Saturday, 10 November 2012

Lisa Hannigan

A musician who can count a Mercury Prize nomination, appearances on Later… with Jools
Holland and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno along with double platinum sales as the fruits
of their debut album might be expected, if not forgiven, for appearing a little smug.

Meath songstress Lisa Hannigan can list all of these achievements and more but smug is the
last thing that can be said about her. As I speak to her ahead of the release of her sophomore
album Passenger, she’s refreshingly humble about her work. But I can’t help but wonder if
success has raised her expectations.

“I have no expectations at all” she says, “I want people to hear it and I hope they come see
me play but there’s no point in having any expectations. It’s wonderful just to be able to do
this and tour.”

Touring has been a constant in Lisa’s life for some time. She’s been doing so almost
consistently since the release of her debut Sea Sew in 2008 and on and off for seven years
before that as part of Damien Rice’s band. It makes sense then that themes and songs found
on Passenger are very much informed by her time touring.

“I wrote most of it when I was away on the road. A lot of them built around the idea of being
away from home, trying to target that. When you are travelling so much there are things that
you carry around with you; love and friendship and heartbreak. All that stuff”.

The theme is captured perfectly on the album’s cover, which merges maps of the main
locations where the album was written (Dublin, Brooklyn and West Cork). But as much as
travelling has formed the songs, Lisa’s song-writing has been informed by her travels. Much
has been made of the ‘difficult second album’ syndrome and she is grateful to have new
experiences and the emotions that go with it.

“When you’re doing your first record you’re doing songs that you’ve been writing for your
whole life, but the short span of time you have writing the next one makes it a different

She’s almost lured into breaking her characteristic modesty when I press her on what makes
this album different from Sea Sew.“I think it’s much more confident and cohesive than the
last record’, she says, before adding with a giggle, ‘Also I can play my instruments better on
this one!”

She does however get quite excited on the topic of the guest appearance on Passenger.
It’s understandable, since it’s none other than folk demi-god Ray LaMontagne. The New
Hampshire troubadour lends his pipes to the track O Sleep, a lush, haunting lullaby. The duo
are a match made in heaven, LaMontagne’s raspy delivery perfectly complements her own
airy inflections.

“We had met a few times before and I had written this song and I thought to myself ‘just ask
him’ because he has the most beautiful voice. I was nervous about it because it is a big ask,
but I had nothing to lose and luckily he said yes straight away.

He happened to be in London and had a day off when we were adding strings and horns and
stuff to the album and he came in and did his piece, it was so lucky that he was there. He was
great to work with, I had imagined the song in my mind and that’s what he made it”.

In anticipation of the album’s release, Lisa invited filmmaker and friend Myles O’Reilly
to capture her at work in the studio. Dubbed ‘The Recording Diaries’, the beautifully shot
footage invites fans into delve into her creative process as she hones her craft in a rural Welsh

“I’ve known Myles O’Reilly for a while and I absolutely love the work that he does. I just
thought it would be nice to have a document of the whole process, it’s something you can’t
really do yourself because you’re just too busy in the studio”.

It’s been a lengthy journey for Lisa, but then she has come a hell of a long way. It’s been
four years she parted ways with Damien Rice. After featuring prominently on his records and
touring with him for the best part of a decade they parted ways in acrimonious circumstances
one fateful night in Munich. But while Rice has fallen off the radar, and seemingly out of
love with making music, Lisa has embraced it with both hands and forged a career in her own
right. One wonders if fate would have taken her down a different road, had she remained in
his company.

“I don’t know. There’s no point in guessing what might have happened but I’m very happy
where I am now. I’m very lucky to have worked with Damien, it got me where I am today.
I’m sure no one would care about what I’m doing now if it wasn’t for that. It’s made the

This may be true, then again it could be Lisa’s trademark modesty shining through once
more. The reality is that she’s made two records drenched in homespun charm, ethereal
beauty and gorgeous lilting vocals and gained a small legion of admirers in the relatively
short time she’s been solo. Primetime US chat show hosts don’t hand out slots to backing
singers, they go to artists deserving of a wider audience.

She may see herself as a passenger, but this is her journey. Her time with Damien Rice may
have brought her to prominence but it is now just a dot, fading on the horizon. For now she is
happy to continue on the road, wherever it may take her.

“I don’t know if I would miss it, but when you’re travelling there is always that feeling that you’re
trying to get home in the end”.

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