- 05 Jul 01
JOHN WALSHE talks to GEMMA HAYES about her debut EP 4:35am and what it was like recording with Mercury Rev's Dave Fridmann
Vibe is a word that comes up frequently in conversation when you’re talking to Gemma Hayes. The Tipperary chanteuse seems to rely a lot on her innate sense of what feels right, whether it be in relation to choosing people she wants to work with or what music she wants to chill out to.
The right vibe was one of the reasons why she decided in August 2000 to sign on the dotted line with Parisien label, Source, who have just released her debut EP, the rather beautiful 4:35am, five simple, soulful and sweet acoustic songs that cry out to be listened to again and again. And yet Gemma is already anxious to get her debut album out so that people can get the bigger picture.
“This acoustic side is just one tiny part of what I do,” she admits. “One part of me wants to shout out that there is more to my music than this, but another part thinks that this is kinda cool.”
This is more than kinda cool. Songs like ‘Gotta Low’, ‘Evening Sun’ and the title track itself are soft, restrained and yet utterly compelling vignettes of the huge talent that is Gemma Hayes. However, a year ago, who could have predicted that the sought-after singer would sign on the dotted line with a label predominantly associated with Air and the French dance scene.
“Up until I signed with Source, I had a lot of proposals from labels which were completely not what I was looking for,” Gemma recalls. “I could tell that they had a big agenda for me. I needed a year, maybe two years, to do this, and I needed to know the label was going to stick by me. When I met Source, they told me ‘if it takes two years, it doesn’t matter because there is something good here and we want to make sure that it’s done right’. They have stuck by their word.”
Was it a worry that they were seen as a dance label?
“Actually I was very intrigued by that,” she admits. “It was nice to be signed and go about reaching the public from a very strange angle that people didn’t expect: I really liked that. At the start I was apprehensive about the fact that it was a dance label and did they want me to have drum loops and stuff behind my music? While I love to listen to that kind of music, I do not want to do that. I want to rock ‘n’ roll,” she laughs.
Gemma wasn’t the only non-dance act snapped up by Source, who also got Kings Of Convenience and Turin Brakes to put pen to paper, which immediately led the British music press to somewhat unfairly pidgeonhole the French label as the champion of all things acoustic.
”It’s like there is a big stamp on our forehead saying ‘Acoustic’, and we are all trying to break away from that,” Gemma insists. “I love acoustic guitar, and I will always go back to acoustic guitar and I will always have it on my album, but I want to try different things. That’s why I’m really happy about the album I have just recorded.”
The album in question, which will not be on shelves until next February, was recorded in America with no less a luminary than Mercury Rev’s Dave Fridmann on joint production duties with Hayes herself (Fridmann also co-produced ‘Getta Low’ on the current EP). The album also features a complete band, made up of the Odlum brothers, David and Karl, taking time out from The Frames, along with Paul Noonan, BellX1’s frontman, returning to his old, ahem, stomping ground behind the drum kit.
So how did she manage to get the much sought-after Fridmann to work on her debut EP and album?
“It was strangely simple,” she smiles. “We just sent him a demo and he rang us back. Source had all these people that they wanted us to work with but I just had Dave Fridmann in my head, because I had listened to Wheat’s Hope And Adams, Mercury Rev’s Deserter’s Songs, Mogwai and The Flamin’ Lips, and I loved the sound. There was something about all the albums that he worked on: even though all the bands were completely different, there was a really nice vibe off it.”
The rest of the year is set to be busy for Hayes, who is going to France to record her next EP, due for release in October, and is also heading back Stateside to finish off her debut album. All that’s after the small matter of playing all over the country with the Witness Rising Tour, a showcase of the top musical talent from Ireland, England and America. What’s it been like playing with the cream of the crop from all over the world?
“It’s been great,” she gushes. “Sparklehorse, Ed Harcourt, they are all such nice guys, there is none of that rock ‘n roll crap. Sparklehorse are even letting us use their drum kit, which is great.”
‘4:35am’ by Gemma Hayes is out now on Source.