Interview – Gemma Hayes

After a decade of releasing music, Ireland’s Gemma Hayes is all set to release her fourth album, Let It Break. The album was recorded in Dublin before being finished off in Gemma’s second home, Los Angeles. She plays Birmingham’s Glee Club on May 27th.

BL: Gemma, how are you?
GH: I’m really good. I’ve just come off stage after playing a very mellow set to a very attentive crowd.

BL: They seemd very quiet but in a good way. Do you get that a lot?
GH: Yeah. It’s really bizarre but yeah. On this tour they’ll clap and then they’ll just stop and it’ll be silence while I’m tuning up. It’s amazing but it freaks me out. It’s definitely a little “rabbit in the headlights” but I’d much prefer that than people chatting.

BL: Do you like playing these kind of stripped down shows?
GH: I love it.

BL: Is it more you, do you think?
GH: Not really, y’know, I started off just loving playing with bands and I was in bands even when I was in college. I would take down the ad for a singer, or even a guitar player when I could hardly play. I always wanted to be in a band and even on my albums I love to create sounds bigger than me. But I’m just loving the ease of touring with just two people. It’s just really easy and I’m finding the whole experience of being on stage more exhilarating because you’re really exposed and you have to just be on it. You can’t hide behind anything, y’know? So it’s terrifying and thrilling at the same time.

BL: So it’s just you and Ann Scott on this tour. You were talking earlier about being in a band with your mates. Is that the situation with Ann? How did you guys start playing together?
GH: I’m a big fan of Ann’s music. She’s her own songwriter. She’s incredible. The two of us used to go to songwriter nights in Dublin and we basically decided to have a sort of bartering system where I would sort of employ her services as a musician and in return she’d call upon me to be her musician in her band.

BL: Do you have plans to go back out with a full band any time soon?
GH: There are a few festivals I’m performing at during the summer and I’m definitely bringing out the band for that.

BL: So the album’s coming out over here, finally! Does it feel weird to be releasing an album that you finished recording so long ago?
GH: Yeah, to be honest. It does.

BL: Have you got new material that you’ve finished more recently?
GH: I’m working on a side project that’s more keyboard-based music and I’m writing a really folky album. And I’m also working with David Odlum, the producer who did this album, for more sort of loud drone music, sort of like Sigur Ros type of stuff. We don’t have a name for that project or the keyboard one but the real folky one will be released as Gemma Hayes.

BL: So, how do you feel this album compares to your previous albums?
GH: Probably not very different. I worked with the same people and I love to create a mixture of stuff on my albums. You’ll find a folk song and the next one might be a pretty heavy song, distortion-wise or whatever, and that could be followed by maybe a country song.

BL: To me this sounds like your most diverse album. The keyboards feature a little more heavily and certain songs sound a bit more layered this time.
GH: Absolutely. Somebody said they think this sounds like it should have been the second album because it feels like a natural progression from the first album. But I wrote this album with cinema in mind. There’s one sort of vague instrumental and one piano instrumental. I just wanted to create something that you don’t have to listen to intensely, you could just have it on in the background. I just wanted to create a mood because I love that sort of music. You don’t have to listen to the lyrics but that layering effect just creates mood.

BL: You’ve toured with a really varied collection of artists in your career. If you could choose one act that you’d love to open for, who would that be?
GH: That’s a tough one. My music’s so all over the place. I could tour with a country act, y’know, but right now I’d love to open for Bon Iver or Feist.

I actually opened up for My Bloody Valentine in Los Angeles as a two-piece acoustic act. I was terrified! I thought I was gonna be shot but it actually went down really well in front of 3000 people who’d gone there to have their ears blown off. Kevin asked if I’d get up and play a few songs and I said I really don’t think it’s a good idea. But he went “Fuck it, just go for it! Just close your eyes and do your thing. If they get it, they get it; if they don’t, they don’t.”

BL: You’ve really played with a strange variety of bands then. From Zero 7 and Suede to My Bloody Valentine…
GH: To Counting Crows. David Gray. Al Green.

BL: Al Green?!
GH: Yeah, I opened for Al Green years ago in Vicar Street in Dublin. It was brilliant.

BL: Are you a keen music fan yourself. Do you keep up with new music?
GH: I go through phases. I’m not someone who is constantly listening for whatever’s out there. I have to just find it myself, and I do listen to the radio a lot, just for that song. And I love when I find it myself. When somebody goes to me “You’ve gotta check out this band” there’s no connection. I need to hear a song by accident and once I’ve heard it, and it gets in, I’ll love that band forever.

BL: Have any bands had that effect on you recently?
GH: A weird spectrum of bands. Foster The People. I just think they’re absolutely brilliant. They just make me happy but there’s real substance to what they do. It sounds light when you hear it first but there’s a lot going on. Bon Iver is just blowing my mind at the moment too. Fleet Foxes too. They were a band that, once I heard them, I just thought “At last!” And there’s a French songwriter called Melanie Laurent. She was in Inglorious Basterds. She’s an actress as well. She’s made this album with Damien Rice and it is stunning!

BL: So after this tour and the summer festivals, what’s next? More recording?
GH: Definitely. I’m kinda working from home on new stuff.

BL: Where is home now?
GH: I’m not sure (laughs). Right now, it’s Dublin, but then I go to Los Angeles for a little bit.

BL: So, you’re happy with the way things are going?
GH: Really happy. Everything’s simplified.

Interview & photos – Steve Gerrard

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