“For some reason I just really love that dark side of things” – Interview with Laura Sheeran

Let’s first talk about your new album. It was financed by the pledge system. Would you say that that is a possible way for artists to get a chance to release their music in the age of downloads and a decreasing relevance of music for younger people?  What has been your experience so far? 

My experience of crowd-funding so far has been largely positive, there have been a few things that I might do differently if I was to use crowd-funding again, but I think that should be expected when trying out something new. I think over time crowd-funding will become more widely used and also more refined as a system. We are very lucky in Ireland to now have fundit.ie, an invaluable asset to Irish culture. Fund It cater for all sorts of projects, theater, science research, books, films and of course music. When I did my campaign I was forced to look abroad for a crowd-funding base, but since the  launch of fundit.ie there has been a HUGE increase in Irish acts (successfully) funding their albums through crowd-funding. It really is working very well! Creating ways to involve your fans directly in the production of your music and strengthening the bond between the writer and the listener sort of reinforces the fact that music has a value and it must be supported in order to continue being made, especially on an independent level.

There were quite a number of musicians involved and the recordings took place over a couple of years. What can you tell us about the recording process? 

All the people who played on the album are friends and most of their stuff was recorded kind of randomly. I remember when I recorded the cello with Kate, we had to record in the kitchen because it was the only room in the house that the neighbors wouldn’t complain. They had called the Guards earlier in the week when I was recording the harp for The Fresh Blood. They were the neighbors from hell, always calling the police on me. Anyway, we had no mic stand either so I was holding the mic trying to keep it still after quite a significant mount of wine. They are all really funny memories to look back on now. We recorded some vocals, the drums, the rhodes and the choir parts in the studio during the mixing sessions, but everything else on the album was recorded in a similar make-shift circumstance as above!

When one thinks of  “blood“ and “lust“, Eros and Thanatos come to mind. At what point in the recording process did you realize that you wanted to divide the material between two discs? Was it a conscious and sudden decision or did these ideas evolve gradually?

Initially the album was going to be called ‘The Fresh Blood’, and I did not mean it literally, as is dripping red blood from inside an animal.. I meant it in terms of a new wave of people, my generation I guess, and what changes they would bring to the world.  Over the course of a year or two as I tried to organize how to fund my album in it’s final stages, I fell in love and all of a sudden wrote a huge amount of new material. THIS is where the Lust of Pig half came from! I knew I potentially had another album on my hands but couldn’t face the idea of waiting another two years or whatever to get to release it so I made the bold decision to combine the two and release a double album. It certainly would have been a cheaper option to pack them both onto one disc, but they were two separate bodies of work and I felt it was important to respect that and not force it all onto one disc just for financial reasons.

Can you say a few words of your process of composing? Do you start with words or with music?

I always start with music, I never really think about it too much and it’s not a rule I have or anything it just always seems to happen that way! I improvise when I’m writing so in that way it’s always a very organic process. I rarely think about it or make a plan for what type of song I want to write that day…. I just play and experiment and see what comes out. Often after I’ve begun a new piece I actually find it quite hard to remember how exactly it came about and a lot of the time it’s a mistake that turns out to be magical or something I might wake up with in my head that I’ll just record right away on my laptop before I even get out of bed so as not to forget it! A WAKE, my new single was written like that, I just woke up with the melody in my head. Once I have a base or some sort of foundation laid down then I begin to hear ideas, how to develop it, vocal melody ideas and things like that. I pretty much have to be alone for that bit.

I (and I think I’m not alone) have the impression that your debut is a rather mature album. To what extent have the preceding limited releases served as a kind of preparation? 

The preceding limited releases/EP’s we all written after the album material was written so they were not so much serving as a preparation for the album but more experimenting with how I might like to move forward with my music after the album. I ended up releasing them before the album due to many different things. Firstly, the album was taking so bloody long I wanted people to know that I hadn’t disappeared – I needed to keep the flow moving – but also, releasing something digitally is free to do and there is no waiting around for stock or having to managing an online shop. It was a perfect way for me to give people a taster of some of my music without blowing the cover of the album material. The album grew over a long period of time before it was fully completed so the album is ‘mature’ in that way, but in terms of my writing and playing/singing it is not mature at all! The complete opposite in fact. It’s as if it was a college degree or something. Spend 4/5 years studying and at the end you have a degree, I had an album!

There is the cliché that people tend to be more creative when they’re sad. Given some of your song topics and the overall mood of your album this seems to apply to you as well. Do you think that observation is correct?

I think for some people that is definitely the case yes, but I’m not sure if this is true for me to be honest. I seem to still write songs like this even when I am in a really good space and feeling on top of the world! I think in my case it is more to do with the style that comes out of me rather than my emotions dictating how the music might sound. Often when I am feeling upset in real life, I can’t write dark/melancholy music because it’s too upsetting to listening to, it can really make me feel a lot worse sometimes!

I feel some recurring idea of transformation/change in your songs. Would you agree? 

Most of the songs on the album were written at a time when I was really just finding my feet as a young woman. There is a huge transformation of the self when you leave home and begin living as an independent person and I’m sure a lot of that must come across in the songs because that was the time I was in. Our whole lives are spent changing and we’re in a constant state of transformation. It’s something that everyone identifies with and I think it’s easy for people to read that into the songs, the lyrics leave quite a lot to the imagination of the listener.

Your lyrics often seem to hint at things lurking, breaking the thin veneer of the rational. “The fresh blood“ contains disturbing and maybe surreal elements. You played in Fovea Hex for the David Lynch retrospective in Paris. Do you feel any affinity to his work? 

I guess I do in a way, ya. I don’t know a lot of his work admittedly, but I have really enjoyed what I’ve seen and I really like the idea that when he’s writing, he sort of lets the work write itself and even if he doesn’t quite understand it himself in the end it seems to make sense in this strange way. He can stand back and see it. I have always loved working like that too, not everything has to make sense! Its very easy when writing songs to push the lyrics into a narrative or descriptive mode but often I think you can open up a lot more of a narrative than just the words themselves would give if you don’t spell it out. People are forced to wonder about the lyrics and will find whatever it is THEY are going to find, not what I was trying to get them to find. I think as humans we’re drawn to trying to understand things, it’s like a basic instinct or something! It’s very easy to forget that in it’s essence, life is just one big mystery and that’s ok.

One thing interestes me. During the pledge campaign it was possible to order a private concert. How many people ordered one? 

One person! My aunt who lives in west Cork was interested in putting on a gig for her neighbors. Some parts of west Cork are very remote and there aren’t a lot of opportunities to go out or see gigs without driving a significant distance so sometimes they do house gigs which I think is a great idea! Everyone brings a bottle of wine and

they alternate which house hosts the party so it never gets boring. We were lucky enough to be booked (via pledge) to perform at one of these house gigs, we had an amazing time!

You do not only work with music but you also “dabble[...] in film and theatre“ as it says on your website. What can you tell us about your other activities? 

When I was 17 I was asked by a life-long friend of my mothers (and of mine) if I would be interested in writing music for his new one-man show. I agreed and went on to write and perform music for many more of his shows. Some I also took acting parts which was fun and taught me a lot about stage presence and projecting my voice etc. It was also good practice for all the multitasking I would end up doing for my solo performances. When I was living in Galway a lot of my friends were doing film degrees and as a result, there were always soundtrack projects I could get involved in. I did a few for some short films and became more and more interested shooting footage and making videos myself. This has been mainly to accompany my own music but I have also made a couple of music videos for other people, I love working with video.

Taken your interest in different media, would it be ideal for you to combine music, film, acting in one single work? 

I would love to be able to include more theatrical elements in my live performances definitely and also to be able to write atmospheric music more often. PaperDolls has been great for that actually, exercising my ability to write music for theater, visuals and dance all in one! in terms of my own live shows, I hope some day I’ll be able to afford a lighting technician and we can craft a lighting plan for each song. That would really help create the atmosphere live, it’s something that always frustrates me doing gigs and not having the right lighting. Unfortunately though I don’t have the budget for anything like that yet! I’d love to incorporate dance into my music a bit more too.

As you mention PaperDolls, how did this group start? 

PaperDolls started earlier this year when 4 beautiful young women came together to finally peruse their dreams of producing a spectacular multidisciplinary Aerial show! They went all out in their plans to incorporate every element possible, an elaborate sculptural set design of a Paper Maze on which stunning visuals and lights will be projected to create a dream-like world for the audience to get lost in. Once seated in the center of the maze, the audience can experience a multi-sensory overload of Ambisonic soundscapes, stunning evolving costumes and wonderful aerial dance and acrobatics spanning hoop work, rope, silks and a rotating pole. It’s really exciting to have been asked to provide an original score (in surround sound!) for the show, I’ve been working really hard on this body of work! It is a very ambitious project but one that I think will be very successful. There was no budget for the show, PaperDolls also ran a successful campaign with our friends at Fund It to help with the costs of the show, more proof of the value of crowd-funding!

You’ve got a blog called “music for the deep woods“ which you’ve dubbed your “horror blog“. Would you say that it’s necessary to face the dark, to be aware of the sword of Damocles hanging over our heads? 

For some reason I just really love that dark side of things. I like thinking about that fact that someday I will die, imagining how terrifying it would be if someone were to break into my house and attempt to murder me or something – it probably sounds crazy but I just do! I don’t go around living my life scared or anything, I just consider these things from time to time and for me it’s very grounding. It helps me live in the moment and appreciate things working out! I am so so grateful to have a body that still has all it’s limbs for example, but I only realized how lucky I was to have this when I was reading about a woman who was abducted and had her arms and legs severed but survived! People experience the most unusual things in their lives and the really weird things that happen are so much more interesting and fascinating! *Hopefully* they will never happen to me though…

When listenig to your songs there are echos of chamber music, folk, experimental music. Is there any term with which you are not that happy? 

Em, well I don’t really mind what terms people use to describe the music, it’s up to them! I am yet to settle on a ‘genre’ title that I feel comfortable using because, like you say, there are so many different elements in there… it’s hard to decided on the over-all sound.  My favorite description came last month from someone who wrote : ‘Haunting and beautiful, this is the music that hope forgot’! I got a laugh from that one. Generally though I have found that the most common term used for most female singers who produce their own stuff is ‘like Bjork’ which I feel is a bit lazy if you are a music journalist. Don’t get me wrong, it is an honor to ever be compared to her – I’ve been a fan since hearing debut in 1993 aged six! But it seems you are destined to be compared to her if you mix electronic music with classical instruments (and are female). She is so unique and different that there can NEVER be anyone like her. When somebody writes that I sound like Bjork I automatically think, ‘oh no… those readers are going to be so disappointed when they hear my music…!’ Are there really that few women in music for one to draw comparison to? Surely not!