Lisa O’Neill performs live for This Ain’t No Disco, the online Irish music showcase directed by Myles O’Reilly hosted by DJ and visual artist Donal Dineen.
Tony Clayton-Lea :: The Irish Times
We’re unsure whether she’s joking when she asks The Ticket to explain what the word “camaraderie” means, and to clarify what we’re getting at when we describe her voice as “marmite”, but the sense of a real, unaffected person comes through, someone who isn’t shy of honestly asking for directions.
Lisa O’Neill – Same Cloth Or Not
When O’Neill left Ballyhaise for Dublin more than 13 years ago, it was to study music full-time at Ballyfermot’s College of Further Education. She had written “real” songs from her early teens, she says, but they were copies of copies, formulaic and clichéd.
“They were all love songs, yet I wasn’t in love,” she recalls. “I remember writing songs about travelling across the ocean to be with my true love, but, sure, I didn’t know what was on the other side of the ocean at all. They were good, I suppose – I played them for some people and they liked them. But when I went to Ballyfermot, I realised they were just okay. I didn’t enjoy playing them. I knew I could do better.”
Moving from rural village to big smoke, for some, is a shock, cultural or otherwise, but O’Neill (“I was innocent enough”), tentatively went with the flow until she learned to swim.
“I was amazed at being in a class full of people who were as enthusiastic and excited by music as I was. I was taken over by that – and the fact that we were there for five days a week. I used to have some level of guilt about focusing on playing music so much, but now I was allowed to. In fact, I was given license to play music, to go to songwriting class.”
It was, she reflects, a very liberating feeling, yet she sensed she wasn’t good enough, felt she “was bottom of the class – or at least that’s how I rated myself against everyone else. That said, I wanted to get better; I knew there was more in me.” O’Neill admits, however, that she was a lazy student. She failed first year (“I didn’t do my homework – I was too excited about nobody waking me up in the morning,” she deadpans), and departed for about seven years of working, she says (far more officiously than you’d expect), in “the service industry”.
And so the transient clientele of Eddie Rocket’s, Bewley’s theatre and various pubs saw far more of Lisa O’Neill than music fans ever did. Throughout this time songs were being written (“with no pressure, no one asking”) and ensemble sessions in pubs such as the Cobblestone were being partaken of, but the implication is that she was somewhat adrift, quite possibly lonely, and most assuredly lacking self-confidence.
“Maybe I was low . . .” she quietly affirms, “but I’m starting to realise that time that goes by where nothing happens, and which is seen to be negative, could well be process time, soakage time. Maybe the creative mind should be okay with that? You can’t have something wise and clever to say every year, let alone every month.”
The tide turned, so to speak, when her 2009 debut, Has an Album (released so softly, virtually no one heard it land), went slowly freefalling into the hands of influential music industry people. She was still working in Bewley’s, playing the occasional support slot. She had enough songs for an album, she notes, but little ambition for such an undertaking. Listening to it now, O’Neill feels she rushed it.
“I’m loud and over-enthusiastic, but that was me then and that’s the truth of it. People heard it, which is the most important thing. The record got into someone’s car or kitchen – music always finds a home.”
And so here we are now: a new album so beautifully, oddly, appealing it defies easy or lazy categorisation (you’ll try, you’ll fail, you’ll look very silly – just go with it). Here we are now: a woman whose newly acquired self-belief is not only inspiring but also salutary. Here we are now: a singer-songwriter who is waving her own V for Victory sign for all the right reasons.
For more information about Lisa O’Neill’s visit he website lisaoneill.ie/home/ and take a minute to browse her other collaborations with Myles O’Reilly