Did you miss Julie Feeney? The Ir­ish star tells Tony Clay­tonLea about her new al­bum,

Julie Feeney has al­ways op­er­ated be­yond the bounds of con­ven­tion and has never been afraid of big state­ments. “I’m ac­tu­ally at a stage where I’m quick at re­al­is­ing the ideas I have in my head, and then ex­e­cut­ing them,” she tells Tony Clay­ton-lea

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FRONT PAGE -

SHE IS, let there be no non­sense about it, one of the most ad­ven­tur­ous mu­si­cians that Ire­land has ever pro­duced. We’re not just talk­ing about Julie Feeney the per­former and the way she might wear an out­landish hat; or Julie Feeney the singer and the way she might quiver a quaver in your gen­eral di­rec­tion.

No, we’re talk­ing about Julie Feeney the song­writer, who op­er­ates so far out­side the usual “song­writer from Ire­land”con­ven­tions that she might as well be from a dif­fer­ent uni­verse. Feeney has, over the past six years, con­tin­u­ally con­founded us – and al­ways, it would seem, in the right way.

She be­gan worm­ing her way into the pub­lic con­scious­ness in the mid-2000s with her de­but al­bum, 13 Songs. That the al­bum won the (in­au­gu­ral) Choice Mu­sic Prize came as much of a sur­prise to her as to the pub­lic, but it set her up – pro­vi­sion­ally, at least – for al­bum num­ber two, the high-qual­ity pages. That al­bum has few, if any, points of com­par­i­son: it is, quite sim­ply, a bril­liant pop record made with an or­ches­tra in a way that you’ve never heard be­fore.

And now comes Clocks, Feeney’s third al­bum. The new record is an­other high point in the in­vig­o­rat­ing ca­reer of a per­son whose back­ground isn’t in pop (or rock) at all, but in rather less com­mer­cial ar­eas such as choral singing/com­pos­ing, sonol­ogy, con­tem­po­rary dance and opera.

Clocks sees Feeney reach some kind of mat­u­ra­tion point, one which puts her quirky cre­ativ­ity in per­spec­tive. But the al­bum also high­lights the cur­rent mu­sic busi­ness dy­nam­ics that an artist of Feeney’s in­creas­ing stature has to ne­go­ti­ate – artists’ fees are be­ing re­duced but the qual­ity of the work they pro­duce (or are expected to) is not. Some­thing else has emerged, cru­cially, since the re­lease of 13 Songs, and that is the ab­so­lute ne­ces­sity for an artist of Feeney’s visual aware­ness to align her­self with YouTube.

“In terms of vi­su­al­i­sa­tion,” says Feeney, “ev­ery­thing hap­pens in se­quence in my head. The first part is the song – I’ve found it’s im­pos­si­ble to vi­su­alise things when I’m cre­at­ing the song. I first like to fo­cus on the words, then the mu­sic, then the mix­ing/mas­ter­ing, and then the se­quenc­ing of the songs for the al­bum.

“When you’re so into the mu­sic, you know you want some­thing to be visual, but it’s rarely, if ever, there from the start of the song­mak­ing process. For ex­am­ple, when I’d fin­ished pages, I hadn’t re­ally wanted to do any­thing on the visual side, but it ended up that quite a lot of videos were done for it, and I’m do­ing that more and more these days.”

An­other change for Feeney is that while 13 Songs was re­leased on her cottage-in­dus­try la­bel, Mit­tens, pages had a brief align­ment with a ma­jor la­bel. With Clocks, how­ever, she is back once more in full con­trol in cot­tagein­dus­try mode – al­beit this time with a few out­houses at­tached.

“What hap­pens as you go along is that, as the re­spon­si­bil­ity of you as an artist gets big­ger, then so do the ex­pec­ta­tions of the au­di­ence. I now have peo­ple who re­turn to my shows more and more – and I didn’t have that at the very be­gin­ning – and you need to have much more in or­der for the third record, par­tic­u­larly when you have a more de­vel­oped au­di­ence. So now the la­bel side of it for me has be­come re­ally large. I have to fund it all, of course, but I’ve got peo­ple help­ing out on that side of things.”

Feeney didn’t al­ways have peo­ple help­ing her out. Back in the mid-2000s, be­fore the Choice Mu­sic Award gong gave her and the al­bum a higher pro­file, she walked into record shops in Dublin and Gal­way with copies of 13 Songs in a carry-all, pitch­ing a few sales here and there.

“Un­be­liev­able, isn’t it? And I’m still do­ing it! This morn­ing I made a phone call to a record shop in Tralee. It’s just a quick hello to let them know that Clocks is on the way. But, yes, it’s got­ten a lit­tle bit big­ger.

“With 13 Songs, the only peo­ple who were

“An aw­ful lot of cre­ativ­ity is taken up with pro­cras­ti­na­tion, but that’s just your process. You need to walk around with the ideas in your head un­til they cook”

go­ing to come along to my shows were those who were in my pa­per phone book and my mo­bile phone book. But at more re­cent shows, you kinda know it’s go­ing to be full of peo­ple you prob­a­bly don’t know, so the ex­pec­ta­tions of ev­ery­thing you do are go­ing to be higher and higher. I was prob­a­bly more se­cure when I first started be­cause there wasn’t the drain of the money there is now. There’s an aw­ful lot of multi-job­bing and over­lap­ping. You have to work harder, far harder, than you did be­fore.”

This is no bother to Feeney, as she un­folds an out­line for her forth­com­ing na­tion­wide tour, wherein she will visit 10 venues with 10, re­spec­tive, lo­cal choirs.

“We had to se­lect 10 of the best choirs we could find, and that in­volved re­search into what they had done be­fore, be­cause this is def­i­nitely not a community mu­sic project, which would have had a to­tally dif­fer­ent fo­cus.

“Ba­si­cally, I wanted to get choirs that are as pro­fes­sional as pos­si­ble – they may not be run on a pro­fes­sional ba­sis, and they may not ac­tu­ally be pro­fes­sional, but the idea is that I wanted to get them to sound as pro­fes­sional as pos­si­ble. I picked 10 of my songs – all from pages – and scored them for choir. It’s a mon­strous undertaking, but the choirs are just great.

“I adore the sound of a-capella voices and I wanted the qual­ity of that for the shows. The essence is that it’s my show, so I had to fuse my take on things with them. But it’s worked so well – I see it as an­other colour added to my

mu­sic and work.”

Kalei­do­scopic pop? Pop mu­sic and choirs? Pop mu­sic and orchestras? Pop mu­sic and odd­shaped head­gear? It’s all to play for as far as Feeney is con­cerned – blend­ing not so much gen­res as con­cepts, and com­ing up with an end re­sult that is as much headspace as heartache.

“An aw­ful lot of cre­ativ­ity is taken up with pro­cras­ti­na­tion,” she posits, “but that’s just your process. You need to walk around with the ideas in your head un­til they cook. And a lot of cre­ativ­ity comes down to lo­gis­tics – the en­tire process is taken up with those. Now I’m ac­tu­ally at a stage where I’m quick at re­al­is­ing the ideas I have in my head, and then ex­e­cut­ing them.”

Ac­cord­ing to Feeney, a sure-fire method of get­ting things done and dusted is to fuse strife with prac­ti­cal­ity. “That way, you don’t dil­ly­dally as much as you once did.”

Al­ready, she re­veals, she has much of the next al­bum swirling around in her head. And, lest we for­get, there is the opera she is de­vel­op­ing to be rolled out next year.

“I’m a lit­tle bit more lib­er­ated from the fear of the work than I used to be,” she ad­mits. “Now, I just get it done. I’m much more there, if you know what I mean, and that’s a good place. I just need to lib­er­ate my­self more from the busi­ness side of things.”

If she did that, Feeney says, she’d sim­ply whack out even more work. “I’ve dis­cov­ered I can write very quickly, the ideas come re­ally fast, and ex­e­cu­tion time is much shorter.”

Julie Feeney. Billy Whizz. You go, girl – you go!

Clocks is re­leased via Mit­tens/Es­sen­tial, Novem­ber 16th (see re­view, page 14). Julie Feeney un­der­takes a na­tion­wide tour from Fri­day, Novem­ber 16th. See juliefeeney.com

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