OTHER SIDE OF THE TRACKS Q&A with Ríona Sally Hartman
The development of a musical work begins a long time before an audience sees it, with inspiration, creation, choices, and many hours of work in rehearsal, practice, recording, and organisation. We love hearing the stories of how albums or concerts get from their initial seeds of thought to the final production, and how different musicians think about their creative process and work they do. Other Side of the Tracks gives us insights into this process from a range of musicians, and provides some fantastic perspectives on music, inspiration, work, and life.
Composer, vocalist, and instrumentalist Ríona Sally Hartman has just released a Double A-side, with the tracks Seed & Bloom, and shared some insight with us into the linguistic origins of her songs, the search for truth as an artist, and the pull between in-the-moment interpretation and the final 'set' recording.
Ríona is a bi-lingual vocalist, composer and songwriter, whose music has become known for its lush vocal harmonies, acoustic softness and the surrealist stories that accompany her songs. The Irish Times described her as "...capable of using her voice like an instrument, but she is a writer too, interested in the observations and speculations of the poet. Her finely-crafted debut album unites the musician and the songwriter, drawing water from many wells, from folk and jazz to alt pop and contemporary lieder.”
Q 1. Could you tell us about the inspiration behind this album?
Seed was inspired by seeing my nephew learning to speak, I wanted to write a song for him, but also was really conscious of not wanting to put words in his mouth or not wanting to describe him before he had a chance to define himself in his own words. I was listening to Lionel Loueke and Angelique Kidjo’s song Ami O on repeat at the time so that definitely inspired the song too.
Bloom is the sister song and similarly was inspired by thinking about speech and language. I wanted to write a melody that sounded like someone talking excitedly, as if it could have been improvised, but then it repeats throughout the song in various contexts. I was thinking of the melody in Hermeto Pascoal’s Little Cry for Him (Chorinho Pra Ele) and how it sounds so base, like it could have existed forever.
Q2. Musically speaking, how do you go about taking the steps from initial inspiration to a finished piece?
With both songs I played them loads with lots of different musicians before getting the chance to go into studio, so hearing the songs in all those various contexts and iterations played a big part in developing them. But I struggle with pulling the trigger and choosing which takes to release because I hate choosing one take of a song as the “finished piece”, I’m not sure if there ever really is a “finished piece”. I write fairly detailed arrangements but there’s always space for improvisation, for interpretation, if the exact same band as is on the recordings performed the songs tomorrow they’d be different.
Q3. What is the most important thing to you when making music?
I’ve always loved the country music saying that all you need to make music is three chords and the truth. There’s definitely more than three chords in these songs, but “truth” is definitely something that’s really important to me when I’m making music. I can’t put my finger on what exactly it is, or how we recognise it, but it’s like you feel it in your gut when you’re making music, or listening to music, that’s honest. That’s what I’m always striving for, those fleeting moments of being completely present and honest.
Q4. What would you like listeners to experience when listening to this music?
Joy! I want these songs to get people out of bed in the morning. Seed starts gentle, lighthearted, to wake you up while you make your coffee. By the time you’ve reached the end of Bloom the whole band is in full ecstatic mode, cheering you on so you’re ready to go out to face the day. A lot of things in the world feel very heavy lately, if these songs could blow away just a little bit of the dust of every day life for listeners I’ll have done my job.