- 15 Jun 22
Following the release of her debut album, Infinite Space – which finds her collaborating with musicians from Vulfpeck, Snarky Puppy and the olllam – Clare artist Síomha sits down to discuss the Irish language, her trip to Palestine earlier this year, and making the Irish music community a more positive space for women and minority groups.
Few albums could pull off a description as vastly ambitious, and only slightly tongue-in-cheek, as “cosmic, folk-informed, jazz-tinged post-pop”. Síomha's long-awaited debut album, Infinite Space, however, arrived into the world last month with more than enough weight, complexity and spiritual energy to carry off the claim – cementing her reputation as a fearlessly boundary-pushing talent on these shores and beyond, across a collection of both English and Irish-language songs.
The genre-blurring description was originally coined by the project’s Grammy-nominated producer Tyler Duncan, who Síomha worked with in Ann Arbor, Michigan, pre-pandemic. The American producer and musician – famed for his work with the likes of Theo Katzman and Carly Rae Jepson – initially crossed paths with the Clare singer-songwriter when touring Ireland in 2018, with his band, the olllam. Four years later, they're gearing up for a full circle moment, with Síomha once again joining the band as a special guest at a selection of their Irish gigs over the next few days.
"They did a very intensive nearly month-long tour all around Ireland in 2018 , and I opened for them for pretty much all of that," she tells me. "I became very friendly with them all, but in particular Tyler Duncan. We had many, many chats. I was familiar with his work as a producer, but I didn't really understand what a producer did, having never worked with one before. It was fun to ask him questions about what he does, and find out that the answer is: 'A lot of different things!'
"At the wrap party on the last night of the tour in Belfast, I floated the idea of him producing a record for me – and he was very keen," she continues. "That’s what started the process. There was about six of months planning involved then, in getting a Kickstarter crowdfund set up, and then another a six-month preparation writing phase. On Tyler’s advice, I just put the head down, and started to write as many new songs as I possibly could."
With those new songs under her belt, she and Martin Atkinson Borrull, her "creative partner on the album," jetted off to the US – where renowned musicians, known for their work with the likes of Vulfpeck and Snarky Puppy, were also enlisted for the album.
“America is obviously a difficult country, but there's a lot of great things about America, and being over there with Tyler was super cool,” Síomha reflects. “We spent three months there. We actually moved in with Tyler’s parents for the duration of the time, so there was a big sense of community and family.
“But it was very focused work,” she adds. “We were working in the studio six days a week, eight hours a day, for the duration of the three months. Then we came home, and spent two years working on it remotely.”
The careful consideration she and her collaborators afforded to Infinite Space is evident from the get-go – with opening track 'Machnamh' introducing a unique celestial energy that bleeds throughout the entire project.
“The central theme of the album is collective oneness,” she explains. “That idea, for me, goes beyond just us as a human race. It goes out into the entirety of the universe – that we all are the same.”
Just as Hurray For The Riff Raff did on their latest album, LIFE ON EARTH, Síomha drew inspiration from the writings of Michael Pollan – particularly his book on the new science of psychedelics, How To Change Your Mind, which Infinite Space’s third track borrows its title from.
“I actually sent the song to him just the other day – and he replied!” she smiles. “He said he listened to it, and he loved the song, which is really cool to hear.”
In her own personal experience, psychedelics have “had a profound effect”, she tells me.
“When I was in my late 20s, living in Canada, I had many experiences of plant medicines,” she resumes. “I definitely used them in a more intentional way, instead of a recreational way. I started to explore them, and other psychedelics, and it put a lot of things into perspective for me personally.
“I was open to that at the time, and open to understanding what was happening,” she continues. “A lot of the songs were inspired by those experiences.”
The Irish language has also been a crucial source of inspiration. After being immersed in the language during her school years at Gaelscoil Mhíchíl Cíosógin in Ennis, and Irish college in Connemara during the summers, Síomha “fell out of touch with the language” for the majority of her 20s.
“It wasn't really until later in my 20s I got back into it,” she says. “I’ve been lucky enough to have the opportunity to work with Ciara Ní É, an Irish language poet who works in English and in Irish. It was singing in Irish that got me back into speaking it.”
Witnessing the rise of hip-hop group KNEECAP – who proudly embrace the Irish language in their music – has been particularly inspiring.
“It's so cool,” Síomha grins. “KNEECAP were just over in LA. If you said even five years ago that you'd have a bunch of Irish language rappers doing gigs over in the States, people would’ve laughed at you. But that just goes to show you that there's so much going on in the Irish language – from film, to music, to drama. People are becoming more open to it.”
Like KNEECAP, Síomha is also closely connected to the ACLAÍ Palestine project, set up by Cork-based West Belfast native Ainle Ó Cairealláin.
“A small team of us went over in February, as part of the ACLAÍ Palestine project, which is the community gym Ainle set up in a community centre in Aida Refugee Camp in the West Bank,” she tells me. “Ainle just got back recently. I was over with him at the start of the trip for a week, but things definitely started to heat up after I left. He wasn’t even intending on being there for that long – and then he extended the trip out for three months. It’s horrific, the things that are still going on over there.
“They have a music programme in the Lajee community centre, so I got to do some music classes with the teenagers there,” she adds. “I was expecting to go in teaching them – but actually, they were teaching me!”
While she acknowledges that the music scene back home in Ireland is “thriving”, she points out that “we have a lot of work to do to make it a safe and positive environment for many who work in the industry, particularly for women and minority groups.”
“I recently heard the term ‘toxic positivity’ to describe our inability to acknowledge what is really going on,” she resumes. “We are ignoring it and pretending everything is fine. There is so much lacking in terms of supports. We’re up against issues like male-dominated radio play, poor financial supports for artists, and sexist and abusive behaviour being the norm. Groups like Why Not Her? And Fair Plé are doing really important work right now, and they absolutely must be supported at every level.
“Some of the best music in the world comes from our very small island,” she continues. “But in my career as a musician here, there have been countless times I’ve felt unsafe and unsupported by this industry and those in it. This trend won’t stop until the majority of us stop ignoring how things really work – and actively seek to change it in a positive way.”
Infinite Space is out now. See Síomha's upcoming live dates at siomhamusic.com
- Film & TV
- 16 Aug 22