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April 23, 2021

The Queen of Swords

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Last year at Bello Winter Music I had the pleasure of interviewing Irish singer/songwriter Áine Tyrell.

It was hard not to be intoxicated by the easy power of this beautiful woman who left domestic violence and found safety for herself and her three kids living on a bus.

When she takes the stage I think there is something a little Joan of Arc about her – she has a quiet strength that is deeply embedded in her music. Her first album Queen of Swords was recorded in the bus with producer Mark Stanley following this fierce and fragile road warrior on her very own Australian odyssey – finding her courage, and finding herself. And guess what, the woman who five years ago had stopped playing returned to her homeland and scored a Number One on the Irish charts with her song Don’t Be Left Crying. Hers is a story of triumph over adversity; as it turns out, she really is the Queen of Swords.

Áine returned from Ireland last week where, thanks to a grant from Creative Victoria, she and Stanley took to the road to record her second album.

‘I recorded my first album on the bus in the Australian desert so the idea for Ireland was to do a bit of a road-trip musical journey. We didn’t have a bus there so we moved from location to location. No conventional studios. We recorded in cottages, houses, research stations. We were looking for a castle but we had problems with them because castles don’t have power!’

Ireland Áine tells me is a lot like the Aussie desert. You can’t really organise stuff from afar, you just have to turn up and if people like you, then doors open.

‘In Ireland theres a band called the Frames, the bass player and manager gave us their house in Wexford while they were away; that gave us a week sitting still of being able to bed things down. From there we went to Glen Hansard’s house. He has a studio in his house; we recorded there as well. We chose tracks based on where we were. We got a lovely cottage on the sea in a place called Drogheda. We had two songs that had a sea theme; we chose to record certain songs in certain locations to bring that out. My dad Sean Tyrell is a musician, and we wanted to do some recording with him. When I was born, my dad was was a caretaker for a research house, in a place called the Burren. It has a unique geological landscape: it’s like a rock desert with wildflowers; it’s a national heritage site this area. We called the caretakers, who let us record in the house I was born in – for three days. It was amazing. We had the help of Liam O’Maonlai (Hothouse Flowers frontman) and singer/songwriter Declan O’Rourke, who both added to the songs and opened up their homes and studios to us.’

In the midst of all that, her three children, her producer and her nanny also visited two Gaeltacht areas in Ireland.

The Aran Islands is one and then a beautiful place in Kerry place called Dingle, and they are Irish-speaking pockets of the country that England never invaded; they remain Irish speaking to this day. We recorded in the Aras Eanna Arts Centre on the Aran Islands and in the infamous St James’ church in Dingle.’

Áine went back as an adult to learn Irish, so connecting with her heritage was very important for her and for this new album.

‘In one generation we lost our language with the invasion of the English; it was because it was not allowed and people were trying to assimilate. I have a very big goal to go and live in a Gaeltacht for six months to a year; the one we were on had fewer than 200 full-time residents. It’s very harsh living in the winter, but beautiful in the summer. There are no cars on the island, just horse and cart, a few farm vehicles. In Dingle we ended up recording in this extremely old church where there were graves from the 1400s. It’s an iconic church in the music industry because they use it for a lot of recordings because of the acoustics. We had stunning locations, in particular going to the gaeltacht areas for me was magical – they really hold the spirit and the sense of Ireland.’

While they were on the island Áine took advantage of her location and scored a recording at the local pub.

‘I went to the pub at night and asked them to sing an Irish folk song. We recorded the whole pub singing the song, a song from 1916. I perform it live as well; it’s great to have it from the source.’

Going home was a very emotional experience for Áine. ’I hadn’t been home in five years. When you live away you have to switch something off in your brain to cope being so far from home; you have to shut off certain feelings. Arriving in Ireland by plane I looked out the window and I lost it.’

This return home was both physical and spiritual for Áine, who admits that it was the core of the creative process of recording her new album.

‘The ethos of the album was coming back to find a source for something. My first album is very personal and it was cathartic for me to be able to leave a destructive relationship. It’s about my finding myself again; I was lost for so long. Last time I went back to Ireland I didn’t even own a guitar. It wasn’t safe. I have grown and established a totally different life for myself in Australia. We didn’t really have the power to leave Australia until recently, so it was about making the best of the situation.

‘I am Irish, but there is a real sense of Australia in my music. In Ireland they don’t know where to place it; it’s not strictly Irish and its not Australian. If I had stayed in Ireland and played music I wouldn’t be doing what I am doing now. I think Australia has opened up a lot for me. In Ireland there is a beautiful sense of tradition musically, and everywhere you go that tradition is earthing and grounding but can be restricting and stifling, especially with my dad as a musician. Leaving that made me extend myself.

‘Going back to record, I could tap into the very strong sense of culture and also reach out into something much bigger than that. That would have been hard to do in Ireland; it’s not just an album about me any more, it’s much broader.’

Áine Tyrell’s new album will be released in early 2018. In the meantime she and producer Mark Stanley have released her new EP Fledgling Fall, which features her Irish number one Don’t be Left Crying.

Even that happening for Áine was serendipitous and proof that she is on the right path.

‘I was asked to do an interview with RTE with 400,000 listeners, which is big for Ireland; it’s the biggest radio show in the country. Stuff was happening that day so my interview got cut, so in lieu of that they asked if I would just record another song and put it on Facebook Live for them. The head of RT music walked by and heard the track and immediately put on the playlist, so they put it on their playlist straightaway, then within two weeks it was number two and then we got a message it was number one and it’s still on their playlist. It’s really affirming; you don’t make your art to get number ones or to get accolades, you make it because you are trying to make the best possible thing you can make, but to have such strong confirmation from the radio station that I listened to my whole life was pretty cool.’

Áine Tyrell launches her new EP Fledgling Fall at the Mullumbimby Ex-Services on Saturday with support by Koral Chandler. Doors open at 7pm and tickets are available from the website redsquaremusic.com.au.

She is also featured at this year’s Mullum Music Festival (16–19 Nov) and will be mentoring the winner of the Singer/Songwriter section in the Youth Mentorship. Tix and program info are on mullummusicfestival.com. The EP is available now on iTunes, on ainetyrrell.com.

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