Aoife Nessa Frances eschews certainty in favour of a more organic flow with the release of her debut album.
“I don’t think you should necessarily judge work so quickly. If you’re creating something, I think you should just do it and think about it after the fact.”
Aoife Nessa Frances has a habit of ending answers with questions: Y’know? Right? Isn’t it?
This querying impulse betrays a sensibility that permeates the Dublin musician’s remarkable debut LP; Land of No Junction. “I think that I just kind of hate certainty. I hate things being constrained into really particular, concrete ideas. I like the freedom of endless possibilities in everything,” explains Aoife. This curiosity and reverence for ambiguity is present across the lushly appointed psychedelic folk-rock that makes up Land of No Junction’s ten tracks. Making room for stripped back singer-songwriter fare, shaggy widescreen jamming and even a pinch of Gainsbourg-esque yé-yé inflection in the swooning strings and elastic bass playing, the record is nothing if not uninhibited in its influences. The richness of Aoife’s voice serves as the unifying element, coalescing the record into a deeply holistic body of work.
Though Land of No Junction is Aoife’s debut transmission as a solo artist, her relationship with making music is deep rooted. Her father is a fiddle maker, though the music landscape in the household leaned more toward Classic Rock of the ’60’s and ’70’s variety than traditional. “Both my parents are very different people,” begins Aoife. “I think growing up I would have been pretty influenced by my Dad’s taste in music. I didn’t really think that my mum was that cool even though when I got older I was like ‘Actually, my mum is much cooler than my Dad!’ He was really in to The Beatles, The Who, Jimi Hendrix. He never liked Bob Dylan but my mum really did. She loved Dylan and Joni Mitchell and Lou Reed. I think as I grew up I got much more into her taste in music. It’s funny, I won’t call it a mid-life crisis because that’s a little unfair, but [my dad] really got into techno in the mid to late ‘90s so he has this huge techno collection that he is actually looking to sell now,” she laughs.
Despite her musical upbringing and the unique, compelling timbre of her vocals on the record, in her youth, Aoife never really considered herself as much of a songbird. She was, to her mind, an instrumentalist first and foremost. “I never really saw myself as a singer, I don’t think. I never did singing lessons and I probably should, or at one point I’d like to at least. When I was very young I started doing violin lessons and a little tin whistle. From there I did some guitar lessons. I had this really great guitar teacher who was a friend of my parents. I only found out recently that he was also an astrologist – he did my birth chart! I still have the very messily written down astrological chart somewhere at home.
“At that point I really wanted to be a flamenco guitar person even though that feels somewhat ridiculous as a young Irish girl. I started taking lessons with this amazing Mexican guitar teacher and I remember just getting really into that kind of music and singing just wasn’t really part of it. But, I guess, it was probably around that point – when I was about 15 – that I started writing songs too. I still have songs that go back to that time.”
Aoife says herself that some of the tracks that populate Land of No Junction have existed – in scraps, sketches, one form or another – for quite some time. For her, it was during the deeply collaborative process of recording the LP that each of the tracks’ true nature began to reveal themselves. “I think people often set out to make things – much like I did with my record – and end up with something else and that’s what’s kind of beautiful about making art. You have an idea of what you want to do and the point where it turns into something else, that’s a really exciting thing.”
For Aoife, the experience of recording was very much one of surprising herself along the way, with the finished product wholly distinct from how she’d first conceived of it. “I think I had initially expected it all to be really stripped back and not much happening. The way I had written the songs was very simply; just me and a guitar in my bedroom or my Mum’s kitchen. So, I imagined it all as quite simple and stripped back.” Through recording and re-recording with a stellar band of Brendan Doherty, Cian Nugent, Brendan Jenkinson and Ailbhe Nic Oireachtaigh, the lushly psychedelic tone that permeates the record began to take shape. The ensemble uniformly excel, furnishing the songs with subtly inspired adornment that feels conversational, lived-in and natural rather than showy. Even the woozily hypnotic, lead single, Blow Up bears little resemblance to the kernel of its conception.
“That was first recorded live in the studio as a band song. In my mind, I’d imagined it with kind of Ringo style Beatles(y) drums,” says Aoife with almost a snicker at the idea she was once so naive. “It just sounded so bad – it was a really awful. That, I guess, would be a perfect example of what the whole process of making the album was like. I had this idea in my head until I tried it and was like ‘I really don’t like that.’ I actually wanted to scrap the song! Even though I really loved it,” she laughs. “Blow Up was a situation where I wrote the chorus a long time ago and then brought it back to life or found new life in it – I wasn’t even sure it was good.”
I can’t help but ask, considering the established lack of concern with certitude, does she ever really know anything is good? “Sometimes I like them! Blow Up was hard though because it felt like pulling something out of the grave. Now I feel like that is a very important thing to do. I don’t think you should necessarily judge work so quickly. If you’re creating something, I think you should just do it and think about it after the fact. I have a problem with writing things and being like ‘It’s terrible!’ only to go back later and think that it is actually kind of good. You shouldn’t come to such strong decisions in the moment. For me, I come up with these ideas and the moment of the idea happening is really magical and then I hate it really quickly. I need to leave it for a while and come back, kind of surprise myself. I like to let things happen very organically and make sense of the words later. Sometimes I’m totally surprised at how I come to interpret them. Sometimes I even feel like I didn’t write the words that I have written.”
Quick as Aoife is to point out that she still thinks of herself as being in the early days and developing as a songwriter, this is an outlook she learned along the way rather than one she brought to the project. “It’s something I’ve learned to appreciate. I went through a period of not really feeling capable of doing anything and feeling really negative towards myself. Because I had really encouraging people around me like Cian and Brendan who were saying ‘these [songs] are really great,’ I just needed that to realise that ok, I can take this somewhere.”
For all the quiet, emotional tumult and second-guessing that preceded the recordings, completing the record was still something of a bittersweet moment. To call time on the process is after all a definitive act, one seemingly at odds with the freewheeling spirit of open-ended uncertainty that inspired much of the work. “I think that’s kind of why I hate finishing songs,” explains Aoife. “I love that something can still happen when they’re not done. I’m realising now that it kind of feels the same way with actually releasing the music. I spent so long working on all these songs before even showing them to anyone and now – looking back – that feels like a very special time. I guess it’s not music until people hear it, but I kind of think that anything can still happen when they’re in that stage. Y’know?”
Considering Aoife’s own artistic outlook, a concrete declaration might feel an incongruous note to end on. But, if there is one thing we can be sure of, it is the fact we’re all the better for Aoife and co. having seen fit to cut the cord and share these carefully constructed slices of psych-pop brilliance with the wider world.
Words: Danny Wilson
Photo Credits: Cait Fahey
Aoife Nessa Francis’s Land of No Junction is released on January 17 on Basin Rock.
Aoife plays Quarter Block Party in Cork on Sunday February 9.