JULIE FEENEY will perform songs from her new album pages, with the ConTempo Quartet, in St Nicholas’ Collegiate Church on Thursday July 16 at 8pm as part of this year’s Galway Arts Festival.
The show will be the first time the gifted Athenry born vocalist-composer and the brilliant Galway based Romanian quartet have worked together. Julie admits it will be a “ challenge to re-adjust the pieces into scores to suit ConTempo” but she sees this show as a chance to expand her horizons as a performer.
“ It will all be new,” she tells me during our Monday morning interview. “It’s exciting to see this coming together. I want to try different things with the church and use the space. I don’t just want to have a stage here and the audience there. I’m interested in contemporary dance and theatre and I want to gradually bring that side of me in. I’m not stuck behind a keyboard in this show. I want to perform much more in that broader sense.”
Julie’s music mixes pure pop with classical and avant-garde. It’s all of these three and none of them. It comes from its own place and perhaps the only comparisons might be with Kate Bush, Björk, and Stina Nordenstam.
Julie first came to national - and indeed international - attention with her 2005 debut 13 Songs. By turns challenging, accessible, surprising, and unique, it won the inaugural Choice Music Prize in Ireland in 2006 and earned a favourable review from The New York Times.
A new and exciting Irish talent had arrived. Four years later comes pages, which continues to explore the quirky pop/classical/avant-garde mix, only this time more boldly and confidently.
“I feel a sense of development in myself with pages,” says Julie. “13 Songs was an album I had to make but pages feels a more definite thing. It feels like a definite step.”
In between those albums Julie wrote a score for a 65 piece orchestra, composed two pieces for the Crash Ensemble, worked with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, did an orchestration and conducting course, worked on the theatre/performance show Slat, and wrote, recorded, performed, and conducted pages. “Scoring for a 65 piece orchestra was as much work as making an album!” she says.
At the recent Galway Arts Festival launch, Julie wore an extraordinary dress made from the pages of the musical score she had written. That dress and the task of scoring for an orchestra inspired the title of her new album.
“I decided to go with pages as Pages looked ugly,” she says. “Using the small p looked cosier and more inviting and it looked like it came from the middle of something, something that the listener could just pick up or join in with. Using a capital P has a different meaning when you look at it.”
The photo of Julie which accompanies this interview shows her wearing the mesmerising ‘musical dress’. Where did the idea for it come from?
“It was my idea,” Julie declares. “I wanted to have a dress made out of pages of the orchestral score so I asked Galway artist Sharon Costello Desmond to work with me. I said I wanted a fairytale feel and lightness, and bright colours, and something about pages.
“Originally I didn’t want any picture on the album but then I said I wanted a dress of the orchestral score and I asked Sharon would she be able to do that. She thought I was crazy at first but then she said ‘That’s never been done on an album before’ so she designed it and hand stitched it from sheets of hand made paper. We had to make a plaster of Paris of me first and we used that to help build the dress.”
So will Julie be resplendent in that dress onstage at St Nicholas’? “I would love to but it is a practical thing,” she says. “It takes a long time to get in it and a while to get out of it, but I would love to incorporate it in the show as the venue seems the right place to do it.”
‘Love Is A Tricky Thing’ is the new single from pages and as well as that song, other standouts include ‘Mr Roving Eye Guy’ and ‘Impossibly Beautiful’, the latte being inspired by a beefcake in a bathtub!
“I was at a theatre show and there was one guy there who spent most of the show in the bath,” says Julie. “The only reason he was there was just to be beautiful. Normally the ‘only there to be beautiful’ one is the woman so that was amazing in itself. Also amazing was all the women in the audience were really interested in this chap. I was supposed to be as well, but I thought to myself ‘You are beautiful, but I think I’ll take a pass on it! I mean what would I do with you?’
“I remember being in New York and seeing this girl at a café and she was really beautiful and she was getting embarrassed with people looking at her, that’s where the line ‘The indignant look as you catch the eye/of the onlooker caught in a gaze at thine’ comes from.
“I wanted to write something about beauty. It’s a thing you see coming up every day. People will exhaust themselves worrying about it. It’s an area where people can really feel insecure and then there is the whole fashion industry. I wanted to write something that would make people feel good about themselves.”
Apart from music, Julie’s other great passion is kayaking. “I love kayaking,” she says. “I’m not an expert but I am an enthusiast and there is noting like being out on a kayak. I’m really looking forward to when I can do it again.”
For tickets contact the Festival Box Office, Merchants Road, 091 - 566577. Tickets are also available through www.galwayartsfestival.com