Wednesday, December 7, 2011

By Girls For Girls

Glee* recently had an episode that was all about one of the character (named Santana) coming out to her family and so all the songs were supposed to be 'by girls for girls'. The big finale number was 'I kissed a girl' by Katy Perry. A song that condescendingly treats lesbianism as a fun past time to try on for the weekends when you're hammered. The Same Katy Perry who sang about hoping her 'gay' ex boyfriend hangs himself with his H&M scarf! This is the artist they chose to represent women in the LGBT community?! I'm not on board. Not at all. It might be a bit much to be expecting Glee kids to break into Tori Amos but would a bit of Indigo Girls really do them that much harm!? So here are my choices of songs by women, for women that I think would better accompany a story about supporting women being open about their sexuality.

Playboy Mommy by Tori Amos

Any conversation about female sexuality should include a conversation about motherhood, and here's a song that approaches the subject honestly and leaves the saccharine for the mothers day cards. It's both completely personal to Tori Amos and the situation she was in at the time, and also opens up a bigger conversation about not just the relationship between mothers and daughters, but also how women judge each other.

One of my favourite things about Tori Amos is her ability to be both absolutely heart wrenching, and pretty hilarious in the same sentence. In this song, where she sings to her miscarried daughter who she feels judged by, you get gems like;

'Don't judge me so harsh little girl
You got a playboy mommy
Come home
But when you tell them soldiers my name
And cross that bridge all on your own
Little girl they'll do you no harm
Cause they know your playboy mommy'
So my interpretation is she's saying 'well you chose not to be born because you didn't think a slut like me would make a fit mother, but when you get to heaven mention my name coz heaven's full of dead soldiers that I'm good 'friends' with so they'll treat you well'. That's quite a complicated, and I'd say witty, sentiment to be singing about.

She has a habit, I think, of wavering between very profound and very inane lyrics. Unlike Kate Bush, who often intentionally writes silly lyrics, Tori Amos seems to sometimes just get a bit lazy (I know I might get hung for saying that, but come one! I mean in black dove she sings 'you're not a helicopter, you're not a cop out either'!) but like the girl with the curl when she's good she's very very good. In Playboy Mommy there's a very clear narrative throughout and every lyrics means something and has a reason for being there.

In or Out by Ani DiFranco

I'm not choosing an Ani DiFranco song because she's gay (or bi) and the Glee story line was about a gay character coming out, same as I wouldn't just choose songs by Asian artists for Mike Chang.

And I have to say this isn't my favourite Ani DiFranco song but it fits the bill perfectly because it's not a song about Ani DiFranco's sexuality, it's about other peoples reactions to it.

Get Out Of My House by Kate Bush

It's pretty debatable whether this song is about female sexuality at all, but it's definitely about asserting yourself and being confident in your choices. I absolutely LOVE in this song the way Kate Bush screams 'get out of my house'! It's the most amazing piece of acting/singing I think I've ever heard. It really sounds like it could be a real life recording someone took of their (very) disfunctional neighbours fighting. The first few times I listened to it it was just the raw timbre of it that appealed to me but the more I listen the more melodic it sounds. It repeats again and again throughout the song and I could listen to it forever.

Kate Bush often acts out characters voices during songs. Sometimes they get a bit silly for my tastes (like on 'There Goes a Tenner') but on this song she does it to perfection when she sings from the point of view of the Russian (or maybe eastern european!?) door man. The vibe I get isn't so much that she's putting on a characters voice but that she's saying 'I can be both the emotional, visceral woman screaming 'get out of my house', and the boss who can very calmly but authoritatively tell you you're not getting in.'

I only noticed recently that the chanting that comes in at the end is actually Konnakol with lots of effects on it. What this song has to do with South Indian rhythms I have no idea, I'm guessing she just thought it sounded cool and she was right. 

*I'm pretty sure anyone who says they don't like Glee is lying, along with people who say they 'don't have a sweet tooth' or 'love the gym'

Monday, November 14, 2011

Lyrics in Progress - 'Miss Havisham and the Sweetest Word'...or maybe just 'Waiting'

Here's a rough sketch of what I was thinking of doing with the lyrics I've been working on lately (a very rough sketch recorded with my computers in built mic). The lyrics are:

I've watched the swollen sea swallow girls in one piece
And they've come back out cold, clean and shining
And I've watched songbirds fly away with grown men
An leave nothing but streaks in the sky behind them

All while I've been waiting for the sweetest word.
The sweetest word.

I've been waiting for ripeness to reach it's peak 
and I've been waiting for the cold to crisp the leaves
I'm still waiting
'Coz I was told and I believe

The stem will break but not too late for falling fruit it's sweetness take 
from branch to fruit, from fruit to me, from me to you

It's all for you
It's all for you

A very rough sketch of some lyrics I'm working on at the mo - Waiting by Ríona Sally Hartman


Friday, November 11, 2011

Lyrics in progress

Untitled as of yet but one idea for a title is maybe 'Miss Havisham and the Sweetest Word'.....or maybe not. Maybe I'll just call it 'Waiting', I dunno yet....let's just go with 'Untitled'

I've watched the swollen sea swallow girls whole
And they've come back out clean, cold and shining
And I've watched birds carry grown men away
While, for the sweet word, I've sat here, impatient and wanting

I also considered having the last line:

While for the sweetest word I've sat waiting, pining

But I thought maybe that was a bit too rhyme-y. Actually maybe it's all too rhyme-y.......hmm there's a lot of self questioning in this post. Maybe I should go think about this some more <---There it is again! The self questioning! Ok no more maybes, I should definitely go think about this some more.

If you think you might have an answer to any of my 'maybes' in the post (or would like to share an opinion on any post for that matter) you can leave comments here on the blog or on my facebook page. I like feedback, on my list of favourite things it's right up there with cake.

Thursday, November 3, 2011


If you've never heard any of my music before don't listen to this song! If you have heard some of my music before you might notice it's a bit different from the rest.

The story behind it goes something like this;
I was visiting a friend at the acquired brain injury ward of a local hospital recently. There was a woman on the ward who I quite unimaginatively nicknamed The Screamer because that's all she did all day long. While my friend was sleeping and The Screamer was screaming, I came across an app that claimed to translate any language on earth to English, so I decided to try it out. I snuck into The Screamer's room and left my phone there for a little while with the app open to work it's magic. I took what it translated, set it to music and unimaginatively named the song The Screamer;

The Screamer

Don't be scared come close
I can see you're lost
Screamers can't feel anything but love

Love Love Love Love Love.....

That's not pain you hear
Strange sound to your ears
Unaccustomed to the sound of love

Love Love Love Love Love.....

You say sing something shiny happy bright
Well I can be as shiny as a star
That glitters, bursting, explodes into life
That burns and pulls you darker into night like

Love Love Love Love Love.....

Sweet young thing gone wrong
Join us and you'll find
That you can't feel anything but love

Love Love Love Love Love
Love Love Love Love Love
Love Love Love Love Love....

The Screamer by Ríona Sally Hartman

This song was brought to you by the letter S and the number 5.......and musicians Thibaud Keller on guitar, Arthur Johnson on bass, Bonnie Stewart on drums and sound engineer Aidan OBrien. Aidan is studying sound engineering in college and this song was recorded as an assignment for his course. We had a brilliant weekend in the studio and ended up recording a few jazz standards too.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Birthday Song - Lyrics in Progress

Fear comes knocking every year a little louder
Fear comes knocking 'coz it knows what it'll find here
Better blow out your candles or they'll set you hair on fire
And the smoke signals rise hailing the grim reaper

Thursday, October 13, 2011

You are all cordially invited to my birthday party

It's my birthday next week and to celebrate turning 20 (ha! yeah right!) I'll be singing upstairs in Whelan's. I CANNOT WAIT! I've finished a few of the songs-in-progress that I've been posting up here about and I'll be playing them for the first time with my super-awesome-amazing band. Joining me on the night will also be a very special guest......drum roll....... Ross Breen! I played with him in The Cobblestone a while ago and he's excellent. Very Jeff Buckley-esque. If you'd like to join me for a slice of birthday cake and a sing along tickets are available from my website (just click the image above and it'll bring you straight there).

If you like compiling your friends faces in cyber book form (that's my overwrought way of saying if you're on facebook) than you can see the event page here.

That's Thursday Oct 20th in Whelan's upstairs. Tickets €8 (students/unwages/OAP) or €10. Doors at 8pm.
See you there

Friday, October 7, 2011

Good Gigs

There are so many great gigs happening around Dublin at the moment that I thought I'd just mention a few upcoming ones that you might like to check out. Actually I might start doing this regularly, maybe a gig guide once a month or something. Full disclosure; some of these musicians are friends or acquaintances of mine...but that's not why I'm recommending their gigs.

Solar in Cassidy's Pub every Sunday from 9pm
I haven't seen them play yet but I know enough about Tommy Moore to know it'll be fekin brilliant.

The Julien Colarossi Trio at The Jazz Kitchen at The Grand Social 35 Lower Liffey Street (near the Ha'penny Bridge) Dublin, Ireland.
Wed Oct 12th. 
The Jazz Kitchen is pretty much the place to be every Wednesday but I'm particularly looking forward to this one.

The Glór Sessions in The International for the next three Mondays
I only recently discovered the Glór Sessions and I'm so annoyed that I'm late to the party coz now they're wrapping up. Only three more to go. If you haven't been before then better late than never but get there early coz it's guaranteed to be packed. If you can't squeeze in you can always watch live online.

Peter Delaney and Zoidband in Thejoinery Arbourhill
Oct 14th
You might have seen Peter Delaney at The Acoustic Picnic, if not then where were you!?! 


Monday, September 26, 2011

I Want My Words To Eat Me TAKE III

I've added a bridge to the lyrics-in-progress that I posted up here a little while ago:

I want my words to eat me
Like a big starving thing
Eat my bones my skin my hair
Till there's nothing left to see

But my words
Only my words will be left of me.

Still Hungry! Every night when you seek sleep
They'll thunder through your window
Just when you think you're alone
You'll hear my words looking for something good to eat.

You'll forget my face like the victims of serial killers
You've seen on the news
But you won't
forget my words like the photos of serial killers
You've seen on the news

I want my songs to eat me
Like a big starving thing
And lying dying in it's jaws
I'll hear the sweet singing
Of my songs
Singing me to my eternal sleep. 


Recently I needed some new press shots so I called up my BFF (I don't really call her that in real life I promise) and she came over with her fancy camera to help me out. We had a pretty simple idea; I put on a dress and jumped in front of a green wall. We got a pretty nice poster out of it I think:

But added bonus: we also got a few good 'hit by a bus' shots too:

Monday, September 12, 2011

I Want My Words To Eat Me TAKE II

Apparently collectors of Picasso painting would have his paintings screwed into the walls when he'd come visit becuase he'd take one look at them as say 'Oh that's not finished, I'll just take it home and make a few minor adjustments and drop it back to you tomorrow' and they'd never get the paintings back coz he'd keep insisting it wasn't finished yet.

Here's an update on yesterday's post, the lyrics are still unfinished (I didn't just compare myself to Picasso, not even a little bit).

I want my words to eat me
Like a big starving thing
Eat my bones my skin my hair
Till there's nothing left to see

But my words
Only my words will be left of me.

Still Hungry! Every night when you seek sleep
They'll thunder through your window
Just when you think you're alone
You'll hear my words looking for something good to eat.

I want my songs to eat me
Like a big starving thing
And lying dying in it's jaws
I'll hear the sweet singing

Of my songs
Singing me to my eternal sleep.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Lyrics in Progress

Some new lyrics I started this morning after reading this paragraph from a short story*:

Do you have any pets? he asked.
Not even a cat?
Why not?
I'm not sure I could care for a pet. I travel a lot.
But you could get a very little pet that wasn't very hungry.
I knew all about those things that weren't very hungry; my life was full of them. I didn't want any more weaklings who were activated by water and heat but had no waste and were so small that when they died, I buried them only with forgetfulness. If I was going to bring something new into my home, it would be a big starving thing.

And the lyrics in progress are:

My words will eat me
Like a big starving thing
My hair and bones
There'll be nothing left to see
But my words

My songs will eat me
Like a big starving thing
In it's jaws dying
I'll hear the sweet singing
Of my songs

Initially for the first two lines I had 'I want my words to eat me like a big starving thing. Consume my bones my skin my hair till there's nothing left to see but my words'. Not sure which I prefer yet. I only just scribbled these down today so by the time I'm finished with them they may have changed beyond recognition. They might go well with some lyrics I posted up here a little while ago....maybe, we'll see.

*The short story is called 'The Boy from Lam Kien' and it's by Miranda July

Monday, August 29, 2011

Hand Holding

I've been working on the song 'Hand Holding' that I put a clip of up a little whole ago so I thought I'd update the work in progress. Here are the lyrics:

Hand holding remolding our fingerprints histories.
(find me here)

Hips joining unfolding the romance of alchemy.
(find me here)

Find me here
You won't find me here
Find me here

When forehead to forehead, a cheek pressed to kindred cheek,
(find me here)

Eyes seek and keep contact till eye colours blend and bleed.
(find me here)

Find me here
You won't find me here
Find me here

*Lips loosen words form from thin air, you won't find me,
Tongues touching find new growing teeth that were never there....

......I've almost got the next few lines of the bridge, they're on the tip of my tongue but they're happy there for the moment unfortunately.

A rough sketch of some lyrics I'm working on at the moment: Hand Holding by Ríona Sally Hartman

*I'm still working on the bridge and the most recent update is:

Lips loosen words form from thin air, you won't find me,
Tongues run over new growing teeth, you won't find me,
Thin twin strands of hair knot and plait, you won't find me...

Friday, August 12, 2011

My Voice is Stronger than your Violent Footfall

"The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it"
Martin Luther King JR.

The song of America's civil rights movement was not a call to violence, it was 'Dancing in the Streets'! That's dancing in the streets, not setting fire to them. With that in mind here's an excerpt of a new song I've started writing:

'My voice is stronger than your violent footfall'

Rehearsal Violent Footfall by Ríona Sally Hartman

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Filler Lyrics

I went shopping yesterday which means I spent all day having radio 'friendly' pop songs blasted at me. 'Friendly'!! Friendly to whom? Certainly not me!

Throughout the course of the day I was instructed approximately 12 times to 'look to the left, everybody look to the right' by Jessie J. The only reason I was given for being instructed to look left then right was 'because we're paying with love tonight'! Can someone explain to me how looking left, and then right, illustrates in any way whatsoever the anti consumerist message of Jessie J's opus that is 'Price Tag'?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Acoustic Picnic

The Acoustic Picnic
The Back Loft 7 - 11 St Augustine Street
Friday August 26th @8pm

A one night only pop up festival of music and poetry all in the stunning setting of The Back Loft gallery. Bring along a picnic, or a few beers, and enjoy ‘the best thing to happen to Irish literature since the beatnicks’ and ‘goosepimple-inducing’ music. The night promises to be a genuinely eclectic picnic of Irish talent.
BYOB/BYOP (the P's for picnic)

Music on the night from Ríona Sally Hartman and Peter Delaney

And spoken word poetry from The Poetry Chicks and Stephen James Smith

Tickets are €8 when bought in advance from or €10 on the door.

Friday, July 29, 2011

"Sing into my mouth"

There's a lyric I love from the talking heads song 'This Must Be the Place':

"Sing into my mouth"

It's a funny line and a bit of a gross idea if you take it literally, someone else singing directly into your mouth.

My thoughts on it were that he's imaging the singing coming to him rather than from him, as if his own words are feeding him, his own creativity sustaining him.

With that and lots of other things in mind here are some lyrics I'm working on at the moment. No recording of them yet because they don't have a melody yet:

Waiting for it all to fall into place
For when the words fall into my mouth
For ripeness to reach it's peak
The stem will break
But not before
The falling fruit
It's sweetness take
From branch to fruit
From fruit to me
From me to you

Monday, July 25, 2011

Oh Lord Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood

I'm reading a biography of Nina Simone (a brilliant page turner of a book and a brilliant page turner of a life). The highs and lows of Nina Simone's life are enthralling. One second she's got a hit in the charts but she's broke working as a maid, the next she's a rich socialite in Liberia with more suitors than she can keep track of, the next she's an old crank living in France sneaking into her neighbors swimming pools to go skinny dipping and getting her gun out to shoot at their kids when they make too much noise. It's hard to keep track, but David Brun-Lambert (the biographer) does it well. He set himself a hard task of trying to decipher fact from rumor and at the same time he gives great snapshots of the civil rights movement in America. But I don't want to talk about her life, I want to talk about her music.

The first album I ever bought was a Nina Simone compilation entitled 'The After Hours' (the first single I ever bought was Dustin the Turkey' *facepalm*). It's a very odd collection of tracks. A mix of studio recordings of full band arrangements with strings, and live recordings, some completely unaccompanied A cappella. Now that I'm reading her biography I'm realising it's probably a pirate album. The bad quality live recording probably done without her consent. Of course I'm not for piracy and I'd be much happier knowing she earned what she was due from these recording, but I'm still glad they exist.

I bought this album (when I was ten or eleven) because at home we had a Nina Simone CD of her hits that we listened to a lot. My Baby Just Cares For Me, Love me or Leave Me, See Line Woman...but when I got this CD home I was pretty shocked.

Instead of:

I got:

I was hooked. Nina (I feel we should be on first name terms, I have no justification other than ego) can deliver a lyric. In the live recordings you can feel the tension in the crowd. She can draw out a word for miles, waiting till the very last second to resolve, like when she sings 'Don't............look for me'. She has this raw intensity in her voice that she can use to absolutely hypnotise a crowd.

But somehow I get the feeling that now days she's probably better known for Coke and diet yohgurt adds. I get the feeling she's known for happy go lucky pop, gospel anthems when, in my completely personal and subjective opinion, this is not the area she shines in at all. Her pop gospel tunes might be great but they are nowhere near the genius of tunes like 'Four Women' or 'Images of a wayward soul'.

Misunderstood? Probably.

Friday, July 1, 2011

I'm working on a few new tunes at the moment so I thought I'd post up some of the works in progress as I go along. Bits and pieces: a nose here, an arm there that will eventually become songs with their own identities and personalities. They'll grow up and ignore me someday, but for now they're all mine, live under my roof and obey my rules....right that's the end of comparing songs to children, or pets, or golems.

One of the fragments of a song that I'm working on at the moment is called 'Hand Holding' (or at least it is for now).

So here's a rough, home recorded sketch of some of the lyrics:

Hand holding, remolding our fingerprints, histories.
Find me here.

Hips joining, unfolding the romance of alchemy.
Find me here.

Often when I'm working on lyrics I'll read up about a certain subject a bit and even though everything I read about doesn't necessarily end up in the song (not directly anyway) I think it still influence it. So here are some interesting things I've read lately that I've got filed in my brain under 'Hand Holding':

From the Wikipedia entry on Polycephaly:

"A live two headed turtle named Janus can be seen at the Natural History Museum in Geneva Switzerland"

There is some speculation that the inbreeding of snakes in captivity increases the chances of a two-headed birth...snake heads may attack and even attempt to swallow each other"

With humans, dicephalic conjoined twins as Abigail and Brittany Hensel are considered "twins", i.e., two individuals....On the other hand, Syafitri, born 2006 in Indonesia, were given one name by their parents because they only had one heart."

And of course I can't do anything these days without tying it in with my current obsession (Frida Kahlo's self portraits) so I file this under Hand Holding too:

Self Portrait as a Tehuana
(Diego on My Mind)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

I went for a gander to my local library and came back with three goodies. I've just started reading the first, entitled 'Crap Lyrics', and so far my reaction has been like those videos you see on youtube of babies laughing uncontrollably*.

Anyway in the introduction there's a quote from Noel Gallagher:

" I get the odd night when I'm halfway through 'Don't look back in anger' when I say to myself 'I still don't know what these words mean! I'm thinking what the...'Stand up beside the fireplace! Why?
And all these kids will be singing it at the top of their voices with all their arms around each other and I kind of feel like stopping and going 'Look can someone help me out here? Am I missing something?"

Why did he pick that lyric to single out as nonsense? Of all the Oasis lyrics that make absolutely no sense whatsoever like: "Slowly walking down the hall, faster than a cannonball"

'Stand up beside the fireplace' is at least a fully formed sentence. It's even got a sense of gravitas to it, like maybe you'd stand beside the fireplace to give an important speech or if you wanted to be taken seriously but when would you ever be "Caught beneath the landslide in a champagne super nova in the sky".

*except I'm not a baby obviously.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

How long does it take to write a song? Apparently forever. I was just reading over an old blog post* I wrote more than a year ago about a song I was writing at the time. I'd written a chorus but the verses went a bit haywire so I shelved it. Then recently I started again and so now more than a year later I think it's finished. More than a year for 16 lines of lyrics, 12 chords, two verses and a chorus.

Something so precious
Hurts to even think about it
Something so delicate
You're scared to say it's name
It's your private little shame you carry with you
Like a dead mouse in your pocket

You leave me gifts
Like the dead song birds my cat leaves at my window
You leave them under my pillow

'It could decorate my life'
'It won't satisfy you'
'Oh but I'll wear it like an earring,
Frida Kahlo's delight. Oh so fine'
'It's just a trinket on a line'

*Here's the original blog post from a year ago:

I was writing a song (working title: 'a conversation between two fish watching a spinner go by'...I'll come up with something catchier eventually) and I think I may have inadvertently written something that makes absolutely no sense, probably not that uncommon for singer songwriters. I thought that I'd heard a myth once that pirates wore earrings so that if they died at sea they could pay the god of the sea to allow them into heaven. I assumed the sea god was neptune but I could be a few thousand years off on that one. I've been googling it for a while now and it turns out I must've made that up out of thin air because apparently pirates wore earrings to a)improve their hearing(!?) b) ward off seasickness (!?!) c) pay for their funeral should they die at sea. So here's a nonsensical verse for
'A Conversation Between Two Fish Watching a Spinner Go By':

"It could decorate my life"
"Would that satisfy you? You'd wear it like an earring"
"Oh I'd be Neptune's delight"
"Close to divine, all for a trinket on a line"

Friday, May 20, 2011

I've gotten into reading biographies lately, especially musicians biographies so I thought I'd share a few of my favourites, got any recommendations let me know.

Kate Bush Under the Ivy.
There's a hell of a lot more to Kate Bush than Wuthering Heights but if you didn't already know that then this book might not be for you. A great peek into her recording process and her influences. Read this with your computer open in front of you so that you can look up every song and video as you read about it for the complete Kate Bush experience.

Louis Armstrong An Extraordinary Life
This one was recommended to me by a tutor in college during a lecture but don't let that put you off, even if you couldn't care less about jazz and you've never heard of Louis Armstrong (well that's pretty unlikely to be fair) this is still a great read and a really interesting look at American cultural history and the birth of Network Broadcasting. Also Louis Armstrong is as entertaining to read about as he is to listen to, he's a godam hilarious character.

Tom Waits Innocent When You Dream
Ok technically not a biography this is a collection of interviews with Tom Waits all done by the same reporter* spread out over a few years. I read this forever ago and I can't remember anything about it except that I loved it......sure I should review books for a living with those kinds of amazing reporting skills.

*just updating because I realised I was wrong, the interviews weren't all done by the same reporter. Oops.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Usually when people ask me who my influences are I prattle off a list that goes something like: Joni Mitchell, Ani DiFranco, Tori Amos...etc. and it's not a lie BUT a big part of the reason I list those names is also because I know they are names people will recognise and relate to. The names I don't mention but which probably have just as much influence on my music are my peers. Dublin has a great music scene but it's not exactly huge, we might all like to think we're unique little butterflies but the reality is more like we're a bunch of tightly packed molecules bouncing back and forth off each other (and I'm not just talking musically...I couldn't help it that sentence was too aptly rife with innuendo to ignore).

So today I thought I'd take a break from talking about myself and instead ask someone else some questions for a change. Edel Meade is a Dublin based genre-spanning jazz vocalist and composer who I've had the pleasure of seeing perform a few times with her group the Swoo-Beh Project. She's got absolute stellar song writing and arranging skills and her gigs are literally inspirational (the word literally is often misused to mean the exact opposite, I'm not doing that here, last time I saw her sing I was literally inspired to go home and start writing a new tune). So here we go:

How do you feel about singing very personal lyrics? 'Sideways' is like eavesdropping on a really intimate conversation.

For me, it’s got to be real. With 'Sideways”, I just wanted to capture a beautiful moment and this song kind-of wrote itself. The act of composing is intimate anyway so when I was writing this song, I wasn’t thinking about who would be listening to it.

Similarly with ‘Love Lost’, it comes from a very personal experience but I believe music and real life are intertwined.
For me, music is life. When I’m singing ‘Lush Life’ (by Billy Strayhorn), for example, I might substitute the word “mush” for “shit” because I don’t use the word “mush” ever in conversation.

I guess my lyrics reflect on my life as a twenty-something year old female growing up in Dublin today. I’m aware of the fact that my days are numbered so I don’t have time for dishonesty. The world is saturated with forgettable melodies and uninspired lyrics. It doesn’t need anymore from me or anyone else but there will always be a place for truth and honesty. That’s what will engage a listener and draw someone in.

But not all my lyrics are personal. ‘Blue Fantasia’ is part real, part fantasy. The lyrics for the hook in ‘Eleven Eleven (Dream Machine)’ AKA ‘the radio song’ are deliberately lacking in depth to reflect the vast majority of “hits” on the radio. “Our love is here to stay, it’s gonna last forever. Will never go away”. The next line- “We tell you what to do and you do what we tell you. No matter if it’s true”, is the same catchy melody as before but “we” refers to the mass media telling us what to do, what we should look like, what products we can’t live without, the events we should attend etc etc because I think it’s easy to forget that we have a choice in the matter.

The first time I heard you do 'Eleven Eleven (Dream Machine)', it sounded like the excerpts, or samples, you took from the radio were thematically chosen, but then last time I heard you sing it I realised the excerpts must have been updated that day (because there was mention of the census). So tell us a bit about it? How did you decide which excerpts to use?

At the start of the tune, we’ll hear snippets from what’s on the radio at that particular moment. It could be anything at all from traditional Irish music on Raidió na Gaeltachta, to an ad promoting Plenty kitchen roll to the public service announcements. This is followed by a distorted guitar melody and general chaos inspired by Jimi Hendrix’ rendition of Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock in 1969, to draw your attention to how the mass media, in this case, the radio presents such mixed messages to an impressionable audience. It’s a metaphorical warning!

I update the news bulletins and songs every time we play this tune which means on the day of a performance, I’ll turn on the radio and hear random snippets of news stories, “hits”, jingles etc which I’ll record on Garageband in order to accurately transcribe them later.

We hear serious news bulletins telling us about for example, the death of a 25-year-old who was killed when a bomb exploded under his car but then when you turn the dial, you could hear Travie McCoy singing “I wanna be a billionaire so fricking bad” or Rihanna’s ‘S&M’. Then you might hear some DJ with his phony radio voice telling you to text to win tickets to Westlife’s Croke Part concert with support from Jedward and JLS as if that’s important! And then you turn the dial to hear an ad aimed at women telling them they will wake up feeling young, fresh and fabulous if they use the Daily Energiser range from Clarins... Who is to say that they are not fabulous already and why is youth portrayed as being better than middle-age? While the exact content varies every time we play this song, the overall result is the same. Let the listener beware!

When I heard it first I thought the excerpts were chosen to illustrate a feminist statement because the subtext of it all was so sexist, but I guess the the fact that they're chosen at random just goes to show how prevalent sexism is in the media. I'm completely with you on this one, it really bothers me sometimes when I hear the poison people are fed through radio, like the song you mentioned 'Billionaire' or my other big bugbear is 'Cooler Than Me'. You're bombarded with it constantly to the point where you can find yourself mindlessly singing along with some of the most unethical sentiments. Ok moving from the bad to the good: Who's your favourite lyricist?

I don’t have a singular favourite but I love Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Jill Scott and Erykah Badu.

It’s their honesty. Whether it’s related to matters of the heart or the hypocrisy of the times we live in, these lyricists stand out. Bob Dylan’s ‘Freewheelin’ album is a particular favourite and Joni’s got so many great songs. She just says it like it is. Jill Scott is a poet and her themes are pretty sexually explicit but it’s got to be like that if you’re talking about sex. We’ve come a long way since “I Want To Hold Your Hand”. Erykah Badu’s lyrics on her New Amerykah Part One and Part Two albums are genius. She addresses the current state of Black America, the hypocrisy of “the American dream” and I love how she never shies away from controversy and stays true to her beliefs. I am in awe of this lady as an artist.

I couldn't disagree more about Bob Dylan, I can't stand him but that discussion will take a whole other blog post. You've got me listening to Erykah Badu for the first time in years (my sister bought her first album 'Baduizm' when I was eleven and I was obsessed). Jill Scott's next on my list.

If you'd like to see Edel live, then you're in luck because she will be playing a number of gigs with her Swoo-Beh Project in June:

7th June 8PM LAUNCH NIGHT The Jazz Kitchen at The Grand Social Also playing: ZoiBand! €5 suggested contribution

19th June 5.30PM Zinc Club at Pacino's Cellar Bar €8/6

21st June 8PM The Jazz Kitchen at The Grand Social
Also playing: O.K.O.D.O.M.G. €5 suggested contribution

30th June 8.30PM National Concert Hall (Kevin Barry Room)

Edel Meade - voice/radio/compositions
Chris Guilfoyle - guitar
Darragh O'Kelly - rhodes/piano
Andrew Csibi - double bass
Tommy Gray - drums

Also Edel is running a brand new Jazz night in Dublin starting on 7th June in The Grand Social (formerly Pravda), 35 Lower Liffey Street near the Ha'penny Bridge. It starts at 8pm and will feature the brightest emerging talent on the Irish jazz scene!


In her own words:'The reason I'm doing this is because I see it is an absolute necessity for the jazz community and creative musicians in Ireland to have a designated venue where they can perform their music. We have a gorgeous and spacious room and two fantastic bands every Tuesday night and all for a fiver, so I really hope people will come out and support creative music and get involved. It's gonna be great!'

Monday, April 4, 2011

I had so much fun making my Venn Diagram the other day that I decided to make some more (click on the images to view them larger)

Here's one for
Mahalia Jackson

And here's one for
Damien Rice

(*I just want to point out that when I say 'sad' I mean unhappy, I'm not being all Irish and equating the perfectly reasonable emotion of sadness with being a loser)

And Lastly
Jay Z

I had a great idea for one for Jennifer Lopez but I got so sick of researching her lyrics that I gave up......the themes were 'I'm a normaller like you' (Jenny From the Block, I'm Real...) and 'The music in clubs is always too quiet' (play my favourite song, let's get loud...)

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Venn Diagram

This blog has made me realise that all my songs fall into three categories. Ok so I haven't sat down and thought through every one of my tunes yet but I did make myself a quick little Venn Diagram* with a few of my tunes in there (click to view it larger if you don't have your reading glasses on)

Look at that big blank spot in the crossover section between pink and blue! Gotta sort that out. And the crossover between pink and green is getting a bit crowded, but how could it not be, emotional projection is such a good topic. I debated over where to put a few of them, like 'Light Fires' could also go in the green/blue crossover section (I'm sure someone who speaks math could tell me what the real name of the 'crossover section' is).

*I like Venn Diagrams. My first ever gig (playing my own material I mean) was a collaboration with Banbha Mc Cann called Venn Diagram in the Back Loft.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

A song for a sunny Spring weekend when all the flowers are coming back to life.

I realise the dancing in that video is probably perpetuating peoples perception of jazz clubs being like this:

But they're not I swear, I wish they were. In fact certain Dublin venues have signs up that say no dancing! Audrey Hepburn would be ashamed of our prudishness.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Lots of people never listen to lyrics! Especially boys! I like to begin blog posts with wide sweeping, unresearched generalisations about large portions of the population and end the sentences with exclamation marks!

Listening to lyrics can be a bit of hinderance, it can stop you liking otherwise perfectly good music. First example: the jazz standard 'How High the Moon'. It has the worst lyrics of all time in the history of the world ever! A completely nonsensical ream of words that rhyme and are vaguely associated with romance. No narrative, no plot, no characters...the song makes no sense (and Ella Fitzgerald does it no favours when she scraps the lyrics and instead improvises her own, she managed somehow to make even less sense).

'Somewhere there's music
How faint the tune
Somewhere there's heaven
How high the moon
There is no moon above
When love is far away too
Till it comes true
That you love me as I love you'

...Say What!? Yes somewhere there is music, you are singing this song so music is right here so you are making music, do the lyrics mean to say 'I hear music when I see you' 'wherever you are there's music' 'falling in love makes me hear music'...I have no idea, and why is the tune faint? Is the narrator only a little bit in love, is that why the love is far away? Unrequited love makes the moon move further away? We can probably guess what the lyricist wanted to say in this song (only because the sentiment is such a cliché) but he never actually says it. I'm assuming what he meant to say was something along the lines of 'would you please love me back coz that'd be great and the moon would shine brighter and I'd hear music and it'd be like heaven on earth', but he never bothers to actually tell that story, and instead just uses a few key words and hopes we'd fill in the details. I'll show you exactly how this song was written:

Someone made a list that looked something like this:

He then chose sentences at random from a chick lit novel and replaced randomly chosen words with ones from the list.
Job Done. Another day at the office.

But there are loads of great recordings of this tune, you just have to make your brain forget it understands English so you don't notice the lyrics so much and just hear them as abstract sounds to enjoy them.

So after that long intro I'll get to my point. Here are some albums with great lyrics, and/or great lyrical delivery. If you're the kind of person that winces every time you hear this then you might enjoy some of these (they're not in order of preference, and not necessarily my favourite, just three off the top of my head):

First a jazz one:
The Newest Sound Around
Jeanne Lee and Ran Blake

Jeanne Lee knows how to deliver a lyric. 'Loverman' is performed almost exactly as written in a drawn out monotonous tone, starkly simple it hits you with the melancholic frustration of a woman who knows nothing of love who sits at home all day waiting for a man she's never met. Lyrics of 'Evil Blues' could be a cliché if it wasn't for her believability (and of course Ran Blake's kick ass 'Monkish' piano playing...I love the beginning of his solo, just three cantankerous notes sung out timed to perfection)

Knuckle Down
Ani DiFranco

I'm gonna let her speak for herself:

'I love the way your stories seem to fall from your lips
With just enough slobber so it sparkles and drips
The way you hang the whole room on a word
Like a little stick in the beak of a bird

First we touched fingers and then we touched toes
Then my army surrendered
My government overthrown
I threw myself a little role reversal and followed you home
Just dying to be chewed
The dog was chosen by the bone'

She's got the story telling and imagery of folk, the raw energy of punk and some unbelievable guitar skills, there is nothing not to love about this woman. I saw her live recently and you could see that like all great super heroes she uses her power for good and had a load of tunes about important political issues and, one of my favourites, a tune about how promiscuity is an important part of growing up and learning who you are and you shouldn't be ashamed of it. What is not to love about this woman

And lastly:
Miriam Ingram

There are some tunes on here with lyrics I hate, but the ones I love I really really love. They're crunchy and taste of metal, they're also completely melded with the soundscapes she creates and don't necessarily work so well in print so I won't do them a disservice here, instead go listen to 'Inhale' and 'Winter' (can't find them online so you might just have to go support an Irish artist with a trip to Tower Records).

Thursday, January 20, 2011

I'm working on posters for some upcoming gigs and I'd like some feedback. Vote on your favourite and tell me what you think (none of these posters are finished, there's lots of editing and messing with colour balance and levels to do). Steven McNamara took the photos and Eloise ORiordan was set engineer (that means she cut out, stuck down, painted....etc. lots of those leaves in the background, she also gave advice, drank tea, told me it might be a crap idea, told me it might be a great idea)

Poster Number 1)

Poster Number 2)

Poster number 3)

Poster number 4)

Of course there are more options that aren't listed there like:

5) "none of them what were you thinking?"

6) "all of them your a genius"

7) "just google 'cute kittens' and put your name on top. done."

Leave a comment here or facebook or wherever.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Songs about Songs

Well now that title might be a little misleading because todays blog isn't strictly about 'songs about songs', it's about lyrics that arise from a frustration with song writing...but that's just not quite as catchy. At first when I was writing this blog I thought to myself 'I need to link these ideas together more, to draw more comparisons and conclusions...' and then I remembered it's not a leaving cert essay. If you'd like to draw a conclusion please do.

1) Fiona Apple: Waltz

Fiona Apple has written one song about writing songs, arguably two. I'm a big fan of Fiona Apple's two earlier albums, they're clever, they sound honest, the production is good BUT every single song is about boys. Not that that's always a bad thing, I mean the girl can put a clever spin on heartbreak but by the end of the second album I was thinking I hope she doesn't spend her whole life wracked by teenage self doubt worrying about whether 'he' really loves her. It's tempting to want to shout at her 'Hey Fiona, he's a douche' and hope that she'll hear you from the other side of the CD, move on and come across some new territory.

So when 'Extraordinary Machine' came out, her most recent and very possibly last album, I was excited the first time I listened to it and heard the lyrics on 'Parting Gift':

'Oh you silly, stupid pastime of mine
You were always good for a rhyme'

This song is meant as a parting gift to the men in her life she's written songs about (I don' think I'm just making that up, I'm pretty sure she's said so in interviews). Great I thought, nows when I get to hear an intelligent woman sing about something other than silly boys. Alas it wasn't to be. Instead the album closes with 'Waltz'

'If you don't have a song
To sing you're ok'

Supposedly this is her retirement song. So as soon as she decides not to write about heartbreak the only thing she has left to write about is how she has nothing left to write about?* This is my least favorite 'song about a song'. It's really more of an excuse, an explanation for bowing out. Singing about having nothing to sing about isn't really very interesting so lets move onto a song about a song that has a LOT to say.

2) Saul Williams: Surrender

The lyrics really work on many levels, a love song recognizing the destructive powers a lover can wield, and a song about trying to overcome his ego and surrender himself completely to his muse (who scares the bejaysus out of him). Now here's a portrayal of a strong woman that you don't get in songs often, even if she may be a mythical figure. Her strength doesn't come from adopting male traits, it's her openness, her willingness to love and her ability to reinvent herself that make her strong. You find this character a lot in Saul Williams music, he's the one of the greatest feminist lyricists I can think of off the top of my head.

The whole idea of inspiration coming from a muse is really very useful. Believing the creative idea comes from an external source is such a great way of tricking your brain into shutting your ego down. 'Is this lyric good? Is that melody too catchy/not catchy enough?' 'I dunno, not my problem I'm just doing what my muse tells me to, she's the boss'. But this song is more of a lovers wrestle, his muse won't stay still for him, her honesty and love scares him like a bachelor scared of intimacy.

Throughout the whole song he keeps repeating 'I need a second, I need a second to think' as if he has no control over the song writing, the muse is having her way with him (the cheeky minx), writing the song through him and he's fighting to have his say.

3) Ríona Sally Hartman (that's me): Song for the Dead, Song for the Living

Really the first half of the song is about the futility of music, the self indulgent folly of being a musician. In the face of tragedy what good can a song do? There's an instinct sometimes to rewrite tragedy in music into something heroic or meaningful but I don't think that approach is necessarily very honest.

The second half of the song is sung to the living:

'I'm another song, let me try to keep you warm,
let me hold you hand, let me try to heal what's sore,
And I'll search for the sun should a darkness overcome you.
I'm a hopeful song hopeful for and end to the suffering of young men.'

It's split into two halves, one half for the dead should they choose to listen and one half for the living. Deciding to write a song about a tragedy is a tricky one. Firstly for selfish reasons I'm not big into writing weepys. The term singer songwriter has taken quite a bashing over the last while unfortunately. People have stereotypes of guys with their guitars singing depressing music to their friends. Personally I think the stereotype is completely unfair but I try to avoid it none the less. The other more important reason I'm cautious about writing about tragedy is that I feel like you have to take responsibility for what you put out into the world and if what your putting out there is songs with no hope

But that's exactly how I felt about this particular tragedy that I was writing about. People had died, it was too late there was no hope for them and I wanted to be honest about that. Your instinct is to try to make everything ok, to rewrite history with a song, but sometimes tragedy makes you realize the very narrow limits of art.... that a conclusion? Maybe. Probably not. In conclusion go buy Sealegs on iTunes.

*To be fair the other song on the album that is arguably a song about song writing is 'Please please please' which is supposedly aimed at her record label which was pressuring her into writing:

'something familiar
Something similar
To what we know already
That will keep us steady
Steady, steady
Steady going nowhere'

So it's possible she's not a one trick pony after all, maybe she's a circus pony who's owners are big into dressage or something. Maybe given some time and artistic freedom she'll join a circus and surprise us all with her jumping through fire tricks. Here's hoping......That'd make a great children's story.

**It was hard to pick one part out of this verse to quote, Saul William's lyrics flow from one line to the next with each line revealing a possible alternate meaning for the one before it so it doesn't lend itself well to dissection. I think that's what rappers mean when they talk about 'flow', I wouldn't know though coz I'm not down with the cool kids. So here's a link to the full lyrics.