Lisa Hannigan had gotten comfortable touring and recording with Damien Rice. But a nudge out of the nest gave her the impetus she needed to record her own debut album. She talks thrills and trepidation with Jim Carroll on the eve of her appearance at this
IT’S A sticky night in Dundalk. Real monsoon weather. All the windows in the Spirit Store are open in an attempt to get some air circulating, but the only thing going round the packed tiny room and down the stairs to the front bar is a buzz of expectation. People are curious about the singer, the one who has yet to release a note of music and who hasn’t yet even played two dozen shows under her own name.
Tonight, Lisa Hannigan is selling her wares. She’s been doing this all summer long, taking a bunch of freshly baked songs and a band of sharply suited players around the country to small, squishy rooms like this. She has dealt with wardrobe malfunctions in Tullamore and banjos going on fire in Headford. People have paid good money to see her, and she has sent them home smiling. And sweating, but that’s the Irish summer for you.
It doesn’t take long for the good burghers of Dundalk to be entranced.
Hannigan’s magic lies in her slender, subtle songs. The arrangements and stylings that anchor them are adventurous, aided by an array of eye- and ear-catching idiosyncratic instruments – harmonium, xylophone, banjo, finger-bells, recorder.
Then there’s Hannigan herself, the star of the fair. She is to the limelight born, with stage presence galore. She banters with the crowd like a pro and without a trace of shyness or gaucheness. At times, she just can’t hide the glee at what’s going around her as audiences are drawn into those songs. It’s the kind of show you don’t see every day.
“I had no idea at the start if people would come out to the shows,” she says. “People know me from The Cake Sale or Damien Rice, but it’s so different to what I was doing before . . . people don’t know that until they’re at the show, and that’s a lot to ask. But I’m very heartened and chuffed by the last few weeks.”
In the mid-morning lull of a Dublin bar, Hannigan is about to do something she’s never really done before. With her debut album, Sea Sew, due out in a few weeks, she now has to start talking about herself. She may have spent the last seven or eight years recording and touring with Rice, but she’s never had to open up about herself when there’s a tape recorder on the table.
“It is hard to adjust to not just being the centre of attention, but also to being in charge. My phone is always on. The merchandise is getting made, the artwork is going to print and it’s me who has to be in control of all these little elements, whereas before, I could just have sat back and let someone else worry about it.
“Genuinely, though, I’m loving it. I’m not daunted by it. And, yes, there are things I’m going to have to get used to, like talking about myself, which will be a bit hard to do, but so was everything else when I started out.”
Hannigan grew up in the Co Meath village of Kilcloon. She danced to Michael Jackson in her living room and learned songs she’d taped from the radio in her bedroom. She remembers working out the likes of Kristin