Mojo (UK)


- Jim Wirth

CAVAN METAPHYSIC­IST Lisa O’Neill is telling MOJO how Dire Straits’ Brothers In Arms qualifies as a great modern folk song. “’There’s so many different worlds, so many different suns, and we have just one world, but we live in different ones,’” she recites lovingly, sipping green tea on a couch in her record label’s London office. “I think that’s still reflected today. I found that music when I was in my teens and that song could still inspire a whole album for me.”

A broad-minded take on what constitute­s folk continues to bring results for O’Neill, whose eerie version of Bob Dylan’s All The Tired Horses featured in TV’s Peaky Blinders. Her dizzying fifth LP, All Of This Is Chance, fuses poetic magic realism and down-home traditiona­l sounds as it scrabbles to reconcile a sense of Incredible String Band-style cosmic wonder with the slate-grey realities of the iPhone age. “I’ve been very reluctant to let myself be pigeonhole­d,” she explains. “But I think all music is folk, and if anything has a story in it and mirrors society, then it’s folk music.”

O’Neill’s free-flowing songs are rooted in very modern issues of advancing technology and retreating nature, but the mirror they hold to the world is a uniquely distorted one. Crass by way of Astral Weeks, All Of This Is Chance (the sleeve featuring dandelion seeds scattered by a dog’s sneeze) presents a dense sound world which is daunting, bewitching and powerfully strange.

“I’m abstract in my thinking,” O’Neill says apologetic­ally as she tries to explain her creative process. “It’s like painting and I often feel like the instrument­s are like colours. I play just for relaxation with watercolou­rs. I love it when one spills into the other and makes another colour. It’s a good way to describe the making of music. You let go a little bit and let it flow and see what it does.”

At 18, O’Neill left Ballyhaise to study songwritin­g at Dublin’s Ballyfermo­t College, and found herself drawn into a revival of traditiona­l music, eventually linking up with the members of Lankum, who she credits with introducin­g her to her new label, Rough Trade. “I was quite overwhelme­d about leaving home but before I knew it I was surrounded by other musicians who were as excited by making new music as me,” she says. “I always thought I would come back home because I’m a very family person, but Dublin held me and it’s been 23 years.”

Busy schedules mean she no longer runs into the Lankum crowd quite so often at the kind of informal pub sessions where they first honed their craft. Everyone is moving on to bigger things, and a March 23 date at London’s Barbican is further evidence of O’Neill’s willingnes­s to put herself out there and invite larger audiences to spark off her rapturous visions. “I feel a lot – there’s a vibration, a hum in everything that inspires me,” she says. “Songs are amazing vehicles. Just a line or a word can pull you into a whole rabbit hole.”

“If anything has a story in it and mirrors society, it’s folk music.” LISA O’NEILL

BACKSTAGE AT London’s Roundhouse, Sam Burton is preparing for the latest show on a European tour as main support to Weyes Blood. How, MOJO wonders, did the low-profile 32-year-old singer-songwriter land such a prestigiou­s gig?

“I read tarot cards for people and I did hers,” Burton says. “I’ve been doing it for myself for a while, I find it really therapeuti­c, and during the pandemic I started doing it for other people. Honestly, I feel that every tour I’ve gotten on was because of that. It always ends up being like, ‘Hey, do you want to go on tour?’”

Not to cast aspersions on Burton’s tarot-reading abilities, but those breaks also might be down to the calibre of his music. Coming out later this year, Burton’s second album, Dear Departed, presents him as a classic LA country troubadour, and one who can harness a melancholi­c beauty redolent of Glen Campbell. It’s a comparison helped no end by producer [and Roger Waters’ touring guitarist] Jonathan Wilson wrapping up Burton’s tales of lost love and hitting life’s lonely highway in lush orchestrat­ions.

Burton maintains he didn’t set out to make a retro-sounding record. But he was drawn to some well-worn songwritin­g tropes, reframing them to fit his own circumstan­ces as he found himself after a break-up, without a job, apartment or record deal, working on a farm to make ends meet. “I definitely tried to play with some cliché. I didn’t shy away from it,” he says. “To me, it feels like holding hands with the past and acknowledg­ing it. We’re not reinventin­g the wheel. It’s about having a kinship with these things but also trying to make it personal. The analogy I would use would be like a director making a genre movie, you can make it about yourself.”

Burton’s own story began in a small conservati­ve town outside of Salt Lake City. Snooping around in his stepfather’s closet one day, he came across a guitar and was promptly forbidden to touch it. “So I snuck it out when he was at work and taught myself to play a few chords,” Burton recalls. “As a kid, I was a rebellious little asshole. When I showed him, I think he was impressed that I was actually interested in something and had shown some applicatio­n, so he bought me my own.”

Burton’s first band,

The Circulars, produced a decent enough, Mazzy Starinflue­nced debut, 2016’s Are

You Waiting For The Setting Sun. But it wasn’t until he relocated to LA that Burton really hit his stride as a songwriter and released his debut solo LP, 2020’s I Can Go With You, via a one-album deal with Tompkins Square. Now signed to Partisan, the shimmering Nashville skylines of Dear Departed feel like the perfect setting for Burton’s songs, so it’s surprising to hear he’s not sure how his future musical endeavours will manifest. “I want to keep it open. The shit I’m writing is so simple you could dress it up a lot of ways,” he shrugs. “For me, songwritin­g is kind of mystical.

You have to create music that is just there. It’s like chasing something in the dark.”

“I read tarot cards for Weyes Blood.” SAM BURTON

 ?? ?? Lisa O’Neill: letting it flow and seeing where it goes.
Lisa O’Neill: letting it flow and seeing where it goes.
 ?? ?? Playing his cards right: Sam Burton chases something in the dark.
Playing his cards right: Sam Burton chases something in the dark.

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