Wednesday 13 November 2019

The secret melancholy of Roisin O

ON SONG: Roisin O during the Windmill Lane Sessions. She begins her Irish tour in October
ON SONG: Roisin O during the Windmill Lane Sessions. She begins her Irish tour in October
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

Roisin O sings like she's telling you absolutely everything that's inside her. Her voice is wracked with yearning and distress - with a bona fide emotional power. Far more emotional power, frankly, than you expect from a 26-year-old.

When she sings Sia's Chandelier for's Windmill Lane Sessions, the words almost viscerally vibrate around the famous Ringsend studio: 'Party girls don't get hurt/Can't feel anything, when will I learn/I push it down.'

Setting aside for one moment that comparisons are odious, Roisin O has been compared to Joni Mitchell and Kate Bush. In truth, she has that kind of energy in her singing voice, as well as very much her own thing. Listening to her current album, the really rather compelling The Secret Life of Blue, Roisin O seems to be attracted, if not drawn to, melancholy (like the aforesaid Ms Mitchell and Ms Bush).

"Yeah, I suppose, for me it is a therapy," she says. "When I'm down, I scribble out lyrics. I write songs and get the feelings out that way. It just happens. So it is definitely a point of catharsis; to get the words down, because in my personal life I'm not really a sad person. When it comes to the music it is an outlet for it."

Is Roisin O almost like a character she enters into when she is writing these vaguely low lyrics? "No, I wouldn't say that. I try to be as honest as I can when I write music. I think that is really important, to put yourself in the lyrics and in the melodies and be honest about what you're writing about, because people will see through it if you are trying to be some persona, or try to put on an emotion. I think that comes across as false."

Is that the dark side of her? "It is definitely a dark side that I have. People don't see it when they meet me. I am quite a happy person, quite a smiley person, but I don't think there's been a point in my life when there weren't lows," she says. The title of her album refers not to anything remotely in the realm of blueness or sadness. "Blue is actually my dog. A little Jack Russell who was named after the Joni Mitchell album Blue. So it all tied in with Joni Mitchell. I was writing that song and I couldn't really get around to writing lyrics."

"I was writing it with Brian Murphy and he had brought me these beautiful chords, this beautiful progression," she explains. "I was to write a top line over it. I felt so inadequate to write over it. Blue was out in the back garden with me, trying to cheer me up, and I started writing the song about her and it sort of became about my own struggle in writing and life."

How is her struggle in writing now? "It is getting better, I think. I think as I get older, it gets easier. I have got more confident, definitely," she says.

But isn't self-doubt and insecurity a natural part of being a good songwriter, of someone who tells the world about the meaning of emotions and indeed existence? "I hope so, because then my songs are deadly!" she laughs. "I'd say it is for some people but maybe not for others. But it is definitely a big part of my process."

What's the difference between Roisin O and Roisin O'Reilly (her brother is Danny O'Reilly from The Coronas and her mother is Mary Black. For me, Roisin O sounds absolutely nothing like her mother)? "I couldn't tell you," she laughs of the difference. "When I'm on stage I am very comfortable - when I'm in front of an audience who are listening to me sing. I suppose as Roisin O I would come across as a more confident person than I am in real life. But you know, I try to surround myself with good people. I am confident around my close friends."

Roisin has an Irish tour in October with shows in Kerry, Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford. Ticket info on She's also playing at Electric Picnic at 4pm on September 6.

To watch the full interview with Roisin O, plus two exclusive performances, see

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