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Friday, May 02, 2008

Hayes Code

Interview with Gemma Hayes in today's Irish Daily Mail

Gemma Hayes is seriously chilled out right now. She may have just started her Irish tour in Cork the night before we speak, but the 30-year-old singer is feeling relaxed and mellow - vibes that permeate Hayes’ third album, The Hollow of Morning, which goes on official release today.
She laughs when I tell her this beautiful, acoustic-tinged album is so quiet that she could very well be beside me whispering the tunes and lyrics into my ear.

“Wow, they should put that quote on the album cover!” she jokes. “No, that’s great to hear. I just really wanted to make a chilled out album and I think I achieved it.

“The second album [2005’s The Roads Don’t Love You] was a very big production. I think I wanted to do something kind of intimate as a reaction to that. My main goal was to just create something really true and pure.

“There were a few sounds I was hearing at the time that were a huge influence on me, like Sigur Ros. I obviously don’t sound like them, but I just think their intentions and their peaceful music conjures up beautiful images. So that was something I wanted to do myself – create more of a peaceful, darker sound.”

The peace that Hayes feels today was borne of a pretty dark period in her career. Having burst onto the international music scene in 2002 with her debut album Night On My Side, and earning a Mercury Music Prize nomination for her efforts, Hayes hightailed it to Los Angeles to record her follow up, the aforementioned The Roads Don’t Love You, which proved to be a difficult second album in every sense of the word.

The reviews were mixed and Hayes herself was approaching burnout, but then, midway through an Irish and UK tour, her label EMI announced that they were dropping her. She’s not afraid to admit that it was a devastating blow.

“My ego was definitely bruised,” she says. “I had been signed since I was 21 years old so I really felt I had lost that sense of belonging.

“But at the same time I felt slightly excited about leaving because I wasn’t happy there. It was kind of like breaking up with someone where you know the relationship is really damaged. When you do that you’re sad, but part of you is really excited at the idea of being free. It took me a while to stand on solid ground, but once I realised I could actually make it work, I was delighted.

“Someone asked me recently, ‘Do I regret anything?’ And the thing is I actually really like where I am right now, so if all the Roads shenanigans led me to this place, it has to have been a good thing.

“I look back now at Roads and I just remember it as a struggle. The record label put a lot of pressure on me and I really had my boxing gloves on for the whole two years.”

Her boxing gloves now safely in storage, Hayes is releasing The Hollow of Morning herself, so understandably the whole experience was somewhat of a labour of love. In fact, if fans look closely enough, they might just make out her blood, sweat and tears encrusted on the disc.

“It was overwhelming,” she laughs. “I remember I had the finished album on my hard drive, and I had to ring up [singer songwriter] Joe Chester and ask, ‘Joe where do I go to have the album made into a CD?!’

Considering her level of involvement, and all she has been through over the past few years, the lyrics on new tracks like ‘In Over My Head’, ‘Out of Our Hands’ and ‘Chasing Dragons’ are laced with personal meaning.

“I definitely think that writing for me is like an exorcism,” she reveals. “It’s a way of expressing things that I don’t have the guts to say as a person. I find that through music I have more freedom to really just open up.” She pauses before adding: “People have said there are a lot of goodbyes on this album and I guess there are – goodbye to certain people and situations.”

One place that Hayes hasn’t said goodbye to yet is Los Angeles, her adopted place of residence, if not exactly home. “My car and my apartment are there in LA, but I have this weird thing where I just can’t call it home,” she explains.

“To me, Dublin and Ireland are home, and so, of course, is Ballyporeen. I’d get it knocked out of me if I ever went back there with high notions. I love home more as I get older. It’s my place to go when I just want to get away from everything.”

As for her career, Hayes is going to hit the road in the UK touring this month, and will be back for another Irish tour before her appearance at Electric Picnic this summer. She will then start recording her fourth album in August.

“The next album is going to be slightly different in that it will be all live,” she reveals. “I’m going to have a really cool band playing live, and everything – the music and vocals – will be done in one take. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, and now is the perfect time.

“I know this sounds cheesy but it really does feel like I’ve given myself permission to enjoy all this. Before I got so caught up in things; this time round, my main my agenda is to have fun.”

*The Hollow of Morning is out now. See

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