We caught up with charming Gemma Hayes as she prepared for her Leeds show - to talk about her new album and other plans for the year.
Your debut album (Night on My Side) was a resounding success - award nominated - Mercury awards and Irish Music Awards – was this a surprise to you and how did you deal with it?
It was a massive surprise, because it was my first record. I had recorded the album with Dave Fridman then re-recorded a whole bunch of it in France. At the time I was so close to the record that I really didn't know if it was any good or not. When the album was released there wasn't this huge excitement just a feeling of, that was hard work but it's done now. Then it seemed to grow. People would get it and listen to it and go "yeah it's OK" but people would find themselves going back to it a lot putting it on again and again. So it was a great foundation for a debut.
Then the Mercury nomination was just mental. That put me on the radar. I remember going into Tower Records a year or two before that and seeing the display for the Mercury awards – all the nominated albums with the little stickers on them, I could see that the nomination itself was enough to be recognized, so when it came to my record being nominated, I couldn't believe it!
When it happened it didn't fully register, I was touring at the time and at first that was a good distraction. Although, as I started to do more interviews the question was coming up all the time, this made it more of a reality. The nomination was like a vitamin shot for the ego, it built my confidence in my musical decision making.
There has been a four year gap since your debut, what have you been doing since then?
The first two years were spent promoting Night on My Side, so in reality it was a two year gap. In those two years I did some traveling, I went to America, Portugal, I spent a lot of time in France, took French lessons – you know. Hung out with my family, read a lot of books, moved home etc. and the two years flew. What I didn't do was music; I did nothing to do with music, I didn't go to a show for a year, I didn't stop myself from going, I just didn't have the desire.
Did you find sitting down to write your second album a daunting prospect and if the first album wasn't so successful would it have been such a task?
I don't feel my first album was huge. It didn't sell millions. It wasn't like a number one smash hit that I couldn't come back from. The pressure was there but it wasn't in the forefront of my mind.
There was a bit of pressure coming from the label, so I started to try to write but everything I wrote was crap, because I didn't want to write, I was writing for the wrong reasons, I felt like I didn't have anything to say and the songwriting results weren't up to standard. I needed to get the right feeling before I could sit down and write for this record. I have never been a writer like Paul McCartney; I don't get up at 9 o' clock sit down at my desk and start writing for the day.
Where did you write and record this album?
I wrote most of it in a holiday house in Kerry, in the countryside in Ireland, during the winter months. I cut myself off from everything that is modern, everything and everyone and that definitely worked for me. After that experience I felt I had to get out of Ireland and I wanted to scare myself, I wanted to go somewhere you need to have your sh*t together. I wanted to go to New York but New York was too expensive and so many of the people I wanted to work with lived in Los Angeles. Initially I went for just a couple of weeks but I met up with some musicians who were really down to earth and lovely and I decided that I would make the record there.
You worked closely with Joey Waronker on this album. How did that come about?
Funnily enough, Nigel Godrich recommended him to me. He had worked with Joey with Beck and he suggested that I should use Joey as a drummer. So I met up with Joey and we jammed and Joey was going to be the drummer. He happened to mention he had co-produced an album with Lisa Germano, Lullaby for little pig, which was one of my favorite albums that year. I asked what else he had produced and he told me nothing he wanted to break into the production world. So he said "do you think we could make your album together" and I said "let's just see". It worked out great, the record label were very happy and he did a smashing job.
Joey's family is very well connected in LA - musically. Did this help when it came to forming a band?
Joey is oblivious to that fame, he handles it very well. He is well known as an amazing drummer but he's really humble at the same time. When it came to getting musicians together to form my band Joey suggested we make a wish list of my favorite musicians, but that we kept it realistic. From that list we got together such an amazing band that when it came to touring I couldn't take them on the road with me, because we stole them from other bands. The band worked beautifully on the session and we had - Josh Klinghoffer, the youngster best known for his mercurial guitar work for PJ Harvey, came on board. Cedric LeMoyne, rubber-fingered bassist with Remy Zero was in, too. And so was Roger Manning, Jr, best known for assisting Beck on extra keyboard vibes. Through the first half of 2005, we worked quickly in a small, no-budget, unflashy LA studio. For mixing, we then headed to Cello Studios, the place famous for buffing and tweaking Pet Sounds, Frank Sinatra and The Mammas and The Papas, amongst others.
What do you have planned for the rest of the year – are you doing any festivals this summer?
I hope so; I can't believe there is no Glastonbury this year. Hopefully I will be doing V festival, the Oxygen Festival in Ireland and Leeds/Reading and then we are just going to tour the album around England and Ireland then possibly an acoustic tour.
Your album is titled 'The Roads Don't Love You' what is the meaning of the title?
Well, funnily enough it's a real positive title even though it doesn't sound like it. When I was struggling to write I didn't want to listen to music, somebody put the radio on and I would just switch it off, I didn't want to listen to anything. A friend of mine told me "you must hear this album" a record by The Magnetic Fields. So I listened to this particular song and it just registered with me - this guy was in this really awkward place in his life and he didn't know where he was going, he was sitting in his car and he just kept going down these wrong roads and he would sing this line "The roads don't love you and they still won't pretend to" and at the time it made sense to me because I was trying to write and not getting anywhere.
When the writing breakthrough came I was still listening to that song and I started singing the line at the end of my song Happy Sad as a refrain and it just stuck and became the album title.
Gemma Hayes will release her new single 'Undercover' on March 6th on Virgin Records.
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