The talented Irish-born singer/songwriter, whose other- worldly music can be heard in the hit film Gravity, took time from her busy touring schedule to talk about her life, inspiration, roots and more.
Suburban Life/Philadelphia Life: Tell me a bit about your roots.
Lisa Hannigan: I’m from fairly rural Ireland, just kind of, outside of Dublin. We have a lot of farmland around where I grew up so a lot of time was spent just listening to music and singing, which helped. My parents listened to lots of great music too. Lots of singer/songwriter, lots of Irish traditional music, we listened to.
SL/PL: When did you realize that music was your life’s calling?
LH: Gosh, I don’t know; that’s just all I ever really did when I was little. I had a very active imagination. I just remember always singing and always being singing in the house and I don’t really remember ever wanting particularly to do anything else. It became just hoping that I would find a way to be able to do that for my life. ... It took me a while to find what was natural to me.
SL/PL: What instruments do you play and do you play them on your albums?
LH: I do. I can sort of mess around on a few things, but I wouldn’t say I play anything particularly proficiently. I can play the guitar and I play a little bit of banjo and mandolin and various sorts of things like that. I think on the record ... there were not a huge amount of “face-melting solos” that were required of me, but I did play a little bit of guitar and I do the banjo solo on one song called “Undertow” which I was quite happy about—a four-note solo, so nothing too exciting [laughs], but I did enjoy it.
SL/PL: What inspires your music?
LH: Well, I love words. I think that’s the beginning of writing things. ... I just try to distill my fairly boring life into words that would resonate with other people. It’s not as if I have a very exciting life [laughs] or dramatic relationships or anything but, I think, trying to focus on the sort of things that maybe people would recognize.
SL/PL: What’s in store for those who will be attending your Feb. 25 show at Underground Arts?
LH: I’ll be playing a lot of the songs off the new record—probably all of them actually because myself and the band that I’m playing with, we just really kind of nestled into these songs. ... This wonderful singer/songwriter from Portland, Heather Woods Broderick, is going to be opening the gig so it’s really, really fun for me to sing with a female vocalist. That hasn’t actually happened before.
SL/PL: You’ve put out three albums out now, is that correct?
LH: Yeah, this is my third solo record. Actually, I must say, for whatever reason, the way these things can happen at any time, I found this one particularly hard to write and it in turn took me such a long time to gather the songs together for the record. I don’t really know why and I did everything that was suggested to me by all of my musician friends, but it did just take a long time. And there was a long time in the process where I just thought this would be my last record. I don’t know whether that’s true or not, but at that time I did sort of have that feeling.
SL/PL: You said the [At Swim] album was a challenge—what advice would you have to give to other artists?
LH: [Laughs] Well, to be honest, the only advice that is sort of pertinent to me now is that you just really just have to keep going. ... Everyone told me, and this is what I did, was spend a good deal of time trying to nourish myself in the way of listening to music and reading books and reading poems, things like that—sort of trying to fill my head with words and, I don’t know, just sort of enriching the landscape, somewhat. I did find that a lot of it was that sometimes you just have to write it out and you’ll get there in the end and I think you need to trust that when something good happens, it probably will happen quite fast. Even if you do have these vast months in between when you don’t write anything that you like, you know eventually you do get that sort of sunny day when you will write something that you enjoy and it does kind of make it worth it in the end.
Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Life Magazine, February, 2017.
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