Eleanor McEvoy Interview
Ahead of her Belfast concert I caught up with Eleanor McEvoy for a chat about her latest record, gardening and hearses.
You’ve just released a new record entitled ‘Naked Music’. It’s a collection of some of your best-known material in a stripped back and intimate form that found inspiration from a collection of paintings. Tell me how that happened.
Well, it all started after I fell in love with a painting called ‘Champagne Sheila’ by British artist Chris Gollon. I’d spotted it in a London gallery and couldn’t resist buying it. I then saw that his exhibition ‘Incarnation, Mary and Women from the Bible’ was on in Norwich cathedral whilst I was over there on tour. Long story short, I met him at the exhibition and got chatting to him. He came to my concert that night in Norwich. Afterwards we sat up for hours chatting. I was, at the time, finishing some recording where I was “studio-performing”, playing the songs as I might do my solo shows. I asked Chris to do a painting for the cover. Chris really loved the songs and to my complete surprise, he completed four paintings in response – then he kept painting. When he had done 24 paintings (all based on the songs on the album) a London Gallery (‘Gallery Different’ in Fitzrovia) asked if he’d to do an exhibition of the paintings. It was called ‘Naked Music’ and ran for 3 weeks. I performed in the gallery on the opening night, it was a truly exhilarating experience. I just got very excited by the whole idea of one art form influencing another. I also played some songs that night that I wrote having been inspired by his paintings.
Your 2011 release ‘Alone’ is in very similar format. How different was that recording process compared to ‘Naked Music’?
You’re absolutely right, it’s a very similar type of album to ‘Alone’, I guess the biggest difference is that this time I knew I was being recorded! But otherwise we did try to replicate what we did on ‘Alone’ just with different songs. (I had to fight with myself to not call the album ‘Alone, Again, Naturally’)
You regularly tour as solo artist and as such perform your songs in this stripped back format, but do you feel in any way nervous about your lyrics potentially facing heavier scrutiny in this format?
Yes! Not just the lyrics! The melodies, the chord progressions, the concepts the structure… everything really. It really is opening it up to scrutiny doing it this way, because there’s nothing to hide behind, but at the same time, I always conscious when write a song that it should be able to stand up on its own, without the cosmetic “propping up” of harmonies, rhythm section or backing band. Also, your performance is laid bare. Because we wanted to do what we did with ‘Alone’, there are no drop-ins, or patched up vocals or guitar parts. Everything was done “as live”, so all in all, pretty terrifying.
Queen has ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, Steve Earle has ‘Copperhead Road’ – you gained success very early on in your career with ‘Only A Woman’s Heart’. As a creative and productive artist how does it feel to be remembered mainly for one song and how does that impact on your feelings towards that particular song?
I really enjoy singing it now. I’ve updated it quite a bit, I’ve altered the groove and it fits in really well in the set now too. Also, I think the fact that the construction and the song itself is unusual has helped me still enjoy it. (It has no rhymes, which is very unusual for a hit song) It still feels fresh to me. If it didn’t – I wouldn’t be still doing it.
You spent the last few years driving around the UK and Ireland in hearse. What sort of reactions did that get and will we see it again on this current tour?
It got a hilarious response for the most part. I certainly got a lot of unusual followers on Twitter as a result (everyone from goths to funeral directors). People in Ireland would sometimes bless themselves as I drove by. Sadly the hearse is now dead. RIP.
When off the road you spend a lot of time in your vegetable garden. Aside from being challenging given Ireland’s climate do you find it a therapeutic way of winding down after a long stint on tour?
Yes. It’s the antithesis of life on the road. It’s quiet and calming and replenishes the batteries in my soul. I often find if I’m writing a song and I get stuck, if I go out for half and hour to the patch, I start getting ideas again. It’s brilliant. Plus, I can have six varieties of lettuce for dinner!
You begin a short run of Irish tour dates in Belfast on 21st April. What parts of the world are you going to after those dates are completed?
I’ve just finished a tour of England and Wales, so after these current Irish and Northern Irish dates, I’m off to France, Spain, Germany, Australia and possibly the USA towards the end of the year.
Plans for the future?
I’ve started doing some writing for theatre and I really enjoyed it so I’d like to do some more of that. I also have a few other interesting projects this year in slightly different area… watch this space!
Thank you very much for your time.
Eleanor McEvoy plays Belfast’s Errigle Inn on 21st April. Tickets are on sale now through The Real Music Club.
A full list of upcoming Irish dates are available on eleanormcevoy.com.