Friday, May 14, 2010

Interview with Cathy Davey

CATHY DAVEY has always seemed to me to be the perfect indie performer; not in a spiky, PJ Harvey-type way, but rather the type of performer who can furrow her own path, and not listen to the demands of a meddling record label.
On her third album, the just released ‘The Nameless’, the Wicklow chanteuse has released the record on her own label, Hammer Toe Records.

The album is an astonishing piece of work; dark and eery at times, soaring and epic in others, delicate and often vulnerable, like Davey’s voice, which is simply captivating. But Davey, whose superb second album ‘Tales of Silversleeve’ saw her scoop a Meteor award and Choice nomination, plus double platinum sales in this country, has really had to go through the wars, as it were, to reach this point.

Signed initially to Parlophone's Regal Recordings, Davey released her debut Something Ilk in 2004, which was, in her own words, confused. Struck by stage- and studio-fright, Davey enlisted Liam Howe of Sneaker Pimps fame for her follow-up, which she recorded in a house and away from the pressures of a fancy studio and was released on EMI.
However, despite the album’s success in Ireland, she was dropped from the monolith label in 2008. This may have been the best thing that happened to her, we venture.

Davey, who was crippled by nerves when performing, was pushed out of her comfort zone to find a place she is conversely more comfortable in.

“It is the right time for me to independent, definitely,” she says by way of agreement, speaking from Belfast where she has just performed.
“I really didn't know my own head or what I was capable of or what my limitations were. By the time I got to recording this album, I had a definite sense of how I wanted to come across, and not feeling I had to disguise it for fear of being seen as being too theatrical or affected,” she adds.
She rules out any measure of success having an effect on her confidence, pointing more figuratively to the “experience of having success”.

“The larger the shows were that I played, the more I had to dig out of myself to perform in front of more people than I was used to, or rise to the occasion, that all helped me bring out, I guess, a more performing side of myself that I never imagined I had,” says Cathy.

In the aftermath of Silversleeve’s release, Davey took herself off to a little town called Albi, near Toulouse, France. There she lived in a house once occupied by a family, with the woman - now widowed - who owned it living next door. Armed with a “bag of tricks” - recording unit, drum kit, mandolin - she cocooned herself from the outside world and found the mood of the album, rediscovering her love of “song-smithery”, she says.

“I did a month there and wrote about a third or maybe half of the album - I definitely got the bones of the idea or structure there,” Cathy explains. “The people who had lived in the house before me had left an atmosphere. Also I was there on my own and I don't really speak French, so I was kind of isolated. I had all these characters - and the Nameless character evolved and I enjoyed getting lost in that world.”

As a result, the album became loosely based on that character, a “fantastical story”, Cathy explains.
Armed with help from the peerless Conor J. O’Brien, of Villagers fame, Neil Hannon and her own father, Cathy developed the album into what it is now with the help of an engineer, and clearly revelled in the process.
As a result, she has carved out a niche for herself, and sounds happy in the process.

“I have never been the type of person who wants to do any breaking of countries or endless tours just to show the world my music,” she laughs.
“I would really like to make enough money to make another album. I guess I want the ideal world, but I want to be happy in that ideal world,” she adds.

Cathy Davey plays in Dolan’s Warehouse this Sunday night. ‘The Nameless’ is now on general release.

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