TOMORROW SEES the release of Clocks, the third album by Athenry born vocalist/composer Julie Feeney, whose highly individual music straddles the lines between chamber music, pop, indie, folk, and avant garde.
To mark the release of Clocks, Julie will be undertaking a nationwide tour, which includes Galway, where she will play the Druid Lane Theatre on Monday November 19 at 8pm. This is also Clocks’ official launch concert, and for Julie, it will be an appropriate culmination of everything that went into the making of the album.
“This is an album on which I was least afraid, I also ‘let the water run through it’, took my time on it,” she says.
Although partially recorded in New York, Clocks was written in Ballinahinch Castle and Lough Inagh Cottages in Connemara and all the vocals were recorded in Kylemore Abbey church. Lyrically the songs draw much from Julie’s own family history.
“Having been back and over to America so much touring and performing over the last while, your sense of identity becomes more heightened,” Julie tells me during our Monday morning interview. “You become very aware of your Irishness and what a small, tiny, place Ireland is. I’ve also been researching my family tree and when people in America ask you about it, it’s unbelievable to them that you and your family all came from just the one place.”
Julie’s grandparents are the subject of two songs - ‘Dear John’, a love song between Julie’s grandmother and grandfather, and ‘Julia’, the singer’s tribute to her grandmother.
“My mother would tell me a lot of stories about them so they were always very real for me,” says Julie. “I remember hearing about how they liked to get on their bicycles and go cycling, and I imagined the excitement and fun they had doing that, and I thought about how they felt. We don’t tend to think of people having fun back then, we think we’re the only ones having such experiences.”
One of the stand-out tracks on the album, ‘Galway Boy’, takes a look at more troublesome characters commonly found in family trees, and the women who endure them, suffer because of them, and always love them.
“In any family there are wonderful and problematic males and the staunch women who can be their sister, mother, daughter, wife,” says Julie. “The song is about that unbelievable devotion women often have - she’ll speak up for him, lie for him, do anything to cover up and protect him, even though they have to put up with a lot themselves.”
However, when recording parts for the song in New York, the clash between the New York and east Galway accents almost led the song to be accidentally retitled. “The guys in the studio thought it was ‘Go Away Boy!” says Julie. “And that’s what they wrote down in the studio log on the day we were recording!”
Despite her family being a major source of inspiration for Clocks, Julie is reluctant to describe the album as “her most personal”. “I think it is the most exposed,” she says, “but when I think of pages there are very personal songs on that too, but it’s how you present it.”
Julie never lets the personal obscure the universal, and there is plenty of room in these family inspired narratives for listeners to draw their own conclusions from and read their own hopes and feelings into.
“The circumstances of the lives that inspired the songs and the times they lived in are very different from our own,” says Julie, “but the emotions are the same - love, loss, celebration, desire. It’s like on ‘If I Lose You Tonight’, I had a chorus and a bridge for the song and I debated for a long time whether or not to leave them in. Eventually I decided no, I’ll leave them out. I wanted to get deeper into the words I had written, and now it can be a song about losing a loved one, the break up of a relationship, someone going abroad and fearing you might not see them again - it can be about any number of things.”
Indeed Julie recently saw just how much of an effect her songs can have on people, when a Canadian fan called Robert Jung got in contact with her.
“Robert emailed me and told me he had been in a bad accident but that he got a lot of strength through listening to my song ‘Life’s Nudge’ and became hooked on it,” says Julie. “He told me it changed his life, so he ordered all my albums and asked if I was going to play Canada. I said I didn’t have an agent there, so he said he’d look after that and got me five/six gigs, I was on TV and radio. It was wonderful. I like to make people feel uplifted in my music. There are downbeat songs too, but overall I try to be uplifting.”
A little birdie
Never content to have just one thing on the go, Julie is also developing an opera, Bird, based on Oscar Wilde’s celebrated and poignant short story The Happy Prince. A 20 minute excerpt was recently performed at The Project Arts Centre, as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival. Bird is also drawing support from the Galway Arts Festival and the Kilkenny Arts Festival.
“It’s a work in progress so I have to finish writing it,” Julie says. “We put it on for producers and for me it’s fascinating as I’ve never been involved on this side of the theatre. It will have 16 players and 14 songs and I want Mikel Murphy to direct it.”
So what led Julie to base the opera on Wilde’s story?
“I was looking to have something about flying and an inanimate object that would be destroyed,” she says. “I tried to come up with a story myself, but then I happened upon The Happy Prince and I was ecstatic. It had everything I was looking for. I use Wilde’s own words in the libretto. It’s a challenge writing using someone else’s words but I don’t want to change them.”
Tickets for Julie Feeney’s Druid show are available from HMV on Edward Square.