- 12 May 21
Balbriggan native Lesley Roy has experienced a rollercoaster 15 years in the music business, but the highs and lows of a professional songwriting career have finally led her down Eurovision’s glitzy, colourful path.
Having penned ‘Story Of My Life’ in preparation for last year’s edition of the European song contest, Roy faced uncertainty and disappointment when the event was inevitably cancelled on account of Covid. Faced with writing a new track for the 2021 virtual event, Lesley Roy went back to the drawing board and emerged with powerful comeback anthem ‘Maps’.
Hot Press sat down with the 34-year-old to reflect on the tumultuous past 12 months, their initial major label start in the US with Sony, and choosing to step back into the songwriting seat.
“The feedback for ‘Maps’ has honestly been unbelievable, I’m absolutely floored by the amount of hype,” Lesley tells me, her excitement palpable through the phone. Roy returned from New York with her wife Lauren last year, creating a base in Balbriggan until rehearsals for Eurovision began. Lesley’s demeanour is one of sheer readiness for the 12-month delay to reach its high-energy pinnacle.
“I think people need light-hearted entertainment more than ever right now. Everybody’s holding their breath, waiting to see how we’re going to pull it off and how the European Broadcasting Union is going to manage having COVID-tested live audience members,” Roy acknowledges. “That being said, I don’t think the pandemic is going to overtake the excitement on the night. The fans badly need this injection of fun and Eurovision will provide some relief after what we’ve been through in the last year - that’s the main thing to focus on.”
“I feel so detached from ‘Story Of My Life’ at this point,” Lesley continues, referencing the now-scrapped original track chosen as Ireland’s 2020 entry.
“Letting it go has no effect on me, because the period of writing, producing and releasing the song is the moment where you’re hyper-focused on it. I’m so removed from last year’s process, but that allows me to set my sights on May’s semi-final. It’s two minutes and 52 seconds where I’ve got to go big or go home. It’s a tricky competition group to be in, but ‘Maps’ stands out sonically from its peers.”
As for the stage production, there’s something special in the works.
“I’ve been working on the staging with my creative director Fredrik Rydman online for the last few months,” Lesley explains. “We’ve had this idea in our heads, and trying to bring it to life over Zoom has been very interesting, but the puzzle is starting to make sense. I’ve worked with everybody and anybody in the pop scene when it comes to songwriting, but there’s a distinctive difference when it comes to Eurovision that’s hard to articulate.
“When you’re writing a regular track, you want it to be radio-friendly to hit a specific market, but there are extra boxes to tick when it comes to Eurovision’s audience. It’s about making it 100 times more universal than the average song.”
There are also further strands to Roy’s Eurovision experience.
“I feel like the past few months have shown a bit of Eurovision stigma, combined with how difficult it can be as a woman to get on the radio in Ireland,” says Roy, noting Linda Coogan-Byrne’s gender disparity reports.
“There were a lot of hoops that we had to jump through to get the song promoted and heard. I found it harder to get on the radio now than I did 10 years ago in the States. ‘Maps’ is banged out on the radio in the UK and mainland Europe, but we struggled far more to get it heard in Ireland, even late at night in rural areas.”
Lesley is lasering in on the competition as a chance for a personal renaissance as a vocalist, instead of remaining a songwriter by trade.
“It was necessary to remove myself from the performance to discover the song’s core - finding my true self,” says Roy. “Struggling to write ‘Maps’ actually turned into what the concept was. One of the many reasons why I got into this, even when I submitted ‘Story Of My Life’ in 2019, was to try and reconnect the Irish public to Lesley Roy.
“I want to showcase the music I’ve been working on, but also what I achieved after Sony signed my record deal in 2006. Coming back home to Ireland and writing ‘Maps’ has allowed me to reach people across the world.”
Roy’s career was launched over a decade ago, when she landed in the US to craft her 2008 debut album Unbeautiful with renowned producer Max Martin. Despite extensive touring as a vocalist, the artist later turned her attention purely to songwriting, signing to Marc Jordan’s Rebel One Publishing.
“That was the last era of the massive big record deal budgets, so we were able to spend two years working with the biggest producers and putting together what I thought was a fantastic album,” Lesley notes. “I toured radio for almost a full year, playing every single station there acoustically. The downside is that a big label comes with a lot of executives with opinions. The deal launched stratospherically but it also fell apart quickly.
“I had to take a step back on the artist side of things because of business heartbreak, because I was so shocked when it all fell through. The only thing I could even contemplate doing was writing for someone else. The thought of getting back on stage and having my face out there was too much.”
“I love songwriting but I never would have expected this job to lead to Eurovision,” Lesley adds, musing that her career has come full circle.
“Nobody could have foreseen the two-year bubble of this journey.”
Revisit Hot Press' 2006 interview with Lesley Roy here.
• Lesley Roy’s Maps EP is due to arrive this summer, following the Eurovision semi-final on May 18th (RTÉ Two).
Image credit: Ruth Medjber