Wednesday 17 October 2018

Escaping the shadow of a famous mum

Musician Roisin O was always conscious of the 'Mary Black's daughter' tag, writes Joyce Fegan

'My Mum told me from a young age, 'You know, Roisin, if this is what you want to do, it's going to be really hard, really, really hard, you're not going to get anywhere quickly and it's going to take this amount of work'." Mum is Mary Black and "this"is music.

For anyone with musical ambitions, a lineage like this would be a much-coveted currency, but Roisin O wants to be "judged" on her own merit and ability. "I don't want to be on their coat-tails," explains the talented singer.

The twenty-something singer-songwriter started gigging and writing music at the age of 16 and then in college, got a band together. In her final year in university (she studied music and geography in UCD), Roisin asked herself the simple question: "Am I going to try or am I not going to try?" Having gone with the first option it was time to get "serious". A year out of college the band headed over to David Odlum, in France, whose work they admired. Odlum has produced music for names like Josh Ritter, Gemma Hayes and the Frames, and they liked their results.

Roisin has this really soft Dublin way of speaking and expressing herself. She grew up in Templeogue, where she's still very much part of the community; playing on the ladies' hockey team and being an active member of the local GAA club. It's not your quintessential rock-star lifestyle, but what she lacks in 'style' she makes up for in substance. On December 10, she'll be supporting Lionel Richie in the O2 in Dublin, she's performed to 6,000 people on a main stage at a festival in Australia and has ambitions to play the Albert Hall. "We hope we'll get there one day."

She describes her sound as folksy, sometimes rocky and sometimes it has a pop-y ambience. "I could put on a Britney Spears' voice, I could try, you know? But no one has your voice, no one could sound perfectly like my voice. I might as well use it because it's unique." Her debut album, The Secret Life of Blue, is testament to this. It's an eclectic mix of sounds but with Roisin's inimitable voice.

She's not just the lead vocalist, she creates the music and lyrics as well. She writes about things that have moved her, personal experiences and sometimes just writes as an outlet for times when she's felt "down or not good enough". The product of her self-doubt is songs and the result is proof in itself that doubt is always her biggest traitor.

In spite of her own second-guessing, she hasn't been too fearful to attempt to pursue her dream, but growing up as part of a famous musical family wasn't always easy. "I was shy when I was younger, I was conscious of people thinking I was cocky because of who my family are. I was just conscious people would think ,'Oh she thinks she's so cool because her mother's Mary Black'. I don't think I became very happy with myself until I got to college."

In college, Roisin had the opportunity to study abroad for a year. She calls it her 'freedom' year. In San Jose, California, nobody knew who she was. When Roisin went to America she was "completely on her own" and she loved it. She travelled all around Canada, California and went down to Mexico, made some "amazing friends", sang in two choirs and all in the surrounds of the "beautiful terracotta buildings" of her university campus.

Roisin's brother Danny, of the Coronas, number one hit song, Heroes and Ghosts, has a line that goes, "It's gonna take a lot of time and a little bit of luck and it's beginning to happen, it's beginning to move". For Roisin things are beginning to shift and she's more than done her fair share of the work. Although the singer believes you have to have the talent first, she also maintains that success in the music industry is "down to chance and luck". Her Late Late Show appearance earlier this year was luck, she claims. There had been a last-minute cancellation for a music slot and her and her band's name was put forward.

In a family of successful musicians it's pretty remarkable that one gene pool can produce so much talent and such diverse talent at that. Roisin says that in interviews in the past the first question had always been "so your mum's Mary Black and your brother's Danny of the Coronas", but that's now been pushed back a bit. It's not the fame that's the curious thing here, it's the fact that she essentially did all the hard grafting herself when she could have easily grabbed on to any amount of coat tails.

At the end of the interview, she contemplates the failure of her dream and how it wouldn't be the end of the world. Not that's she's not passionate or determined, she's simply stoic. But it's going to happen. Up there with the Albert Hall gig is an aim to play in the O2. At the time of talking she doesn't realise that come December, just a few week's later, she'll be there supporting one of the biggest male artists of all time.

Roisin O's album, 'The Secret Life of Blue', is available now from all major record shops. Roisin supports Lionel Richie in the Dublin's O2 Arena on December 10. Tickets can be purchased through Ticket Master.

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