Through the looking glass: why Lyla Foy won’t go Google-eyed
A musician who puts the music before the celebrity? Strange. But Londoner Lyla Foy, who plays Kilkenny Roots Festival, wants the music to be heard before she is seen
Private view: Lyla Foy. “I’m definitely not a fan of the so-called celebrity culture. . . I’m not at all eager to let everyone know everything about me” Photograph: Oli Deakin
It’s simple: some people don’t like to shout about their talents and skills. Psychologists – amateur and professional – may have things to say about this, but we’re guessing that Londoner Lyla Foy won’t be listening. Or Googling.
Foy is something of a rarity in today’s mixed up, muddled and befuddled music world: not much is known about her. Yes, we know it’s sacrilege, but she seems unconcerned.
“Is a lack of information about me a good thing?” she ponders, in a London accent that’s difficult to place (and no, she won’t say where in the city she’s living). “I’ve only just released my debut album, so it’s all very new to me and everyone else. You’re right, though – I guess I haven’t shared all that much about me. I think I wanted people to hear my music first and foremost, rather than them hearing or reading about me in all manner of places or publications.
“Once the music was heard, I thought that the ‘me’ part should come next.”
Such a decision, it almost goes without saying, was natural and non-strategic. The 20-something singer and songwriter comes across as someone who would give it all up if she were required to compromise her principles for the sake of commerce. You’ve only got to listen to her recently released debut album, Mirrors the Sky , to know that there’s integrity here.
“I’m definitely not a fan of the so-called celebrity culture, so the commerce side of things isn’t necessarily my aim. I want my privacy, I keep myself to myself, and I’m not at all eager to let everyone know everything about me. I’m not going to be one of those people!”
Foy says she started writing songs when she was a teenager, but didn’t perform in a proper live setting until a few years ago. Time was spent in the usual way – playing in various bands, mostly bass and/or lead guitar. More than a year ago, Foy was in a band called Wall, which she fronted – and controlled in polite but firm fashion. Eventually, she says, that project morphed into doing music under her own name.
“I always wanted to front bands,” says Foy, “and not doing so was just a timing thing. There was a time when I was very much used to writing songs with other people, but I suppose I just didn’t have the confidence to write songs on my own or at least with minimal help.”
Judging by Mirrors the Sky , that has changed. “Yes, finally! I still like to collaborate with people, but it’s nice to know that, if I want to, I needn’t call upon people to write songs with. These days, if I collaborate with someone it’s because I choose to, not because I feel I have to.”
Was there a pivotal moment in the past few years when you realised that you didn’t need to collaborate with people? “I felt it bubbling through over a period of time. I felt frustrated with what I was doing – not that there was anything inherently wrong with what I was doing, but it felt like I needed to break out and do it solo. I could hear a sound in my head that I needed to have time to process, as well as knowing when to record it. That took a little bit of planning, but after a few months I just took the plunge.”
What “the plunge” actually means is that, following the posting of a few songs online, and the subsequent clamour for more material, Foy was agreeably pressurised into writing more songs – “perhaps more quickly than I would have done. Yes, it was running before I could walk, but it was very exciting.”
And then came the live shows. Getting what she terms her “weird recorded sounds” into shape as something she could play with a band was, she admits, tricky at first .
“It was pressure, yes, but it was also fun, and ultimately a good reason to up my game. Difficult? Yes, that too, but we caught up – and it wasn’t like there was any pressure from Sub Pop, my record label.”
“Besides,” concludes Foy, a most welcome new name to the game, “I like putting myself under a certain type of pressure and having time limits. It doesn’t work for some people, but it does for me.”
Lyla Foy plays Cleere’s, Sunday May 4th, 8pm, and The Pumphouse, Monday May 5th, 1pm as part of the Kilkenny Roots Festival. Her debut album, Mirrors the Sky , is out on Sub Pop.
5 to root for in Kilkenny
THE WEBB SISTERS
UK sisters Charley and Hattie Webb first came to the attention of most of us through their involvement with the revitalised career of Leonard Cohen, but, as they’ve proven over the past few years, they are very much their own idiosyncratic unit. They have been known to do cartwheels on stage. (Watergate Theatre, Friday May 2nd, 8pm)
HAMELL ON TRIAL
Fifty-something Ed Hamell first picked up a guitar in 1968, and has gravitated from pre-punk to UK punk to US hardcore to where he is now: an anti-folk singer who combines lyrical wit with vitriol. Sample song titles? Go F**k Yourself and I Hate Your Kid . The pitch? Warren Zevon tunes scorched by The Stooges. (Billy Byrne’s, Saturday May 3rd, 6pm; Ryan’s Bar, Sunday May 4th, 7pm)
A songwriter’s songwriter, who has been honing his craft since the 1980s, when he was a member of US indie band Miracle Legion. Mulcahy is held in high esteem by Thom Yorke, Prince, REM, Wilco, and many more; hardly surprising since Mulcahy’s material oozes class, shades of disquiet, and a strong sense of creative commitment. (Kyteler’s, Saturday May 3rd, 9pm; Billy Byrne’s, Sunday May 4th, 5pm)
Dubliner Barry McCormack’s entry point into music was as a member of Dublin band Jubilee Allstars. In his capacity as a solo artist, however, he has not only embraced the genre of the Irish folk ballad but also enhanced it by doing what folk music should do: place social history into context, and connect threads between the commonplace and the macabre. In short, he’s brilliant. (The Pumphouse, Sunday May 4th, 3pm)
Unapologetically traditional – and definitely not “retro” – that’s Kentucky native Simpson, who last year released, to much acclaim, his debut album, High Top Mountain . This guy can deliver everything from heart-breaker ballads to pumped-up roots/rock.The real deal? You better believe it. (Kyteler’s, Sunday May 4th, 9pm; Cleere’s, Monday May 5th, 4pm)