National input helps Lisa Hannigan to escape from the 'quicksand'

Singer returns for second show in Limerick since June this Friday

Alan Owens

Reporter:

Alan Owens

National input helps Lisa Hannigan to escape from the 'quicksand'

Songstress Lisa Hannigan returns to Limerick this Friday Picture: Rich Gilligan

IT was an email out of the blue that Lisa Hannigan credits with helping to “get my momentum back in my own writing” after a prolonged and creative drought she hadn’t experienced before.

The email was from Aaron Dessner, guitarist with The National, who suggested that they write together, or work on an album. Hannigan, a huge fan of the American band, was blown away.

“It was a gift from heaven really, because I am such a fan of his music and I really was getting a bit stuck in the quicksand of my own brain – and he totally helped to keep it going,” she says.

The singer had been struggling since the release of second album Passenger in 2011 and the two years of touring that followed, to find her voice for a third album. She worked on other projects – notably acting in the Oscar-nominated animation Song of the Sea and doing soundtrack work on Fargo and the Oscar-winning score for Gravity, but there was a period where she was feeling all at sea essentially.

“I found the record quite difficult to write in terms of it just not flowing as easily as I would have hoped. And that sort of knocked my confidence a little bit,” she admits.

Shifting her time between Dublin and London didn’t help, while she was perhaps seeking to get away from the notions of ‘twee’ that had unfairly dogged her – particularly on the upbeat debut album Sea Sew.

The result of her collaboration with Dessner is At Swim, a low-key, darker album with a quiet strength, a steeliness, characterised by her ghostly harmonies and a loss of whimsy, with countrifed slide guitars and gentle electronic beats in places. Dessner allowed her voice to breath. It is different, she admits. It is also her finest work to date, we believe.

“Certainly the tone of the record is quite different and in a natural way I didn’t set out to make...I mean I wanted it to sound different, but I didn’t set out with any kind of theme in my head,” she says.

“It just sort of developed quite naturally over the course of the writing, that sense of feeling adrift and slightly confused as to your place in the word. That seemed to emerge as a theme, so that is why I put the title on it.

“I was about half way along when I got the email from Aaron. Whenever I wrote a song, I would think ‘maybe I have broken through’! But I would have a lot of time between songs, which hadn’t been my experience, so definitely I was finding it a bit hard.

“(With Aaron) it was very open ended and generally encouraging and enthusiastic and that just sort of made it fun again. The approach to it was different and of course him sending me music and me singing to it was a totally different approach and I just found that very refreshing.

“And it sort of helped get my momentum back in my own writing, because it was loose and fun and easy going – and I think that is what I was struggling with. I was just sitting there looking at a blank page, hating everything that I was doing. So it was nice to approach it in a more natural way again, that is a obviously a better approach in general.”

Lisa returns for a show in the Lime Tree this Friday with a new band. She played the Belltable on an album preview tour in June, but expect this to be different.

“It is nice to be back with the record out and the band more fulsomely rehearsed and the new songs out,” she explains.

“I hadn’t played in so long and I just wanted to get my gig legs back. We played a couple of new songs, but not the whole record. I loved that show in Limerick, but now it feels like we really know what we are at.

“It is certainly going to be less nerve wracking than June, when I couldn’t quite remember how to plug in the guitars,” she laughs.

- Lisa Hannigan returns to Limerick for a show in the Lime Tree this Friday night – a handful of tickets remain on sale, see www.limetreetheatre.ie