WEEKEND MUSIC PT. 35: SINEAD O’BRIEN

 
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The Irish poet, songwriter, and performer Sinead O´ Brien catches us between the lines, in no category. Treading her path primarily as a poet, not a singer, she finds a unique, truly her identity far from any musical tradition.
In her new single “Holy Country”, she lures us in with magnitude, to deep dive into our own fascinations, the sense of home, time, and absence of action.

How did your first experience as a musician look?
My first performance was at a poetry and music night in Brixton, It was quite an impromptu performance. I had my friend Niall accompanying on guitar and we more or less played “moods” or soundscapes as it came together. I loved carefully reading my yet unseen work and imposing new meaning on each word and idea – stamping myself onto the stage and into the room. I knew instinctively that I wanted to build something after that first experience.

Is there a certain epoche of literature you are fascinated by?
I’m currently fixated on what it means to be a modern writer, singer, poet, artist. I love studying and getting my bearing with the classics – of course, I do (Virginia Woolf, Samuel Beckett, Dante, Yeats) but I have the strongest urge right now to voice what it feels like to be alive now. The experience of these times. And so I’m jumping a lot with my reading, I’m really looking at writers who aren’t confined by their time actually and can seem incredibly modern despite having been written in the past. When that happens it’s really special like the identity outshines the style or becomes the style of the writer for that matter. My recent favrourite is Astragal by Albertine Sazzarin. Try telling me that book isn’t timeless.

How can we revive the ballade but make it modern? 
That’s really interesting. I thought a lot about that process during the making of my record. I took some historical inspiration from the art world, folk music, myth and worked to get them upturned – to make them really relevant. They have to talk about the now, there’s no point in trenching up old stories or ways of storytelling if you’re not putting ‘you’ in there too. An example I love – it works, in the same way, is the Greek myth of LEDA. Every major artist you can think of has put a mark on this story, has taken the idea, digested it, and come out with another angle. Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Boucher, Cezanne, Cy Twombly, WB Yeats, Lou Reed, Sylvia Plath, Bjork, even Helmut Newton when he photographed Nadja Auermann as mythical Leda. The story becomes modern when it is used as a device to talk about other things. Becomes a corridor, that helps you get through to the other side of it.

Listening to your music, especially the song “GIRLKIND” one is mesmerized by the steady flow of lyrics, no stops, no punctuation. How did the making process of it go? 
It was written in one long sitting. I worked it out in a whole morning but there were several weeks and even months leading up to it. I could feel something coming, building. There are several more verses that I omitted from the final cut -there always are. I’m really happy when something comes which has a rhythm – a really solid form and I just know how I need to handle it, how to shape the music, and when it’s right. It’s like they come in a shape and a language that is known to me – that’s what makes it good to work with. It doesn’t happen every time I write – but I write almost every day, ritualistically and I know that I get there – pieces like this one come to me and I keep working for that. 

You are known for being a passionate performer. Is being on stage a vital part of yours?
Yeah, I love live performance. It’s really important to me because I think it’s part of what my project is about. It’s not just words written down on paper, ‘poems’, there’s another layer you need to witness in the room I think. That’s part of it coming together and combining with real, in-the-moment risk, rawness, people’s energy, unpredictability. I’m all about that. I’m also a very reactive person, I respond to people so the audience has the capacity to change the experience a lot for me too, it’s exciting!

In “Holy Country” you sing: “I stare at walls when I´m hollow”. Do you have a ritual for when the muses are not bringing you in a creative flow? 
“I stare at walls when I feel hollow” seems a kind of ‘non-action’, like a passive response. When I feel nothing – I do nothing. But I like the idea of doing nothing, letting things come – the wall can be an inspiration – why not! “I stare straight down the hall and I follow the thoughts”.

If you were an instrument, which one would you be? 
Electric guitar. The sounds possible with guitar amps, pedals – it’s another kind of voice and very expressive. Limitless. My favourite guitars sound like something else, I love the shapeshifting, elusive nature of the guitar. 

Is there something, a tool, a form of creative self-expression, a technique you desire to try out in the future?
I want to go further into movement and dance. I find out so much about myself and my communication when I dance. Even when I am conscious of my movement. Paying attention to minute movements, everyday – giving it importance and noticing things animates my days. I definitely need to explore what more there is for me within that.

For Numéro Berlin, Sinead O´ Brien exclusively created a playlist:

Interview Yuliya Maltseva

Picture courtesy of Chloé Le Drezen/ Sinead O´ Brien

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