In an interview for the !Chicken Lisa Hannigan talks about her impressions of the Belgrade concert, her new album, writing, inspiration for the videos, as well as her favorite poets, poems and songs.
Lisa Hannigan performed in Serbia for the first time on 21st of March at the Belgrade Irish Festival. After an amazing gig, the excited !Chicken managed to contact her while she was at a windy place beside the sea. We found out what her impressions of Belgrade are, how folding the clothes inspires her and what it’s like to sing covered in paint, and after the interview itself she admitted that she wishes to have more of Serbian plum brandy!
K!K: You mentioned, during the concert and afterwards, that it was one of the best concerts for you. So now, six days later, what are your impressions and why would you say it was one of the best concerts?
Yeah, I still feel the same way! I think I wasn’t expecting it to be so lovely. I’ve obviously never been to Belgrade before, never played in Serbia or anywhere in region, so I just kind of thought “There will probably be a few people, they’ve probably come to the festival and I’m by myself, I play my songs so I hope that people will listen, but nobody is gonna know the songs and that’s fine”. That happened several times and that’s what I expected because I’ve never been to Belgrade before. So when I came out and people cheered and sang along to the songs, I was just really shocked an excited (laughs) And this carried on throughout the whole gig, this feeling of surprise and elation from the audience. I really was blown away, it was amazing.
K!K: Besides the gig, what will you remember Belgrade for?
I had such a nice time! I stayed in Square Nine hotel which was probably the nicest hotel I’ve ever been in and that was the beginning of my trip. And I just had lots of food and met such wonderful people, I went for big walk around the fortress. It’s just such a beautiful, vibrant, exciting city and I can’t wait to come back!
K!K: How was it playing with Stray Dog?
So great! Meeting Stray Dogg and doing ATTIC session with them and playing few songs together was just a big surprise. When I said I was going to be doing a gig they immediately said ‘Do you think you need us in any songs, because you’re on your own.’ They were so kind even before I’ve met them, they were so generous. I’ve got myself and Dukat’s voice blended really well together and you never know when you sing with somebody will you have a natural harmony with them, but I really felt like they did.
K!K: How did you choose which songs to play with them?
From my songs that I needed to do, I picked the ones that I really liked playing but that I don’t play by myself. Then Dukat suggested that we do “Courting Blues” which is a Bert Jansch’s song from my first record and a song that I haven’t played in years. He suggested this and we decided we would sing it like a duet, he would sing it and I would do harmony. We did in a totally different way to a way that I did it and it just worked out really well. I really, really enjoyed that.
K!K: At the concert you mentioned that Serbs and Irish people are similar, why do you think that is so?
(laugh) Well, it means in a terms of singing along. I was really shocked at that. As an Irish person you are used to people having a really good, strong voices and you’re used to people enjoying having a sing-along. And in some places it’s not like that, people sing just a little bit. But it was mad at the gig, it felt like being in Dublin, everyone singing along with such gusto and such a good pitch. So that was the first thing. And then I also kind of got an impression that Serbian people seem to kind of have an easy laugh to them, they kind of tend to try and look on a funny side of things, which is true of Irish people too and I really felt that when I was there. That always looking for the positive.
K!K: What are your favourite songs to perform live?
I really like the very first song I played, “Little Bird”, it’s probably my favourite one to do by myself. It’s very personal and when I first started played it I found it very difficult, but now I think it’s quite cathartic experience. And then, my other favourite one is the very last one I played which is a song called “A Sail” because, you know, I get to kind if lose a little bit more in that song. I have a mandolin solo which I never get to do, so that’s good. (laughs)
“Little Bird” live in Belgrade
K!K: You recited a poem by Seamus Heany at the concert. So, is Irish poetry influencing your work and what are some of your favourite poets?
Seamus Heaney is my favourite poet. When he died, I was reading through some of his poems again and when I came to “Anahorish” I just pulled it aside, but I kept coming back to it. It is pretty funny form, the melody of that. It seemed like a very natural kind of thing to do at the gig when I ran out of the songs to play, it was the only one left at my back pocket. (laughs)
K!K: What are you reading and listening to these days?
At the moment I’m reading a Neil Gaiman book called Neverwhere that my brother got me for Christmas, which I’m really enjoying. And I’m listening to this record by the Irish band called The Gloaming and I’ve been listening to quite a bit of their music recently. I was at their gig couple weeks ago.
K!K: How is the writing process for third album going?
It’s going okay. I’m a bit slow, it’s going slowly, but it’s just gonna take on as long as it takes me. I’m just gonna keep at it. (laughs) I’m more than half way there, so it’ll be put together.
K!K: Did your writing process change over the years?
Aaah, you know, I don’t know if I’ve ever really figured out the writing process that works consistently. If I did, I probably wouldn’t still be working on my third record. I’m just going through phases of writing a lot and then writing nothing much.
K!K: So there is no secret formula?
Not for me, not for me there isn’t. I wish I knew somebody else’s secret formula so I could steal it, but there’s none for me unfortunately.
K!K: You performed many times with Glen Hansard and you’ve accompanied him on his tour, so what is it like working with him, especially, as you mentioned before, that he influenced you to start performing?
Yeah, I remember going to see his band when I was very young, when I still wanted to be an opera singer. I saw him play at his gig and it really sort of changed my whole look on what being a performer could be. Then I met him and we became friends. He asked me few years later, when I had my own record and my own career, to actually go on tour with him, to play with him and sing on stage. It is a really important moment for me in my life, in terms of what I was doing. It was special sort of year in my life touring with Glen and his band, it’s amazing.
K!K: And besides Glen, you collaborated with many artists and big names, who was your favourite to work with?
Oh, I can’t say that! (laughs) I feel like if I said one name then it would be rude to anyone! But generally, I think that anyone you collaborate with, anyone you work with, teaches you so much! Even if he teaches you what you don’t want to do or where you don’t want to be. I definitely learned so many things, positive and negative, from everybody that I worked with. But I can’t get any names, so… (laughs)
“We The Drowned” that Lisa also performed at the concert
K!K: I’ve heard many people at the concert ask for the song “Teeth”, so can you tell a story about it maybe?
It’s on my first record and it’s on the piano, so I couldn’t play it at the show. But I genuinely remember writing that song. I was standing, folding clothes that were on the drier and I just started humming the chorus melody. It was one of those songs that was really quick to write and it felt very easy, I didn’t work on it so much. Everyone says “Come on, you work very hard on that song” – no. (laughs) And you feel like you’ve done a really good job, but then it never is as good as the one that you write while folding your clothes (laughs)
K!K: How are you getting the ideas for your videos?
Well, a lot of the times it’s because I can only do these one-take videos. I don’t have the money to make it like One Direction or somebody who can spend just countless pennies on a video. I kind of have to think up a really simple idea. That’s the main thing. You can’t make it look good because you have fancy cameras or by using an amazing editing or all these special effect, I can’t do that. In a way that narrows down the focus, it is really helpful thing because you have to make idea that is really strong. So all the video come from that place. And I work with amazing people as well: Myles O’Reilly, the wonderful Irish filmmaker who made the paint video and we made the underwater video as well, and Michael Kelly who did the roller-coaster video. They are wonderful filmmakers so it’s great to work with people like that so you can kind of bash out your ideas between you and figure it all out. I think it’s a lack of funds that makes for the good video sometimes.
K!K: Is it harder to sing on a carousel or while being splashed with paint?
Oooh, oh my god, being splashed with paint! The carousel was fine! I mean, I did it like 15 or 16 times and by the end it was fine, it wasn’t even high. At the end of it we used the first take, the very, very first time I’ve gone around, because I obviously looked more shocked than by the take fifteen. But being splashed with paint was difficult because you knew that we had just one go – one take, no second chances, no messing up anything. So that was little more nerve wrecking. And then also the paint in my face was… You can’t even imagine what it feels like and then it’s happening! Oh God! (laughs) And I was totally blind as well, I kept trying to open my eyes but the pain would just cover my eyes and this painty feel so I couldn’t see during a good portion of the video – which is slightly alarming! But they were both equally fun to make, anyway, even though one was slightly more settled than the other. (laughs)
Special thanks to Adrijana Tešić and the rest of the magazine staff who contributed the questions!