IT IS good to be Lisa Hannigan these days. Her second album Passenger, released in October, has enjoyed critical and public acclaim and her recent appearances in America have also been well received. Now 2012 starts on a bright note, with a Meteor Choice Award nomination for the Meath singer-songwriter.
Lisa declares herself delighted that Passenger has been short-listed for the award. Indeed it would make a worthy winner, for while the artist’s 2008 debut Sea Sew was a fine album, Passenger shows a wonderful evolution and growth in terms of her confidence, abilities, delivery, and songwriting skills - the kind of leap it often takes many two or three albums to reach.
Lisa puts much of that growth down to experience. “I learned so much making my first record,” she tells me, “about the mechanics of the whole thing that with Passenger I felt l was more able to just focus on the record itself - the songs, the arrangements, and the artwork.”
Galwegians will be able to enjoy hearing songs from both of Lisa’s albums when she plays the Róisín Dubh on Wednesday February 15 at 9pm. She has played Galway on numerous occasions. What is her favourite memory of her experiences in the city so far?
“Well, last time in Galway I had the surreal and wonderful experience of hearing a lovely singer cover my song, busking outside Neachtains,” she says. “I was wandering along and thought ‘That sounds familiar’ without registering that it was ‘I Don’t Know’ until I’d nearly passed by. She did a bloody good job too.”
Another song likely to get people singing along when Lisa takes to the Róisín stage is ‘What’ll I Do?’, which features an infectious chant, led by Lisa and involving all her band. How has the song been received at shows and do audiences join in?
“They have! Even from before the record came out,” she declares. “I suppose that is an advantage of having vowel sounds for words, people are braver at singing along. It’s always a treat when they do. Irish audiences are probably the most exuberant and know the most words! But I’ve been really lucky in that regard, myself and the band have had great audiences in general.”
She also outlines how the chant came about: “As I was writing the song, that’s just what I felt like singing for the chorus. I tried putting words to it but it sort of just felt right to leave it.”
Another of Passenger’s most notable songs is ‘O Sleep’, a duet with the acclaimed American singer-songwriter Ray LaMontagne. “I loved working with Ray and think the duet is one of my favourite parts of the record,” Lisa says, “so I’d love to work with him again given the chance, of course.”
In a recent interview with Olaf Tyaransen in Hotpress, Lisa admitted to initially feeling very nervous on stage and being the focus of attention, following years as a backing singer. These days though, she is enjoying being centre-stage.
“I feel fine about it,” she says. “It took some getting used to but I’m not up there on my own and the guys in the band really helped me gain my confidence.”
Lisa’s music has also proven to be a source of confidence and comfort to many listeners. As her songs often deal with relationships - both friendships and romantic - memory, home, and the everyday personal experience, it is no surprise that sometimes people approach her after gigs saying “That song spoke to me/helped me through a tough time.”
“It means a great deal to me,” she says. “It’s a wonderful feeling. Though I write songs about my own personal life I do hope it resonates with the audience and their own experiences.”
The phenomenon of file sharing is not new. It is just the internet age relevant title for something that has been going on since at least the 1980s - sharing music and making copies of albums. In the 1980s there was the, now iconic, ‘Home Taping Is Killing Music’ logo featuring a cassette rendered as a skull and crossbones. In the 1990s, CD to tape recording took over, then CD to CD via computers, which led, inexorably to file sharing on the web.
For the last couple of years it has never been easier to have access to all the music you ever wanted, and more, for free, by just going onto any of the numerous filesharing websites, clicking a button, and waiting a couple of minutes for the album to download.
The problem with the above is that it is illegal as the artists concerned are not receiving royalties - either performances or songwriting - they are due, and are thus missing out on the income they deserve to derive from their work.
On the other hand, with such easy access to music, more people than ever before can hear it, which means more people can be exposed to an artist’s music than previously possible, thereby creating a larger potential fanbase.
Whatever happens with the Stop Online Piracy Act in the US and ideas for similar legislation in Ireland, the debate around file sharing will remain a contentious one. For her part Lisa understands both sides, but comes down more in favour of the file sharer - in many respects for practical reasons given we are living through a time of recession and austerity.
“I understand why people download music for free, especially now,” she says, “and people wanting to listen to your music and passing it around is something to celebrated in itself. Hopefully people will continue to come out to gigs and support musicians in that way.”
Lisa’s first album, Sea Sew, featured a memorable cover, which was created by Lisa’s mother, who knitted the patterns to create the images which adorned the sleeve. How big an inspiration and support has her mother been to her daughter in her life and music?
“She’s been very supportive in every way really,” says Lisa, “especially considering she’s tried to teach me how to knit many times and my lack of patience has scuppered her efforts at every turn. That’s why I asked her to knit the background to the first cover.”
Late last year Lisa toured the USA and made a number of television appearances. How did she find the experience? “It was a blast,” she enthuses. “We were really busy and I hadn’t much time to do anything much outside of singing. TV shows are always exciting and nerve-wracking - an exercise in keeping your concentration really.”
Tickets are available from the Róisín Dubh and www.roisindubh.net