Brigid Mae Power finds her voice and uses it to maximum effect.
Music and poetics are seemingly in Brigid Mae Power’s blood: “There’s a project called the School’s Collection. In the 1930s, they asked kids to ask the oldest person that they know their stories. When you go to the village where my family are from and type in the last name of my grandparents, it’ll share the story of this man called William Barry who wandered the streets telling poems and singing.” That urge to share music and keep tradition alive is at the core of Power’s new album, Dream From The Deep Well which intertwines modern psychedelia with Irish folk songs.
Growing up in London, Power had a very Irish upbringing which included being shipped off to mass every Sunday. Even at a young age, she knew there was a desire to sing: “Every Sunday at mass when the priest was talking, I was fantasizing about moving him to the side and singing to everyone.” It was only until she was caught up in a terrifying plane journey that this impulse began to take precedence. “I had this plane ride which was really bad. Even the stewardesses were screaming, the oxygen masks came down. I don’t even remember where it was going. It was like a huge filter came over me. I was like ‘oh my God, I need to do music!’ I didn’t worry about anything else like family or anything. I’d had a realisation that I needed to stop messing about and just do it. That was when I started putting pen to paper, when I was 21.”
With the Leaving Cert behind her, music became Power’s passion and she wanted to emulate her musical influences which defined her teenage years. “I was going out with this guy who was really into Guns N’ Roses, so I got into them as well. I worked backwards from them. I’d be like, ‘Who were they into? Led Zeppelin. Ok, who were they into? They were into these Blues guys’. They expanded me into the music of the 1960s, all the classic stuff like Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd. I was really into Janis Joplin then Joni Mitchell. That time will always have a soft place in my heart.” Engrossed by the sounds of the swinging ’60s, America was Power’s first stop in finding her own voice: “I think that’s where my ‘I must go to America’ obsession started. I read the Bob Dylan autobiography when I was 16 and the minute I finished the Leaving Cert, I went to New York for a summer, staying on and off for two years after that. It was a lot of fun but it wasn’t the ‘60s.”
Power continues, “When I was in New York at that time, I was doing a soul thing. I was obsessed with Aretha Franklin. I hadn’t found my voice yet at that stage. It was 2005 and no one was singing in their own voice that I saw from my peers. Everyone was singing in an American accent. I remember when Kate Nash came about and that was a big thing because she was singing in her own accent. It felt weird to not sing in my own voice and I had to find confidence to sing in my own natural style.”
Now releasing her fourth record, Power blends gentle acoustic guitar with comforting piano, producing a reflective album filled with affection. The connection between her roots in Waterford provides the basis for The Waterford Song. “My dad is from Waterford. I spent most summers and Easters there as a child. I had an opportunity to live in a family’s vacant home in Waterford, so I was down there for two years. Where I was, it was very isolated, and it could get very lonely, but I just love it down there. I feel like I’m in my own territory. I love the humour and having my family down there.”
Power expands, “I’ve had a lot of experiences down there that feel really special to me. I was there for a week recently and it was Brigid’s day. I’m Brigid obviously and my granny was Brigid. I was walking down this really isolated road and I started to get a bit nervous because there was a man in a van. It was the countryside and you’re like ‘oh shit!’ It’s freaky, I find it’s more nerve wracking than a city. The van drove by me and sped off. For some reason, my eye was drawn to behind a hedge. It was the tiniest little glint of what I saw and I found a St Brigid’s cross. I also picked up this massive stick,” she laughs.
As well as her original material, Power has included some traditional tracks on the record. Where she would always include some Irish traditional songs live, she wanted to mix in these older tunes in with her own. “If I think of it visually or symbolically, it’s like balancing it out. It’s paying homage to things that have gotten you to this point. It’s been like that for especially in the last couple of years. I like to put sprinklings in. For my grandparents who sang a lot, I feel like that’s where I learned singing from and family circles. I love singing traditionally and to keep it all in and you do both by doing both.”
Power’s appreciation of the songs that have gotten her thus far is clear through the melodies and topics of her own work. The older snapshots of life gone by feel like the ghosts which can haunt our present, songs and sentiments repeating themselves. Capturing the loss and the love of our world is just as important as remembering the one before us and on Ashling, Power memorialises how commemoration of one person can be that of so many. “I wrote that song the day after I went to London because my grandmother, who I was very close with, was dying. The vigil for Ashling Murphy was in Camden then, as well. I couldn’t even get down the road. The whole thing upset me that much. I don’t lose myself in public, but I completely lost myself. I had to sit down, and people were really kind which made it worse because I felt so vulnerable. The whole thing was so moving to me about seeing Irish people abroad. It was a sea of people, all immigrants there. When I got back to where I was staying, I wrote that song.”
Power’s connection to home and the rhythms of others dictates Dream From The Deep Well. Whether that’s through misfortune or celebration, the past or the present, Power paints it all with a tender brush. Her musical net is cast wide with an emotional depth that will be ringing through the generations of Irish artists to come.
Dream From The Deep Well is out on June 30 via Fire Records. Brigid Mae Power plays an in-store at Tower Records, Dublin on Thursday, June 29.
Words: Sophia McDonald
Photo: Eva Carolan