Spirit in the sky
Gemma Hayes is on a roll, composing her first film soundtrack and taking part in a worldwide campaign for women’s equality. ‘I’m definitely happy to be older,’ she tells LAUREN MURPHY
GEMMA HAYES sinks into a comfy armchair by the sun-streaked window of a Dublin hotel. It’s safe to say that she is content right now, though it took a while for her to get to this point. Ten years and three albums have passed since the release of her debut, Night on My Side, and while the record was an auspicious start to the Tipperary woman’s career – it bagged a Mercury Music Prize nomination – it hasn’t all been plain sailing.
“I’m definitely happy to be 10 years older,” she says, sipping a sparkling water as she mulls over the last decade. “I’ve mellowed out a lot, so I like me better now, personally. Career-wise, I had great fun and it was a great buzz, but age-wise, I was just really not happy for some reason, personally. So I can’t separate the two. Things were brilliant, but there was a lot of expectation and I was miserable as a person. Now, all that stuff is gone and I’m really happy as a person.
“Creatively, I’m happier too, because I’ve got more balls: if I want to do something, I’m just going to do it. Back then, I was struggling with wanting to be accepted by people who I looked up to; thinking that their opinion, their thoughts, their taste was more important than my own.
“That stuff doesn’t matter anymore.”
These days, the gentle, soft-spoken Hayes is a woman who knows her own mind. Incidentally, those two things – femininity and independence – have taken up a good deal of her time in 2012. Firstly, there’s her involvement with Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide – a women’s rights campaign, based on the 2009 book of the same name, which aims to raise awareness of women’s issues through different media. Hayes joined the drive, along with artists such as Sheryl Crow, Alicia Keys, Emmylou Harris and Norah Jones, and her song Sorrow Be Gone was included in the recent 30 Songs/30 Days project.
“I’m part of the National Women’s Organisation, and things like that, but instead of mouthing off about it, I’d rather just support causes and put money into things,” she explains.
“When the people involved in Half the Sky heard that I was involved in that kind of stuff, they contacted me and just asked if I’d put forward a song as part of this compilation, and that all the proceeds would go toward helping women. So it was a no-brainer for me. Because you and I both know that in the world that we live in, if big celebrities get behind something, more people will know about it. When I saw the list of full-on big names that were involved with it, I thought, this is something that is hopefully going to make an impact.” There’s an air of resignation in Hayes’s voice when she speaks about recently reading about the gender pay gap stats and the gender imbalance in industries – music and others. Yet she feels that it’s important to discuss it, nonetheless.