Laughing at the idea of re-training in cyber felt like a sardonic note to begin on but Ailbhe Reddy reassured me she wouldn’t be changing career paths any time soon: “Definitely not me, no. It was amazing to see the amount of support for artists at the time. I think most music fans are really encouraging of artists especially with Bandcamp. There’s definitely been more focus on it then there has been in a long time.”
Stages have been gathering dust since the initial lockdown back in March with gigs being cancelled, rescheduled and re-rescheduled as the pandemic has continued. For Reddy, she didn’t want to put off releasing her debut album Personal History any longer. “I felt like people really wanted to hear new music this year. I set myself my own personal goal of being like ‘I’m definitely getting it out this year.’ I’ve had it recorded since last August, so I just wanted to get it out there.”
Originally, the release date was going to line up with her supporting Paul Weller but, like for many others, everything came to a shuddering halt. “I was meant to be doing a tour of North America with him. Everyone’s been in the same boat this year. It’s not my own disappointment, it’s everybody’s.”
“It was so nice to soak up all the positive feedback on [release] day as opposed to being run off my feet busy. That’s me scraping for a silver lining. It was still nice. I definitely wasn’t distracted by anything else.”
Personal History is an honest and open record, laying bare the relatable struggles of life. From bumpy relationships to self-failings, Reddy captures the feelings of growing into yourself. Venturing into rock with a tinge of grunge, Reddy’s sound is fresh and pared back.
Opening your debut album with a chorus of ‘I’m failing’ is a gutsy move, but it felt natural for Reddy to open with ‘Failing’: “I wrote that song in 2017. I was really struggling with a load of different things like relationships, myself, work, what I was doing. I wasn’t even unhappy. I was just really confused. I think I was 25 at the time and I think a lot of people hit that wall at that stage, being like ‘what the fuck am I doing?’ You keep repeating the same mistakes and you’re coming to grips with yourself as a person. That’s what that song is. I wasn’t going to open with that but then with that intro, the subject matter and the fact it was the oldest song, it made sense to start with that.”
The record doesn’t give solutions but hope. It’s bookended with the uplifting ‘Self Improvement’. “It’s all about accepting failure and accepting it as part of the deal in life. You’ll mess things up and then next time you have a go at something, it might work out better… accepting that struggling with something isn’t actually failing. It’s a massive thing for me that I’ve learned in the past few years, that just because you’re struggling doesn’t mean you’re a disaster, it just means that you’re struggling.”
“It’s all about accepting failure and accepting it as part of the deal in life. You’ll mess things up and then next time you have a go at something, it might work out better and accepting that struggling with something isn’t actually failing.”
“I played my first gig in 2013/14 so I’ve been around yonks. When I first started playing, it seemed it was mostly singer/songwriter stuff doing the rounds, with very few female artists getting to a certain place within Ireland and a good few of them were doing things whilst living abroad.” Reddy remembers when first exploring the Dublin music scene. “In the last three years, there’s been such a huge amount of female artists of all genres rising to the top like Soulé, Denise Chaila, Laoise, Rosie Carney and Pillow Queens across all these different genres that are being dominated by women. It’s really amazing to see. That’s been a huge change.”
The uplift that Irish music has been experiencing recently has changed the landscape for musicians such as Reddy and we spent most of our time discussing the ongoing fight for female and queer representation in the industry.
Irish musician Wallis Bird acted as huge influence on the new record, not only in sound but in visibility. “The first time that I saw her was on Balcony TV on Youtube when I was 16 and immediately I became a huge fan. The way she uses her voice, the way she writes songs, the way she does things, she’s an incredible performer. She’s been a massive influence on me and the fact that she’s queer as well has always been a massive thing for me and she’s always been open with that.”
Growing up and seeing someone that you can relate to is crucial for young budding musicians. To actively encourage teens, particularly girls, to explore their musical interests is crucial in providing them with reassurance as well as in fostering their talent. Reddy has volunteered with Girls Rock, a music camp for girls and non-binary teenagers that advocates for gender equality in the music industry. “I grew up in the 90s and early 00s and we had Sinead O’Connor and the Cranberries. You see that and you think, ‘Oh cool, I can do that,’ but if there is no female representation there, people don’t think they can do that. If you’re not seeing someone like you doing that, then you don’t think that’s a route for you to take.”
The battle for gender balance in music continues and Reddy has noticed the difference particularly with music festivals “When I started going on festival circuits like six years ago, it was mostly blokes and a few female acts. That’s been the biggest change which is amazing because I remember going to festivals and I’d make friends with loads of the lads. It was only a few years ago that I started to make friends with other female acts because they would end up being on the same lineups as me. Before that, there would be one woman on one lineup and you’d never actually meet anybody. In the last few years, there feels like there’s more of a community.”
The stress that comes with doubting your place in an industry you want to succeed in does take its toll. “I went into so many things thinking, ‘They put me on this lineup because I’m a woman.’ You don’t perform well if you think that’s why you’re on the lineup. You’re just in your own head, but if you’re only seeing you and a bunch of blokes playing, then of course, that’s what your mind jumps to because that’s the world we live in and you’re just being realistic. I think Other Voices was the first festival that I played at where there were loads of other women on the lineup.”
In tandem with fantastic female acts rising through the ranks of Irish music and more balanced festival lineups, the tide has also begun to turn in terms of radio play. Linda Coogan Byrne’s Gender Disparity Data Report for Irish radio stations caused a massive shift. The report revealed that many stations were playing a pitiable small number (in the region of 5-10%) of female artists.
“If you’re on your own and you’re not getting played, especially because music is so subjective, someone could be like ‘oh this isn’t good enough’ and you can’t really argue with that. You can’t be like ‘no it’s as good as this other thing but I’m female’. No one is going to make that leap when they’re talking to someone about playlisting because that would be crazy.”
Reddy’s tone is dispirited with a hint of anger but the data, although shocking and disheartening, revealed the system for what it is – biased. “But when you have loads of women who are getting that same response and you all realise we’ve been in the same boat for years, you’re like, ‘Oh thank god. I thought it was just me.’ It’s nothing to do with you or anyone else, it’s to do with the issue of no chances being taken on female acts and all the chances being taken on male acts who are on major labels.”
Despite being in the age of streaming, radio is still incredibly important especially in terms of representation for listeners. “Then people make the tired excuse of ‘teenage girls just want to listen to boy bands’ but that isn’t true. There’s plenty of female acts who are absolutely killing it with teenagers. People like Orla Gartland and Laoise have a massive following and they’re not even getting radio plays which is even more impressive, like young women want to see themselves represented on radio.”
Words: Sophia McDonald
Personal History is out now on Friends of the Family.
Ailbhe plays The Button Factory on Saturday May 15, €21