The big, dreamy sounds of Irish outsider Brigid Mae Power
Her second album, recorded in Oregon, is a leap forward. Leaving Ireland helped, she says
Brigid Mae Power: “I’m sometimes scared of what happens to me when I play”
‘I always play the piano with the sustain pedal down. I like things to travel a bit.”
Listening to the dreamy vastness of It’s Clearing Now, the first track on her latest album, one would be inclined to agree with Brigid Mae Power’s assessment of her own sound. Her voice floats and turns above unhurried guitar strums, and distant strings rise up to meet her like waves caught in a squall. It meanders patiently for eight minutes, happy to drift along without a particular destination in mind. “There is a peace inside of me,” she sings, just before the words dissolve into the spray.
Power’s self-titled album is perhaps her first “proper” album. It was recorded at the Sparkle, a recording studio in Oregon operated by folk musician Peter Broderick. Given that her previous album, I Told You the Truth, was recorded by Power while alone and “hiding from the vicar” in St Nicholas’s Church in Galway, was it difficult to adjust to the more pressured environment of the studio?
“I feel like normally it would be, but with Peter it didn’t really feel like a studio at all,” she says. “It was hard to adapt to someone else being there, though. Usually I would just go into spaces on my own and press record. It’s a little less intimate when someone is standing there. It is hard. For my thing, I was very particular about how I wanted my voice to sound, but I knew from how his voice sounds and his recordings that he’d understand what I meant. I really trusted him.”
A fruitful partnership
Talking to Power, the importance of Broderick to the album quickly becomes clear. They met when Power supported the American at a gig in Cobh, after which he invited her to tour the UK with him. From there they went to Oregon to make the album, with Broderick contributing vocals, keys and strings alongside his engineering duties. Power says the pair gelled immediately.
“He’s got a really great outlook. He’s really professional but in a really honest way. He really values things. It’s really refreshing. Things don’t stress him out that stress me out. It’s a different mindset. It’s like I knew that mindset existed but I hadn’t met anyone with it yet. He’s very open. That interests me, that feeling where someone does so much work but it’s not an effort to do it.”
Power has proven herself no slouch over the past five years either, releasing a steady stream of recordings through small labels and her own Bandcamp, all crowned with distinctive, colourful artwork she paints herself. Some of Power’s most powerful material emerged from an abandoned underground car-park in Galway, where she and other musicians gathered to play impromptu gigs, the sound reverberating around the mass of blank concrete. Power says that environment, captured best on Abandon Reason’s compilation I’m in the Abyss!, was an important source of inspiration and encouragement.
“That was just a really special kind of time. All the outsiders kind of joined and found comfort in each other, then all went off to different places again. That was really nice. It’s not about money or anything, it’s just about a feeling of value or appreciation.”
Power seems to take heart from that kind of appreciation, pushing her sound to be stronger and more confident than it has been before. She says that touring outside Ireland has helped her to escape some of the doubts that can creep in at home.
The urge to get out of the country, to explore and to travel is nothing new. It’s a feeling she first experienced as a 17-year-old when she moved to New York by herself, and the longing for that kind of freedom hasn’t left her since.
“I finished my Leaving Cert and went over and decided I was never coming back,” she says, somewhat ruefully. “I felt so repressed [in Ireland] and immediately felt like I could be myself in New York. That feeling has always kind of followed me and I’ve tried to rationalise it out, like ‘You can be yourself wherever’, but I think I do just get tired of being shut down sometimes. Maybe it’s particularly where I live as well, but you can really feel like an outsider if you express yourself at all. I need to be able to be myself now. It’s lovely when you go somewhere and you realise there’s not that critical feeling, that fear that I might do something wrong or I might be laughed at.”
Listening to her new album, it feels like Power is hitting her stride, growing more comfortable as a performer, more able to focus on what matters. She says that music has always been an escape from real life, a release from the pressures of bills, rent and parenting, but she senses it’s becoming a more integral part of life for her, something she can build a life around.
“Before, I wouldn’t play music every day,” she says. “I would just avoid it for so long and then do it when I had to or when I was really desperate to. Now, especially with Peter’s influence, it’s becoming more of a daily thing. But I’m sometimes scared of what happens to me when I’m playing, because I just connect with something. I can almost go into a trance. Sometimes I don’t want to be that. It’s so special for me, though. It took a long time for me to figure out that that was what it was about.”
- Brigid Mae Power is released on June 10th through Tompkins Square Records