'I grew up in the industry so I never saw it through rose tinted glasses' - Chloe Agnew talks solo career, famous parents, and #MeToo
In Ireland she knows she’s probably still best known as the eldest daughter of Twink and David Agnew, but beyond our tiny island Chloe Agnew has forged a hugely successful career as an artist in her own right.
The 29-year-old Dublin singer was a member of the phenomenally successful Celtic Woman from the age of 14 (among their achievements is a cool 81 weeks at No 1 on the US Billboard World Music chart) until she left to pursue a solo career at the age of 25.
Based in LA, she’s now back in Ireland with a new EP and new video showcasing that new solo sound and she tells Independent.ie that while revealing her new material is exciting, it’s also a daunting prospect, particularly here in Ireland where we’re a ‘tough crowd’.
“It’s funny, you come home here and when you feel like you’ve done something good at home it’s twice the reward – the Irish are a tough crowd to please!” she laughs.
“That’s why I love us too. I do think there’s no bullshit with the Irish people. They like what they like and don’t like what they don’t. There’s no insincerity. They’re real and genuine and when they really enjoy something you now it’s 100 per cent real and they’re not having you on. I love that.”
Her new EP, The Thing About You, has just been released on iTunes and the upbeat pop video of the song of that title is racking up views on YouTube.
She co-wrote the songs with her producer so they’re very personal, and it’s the first time she has ever laid herself bare, in a song-writing sense, for her fans.
“And also because it’s just such a different sound to anything I’d explored before, it was very, very nerve-wracking,” she says.
However, she adds, “It sounds clichéd, but it was almost as soon as I stopped caring what other people thought and just 100 per cent committed to the project mentally and physically and just went, ‘look, if it makes me feel good and this feels real to me then I hope people can see that and feel that'.
“Genuinely, since it released the reaction has been more real and more rewarding than anything I’ve ever done in my life. I really want to believe that sense of just when you are content with what you’ve made other people really connect with that.”
For any artist who has had enormous success in tandem with other artists as part of a group or via songwriting, their ensuing solo work is often held up to those same dizzying high standards.
However, Chloe does not feel any pressure to achieve the figures of Celtic Woman.
“The only thing we can take comfort from, and I don’t think this is any cop out or excuse, but I do believe the industry nowadays is very different to the one when I was in Celtic Woman 13 years ago,” she says.
“We were pre-YouTube, pre-Netflix, pre digital streaming and I think there were certainly different ways of consuming music, of buying it, and those physical sales were huge for Celtic Woman because that was the platform, that’s how it worked, and I think now I don’t necessarily feel scared that I have to sell millions of CDs.”
She adds, “You can have great success but it might not necessarily be in stats and figures. You can have success with social media outreach, releasing music and being everywhere online, by having a video out there you can really connect with people.
“The truest thing I have learned is as soon as you stop kind of comparing and thinking ‘I have to get to this level’ you enjoy it so much more. I realise the model has changed and the whole face of the industry has changed. It takes the pressure off.”
It’s clear she has a deep understanding of the industry, having been raised within it from birth - at just four weeks old she appeared in her mother Twink’s TV show.
“I grew up in the industry so I never saw it through rose tinted glasses. It’s how my family put bread on the table,” she says.
“I’m very much aware of how it changes and continues to change but it’s about finding your place in it and realising you’ve got something you want to share with people and that’s kind of all that matters. It sounds hippy dippy but it’s true!”
Chloe’s single, The Thing About You, boasts a video that is reminiscent of Pharrell Williams’ Happy or Justin Timberlake’s Can’t Stop the Feeling in terms of its infectious feel-good factor. It features people Chloe knows in LA who have all battled their own challenges in life from bullying to autism and shyness.
“When I play The Thing About You people presume it’s about a person – actually I wrote it about Ireland. I was kind of trying to move on and move away to LA, move away from Celtic Woman, and everything I’d known and I realised what kept me grounded was coming home,” she says.
“Everybody who is in the video has battled through their own challenges. The kid with the guitar has autism, one of the boys found music after he was so badly bullied. They have these amazing stories to share. They’re all people I know and love and I wanted to make a video exactly like that.
“We live in such crazy, dark times now so I wanted to make a video that at least will make you smile, feel a bit better, and I think we captured that. “
Chloe has been based in LA since she departed Celtic Woman and has toured all over the world in the interim. Her boyfriend, Dermot Kiernan, is also a musician and they will perform together in a series of shows over the summer.
Next Sunday June 24th she’ll take to the stage at the National Concert Hall for a special concert celebrating the songs of Burt Bacharach alongside Brian Kennedy, Melanie McCabe, Luike Thomas, Sheena Maguire and the O’Neill Sisters.
“To be on that stage... it’s one of those things where growing up we were watching mam and dad on it over so many years and so many idols performing on that stage. There’s always a great sense of pride as an Irish person to be on the National Concert Hall stage. There’s something really really special about it.”
Her mother, Adele King, will of course be in the front row, “singing every bloody word!” she laughs.
“She came out to me last night, I was rehearsing in the house, one of the songs from the show, and she turned around to me and said, ‘Do you know the first time I heard that song live I was two rows from the front with Dione Warwick singing to me?’ I was like, ‘Cool, no pressure!’”
It’s clear they have a warm relationship. Chloe describes her mum as a “strong woman” and credits her with protecting her from any potential nastiness or harassment in the industry, issues highlighted in recent months in the wake of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements.
Although she was shielded from it in a personal sense, Chloe says that does not mean she was not aware of it over the years. She says there is a belief that the entertainment industry is ‘glamorous and doesn’t have as many rules as a 9-5 job’.
She describes it as “a breeding ground for this kind of behaviour to carry on” and adds, “There’s almost more of a blind eye turned to it and it’s considered part of the industry and it’s not. The fact it’s being exposed is fantastic.”
In terms of how women themselves operate within the industry she says men with ambition and drive are commended while women who exhibit those same qualities are often derided.
“Particularly with women there’s this idea that kindness is weakness and you can be kind and sweet and be a pushover. And I’ve noticed in this industry I’m in, because it’s so male driven a lot of the time, you find that in order to have your voice heard you have to be a little bit more out there, more brave than you normally would and, consequently because of that, if a man is heard to speak up and have opinions and say this is what he wants he’s a powerful, successful man who knows what he wants. When a woman does it she’s known as a bitch.”
Things are changing, however, she says, adding, “I think for women to have a place to be heard and to have an opportunity for that now is very powerful for us, particularly in an industry that hasn’t always had that same equality.”
Chloe was very young when she left Ireland to join Celtic Woman, and she believes it was necessary for her to forge her own path as an individual away from the country in which she was predominantly viewed as the daughter of two people with high profiles.
“For sure myself and my sister [Naomi] our whole lives growing up in Ireland we have always been the children of Twink and David Agnew. That’s something we take pride in but I think there definitely is an air of ‘Oh well, they only do that because of who their parents are’ when we do it here,” she says.
“For both of us getting out to work internationally has allowed us both to feel a sense of ownership in what we do. What we do is our thing. We’re lucky to have talent and skills from what we’re made up of and we’re walking out in the world to prove our own worth and that’s a great thing for both of us.
“With Celtic Woman – that’s my success over there and something I have total ownership over and my little sister is incredibly successful on the Food Network in America. We’re going outside of the circles we move in and know and having success.”
While a solo singing career is her main focus right now, Chloe has other ambitions too. Once she fled the Celtic Woman nest she vowed never to be ‘locked into one thing again’.
“I’m really enjoying the freedom of different projects. The last five years have been so diverse, everything from touring with orchestras to touring with Nathan Carter, performing with military bands in Africa. I think it has helped me to grow as a person and I can only hope to continue to do that.
“I’m also realising life is so short. There are lots of other things I really want to focus on. I’m trying to write a children’s book and I want to start my own company at some stage. I want to venture a little more into acting. There are loads of things on the list to be tackled!"
Chloe's new EP, The Thing About You, is available on iTunes and available to order on www.chloeagnewofficial.com Chloe will perform in Bacharach at 90: Celebrating the Songs of Burt Bacharach and Hal David on Sunday June 24 at the National Concert Hall