Maud Lee: ‘The music was meaningfully translated to an audience’

Staging the album ‘was a lightbulb moment’

 

A pivotal moment in my life was moving back to Dublin. I had moved away straight out of college. I finished Trinity in 2007 and moved to New York and spent about four years there. Our band [Maud In Cahoots] was given this exciting opportunity, on paper. It was all the things a person in the pop world would want: a lawyer, brand manager, band manager, a record deal in a disjointed sense, but we had to move to London.

Zoe [Maud’s sister and bandmate] had already decided to do a masters in theatre direction in London. Although I wasn’t particular ready to leave New York yet, we moved to London. That opportunity didn’t really amount to what we hoped it would. After a year we just cut all ties.

After spending another year or so in London, the pivotal moment began when I moved back to Dublin, and was focusing on performance, music, the band. But I had also become somewhat disillusioned with being a lead singer in a band. Music performance wasn’t as fulfilling as it had been initially. I was questioning why. Why didn’t I have the impulse to write? Why wasn’t I getting as much enjoyment out of live shows?

I found it very difficult to transition back to Dublin. I felt like I was an alien at home. I had moved away during such formative years. One of the reasons I went to New York was to have more freedom, not be limited by relationships and friends. I came home a very different person from the person I was when I left.

Theatre had always been a part of my life. My father is an actor, and we’d always gone to see a lot of theatre growing up. I’d done some performance in Trinity, but had focused very much on live gigging. Zoe had done her masters at that stage and was working independently with various theatre companies.

Theatre piece

Myself and Zoe had gone down to Other Voices in Dingle in the winter of 2013 and stayed on afterwards for a couple of weeks in a cottage. The idea was to write songs for the band and we ended up writing loads of stuff. Zoe wanted to combine her work as a theatre director, so we came upon this idea of staging an album rather than recording it in a studio. The idea as a theatre piece was placing a band in a theatre context, that was the basis of what became The Well Rested Terrorist.

I remember before the first performance of it in the Peacock. just walking up and down the stage, and in my head saying just walk off stage and don’t come back. I was so petrified. That transformation that happens before you go on stage, it was a very different process of transformation to a gig.

The impulse was very different and incredibly frightening. I thought I was going to vomit. Then the show began and it was an exciting and re-energising and enlightening experience from the get-go. It was the first time in a long time – maybe ever for me – that the music was meaningfully translated to an audience, and that the audience was present and available to absorb the music. That was a lightbulb moment: performance in context, and how the material is perceived and understood is entirely influenced by the context it’s performed in. As a performer I was thinking: this is what I need to do.

Along with her sister Zoe Ní Riordáin, Maud Lee founded the music and theatre company One Two One Two. Recovery, starring Maud Lee and Peter Coonan, is at Project Arts Centre, Dublin, November 8th-10th.

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