EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Introducing Dublin’s Ethereal Singer/Songwriter Naoise Roo
Naoise Roo is a talented up-an-coming independent artist from Dublin, making waves in the thriving live scene in Ireland right now. The Playground recently caught up with her to discuss her latest controversial video, directed by the acclaimed film-maker Bob Gallagher (Girl Band), and starring Aron Hegarty (Ripper Street, Game of Thrones & Vikings). The track is off her current album Lilith, which has already been received extremely well by critics.
We also discussed patriarchy in the music industry, the concept of female sexuality, the Catholic religion and… folklore fairies. It’s a pretty revealing interview we think you’ll agree…
How did you first got into music? Growing up in Dublin, was there many outlets to do this starting out?
Well I was obviously a huge music fan from very young, and I sang a lot. I started writing from a teenager but didn’t really start playing live till I was in my twenties. There’s an amazing scene here, but it took a long time and a lot of self persuasion to start playing live, because I was very much someone that retreated, and played alone and wrote alone. It was a very solitary process. So I suppose in regards to playing live, it was about slowly getting into the scene. It is so vibrant (the scene) here when you’re in it, it’s amazing. Influence wise, I mean getting into music I was very lucky to have a family with great taste, like motown – a lot of motown and sixties stuff and then lots of nineties grunge: Radiohead, REM, Nirvana, New Order, that’s obviously very influential.
Talking about the grunge scene you’ve been described by some media sources as the Irish PJ Harvey. Do you think that’s an accurate description?
I think it’s quite easy when you have a female rock musician, to be put in those camps. As in PJ Harvey, has she got a piano? Is she Tori Amos? I mean, I’m not insulted at all – I’m a huge fan of PJ Harvey. I find it very complimentary to be compared to one of my favourite artists… it’s amazing. But we’re very different artists at the same time, to be fair. But grunge is defined in there as part of the genre I play.
Musically The Pixies would be a huge influence. I mean, to be compared to sounding anything like that, would be amazing. I am definitely influenced by the bass lines, and I write most of the songs’ bass lines first. Then we write the lyrics and go over it with guitar. So I am very influenced by The Pixies’ bass line, because their just amazingly trans-formative at same time as well as being repetitive, so a big influence on my writing.
Would you agree because of the Irish symbolism you’re comparable to Kate Bush, but because you play guitar they can’t say that?
Yeah that could totally be possible. Kate Bush is amazing, like the influence of Lilith I mean absolutely the folklore thing is such a great tool – so inspirational! It’s weird I wrote the album before the title, but it is such an influence on the artwork, kinda putting the songs almost in context. I always think writing a song is like trying to interpret a dream afterwards. You don’t realise the symbolism and how everything is linked until it’s worked out afterwards. Then you’re like that’s what I was feeling or thinking! Definitely I think the folklore and all the ideas of Lilith and the mythology has definitely influenced anything that has come after. I even linked the video ‘Whore,’ and the artwork that’s come. It’s been interesting to collaborate with other people using those sort of ideas.
The sounds changes from electronica to gritty rock, to quite sensual cause of your husky voice how do you think you find that distinctive sound?
No it was quite natural. I just grew up singing the blues and motown and soul. I think the combination of being a huge fan of that, mixed with being just so into rock and grunge music melded together, giving me that sound. Having a smogs-board, it ended up being very organic. With the album it’s quite different, there’s a lot of different jumps from softer sentimental ones, to hard grittier ones as you were saying. I think that is a result of wanting to do so many things. I mean I’m a huge Beck fan, and one of the reasons I love him, is how he constantly loves to jump different genres on so many different songs, and when I write I like to try a lot of things, a lot of different styles.
You also have quite a pure poetic approach to writing your lyrics, which might be why you’ve also been referenced to Nick Cave
(His album) ‘And No More Shall We Part’ is one of my favourite albums of all time.
And No More Shall We Part – Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
You can definitely see that in the video, it seems to be a visual inspiration. What was the creative motivation for writing the song ‘Whore,’ and how did you come up with the treatment?
So writing the song is about subverting sexual submission. It wasn’t particularly conscious when I was writing it, but looking back it came out of me cause I wanted to write something coming from a strong point. One of the things that I like about the artists I love, is when they write about sex. It’s very visual, very strong, and you know what I see a lot… So much about pop music is this sort of seemingly – I mean obviously everyone is expressive in their own way, but this sort of objectification; I wanted to write something where there’s this subverting of this objectification. Where you’re coming from a point of strength while being vulnerable and submissive. You know what I mean? That’s where that thing came from, finding a sort of devotion to someone. That sort absolute submission can be a powerful position at the same time.
So it’s an expression of free will, instead of a passive compliance to being objectified without a say in it?
Exactly it’s like when you stand there, and create that sort of relationship, that kind of interaction. To be very strong about it, it’s a position of strength even though it’s supposedly a position of vulnerability, as well using the word ‘whore.’ Whore is a word I think is really interesting. I love using that word it’s been used in such a sort of demeaning way, I just I wanted to use that again in a positive way…
As a way to reclaim it?
Exactly as a way to reclaim it! And then with the video, Bob is such a great director I was absolutely just so excited to work with him. He’s done so many of my favourite video he’s worked with Girl Band and soak, just so many people that I love… so when we met he had this idea about this priest being so jealous of Mary, he wanted to become Mary Magdalene he was so jealous of her relationship with Jesus, that he wanted to transform into that position, because he was in love with Jesus. So then we spit-balled it a bit, talking about that sort of absolutely overwhelming faith, that devotion, and the link between that in sexual terms, in a relationship and that in religion… and that’s how it came out.
Naoise Roo – Whore
And did you approach him about this? They are impressive people to have on-board (Bob and the actor Aaron Hegarty. Did he just approach Aaron?
With Aaron we found him. We were looking for an actor and couldn’t find the right one, and Aaron just came on board and he was amazing, he was so good! I mean he was just amazing and Bob, I wanted to make a video with for a long time, I had a creative crush on him. I watched his work from afar, and kept hoping one day I’d get to work with him, and I was very lucky with this one. God speed, this was the one I wanted. He was really into the song – we were really lucky. He made it work around his commitments, he was just tirelessly devoted to doing this, he worked insanely hard. He was literally out the night before, working till 1 a.m. the night before, and we just shot it in this one very long day, and he turned up and was doing this entirely for hours. There was like a flip and his hands was swollen, and he was sweating and he just went for it for hours and hours, and he was just brilliant – an amazing actor, I was so lucky. So impressed.
He really transformed the original idea of what you said, of the song being from a purely sexual perspective to being almost a theme of madness. It highlights a very sensitive topic, bringing up the theme of sexual repression within the Catholic church, would you say Bob was trying to be controversial here?
I think the concept fit very well, and I don’t think it was meant to deliberately be controversial so much as we experienced a huge amount of sexual repression in Ireland, and a lot of feelings towards religion were negative. We didn’t have legal contraception here until the mid eighties. My grandmother had to go the priest to get the pill those two things are intrinsically linked but not meant to be controversial i suppose to make people aware of that link to create that idea. There’s many layers those two things are very linked an important for people to see that.
DO you think as a female progressing in the music industry it has made it harder?
I feel like there’s aspects I think everyone has different experiences for sure but for me it’s more about feeling certain things expected of you i think for me as a female artist i certainly felt progression would be easier if u look certain way of a certain age singing about certain things of i feel like people are not gonna be as open to u being a explicit as they would be if you were a male still a feeling that you should be open to being objectified and that if you are an objectifiable artist, that can help your progression usually. I think there’s that, and then the thing is it’s an eternal thing, it’s a thing that with women. It comes down to you feeling like you could be judged and that you can’t do it. It’s very interesting I always wondered why I didn’t know that many women doing it. The women I knew were so into music and wanted to play. But there’s this weird thing of feeling like you can’t access it, like it’s not for you… a lot of people do that. It comes done to feelings of insecurity, of people listening to what you’re saying, and I think that’s a societal issue.
That’s something a lot of independent female artists in the spotlight like Grimes (who does all her own production), said they found it to be a huge issue. Did you find it difficult when you were making your songs to get your points across as a female in a certain way. Did you find it tricky asserting yourself?
I understand what your saying, was I patronised? Well I was lucky (although I shouldn’t say that!). When I was recording I was treated like a musician, as a songwriter I had two male producers and a lot of male band members and I was listened to because I should be listened to. But that wasn’t the experience for everyone. I chose the people I surrounded myself with, and I was very particular, about who I worked with… it was not because of sexism but because I choose the right people because I’m particular about who I trust, and who will listen to me regardless of gender. But I will say within gigging I’ve been patronised by sound engineers. I had a sound engineer once come up to me while I was on stage, and try to teach me how to use the mic in the middle of my performance which was amazing. I was like er no! I also had a sound engineer basically be like ‘you’re in the band?’ and also look me up and down like a piece of meat. Yes I have that and that doesn’t feel very good. It really does upstage you, and those kinds of things can be really knocking and make you feel awful and that idea means less people wanna get into music, and can make women feel really awful and I think that is such a shame.
Such a shame but I think it’s really interesting, I mean music can be sexist and can be ageist and it can be superficial and those things can very hard to battle with. I mean I was reading recently in Ireland, that there’s hugely more young women do music in school – like 30% more. I’m like where are they?! Not just classical or trad. but like where are they? And men are encouraged to make fools of themselves and women aren’t, and part of doing music is about making mistakes in a very public forum, and we’re just so deterred away from that, and told that’s not how it supposed to be and that needs to change, and hopefully is and will change.
What can we expect from you in 2017 do you have a lot of touring planned?
Hopefully, I’d like to do a lot more touring abroad, we’ll see what we can do about that. I’m trying to get over to do a lot of shows around the majority of the U.K that’s definitely on the carda, and then a couple more videos happening, before the summer. Definitely one if not two.
And do you think you’d might work with Bob Gallagher again soon?
I would love to! I mean hopefully at some point. I’m gonna be working with another really talented person – a filmmaker Laura Sheridan, she’s a musician and also a videographer. She’s great and we’re gonna be working on the next video together, and I recommend you check out her stuff, she’s really good. And I’m working with a director from Cork on the next one he’s really cool as well. Then in the future, 100 percent I would love to work with Bob again, he’s amazing and lovely to work with. I am sort of a one women rally for Bob Gallagher, I will recommend him to anyone who will listen he is wonderful to work with. The Girl Band and Miles Marley videos, are really good too so check them out!
Girl Band – Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage? (Directed by Bob Gallagher)
Girl Band – In Plastic
Naoise Roo – For You