Monday 24 October 2016

'I think it is harder for me than Danny because I am a female vocalist, doing it on my own'

Singer-songwriter Roisin O tells Joanna Kiernan about life, music and being part of a very talented family

Roisin and Joanna
Roisin and Joanna

In 2012, when Roisin O launched her debut album at just 23 years of age, she was often referred to simply as the sister of Coronas front man Danny O'Reilly or the daughter of legendary Irish folk singer, Mary Black.

Since then, however, Roisin (26) has managed to find her very own and rightful place in the sun, which is no mean feat when you hail from such an extremely talented family.

"When I look back on it, I feel like I was really young," Roisin smiles. "I can't believe I brought out an album that long ago. I was still learning what my genre and my style was and how to go about doing stuff, so it was very raw in a way, but I am still very proud of it.

"I think the next album is definitely going to be a step away. It's more me finding myself and growing up."

Roisin is honest about where she gets her inspiration for her songs. "It would definitely be personal experience," she grins.

"I can only write about the things I know and I think, if you are honest in a song with your lyrics and you are not trying to be contrived about something for the sake of it, I think people can hear that. They know if you are being sincere or not. So it's all heartbreak or love usually with my songs!" she laughs.

"But then, I have a new song and when I started it, I was writing it about how you come across people in your life or your career who try and put you down and try and stop you from doing what you want to do, but it became more of a political thing," Roisin explains.

"I never write songs about politics, but I had seen a lot of stuff that was going on in Russia at the time with discrimination and general craziness, and thought we need to band together and stand up for the little person, so that's what the song became about in the end.

Roisin O
Roisin O

"Usually though, it is all 'me me,' or 'poor me' or 'I'm going to do this!'" Roisin giggles.


"Most of the time, I think it's nice for people to be able to hear the songs and to be able to put themselves in it, rather than knowing exactly what it is about," Roisin adds.

"It could sound like a love song and not be a love song at all, and I have a few songs like that. So I like people to relate to the songs in whatever way they want."

Roisin, who lives in Rathmines, is just back from her own headline tour in Germany. "It was amazing," she says of the experience. "Before that, I had been in Germany travelling around for three months, pretty much full on, doing support slots, and then at the end of all the support slots, I got my own tour, which was absolutely amazing.

"It was definitely one of the highlights of my career so far, to be there performing to a foreign audience and they are all coming to see you!"

Roisin has more knowledge of the industry than most musicians her age, thanks to a childhood spent watching her mother at work.

"I grew up in the industry," she smiles. "I am the youngest and I am the only girl and so, by the time I came along, my mam was quite well into her career and in her stride, so she was like 'I am taking her everywhere with me!'

"So I went on tour with her all of the time and I learned about life on the road."


"So now, when I go to Germany or America, I already have this wealth of experience from being on the road with mam and I know how I should be treated and how to treat people," Roisin adds.

Roisin is grateful she has had her mother and her brother Danny to guide her throughout her career.

"Anyone could give me advice in the industry, but these are two people who I know love me unconditionally, so whatever they say to me, it's going to be for my benefit; they have nothing to gain from me losing," Roisin tells me.

"The industry is sort of cut throat or at least it can be and people are in it to get ahead, so having them on my side is amazing and I definitely don't take that for granted - having their voices and opinions there, whether I take their advice or not, is another thing," Roisin laughs, "but I always know they are in my corner and that's great."

Roisin has had to work hard to prove herself. "Often times, people will talk about mam and Danny, but I think that the three of us are in really separate genres, which helps," Roisin says.

"Some people might hear my voice and think 'Mary Black' because I am her daughter and I have inherited some of her likenesses, and I would say I definitely say that I sound a bit like her, especially when she was younger, but I really think that we are going our separate ways.

"She was very folk based, Danny is sort of rock and I am somewhere in the middle and I think that people are starting to realise that."


"I think it is actually harder for me than for Danny because I am a female vocalist and I am doing it on my own," Roisin adds.

"So it is very easy to say 'Oh she is Mary Black's daughter! She's just doing what Mary Black did!' Whereas Danny had the band to stand with and it was rock music. So it is harder, but I think the more people know me now and my music and know that I am doing something on my own."

Roisin is understandbly keen to maintain her privacy when it comes to her own personal life these days. "Because my family life is so known in the media, I think I just need to leave something personal for myself and not have everybody know everything," she smiles. "It's nice to have some things that are private."

Roisin is, however, passionate about love and equality, which is why she is backing the Straight Up for Equality campaign ahead of this week's marriage referendum. "I have been out canvassing and my If You Got Love song was picked for the Straight Up for Equality campaign video," Roisin beams, with a Yes to Equality pin clearly displayed on her jumper. "I went out and did a bit of canvassing last week in Tallaght with the Yes bus in The Square.

"I had never been out canvassing and I don't know canvassing etiquette at all. So most people are really positive about it, but there was one man who I got into a huge argument with!" Roisin laughs.

"My cousin Aoife and I, we are both really passionate about it and because we had never canvassed before, we didn't really know to say 'Ok, well you are entitled to your opinion. Have a nice day!'"

"I have so much respect for the people who go out and canvass," Roisin adds. "Especially when they are meeting these just horrible and bad vibes from some people.

"I saw one guy handing out a flyer to a woman and a man passing by and the man just hit it out of his hand and kept walking. They are just fighting for love. They want to have the same rights as everyone else. It's not a matter of right and wrong, it is an equality thing. I really hope it's a Yes."

Roisin has worked tirelessly to carve a niche for herself in the music scene, securing a number of support gigs for major acts like Lionel Richie, Ryan Sheridan and the Coronas.

"I did the first album and off the back of that. I got a lot of support slots with the likes of Ryan Sheridan, who is doing great as well and through that, I got a record deal and a promoter. It has just been little-by-little happenstance has got me there," she explains.

"Germany is such a massive audience and they all love music so much that you could have your whole career there, forget about the rest of the world. So it was an amazing opportunity.

"I don't think there are any other audiences like Irish audiences, but it is hard here. It's about working little by little. So I will be concentrating a little more on home now, putting out some singles and working towards some festivals."


Roisin's dream musical collaboration would be with her idol Joni Mitchell. "Joni Mitchell is my absolute idol," she smiles. "I know she doesn't really do music anymore, but if I had to pick one person I would love to sit down with and write a song, it would definitely be her."

So how does Roisin define success?

"My idea of success is just to be able to sing for a living," she answers without blinking. Whether that means playing to a sold out 3 Arena or playing every other day to 100 people; as much as stadium gigs would be amazing

"I just love to sing and if people will come to see me do that for the rest of my life that would be amazing. I would be happy out with that."

Róisín O's new single 'If You Got Love' is released on Friday, May 22, and her headline Dublin show will take place this Saturday, May 23, in The Workman's Club. For more information see: http://roisino.com

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