts last month, it marked not just a triumphant return for an artist who'd been dropped by EMI after her critically lauded and commercially successful Tales Of Silversleeve, but a new dawn for independent Irish acts in general. But behind the writing of that album was enough guilt and grief to start a new religion. Here, in her most in-depth and revealing interview to date, Davey talks about how Zen helped her put mind and body back together after her grandmother's death, why daytime radio doesn't serve the people, organised religion is poisonous and modern medicine means we live too long. Oh, and why Crystal Swing just aren't funny. At all.
Peter Murphy, 30 Jun 2010
It's a warm Friday afternoon in June and we're sitting with Cathy Davey in a Sandymount pub. There's a World Cup game on the television mounted over the bar, the crowd sound generating an ambient beeswarm hum. Ms Davey – elfin, white-blonde, not nearly as ethereal as you might expect – is stirring her coffee and tearing open the transparent plastic packaging on a shortcake biscuit. We've been here a while already, talking about the size of the giant Redwood trees in Inistiogue, near Thomastown, Co. Kilkenny, where she went to college; about the gig we saw her play with the Bare Bones in the Wexford Arts Centre a couple of months ago; mostly about how she's learned to live with The Nameless, the much-lauded third album that recently topped the Irish mainstream and indie charts on its first week of release. But if you're looking for self-aggrandising huzzahs, you've come to the wrong boozer.
"You love something and have great expectations for it, and then loathe it and want to kill it, so you abandon it," the singer laughs. "And then you go through a time of hating it and having to promote it. But now I'm coming full circle of not having listened to it in a while and not hearing all the things I hated about it. The last few months I presumed people were placating me or being two-faced by saying they really like it. But now I can say, 'Thank you!'"
It must, we suggest, be a bit like a painter looking at a self portrait. Subjectivity is impossible.
"Yeah, I wonder how much of a narcissist you'd have to be to actually work so hard on something and come out the other end going, 'Yes, it is a masterpiece!' I've been thinking about that a bit. But there are an awful lot of narcissists in music, so it makes sense. The trouble is when you think about how much lack of self-confidence (is behind) a huge ego, it's probably coming from incredible insecurity. It's really wonderfully messy."
And an archetypal syndrome. There must be something fundamentally askew in a person's wiring if they need the love and approbation of a crowd in order to feel squared away with themselves of an evening. Such neediness seems diametrically opposed to the hermit-artist paradigm, your Georgia O'Keefe or Flannery O'Connor or Francis Bacon, disappearing into their work, canceling the self.