Lisa Hannigan on Damien Rice: “He didn’t want me in his band anymore, so I left”

August is Music Month on the Róisín Meets podcast and Lisa Hannigan is the first guest. She plays three songs from her third album, At Swim, and explains why being fired by Damien Rice was for the best

“He didn’t want me in his band anymore, so I left. I know when I’m not wanted!” laughs Lisa Hannigan, describing the end of her working relationship with Damien Rice.

“It was slightly brutal, but absolutely for the best,” she told Róisín Ingle, presenter of the Róisín Meets podcast.

Hannigan met Rice during Fresher’s Week when they were both at Trinity College. He was looking for a singer and she got the job. The pair played their first gig at Whelan’s, throughout which she stood petrified, three feet from the mic, her head down and thumbs through the hooks of her skirt.

She inched her way closer to the mic over the years and, for a time, the pair enjoyed the success of Rice’s debut album O. By the time they parted ways in 2007 however, it had become a “very, very difficult working situation,” she said.

“You know it wasn’t altogether pleasant. I wasn’t very happy – I’m sure people can relate to that – but you mightn’t actually resign. You don’t realise how hot the water is until you get out and so being fired ended up just being the best thing.”

The break happened quickly – “between sound-check and gig” – but it was the push she needed to go out on her own.

“I had notions of having my own record but had never really been able to give it the time that I probably needed to because we were so busy. So then I sorted of dusted myself off and then got my record together,” she said.

That album, Sea Sew, earned her Choice Music Prize and Mercury Prize nominations and she followed it up with the chart topping Passenger. But after touring the latter for two and a half years, Hannigan found it difficult to write.

“I continued to write quite diligently and I would sit down with the guitar and hammer out terrible songs, you know, all day long,” she said.

As luck would have it, an email from Aaron Dessner of The National popped into her inbox asking her if she would like to work together. She said yes and he came on board to produce At Swim.

“Bit by bit, I got song by song that I liked. With Aaron’s help I got the momentum,” she said.

Hannigan is thankful for Dessner’s involvement and she is happy with the record – even if her mother thinks the song titles could be a bit lighter.

“I showed the track listing to my mum and she said, ‘why are all your songs so depressing sounding?’ I said I know, I see that now. Thanks for pointing that out!”

At Swim, the third album by Lisa Hannigan, is out 19th August.

You can hear a live performance of three songs from the album by Lisa Hannigan 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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