I got to talk with up-and-coming Dublin singer-songwriter Ailbhe Reddy for my podcast, which you can listen to below via Soundcloud or via iTunes. She’s currently on an Irish and UK tour – she plays Cork’s Cyprus Avenue on Friday, October 20, and Whelan’s in Dublin on Saturday, October 21. We talked about lots of things including her love of folk and how it influences her, her songwriting, people singing along to her sings, festivals and what’s next for her. There’s a long snippet of the interview transcribed below where Ailbhe talks about her initial difficulties with performing live, playing songs for an audience rather than in the studio for the 100th time, and how everything came together for her debut release, Hollowed Out Sea last year. Ailbhe’s also just released new song ‘The Tube’ which you can buy now or stream on Spotify.

Ailbhe Reddy tour dates:
October 20 – Cyprus Avenue, Cork
October 21 – Whelan’s, Dublin
October 27 – Liverpool Philharmonic
October 28 –The Met, Bury
October 29 – Oporto, Leeds
October 30 – Henry Tudor House, Shrewsbury
November 1 – The Canteen, Bristol
November 2 – St Pancras Old Church, London

So when did you decide to push harder for the music side of things. You were always playing guitar as a teenager and so…
I was a crushingly shy teenager, like awfully shy, like you couldn’t get a word out of me. So I never had the guts to play a gig. I went to college and the same story. I joined a music society – I went to UCD – and they had an open mic gig and I went to it and just stood at the back and then left. I did that a good few times at open mics. I went, stood at the back and left just cos I’d watch the other people playing and be like ‘they were better than me, I dunno how I’m gonna do this’ even though I liked what I was writing. It was only when I played with my friend Matt, who I’ve known since I was four, and we started playing as a duo. He convinced me into playing a gig with him. I played the gig with him and realised it wasn’t so bad. I only played my first solo gig when I was 22. At the Globe.

Was that another open mic night?
Yeah I only played two songs.

It must’ve been really freeing and nice to know you can do this, just pushing through this barrier of playing in front of other people.
Sometimes I kick myself for not going and doing it earlier but at the same time I think the fact people had such a positive reaction to what I played when I started off. Every time I played a gig, I got another gig from it. Which is a great way to start off. I think if I had started a few years earlier maybe the songs wouldn’t have been as particularly good and I wouldn’t have gotten that positive reaction. So maybe it was good that I waited, but who knows? I’m gonna stick to that story, it’s good that I waited, because I don’t have a time machine.

You could’ve been a teenage sensation but it’s good to wait.
Yeah, I feel more grounded now.

Does the songwriting improve with every gig that you play? I dunno if people give you feedback on new songs? Like, how does the songwriting improve as you’re going along?
The way I look at is, the song in a studio can come into its own, like when you’re recording in a studio a song can come into its own, but a different type of song can come into its own when you’re playing live. As in there are some songs that I’ll play that are good songs, and are recorded great or whatever but they just kind of fall flat live. Playing songs live can give them a – they can come into their own that way. There are some songs, like ‘The Tube’ is a song that I wrote when I was going to loads of festivals and playing loads of festivals, and I was like ‘I want something a bit more uptempo for my set’. Cos like festivals, you’re playing stuff like Electric Picnic, you want something uptempo as a band. It’s just funner to play. That’s definitely influenced the way I write – I definitely think about how an audience responds but at the same time you don’t want to think about it too much cos you don’t want to be writing your songs based around how you think people are going to react cos then you lose all honesty.

You have ‘studio acts’ and ‘live acts’, bands who prefer one or the other. You seem to be in the middle.
Yeah I kinda want to be both. Touring is really tough and there’s a lot of gigs. When you’re doing a tour, five of the gigs might be not great but then one gig will be amazing. That’s what keeps you coming back. Playing live shows keeps you in touch with people as well because otherwise I could end up going into a hole and recording demos and my music could end up being totally berserk because I wasn’t playing it live and I wasn’t realising what people were connecting to. Cos it’s not even like what’s marketable or whatever to me, it’s like, I have a song called ‘Coffee’ and every time I play it someone comes up to me and says ‘I fell in love with my barista as well’. Someone will come up to me and say they like that song because it reminds them of this time with their friend or their boyfriend or their girlfriend. That’s really nice. And that song isn’t like a poppy song or whatever but that song’s a song that connects with people. And I think playing live gigs is what keeps you connected. But I love – my happy place is definitely the studio. I love going into the studio to record.

Having to do 100 takes of a song or something, it sounds like the studio can be maddening too.
I love singing so if I have to go in and do a hundred vocal takes I think it’s so much fun. I don’t really like getting a perfect vocal either, if you know what I mean. I’ll go in and do very few takes because I don’t ever like having a perfect vocal. I don’t like anything to sound too processed or generic or whatever, I like when there’s cracks in your voice or something done a teeny bit off, I like that.

You released your debut EP Hollowed Out Sea last year. What did that allow you to do? Was it like, just to have something to sell at gigs.
No, I was releasing that to just – I knew so little when I was recording that. I’d just been booked for Hard Working Class Heroes for the first time. That kind of kicked off a lot of things for me. I started recording that and it took me about a year to finish. I just spent eight months recording it, bringing people down, and I’d do it for two days every few weekends, go down and do loads of stuff on it and try and put it together. It was a real collaborative effort with Darragh Nolan who produced it and also a few of my friends, like Callum Orr who released his own EP as well Then a few other friends and a few guys from Basciville and stuff like that, we’re all going down and writing different parts and doing different parts. It was just a really nice experience because I wasn’t doing it to put it towards anything. I didn’t think it would take off the way it did. I think that’s how you get your most honest work. I kinda thought ‘yeah this is a really nice EP’ by the time I finished it but I released a demo EP before that and nothing happened with that so I had no reason to expect that Hollowed Out Sea would do as well as it did. I couldn’t believe when it started taking off on Spotify. I had to ring my friend Amy and ask if my computer was broken.

So was Ailbhe Reddy the band just you or when did people start coming on board?
It started out a few years ago. It was me playing a few solo gigs and then I started doing a few gigs with a friend, Callum, who was doing backing vocals and second guitar for me, and then I brought in the keys and went back to being solo and just going back and forth. But I still play a lot of solo gigs still and I think it’s important to do solo gigs because you see the song for what it is, with no flourishes. I still write my songs me and my guitar or me and my keyboard, and I think it’s important, for me anyway, to always strip back the songs to that. Any song I write I want to be able to strip it back and play it myself. And then I developed a full band before I launched Hollowed Out Sea after.

Does the stage still hold any reservations for you or are you fully at home now, with the band or solo?
I dunno if I’ll ever be fully at home. Sometimes I’ll walk on and I feel great and it’s amazing and it’s so easy for me. Other times I’m like ‘oh my god’. It depends on – it might sound crazy – what the energy is in the room.

Oh really? You know if it’s only a half-full room or people are happy to stay at the back and chat?
I’d always said I’d rather play to 20 people who are listening rather than 200 people who don’t give a shit. Like, always.