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A wee gem
Despite a series of major label knockbacks, Gemma Hayes has not only survived but established herself as one of the country’s most individual talents. She talks to Olaf Tyaransen about her new album, Let It Break, falling in love, courting Hollywood – and dancing a jig for Ronald Reagan.
Olaf Tyaransen, 29 Jun 2011
“I started the acoustic album and just got really bored with it,” she shrugs. “I think at the time there was a lot of acoustic music out there. Too much. There was a lot of that sort of hemp-type organic acoustic movement. I started playing acoustic guitar and I had a few acoustic songs, but I just got bored – so I scrapped it.”
Recorded in Dublin, France and LA, Let It Break was produced by long-term collaborator David Odlum.
“Dave is incredibly talented, but we kill each other in the studio! I think there’s moments where we both swear that we’re never gonna work together again – ever. But then we get past it. I’ve worked with Dave for so long that there’s a lot of unspoken stuff. He knows exactly what I want. And on occasions when I’ve worked with another engineer, it’s been gruelling. Because we have to start from a blank canvas.”
The new album sees Hayes making a noticeable departure from her usual guitar-driven sound, with a lot more synth and piano utilised on many of
“Yeah, I decided that I would write the songs on a different instrument,” she explains. “So I got myself a Micron keyboard – there was a really beautiful sound from it – and started writing all the songs on it. Even the songs I’d written for the acoustic album, I played on the keyboard. Just so I could hear them differently. I’d never done that before. I was trying to trick myself.”
While her sound may have changed, lyrically she’s mining familiar territory.
“There’s some love songs there, but a lot of them are about friends as opposed to lovers. It’s just kind of about connections with people. Saying ‘hello’ and saying ‘goodbye’ is a big thing on the album. Just for the past few years there seems to have been a lot of people leaving – whether dying or whatever. Things are changing, things are stirring up. Babies are being born everywhere in my life, with my sisters or whatever. So there’s a lot of life cycles. So that’s very much in the album. But I don’t sit down directly and talk about that. It’s all just in there somewhere. It could even be a chord change. To be honest, it’s all about the melody for me.”