- 10 Dec 19
Sorcha Richardson's long-awaited debut album, First Prize Bravery, is the triumph that everyone who's followed her career expected it to be. She talks transatlantic living, negotiating relationships, and why she's happy to be back home in Dublin.
It goes without saying - first albums are tricky. But in Sorcha Richardson's case, that felt particularly true considering that her musical output to date has consisted of brilliantly evocative singles, which don't conform to any specific genre (there's lo-fi indie, folk rock, synth-pop - take your pick).
Richardson is a bit of an anomaly on the Irish music scene in that most of her career has been spent away from these shores; after school she went to study creative writing in Brooklyn, where she lived up until last year. She had a dedicated following back home, but it was on the digital landscape that her stature grew; songs like 'Last Train' and 'Ruin Your Night' gained a staggering amount of traction on Spotify, and Sorcha found herself placed on major playlists, where they amassed tens of millions of plays. When I spoke to her last year during a public interview, she laughed casually about a surreal moment when she woke up one morning to find her phone ablaze with notifications: Chloe Grace Moretz had shared 'Petrol Station' with her three million-plus Twitter followers.
The singles were obviously doing well, but making a complete body of work was something that had been on Sorcha's mind for a while now.
"It's exciting to do this after doing the single thing for a few years," she says, kicking back in Hot Press' offices. "It's exciting to make a more complete picture. This feels like a novel rather than a short story."
The ten songs on First Prize Bravery are packed with vivid imagery, documenting the minutiae of social interactions: the dramatic first meeting between two potential lovers ('Honey'); the old friend who talks about standing up for your own ('First Prize Bravery'); and the tail-end of a late night, where the penny drops that a relationship isn't incompatible ('Oh Oscillator'). Sorcha's voice gravitates brilliantly from deeply melodic, confessional and poetic ("Watched you move around the room / You're more magnetic than the moon") to a kind of blunt tongue-in-cheek irony ("Hey, Ok, we don't have to talk about it / It's only love"). On top of that, her penchant for telling stories about intensely relatable social situations mean that if this is a 'novel', it could well be a Sally Rooney one.
"Once I decided that I was going to make this, I started writing differently compared to anything that I'd done before," Sorcha tells me, explaining how she sat down in front of the piano in her parents' house and, still unsure of her ability with the keys, just started writing.
"After a while I stopped and said, 'Right let me look at everything I've done from the past year-and-a-half.' I spent a few weeks trying to get a clearer direction of how I wanted the album to be. A lot of it came to me when I was driving around LA with one of my friends, listening to the demos in his car. Because you hear them in a much different way when you listen to them out in the world, than when you listen to them with headphones on. I can't listen properly that way. I'm too analytical. So over a couple of weeks, I went through this process of kicking things off the list, until there were maybe 14 or 15 songs. Then taking those ones and saying, 'These are the ones I think make the most sense. These are the ones I want to work on.'"
For the recording process, Sorcha teamed up with Alex Casnoff, who had been her friend and the producer of many of her songs in the past.
"Alex and I had worked on '4AM' and 'Waking Life' and 'Can't We Pretend'. Some of these songs existed back then. I showed him early versions of 'Oh Oscillator' and 'High In The Garden', so we were talking about them for a while, but it didn't feel like they were ready to be recorded. Then I spent some time in New York, recording better studio demos.
"After that, the bulk of the recording was done between Dublin and LA. Alex got a band of his friends and we recorded a lot of the drums and piano and bass live together. Then we finished it with a lot of swapping of hard drives and Abletons back and forth. Alex has produced most of my music that people would have heard, so it felt easier to let him take the reins than it might have with other producers."
Lyrically, First Prize Bravery is about negotiating friendships and relationships. How did Richardson find herself gravitating towards those themes?
"What happens with songwriting is - the times when things go wrong, I really find myself dwelling on that a lot. The way I understand things better is to write about them. Then it ends up in the songs. And also, friendships and relationships are confusing. The intricacies between yourself and another person - whatever category of relationship it is - they're so messy and so confusing, and so much goes left unsaid. If you would just say what you mean, maybe it would be easier. (Laughs) But then, maybe it wouldn't? Maybe people find that vulnerability hard to deal with. But I always find that interesting, and that's what I always return to. The quiet intimate moments between two people that are confusing."
Added into the confusion was the fact that Sorcha was spending almost a decade living between Ireland the US. Was it difficult to even conceive of a relationship with someone when you didn't know where you'd be in a few months?
"Not necessarily," she says, "but I like being spontaneous. I like being able to leave at the drop of a hat. So that actually suits me fine. So yeah... not really, and I haven't been in a serious relationship for a while. I like having the freedom to decide 'I want to go to New York for a month', or 'I'm going to live in Dublin for a couple of months.' I can make those decisions without too many consequences."
Despite this, Sorcha felt comfortable being back in Dublin - for the time being anyway.
"The last six months or so, I've loved being here," she smiles. "I was in New York at the end of the summer and my friends were making fun of me because I was talking about Dublin so much and telling them about how good it was, but I do love being here. I'm happy to call Dublin home."
With more Irish shows and an appearance at the prestigious Eurosonic Festival on the horizon, the songs from Sorcha's debut album will get their full live airing soon. We can't wait.
You can read the interview with Sorcha Richardson in the Hot Press Annual – in which we distill the highlights and low-points of the year, across 132 vital, beautifully designed pages. Starring heroes of the year Fontaines D.C. on the front we cover Music, Culture, Sport, Film, Politics, the Environment and much, much more. Buy this superb publication direct from Hot Press here.