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Central and Remote: Brigid Mae Power

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Interview with Brigid Mae Power.

What generally happens with me is that I seem to live life, soak everything in like a sponge and then after a few months everything comes pouring out.”

—Brigid Mae Power

Words: Mark Carry, Photographs: Peter Broderick

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In the liner notes of Sibylle Baier’s treasured folk opus, ‘Colour Green’, the German songwriter’s son Robby Baier writes: “My mother’s music is simply amazing in its intimacy and closeness.” I feel these precise words perfectly describe the similarly magical and empowering music of Irish singer-songwriter, Brigid Mae Power and particularly reflected on Power’s (self-titled) masterpiece recently released on the prestigious U.S. label Tompkins Square.

A quality always vividly present in Power’s songbook has been how her personality shines through in the music whereby an honesty and purity simmers beautifully in her fragile folk explorations. In much the same way as Sibyl Baier’s ‘Colour Green’ LP, Power’s deeply moving body of work portray intimate portraits of life’s sad and fragile beauty.

Brigid Mae Power’s stunningly beautiful new solo full-length – and Tompkins Square debut – is an album drenched in reverb-soaked emotion and lament. Enchantingly performed and produced, the record showcases a songwriter of immense talent in a soundscape that naturally merges itself to Brigid Power’s engulfing sound. The magic lies in the songwriter’s expression of raw emotion, in all its delicate beauty. Themes include transformation, change, motherhood, acceptance, strength, courage and trust. In the words of Power, the album is about “trusting if you lose yourself or your way — you can come back.”

The seeds were sewn for the album after playing a string of UK & Irish shows with esteemed American songwriter and musician Peter Broderick during May 2015. Peter invited Brigid to record a batch of new songs in his Portland home studio, The Sparkle, along the Oregon coast. The Irish musician finished writing this collection of songs in June ’15 just before the recording sessions would take place in the early summer. The new record boasts an impeccable sound quality in which Power’s mesmerizing voice lies in the forefront of the mix. “I craved having my voice sound larger but more intimate,” Brigid explains. It is abundantly clear upon encountering Power’s newest work that there is a newfound confidence permeating throughout the songs, augmented by Broderick’s intuitive musical direction, which in turn helped the songs evolve. All songs were written by Brigid Mae Power, performed by Brigid and Peter Broderick and recorded, mixed and mastered by Peter Broderick at the Sparkle.

The album’s epic opener ‘It’s Clearing Now’ serves the ideal prologue to the record’s intensely powerful and moving journey. Initially recorded live with Brigid on guitar and Peter Broderick on drums, new layers of violin and meticulously crafted sonic elements were added by the American producer. Some of the songs such as ‘Is It My Low or Yours’, ‘Let Me Hold You Through This’ and ‘How You Feel’ were written very quickly, during the month before Brigid embarked on the transatlantic trip to The Sparkle. The others, mostly the deeply-affecting piano-based ballads (‘Sometimes’, ‘Lookin At You In A Photo’, ‘Watching The Horses’) – are comprised of old melodies the Irish musician had been playing for years but had never put lyrics to.

A wave of inspiration abounds the sprawling canvas of sound, mapping the rawest of emotion and deepest of fears. A mystical spell is cast by the meeting of these two kindred spirits: Brigid Mae Power’s songwriting prowess and Peter Broderick’s deep musical understanding. Asked about the creative process, Brigid explains, “It’s a mystical thing for me, I don’t usually remember when or where I write something or when I finish a song. It just appears.”

If ever the spirit of a record is distilled in one single song it is ‘Watching the Horses’, the album’s scintillating penultimate track. As Power’s achingly beautiful vocal refrain of “I am free” ascends into one’s heart and mind, the Irish songwriter’s masterwork chronicles brave new beginnings amidst a rejuvenated spirit. The changing of your whole outlook on life. Transformation.

As reflected in the lyrics of closing heartfelt lament of ‘How You Feel’, this deeply personal and intimate set of songs become a place of hope and solace where the path laid out in front you is filled with the light of day and sea of love.

‘Brigid Mae Power’ is out now on Tompkins Square.

 

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Interview with Brigid Mae Power.

Please discuss these batch of new & delicately beautiful new songs, Brigid and indeed the space and time in which these songs blossomed from? Also, I wonder were the majority of the songs initial sketches prior to the Sparkle sessions or was it a mix where some were very much fully formed whereas others took on this life of their own upon the recording sessions?

Brigid Mae Power: I finished writing these songs in June ’15, just before I was to fly out to Portland, Oregon to go and record with Peter. Some of them, such as ‘Is it my low or yours’, ‘let me hold you through this’, and ‘how you feel’, were written very quickly and in the month before I went out. The others, mostly the piano ones, were old melodies I had been playing for years but had never put lyrics to them. I had been procrastinating for years with them and then in May I really buckled down and forced myself to finish writing them so that I would have them ready to record out at The Sparkle. So I had them all ready and written before I went out.

Writing at the moment, but maybe that might change, is quite a private process for me, so I wanted to have them ready to record for when I was out there. So yes they were all fully formed, lyrics and melodies etc. But Peter added a lot to them after I had left and helped them evolve.

What is the common theme or narrative that you feel bridges all these songs together on this record?

BMP: Hmm a theme or narrative. I guess I will just throw some words out here – Transformation. Change. Acceptance. Transcending. Healing. Healing from trauma. Not letting past incidences and feelings/ideas/judgements others and yourself have about you define you.  Moving on. Strength. Courage. Trust. Moving past negativity and hard times. Trusting if you lose yourself or your way you can come back. Sensitivity. Getting rid of guilt. Being a single mother. Clearing out old things/habits/patterns before you start a new with someone else. Feeling connection with life. Appreciating being alive.

Following on from ‘I Told You the Truth’ ep, it’s abundantly clear the new music comes from a different place: new perspectives and a different outlook on all matter of life’s happenings seem to flicker across the horizon as a confidence and striking immediacy comes very much to the fore. What were your main concerns for this new record in terms of the sound and feel you wanted to create?

BMP: I guess my first and foremost intention was to have a good sound quality. I used to just record myself with a handheld recorder in a reverberant room. Which I do like the sound of but I craved having my voice sound larger but more intimate. My ears are sensitive to how I like a recording to sound, and sometimes I preferred it almost to sound of lesser quality than too squeaky clean. But when I heard Peter’s voice on his recordings I knew that he would instinctively know what sounded good for me and how to have my voice sound. I didn’t need to explain at all to him, he just knew, but even when I was trying to explain to him, sometimes through just a feeling, he knew what I meant, it was like he spoke my language. It’s hard for me to describe things in words a lot of the time, but especially creatively so I was really lucky to have Peter speak my language!

The epic opener is the ideal prologue to the album’s intensely powerful and moving journey. I recall Peter describing the many listens/playbacks of this track in order to get the layering right. Discuss the construction and gradual formation of this stunning torch-lit ballad?

BMP: Well, I can’t remember exactly when I finished that song but I remember I wrote it when I was sitting in my car staring at the sea and just had a strong feeling of leaving behind a feeling of being stuck. I had gone on tour with Peter in May and came back, and I felt hugely inspired from meeting him. It opened my mind to possibility, so much, and I saw how I had been limiting myself previously in my thinking.

When we recorded it, we just recorded it live me on guitar and Peter on drums. It felt really special when we were playing that song. But what he did after to it was just so incredible and how I had envisioned it to sound without expressing it to him at all. He worked on it when I had gone home. So I don’t know the in’s and out’s of what he added, but I think a lot of violins and a lot of tiny sounds that you wouldn’t notice but have a big impact.

The sparse piano ballads are some of the most poignant moments. ‘Sometimes’ is vintage Joni Mitchell or Marissa Nadler for example. The piano is an instrument I always wanted to hear more in your recordings so it was such a delight to witness the beauty unfold as the delicate piano notes meld with your voice. What are your feelings on these piano laments Brigid? Were there challenges as to how you wanted each song to sound e.g. the arrangements and how full or conversely how bare a recording should be?

BMP: These songs are the first I have written for piano and voice, I love playing it and singing. I guess I gravitated towards writing with guitar for a long time because it’s easier to play live!

I had those songs ready when I went out there… we recorded them in a guy named Corey’s studio in Portland. I made the guys stand out of the room because those songs were very intense for me to sing! I just wanted them to sound how they did live really; I didn’t necessarily want anything added but I was open to suggestion. Peter added a lot to ‘Watching the Horses’ after.

How bare a recording should be – I’m generally a less is more kinda person, and I prefer the feeling that is captured. But there is a place for everything and I like a balance of having some things bare, some things not so bare, some things with a minimal thing added. In ‘Sometimes’ Peter adds the tiniest sound in it that gives the song so much! So much that when I play it on my own now I’m missing that tiny little beepy sound whatever it is…

Can you recount for me the experience of working closely with Peter and the daily routines at the Sparkle & Portland itself? What are the memories you cherish and the proudest aspect to this stunning body of work you feel personally?

BMP: Well working closely with Peter never felt like work. It just felt very natural and easy. We actually got so much recording, we couldn’t believe how much we had gotten done as the whole time we were there we kept lazing around. So we only recorded a few hours a day for maybe 2 or 3 days. The whole time was such a special time for me for so many reasons. I kept kind of pinching myself to see if it all was real, I just loved Portland. I’ve always felt very at home in the states musically and just generally anyway. There’s this kind of openness that I love. And I hadn’t been back there since I had my son, so I was just soaking so much in.

The Sparkle was near the ocean and near forest. There were deer and racoons. Me and Peter sat out on the porch and a raccoon came right up near us. We drank a lot of coffee. Sat in parks. Swam in the river. It was really a pivotal moment for me. The last six years or so for me had been so hard and I felt just like all my trust and hoping that things would change had paid off and I was enjoying this great opportunity.

I’m most proud of just doing it. I think if it had been the year previous and that opportunity to go out and record there had come up that I probably wouldn’t have taken it up. I was way too shy and anxious.

Can you shed some light on the song-writing process? I get the impression that patience and allowing a song to slowly bloom is important to the process itself? Would you have any trusted techniques or rituals you feel important to the creative process?

BMP: For me yes it really is to do with patience. What generally happens with me is that I seem to live life, soak everything in like a sponge and then after a few months everything comes pouring out. I never try to create. And when I do its usually bad news. It’s the same with painting for me, I have to come across things accidently, if I am asked to draw something in particular I really struggle to do it because there is an idea about it. I see artists that can really work like that with ideas first and make really amazing work, but for me it’s like the opposite way or something. It’s also a mystical thing for me, I don’t usually remember when or where I write something or when I finish a song. It’s like that exact when I finish something doesn’t really exist. It just appears.

Discuss the singers and musicians that lie rooted in your own sonic canvas and musical landscape? I fondly recall you singing (acappela) several Irish traditional standards back in Galway and Cork in the past, which leaves such a hypnotic spell on the audience. Discuss (if you can!) the techniques and voicings you have developed when it comes to delivering this sort of cathartic vocal performance?

BMP: I think that I heard a lot of different types of music growing up and I sponged it up. So I heard a lot of Planxty, Dolores Keane, De Dannan as far as traditional music is concerned. And also in my family gatherings singing was a big thing. Then in my own development with singing – I always got a lot of inspiration from certain singers that went that extra bit further, and to be honest I don’t think it was the technique that grabbed me, it was the depth they went. So I drew a lot of inspiration from singers like Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and of course Tim Buckley. But also I always found John Fahey’s guitar playing a vocal inspiration too because I felt like he played the guitar like someone singing. But basically I don’t think I developed much technically or in a “learning how to do something way” it was more like I allowed myself to touch on something that feels quite outside of myself and maybe ancient sometimes.

Lastly, the cover painting (of your own creation) that adorns the record’s sleeve evokes the delicacy of this remarkable album and batch of songs. There is a nice backstory to this particular artwork I recall you telling me previously?

BMP: Ah yes, my friend the artist Vicky Langan has this really sweet daughter called Sionnach which as you know is “fox” in Irish. I think she was four or five at the time and she made such an impression on me, she was so imaginative and funny. So then a few weeks later I found myself subconsciously drawing a fox so I named it “A Fox for Sionnach” and gave it to her!

‘Brigid Mae Power’ is out now on Tompkins Square.

 

 

 

 

 

Written by admin

June 14, 2016 at 6:35 pm

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