Twenty Miles from Home debuts from Northern Ireland through singer/songwriter and vocalist par excellence Eve Williams. She piqued my interest after I heard the song Oblivion. It’s a kind of song that’s hard to ignore due to its unique style. The subject of her voice is one of the things that’s covered here. What gave way to her singing that’s full-bodied and expressive? You will learn more as you read this interview.
She has traveled more than twenty miles from home physically and artistically: having met one of her musical idols, Moya Brennan through singing live in the Clubeo. The album Twenty Miles from Home is getting its official release very soon. Listen to her music or read her blog posts. You’d be captivated by her wit. She addressed a lot of issues including the musical situation in Northern Ireland and how lightning struck the studio and knocked out all the equipment knocked out all the equipment! This woman knows how to put a good craic on top of her music. Finally, our featured artist Eve Williams!
Your new album Twenty Miles from Home is out of the studio. What’s the meaning behind the title?
Well, in a fit of insanity whilst I lived in Wiltshire I decided to drive to Edinburgh one winter day. It snowed and the journey was pretty hair raising! On my way home the next day my mother phoned about every half hour to make sure I was still alive. When I told her ‘I’m only twenty miles from home’ she was pretty relieved. I decided then I wanted to write something around that concept of being nearly home, but not quite. It’s an album about a journey, my journey. The title track is the ‘home’ of the album in that I co-wrote it with my compatriot, Paul McIlwaine and it is the most Northern Irish track on there. I wanted to opt for a Robin Mark sound on that song.
You create atmospheric songs with cinematic feel. What or who influenced your style?
I originally trained as an operatic coloratura soprano so I sent my youth singing Mozart and Puccini… I loved the Romantic era composers, especially Mendelsohn and Verdi, although I’ve toned it down a bit now! That combines with my Celtic roots on the new album. When I was nearly 8 my father was hit by a drunk driver and sustained a serious acquired brain injury. He was in a coma for six weeks and had a long recovery during part of which time my mother, sister and I lived with my maternal grandparents. Both my Nanny and Papa sang to us and they tended to teach us Irish folk tunes. It was something they gave us to cope with the trauma, their lasting gift to us. That’s why it tends to creep into the things I write.
You just performed in Moya Brennan’s Clubeo (Yay!). How was it?
Supermarvellous! Moya is a legend, so meeting her is really nerve-wracking until she speaks to you and you realise she is actually really lovely. There were so many talented musicians on stage that night… Jacquie Sharkey and the Henry Girls, as well as Moya. Plus some kids still in their teens whose writing was amazing. It really makes you hopeful for the future of Irish music.
You must have been chuffed after Moya and husband Tim Jarvis complimented your style of music.
Well, it was certainly a bit surreal. I felt it should have been me doing the complimenting! Moya asked me to say something about my craft before I sang and I thought how do you talk about music in front people who are part of the musical lifeblood of the country, who you’ve named on your facebook page as your biggest influence? But then again they’re so nice you felt that you could share your own relatively limited experience!
What are the exciting musical things waiting for you this year?
I’m going to be having an official album launch in Belfast in June, as yet to be confirmed. Coda Music in Edinburgh have kindly agreed to stock the album (also available on iTunes and CD Baby) and I’m going to be a guest on Ciaran Dorris’ Sony award – nominated show on Celtic Music Radio so a little trip to Scotland is on the horizon. Plus I hope to sing at the opening singers’ circle of the Fiddler’s Green Festival in Rostrevor on 21st July. All go! Still writing new material as well.
I love artists based in Northern Ireland. What can you say about the current musical situation where you are?
Music in Northern Ireland had been pretty badly affected by the Troubles when people didn’t want to gather in large numbers at venues. When I left school if you wanted a career in the music industry people would have thought you were mad and you would have had to move to England (which, to be fair, I did for a while). Things are definitely looking up now. We have wonderful new venues like the Belfast Barge, we have music education centres like the Nerve Centre in Derry and the Oh Yeah Centre in Belfast but unfortunately there is still a lack of infrastructure that needs to be addressed. We don’t have a lot of publishers or labels for example. I found it much, much easier to get airplay in the USA than in Northern Ireland when I released the album.
The main thing is the talent is there with people like Laura Stevenson and Realta whom I love at the minute.
Let’s go back to Twenty Miles from Home. What were the challenges and memorable things that happened while creating this album?
The album was written partly in Northern Ireland but mostly as I was studying for my Master of Music in Songwriting at Bath Spa University and living in Corsham in Wiltshire. It’s the culmination of a both brilliant and painful year.
The first and last tracks are sung with my niece, Scarlett Burnside and recorded at our family home in County Down. I wanted to encourage her to keep going with music and also her voice was perfect for what I was trying to convey… the idea the songs that we learn when we are young stay with us and influence us, actually being part of how we relate to the world. The challenges in recording a child’s voice weren’t as myriad as I thought as Scarlett learned the piece very fast and sang it very well in only a couple of takes, but the challenges in overcoming my bad recording were beautifully handled by James Scott.
One very memorable moment was recording the vocals to Oblivion with Andrew Giddings of Jethro Tull who produced the song. We had gotten through one chorus when lightning struck the studio and knocked out all the equipment. We had to nip off for tea and toast. That’s why on soundcloud the image for the song is a bolt of lightning!
My happiest memory is of writing I Need a Rock with the inestimable Dominik Sky, who is perhaps the best singer, songwriter, producer and friend on the planet. Carlsberg don’t make housemates, but if they did….
How do you approach songwriting ?
As in how did I first start writing? I wanted to get gigs as a singer and I didn’t want to record cheesy covers. Since I’d sung on film score with the Belfast Festival Chorus and done some improvisation I thought writing would be the logical next step.
I attended the UK Songwriting Festival at Bath Spa University in 2007 having gone to Bath for a hospital appointment that year. It was the first time I had written collaboratively and I met Iain Archer from Snow Patrol which was pretty cool…. Later I did the MMus in Songwriting at Bath Spa and it involved looking closely at what influences your writing, working with other writers, expanding your collection of writing tools and techniques….
If I had to encapsulate my writing I would say that when I sit down to write a song, I want something to come out that rings true to me and to whoever chooses to listen. Also, as a vocalist I tend to be very melody focused although I am starting to get into harmonics a bit more.
Please tell me the inspiration behind Oblivion.
Oblivion was co-written by myself and a Scottish classmate, Craig Murray (now releasing material under the name Archie Atholl). Craig had written a beautiful chorus melody on the piano and he very much wanted to do something with the word ‘oblivion’, which some felt was too strong a word but we really didn’t want to change it. Basically, here were we two Celts in the South of England creating a bit of a Celt-out! Craig is a classically trained pianist and I am a classically trained soprano so the classical/Celtic style just clicked.
‘Oblivion’ means a place of being totally forgotten, and the opposite to that is memoriam so we used the Tennyson poem In Memoriam when writing the lyrics, beginning with its famous statement
I hold it true, whate’er befall;
I feel it, when I sorrow most;
‘Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.
Tennyson wrote this about grief through bereavement rather than the loss of romantic love, but we took it in the direction of the loss of a relationship. We had both really struggled with grief in our lives but responded to it in very different ways. It was a very personal song and one which I now find quite painful, but I think its beauty comes from that and people have told me they find it comforting which I’m immensely proud of.
© Eve Williams/ Craig Murray 2012
Video by Aaron Buckley
Produced by Andrew Giddings
Are there plans for live shows to promote your album? And how do you feel about singing live now?
I love singing live. It’s nice to get a live audience’s reaction to the songs, and I love working with other musicians onstage. I’m planning to do a few shows in County Down and Scotland. Hopefully I’ll be making an appearance in Bath and London this summer, too. Dates can be found at www.evewilliamsmusic.com
What are the things you love about being with other artists?
I learned so much about music by seeing how other people approach it and learning about their backgrounds and outlooks. I also love sitting down and trying to come up with a song or a new version of a song where everybody pitches in their own way of thinking and skills. It’s nice to be around people who share your passion, essentially.
What are the things you think everyone needs to avoid if they want to work with other artists?
Avoid being difficult to work with! The stereotype of the tortured genius is all well and good, but in any profession you have to behave professionally. Be respectful of others and their input.
June isn’t so far but for now where can listeners buy your album?
Several places… on CD baby here http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/evewilliams5 and iTunes here https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/twenty-miles-from-home/id577689326 .
You can buy an actual CD from www.evewilliamsmusic.com/products.html . I’ll even sign it for you!
Any parting message for our readers?
Keep supporting Celtic music! And thank you for reading this.
There you go folks. Another week of being graced by the almighty presence of Eve Williams. I envision more and more great tunes coming from this fascinating artist. Read more about her fascinating experience at the Clubeo here: http://www.evewilliamsmusic.com/?section=blog/mountains_music_and_moya
Introducing new acts. Apart from albums I review, I want to direct your attention to new acts coming out of the Celtic music world. Some are new bands with members from other bands. This happens when musicians start to branch out in search of other means to express their music. Sometimes creating new clusters of musicians with different styles can give way to interesting music. And so here they are:
Years Active: ’00s
“Highway Signs and Highway Lines”New album by Thomas Johnston coming out soon!
“I am a singer-songwriter, guitar and bodhran player creating and performing original songs in a genre best described as IrishAmericana.
I am a partner at Tabhair Records and Music Publishing LLC with my son Stephen.
I am one-half of the musical duo Beannacht.”