INTERVIEW: Gemma Hayes

gemmahayesGemma Hayes is one of Ireland’s most talented artists and yet criminally underrated.

In todays market of soul less pop songs Hayes is a breath of fresh air. In 2002 she released the critically acclaimed ‘Night On My Side’ which earned her a Mercury Music award nomination.

After touring the album she took a two year hiatus from music, then relocated to Los Angeles where she recorded the more upbeat ‘The Roads Don’t Love You’  and collaborated with Adam Duritz of Counting Crows. In the years that followed Hayes recorded her third and fourth albums, ‘Hollow of Morning’ and ‘Let It Break’, and wrote material for an independent movie Janie Jones.

Hayes released her fifth studio album ‘Bones + Longing’ in November 2014 which she recorded after a PledgeMusic campaign. Gigging NI’s Sarah McCrossan chatted with Gemma ahead of her UK and Ireland tour, about her most recent release and her recent publishing deal with Fairwood Music.

You have been playing music for many years now, how have you seen the industry change in that time?

“Well I was very much part of the old school set up when I started. A traditional record deal whereby I was given an advance, had access to the machine that spits out albums and markets the hell out of them. It was fantastic really. The downside was there was a lot of pressure to ‘play the game’ and tailor my music to suit a certain market. Because I wasn’t interested in that aspect of it, I was labelled ‘difficult’ which to be honest is as far from the truth. These days it’s a lot easier as artists can reach an audience in a myriad of ways via the internet, TV syncs, video game syncs, YouTube etc. This is where I’m at now. Artists can also raise the funds necessary to actually record an album via kick starter campaigns. It’s a very exciting time. I do miss the power of the ‘machine’ to propel an album forward in terms of marketing and promotion but I’d choose the independent root over old school any day.”

Your most recent album ‘Bones + Longing’ was made using crowdfunding through the Pledge campaign. How was the experience different from the ‘conventional’ way of producing an album?

“It was an amazing and liberating experience over all. The people who listen to my music basically pre ordered the album plus other items and with the funds generated I made my album. It was incredibly simple. No middle men or women. I was able to focus on the creative aspect from the beginning. I found it really uplifting to see how many people pledged. It gave me as great boost and really pushed me to finish the album within a relatively normal time frame ( usually takes two or three years!). This approach is vastly different from the ‘conventional’ way. I’m not anti labels at all and find a lot of good in small labels that are artist driven. I set up my own label ‘Chasing Dragons’ to release my albums on.”

Do you think that crowdfunding/pledge campaigns are somewhat the future of making making music?

“Don’t know if it will solely be the future of making music but it will certainly be one way!”

You’ve just recently signed a music publishing deal with Fairwood Music. Are you excited at the prospect of your music reaching an even wider audience?

“Yes I am. I’m even more excited at the prospect of writing for other people and in different genres of music. Fairwood Music are a very active publishing company made up of genuinely enthusiastic and hard working people. Can’t wait to get started.”

‘Bones + Longing is less produced and polished which is evident on songs like ‘To Be Your Honey’ which reportedly you recorded on your  iPhone? Did you make a concerted decision to strip back the songs or is it just a natural progression for you as an artist?

“Well both really. I’m a big fan of production and love creating sonic landscapes around a song. At the same time I was aware this approach had been my staple throughout my career. It was time to try a different approach. David Odlum (the producer) and myself made a concerted effort to simplify the production and in essence use the silence or space between instruments as an instrument in itself.

“Bones + Longing is a very intuitive album for me. I went with what felt right and with my gut. I wasn’t too interested in perfecting the sound or delivering a perfect vocal performance. It was a lot more about choosing takes that felt right, mistakes, buzzes etc included. There’s something intensely personal and open and terrifying me about this approach!”

How has writing music and playing live changed now you are a mother?

“Simply put, I just don’t perform as many shows as I used to. I’m more creative than ever though, I think that’s because my heart broke completely open when he was born. I feel a lot more compassion for my fellow humans and find that I just ‘feel’ more in general. Playing live is difficult. I don’t like being away from my boy so I bring him everywhere with me. It’s a good way to go but it’s exhausting so I only book shows now and then. In a way it’s meant that I don’t feel one bit jaded performing and am usually very excited about getting to play each gig.”

If you weren’t still writing and playing music what would you see yourself as doing?

“I have no idea! I fell in love with music when I was about 15 years old. It has been such a huge part of my life and has been the means in which I connect with other people, kept my self sane and paid the bills. My sister became a certified farmer a few years ago after a lifetime in the business sector. I love a good pair of Wellies so who knows maybe that’s a sign of things to come!”

What advice would you give to any young musicians starting out in the industry?

“I’d give them the same advice that I was given. Go away and get good! Once you’re good, start playing shows whenever possible. Being good at what you do is more important than being mediocre and popular! But I guess good is subjective!”

And finally, what is your favourite song to play live?

“A song called Joy from the new album and a cover of ‘Cloudbusting’ by Kate Bush.”

Gemma Hayes plays Whelans in Dublin on 27th June 2015.