Saturday 24 August 2019

Beyonce with a Cork accent... Could Lyra be Cork's next musical superstar?

Speaking on stage terrifies her, but when Lyra opens her mouth to sing, she believes that she’s Beyonce. That is, Beyonce with a strong Cork accent and a stage presence that speaks of ‘Game of Thrones’. Lyra tells Sarah Caden how she sold baby food to fund her early singing career; how an RTE drama set he on a path to a record deal, and how the producers of Nashville and LA are banging on her door

Lyra wears: Coat, Pritch London. Shoes, Simmi Shoes. Photo: Patrick McHugh
Lyra wears: Coat, Pritch London. Shoes, Simmi Shoes. Photo: Patrick McHugh
Lyra wears: Dress, Zarvich. Photo: Patrick McHugh
Lyra wears: Dress, New Girl Order. Bra (worn underneath), Elissa Poppy. Boots, Ego Official. Corset belt, Pritch London. Photo: Patrick McHugh

Six months ago, Lyra had her heart broken. She was devastated, but everyone around her kept telling her that heartbreak was songwriting gold. Use it, they told her. But for four months, Lyra couldn't write a thing.

"People said that it could be a turning point for me, creatively," Lyra says over coffee in the medieval-style surroundings of Smock Alley Theatre. "They were saying this, and I couldn't believe that anyone could be so cold. My heart had been ripped out of me. I couldn't write. It's only the past two months that it's come back, and the songs have started flooding out of me. I'm, like, 'What's happening to me?' It's so bad, but so good."

"I mean," Lyra qualifies, "it's sad that it did happen. But if it hadn't happened, I don't think I would be going to LA. I don't think I'd be going to Nashville. Maybe these opportunities wouldn't have even come about if it hadn't happened, because I wasn't working 110pc, because I wanted to go home to him, or I wanted my Sundays, or I wanted to go out and get drunk with him on Saturday and be hung-over on Sunday. But you can't do that when you're in my position. In my position, you have to be married to your work."

Lyra has sworn off romance for now, but that doesn't mean she's not in love. The music is the big commitment, she explains, and the roller coaster of pieces falling into place and opportunities arising has the buzz of a brand-new love affair.

Lyra wears: Coat, Pritch London. Shoes, Simmi Shoes. Photo: Patrick McHugh
Lyra wears: Coat, Pritch London. Shoes, Simmi Shoes. Photo: Patrick McHugh

"I'm so excited," she says, rubbing her hands together with undisguised glee. Her imminent visits to LA and Nashville are by invitation, in order to write songs for potential movies and with interested producers, respectively. She is also working hard on her recording deal with Polydor and Universal Records. It's a three-single deal, with potential for an album.

"And they say I've enough good songs for an album already," she says, delightedly.

Lyra is in Dublin to promote her forthcoming Irish gigs, and also to appear on the final of Ireland's Got Talent, appearing with the winners of last year's series to perform her song, Falling. On stage, the star quality shines out of her. She's a vision of contrasts - her white-blonde hair against her black clothes; floaty layers over leather and knee-high boots. The song cascades out of her, the big voice at odds with her small frame. There's something of Florence Welch in her voice and something of Game of Thrones about the overall effect, and along with both, an impression that Lyra is very much of the moment.

And, as it goes, Lyra is having a moment. It's what she's been working for a long time, and it's all taking her a long way from her west Cork beginnings, even if the accent is undiminished - even, significantly, in her singing voice.

Lyra is her real name. She gets asked that a lot.

"It is one of my names," she says. "You know the way Irish people have, like, 15 names. So it is one of my names, and I had always loved that part of my name. And when I became an artist, I didn't want a fake name. I wanted to keep it real, and my music isn't about things that haven't happened, but I didn't just want to be just Joe Soap, either. So I thought, 'I love this name, I'm going to use it'. And then everyone started calling me Lyra, and now that's it. Even my family call me Lyra."

Lyra wears: Dress, New Girl Order. Bra (worn underneath), Elissa Poppy. Boots, Ego Official. Corset belt, Pritch London. Photo: Patrick McHugh
Lyra wears: Dress, New Girl Order. Bra (worn underneath), Elissa Poppy. Boots, Ego Official. Corset belt, Pritch London. Photo: Patrick McHugh

Embracing change

Lyra grew up in west Cork until her late teens, when the family moved to Cork city. The move was a happy one, Lyra says. She loved west Cork, but her older brother and sister had already moved away and she was happy to embrace a change. Lyra had already finished school, so it felt like the right time for a new beginning.

"The sooner I could get out of school, the better," Lyra says with a laugh. "Music was always the thing for me, but I didn't even dream you could be a solo artist."

Lyra sang all the time as a child. She wrote songs and entered poetry competitions, and loved to perform.

"My parents sent me to drama classes and I loved them, but the actual acting - I was terrible at it, shocking," Lyra says. "I hated it. I was, like, 'Can't I just sing the lines?' Because the second I sing, I'm fine."

She likens her situation to someone with a stammer, who finds that the words come out broken when they speak, but flow when they sing. "If I had to say lines, I'm, like, sweating and shaking," she adds. "But when I sing, suddenly I think I'm Beyonce.

"When I stop singing and start talking, people can't really put the two personalities together. They don't match. But when I get into the singing and I'm really passionate about it, I'm very dramatic - but then I speak, and I'm just..." She pauses and switches to a timid little voice. "Hi guys, how's it going? I'm Lyra."

More than three years ago, Lyra decided that if she was committed to her music, she had to move to London. Her parents still argue that thanks to the internet, you can make your music anywhere, and collaborate with people on the other side of the world, if needs be, but she's not moving home any time soon.

Lyra's dad, in particular, worried about her putting all her eggs in the basket of music, but she wasn't to be swayed. "I'm a very strong person," she says, laughing. "I never want to have a plan B, because it would be like I'm giving up on plan A, but my dad's a very plan-B person.

"I wasn't planning on staying in England," Lyra explains. "It was just to give it a whirl. Then, when I started making connections, I realised there were so many people there - writers, producers, artists. So I thought. 'This is the place I want to be'."

London didn't last long for Lyra, however. She hated the fast pace and the anonymity, and she was lonely. After six months, she moved to Brighton, and has settled there. It's small and friendly and more in keeping with her, creatively. The elemental quality of her music lends itself to the surrounding sea, in which Lyra swims almost every day of the year.

Though she was writing songs for years and writing constantly, Emerald, which Lyra wrote for her grandmother, was her breakthrough track three years ago.

"I put Emerald up online as a tester, and it went a bit crazy," Lyra recalls. "I don't know why. People were just downloading it and BBC Music Introducing [which invites music uploads and plays what it considers the best on offer] played it, and I was like, 'How are you even doing that? It's a demo'. It was so raw. I was putting it up on SoundCloud just to see if people liked it. I didn't send out any emails or promote it, it was just a case of seeing if I could or couldn't do this job. So much happened really fast after that, probably within a month or two. Then I got called in to a lot of record labels.

"I knew I had to sell myself," she says of the record-label meetings she attended all on her own."But I knew myself I wasn't ready to sign a major record deal at that point. I wasn't ready. I wasn't going in there hoping to be signed. I knew that most likely I'd get a rubbish deal that I'd be stuck in for a very long time, and I knew I wasn't ready. I'd written one song."

Then Lyra met her manager, with whom she says she gets on "like a house on fire". She wrote her EP, Wild, and self-released it, all the while hoping she had made the right move in resisting a record deal.

Paying the bills

"Rupert Christie [who has worked with U2, Coldplay, and Jessie J] produced it with me, and he was so kind. The EP is very poetic, you really see my poetic elements in it."

In the meantime, Lyra was paying the bills by doing food demonstrations in supermarkets, and sometimes working in a bar in the evenings, too. There were low times, she says, when she wondered if a plan B might have been a good idea.

"I'd be walking home from a day selling baby food thinking, 'I'm dead inside, my soul is dead', because I'd not have written for the week," she recalls. "I'd think, 'Am I a professional sales person? Because that's what I feel like'. But then I'd have to say to myself, 'Well, even if you'd taken a record deal, you'd probably still be doing this because your deal wouldn't have great, because you were too young, too naive for it'.

"If I'd left myself open to being dropped by a major record deal, because I wasn't ready for it, then that would have been the end of me," Lyra says, categorically. "I'm proud that I didn't jump at it, because I wasn't ready."

She was ready, however, after the release of Wild, when a produced and polished version of Emerald took on a life of its own. Her phone never stopped pinging after it was used in the RTE drama Striking Out, starring Amy Huberman, in January 2017.

"When it got synced on Striking Out, it was a major thing because people didn't know who the hell I was, and it just went a bit nuts. I was getting messages from all over. People were, like, 'Do you have any other music?' And I was, like, 'Oh yeah, it's on Spotify'. Then it just kept on getting synced. It was on Teen Wolf in America, which was amazing. All the Made in Chelseas, X-Factors, Towie, all of them ended up using it."

Syncing is when a TV show, movie, or even video game uses a piece of an artist's music, paying an upfront fee and, potentially, ongoing royalties for ongoing use. It's all very well, Lyra agrees, telling people to check you out on Spotify, but that doesn't put food on the table. Syncing, these days, is how a lot of artists not only get well known, but also make a living.

"Then Guinness picked it up [for an ad] and I never thought in my wildest dreams that would happen. And it was confirmed on my birthday. My dad was, like, 'You've made it baby!'" Lyra concludes, with a laugh.

"When people hear my music, they say it's very syncable," Lyra explains, "because it's very cinematic. So I'm very lucky that I lend myself towards that. It's extremely hard to make money off your music these days, even if, like me, you're the sole writer on the music.

"So the syncs are great to get. And some people write just for sync. I couldn't do that. I write for me, and if it gets syncs, then great. So many people have great livings off it. And, you know, you have to take every day as it comes in the music business, but if it happens that I can't be an artist any more, then that's something I'd love to do."

Taking the deal

One of her songs was a possible sync for a Fifty Shades of Grey film, Lyra confides, but aside from the syncs, a whole world of songwriting opportunities have opened up to her, along with the recording deal she finally took with Polydor and Universal.

She talks about working with Norwegian songwriters and how their minutely ordered method of writing meshes with her "more organic" style. She talks about how she's greedy for writing songs to sing herself, but is learning slowly how to write songs for other voices with different styles. She has been invited to Nashville to songwrite with them, and also to LA, where it's going to be about writing for movies. Lyra is practically pinching herself as she maps out these months ahead.

"David Guetta's camp have reached out to me for one of my songs and stuff," Lyra says, laughing.

"I want this to be the year when I give everything a go," Lyra says, wholly focused on the work. "Because as I've said, this is a business where you can be the hottest and then the 'nottest', and if that happens, I want to be able to look back and say, 'That was such a great experience, I gave it my all and loved it'."

Lyra will perform at Cyprus Avenue, Cork, on Tuesday, 28 May; Grand Social, Dublin, on Wednesday, 29 May

Photography by Patrick McHugh

Styling by Avigail Collins

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