Gemma Hayes: ‘I wasn’t owning my sexuality, I was wearing baggy jeans and t-shirts’

As Music Month continues on the Róisín Meets podcast, the Tipperary singer-songwriter talks about rebelling against music industry pressure to be sexy

 

“I’ve had conversations with the record label and they’re getting in stylists and putting me in clothes and I’m going ‘I’m not doing this’,” says Gemma Hayes about her time as a major label musician.

“I started off in the International Bar in Dublin. It was always about music. Anything about revealing my body or suggesting anything was just not in my world. You grow up in Ballyporeen and you go up to Dublin, I mean you’re just not thinking that way,” she told Róisín Ingle, presenter of the Róisín Meets podcast.

Hayes shot to fame with her debut album, Night On My Side, in 2002 which earned her a Mercury Prize nomination and thrust her onto the international stage.

A major label record deal followed and she upped sticks to Los Angeles, where the pressure to be a sexy popstar was overwhelming.

“At the time I wasn’t owning my own femininity and my sexuality. I was hiding it. I kept wearing baggy jeans and baggy t-shirts. I had somehow picked up along the way as a teenager that to be feminine was weak and I had to hide it,” she said.

She recorded her second album in Los Angeles under pressure from the label to make it a pop hit. They were not happy with the result and just weeks into a tour she was dropped.

“It was tough on the ego,” she admits, but the upside has been that since then she has made the type of music she loves without having to fight for it.

“It brought me right back to the love that I had for music and got rid of all the distractions,” she said.

Three albums on, and with what she calls a “small but dedicated fan base”, the mother of two says music is taking a backseat for now as she focuses on family life in London with her husband Stuart Musgrave.

She is still writing for other artists however after signing a publishing deal. Hayes also wrote and recorded a song for the album Starboard Home, a collection of tracks by Irish musicians inspired by Dublin Port.

You can hear four songs by Gemma Hayes and listen to the full conversation with Róisín Ingle in the latest Róisín Meets podcast on Soundcloud, iTunes, Stitcher or irishtimes.com

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