“It definitely doesn’t feel too small. This is definitely the right place for us,” Gemma Doherty asserts confidently. She is one half of the Irish duo Saint Sister. The other half, Morgan MacIntyre, adds “Maybe it’s the same everywhere you go that it feels like a little community. But it’s definitely a really nice time to be involved in the Irish music scene. There’s a lot happening and lots of different kinds of music coming to the foreground.” With Hozier, James Vincent McMorrow and Kodaline all proudly representing Ireland, the team is looking promising.
Saint Sister’s ethereal sound has been making waves in their home turf, and beyond, since 2014; they’ve played with none other than Win Butler, at SXSW and they were recently played on Radio 1 by the wisest music scout on the airwaves, Huw Stephens. They’ve been moving through the ranks of Ireland’s music scene ever since meeting at Trinity College Dublin.
Their music is stripped back, pure with haunting lyrics and disarming harmonies. Gemma underscores their beautiful voices with a harp, which gives the music a lofty quality. Morgan’s lyrics have a strong folk influence, with dark imagery at times, and they sing with a kind of secretive melancholy. “I really enjoy writing when I’m sad and I definitely use that as therapy and always have done. I’ve used it to work out sadder and darker emotions. I think things are more interesting when you use unusual imagery,” Morgan told me.
“Darling I have tried to fix you/I can’t count the times that I have kissed you/I never thought that when you built our home you’d make it out of blood and bones”. The chorus of Corpses, which was released in 2016 as part of a two-sided EP and depicts a nightmarish collection of dead bodies. The lyrics are beautiful and reminiscent of Hozier’s “In A Week”, which describes the decaying bodies of two lovers on a hill. In the same vein as great Irish writers like Yeats, Joyce, Gregory and Heaney, they manage to transform the gruesome into something almost serene and picturesque.
Their new EP, Causing Trouble, is more upbeat than their older stuff and has a kind of yearning that is instantly relatable. The song is about change and relocation and contains lots of references to their home country. There’s even a Van Morrison line, “and it stoned me”, in there, which made me very happy. The song reminds me of the beautiful soundtrack of Coraline; with its light accompaniment, delicate harp arrangement and choral harmonies, it would be the perfect supplement to a whimsical yet eerie film.
They count James Blake, Bon Iver, Angel Olson and Lisa Hannigan amongst their influences but concede that their favourite stuff will always be classics like Joni Mitchell and Patsy Cline. The electronic aspects to James Blake and Bon Iver’s new albums is apparent in their music. Although not as experimental, their sound has been described as electrofolk because of their penchant for lo-fi beats that enhance the acoustic sound. They toured with Lisa Hannigan and claim to never tire of her softly-spoken folk tunes.
SXSW was a constructive experience for them, Morgan says, “We learnt a lot there in terms of how to play a gig when you’re competing with so much outside noise. You have to work a lot harder.” Does it make it more difficult to engage? “It’s not hard to get into the emotion. It’s really nice when you can get really into the song because I know that when I see a performance when there’s integrity or honesty behind the performance, when the person really means what they’re saying it carries so much weight.” But capturing a wasted audience in a muddy field with a sound as subtle as theirs must be so rewarding. “If you’re able to achieve that intimacy in a festival setting that can be really special,” Gemma confirms.
And what of Win Butler, the man, the myth, the unquestionable legend? How, why, what? The supporting gig was the result of a chance meeting with his promoter at one of their first gigs. Win is apparently a sweetheart, whose mother plays the harp. Gemma was flabbergasted when he brought this up, citing a Debussy song, “instead of saying something cool I think I literally just said something really stupid like ‘it’s not that kind of harp’.” It’s so good to see that this kind of awkwardness is not unique to the English, or the layperson.
Saint Sister are currently on a European tour and are playing this summer at Latitude and Layers festival in Amsterdam. But they are acutely aware that the female presence on line-ups these days is scarce. “It’s a shame that you might go to a gig and it’s filled with guys on the line up and filled with guys in the audience and it’s kind of considered a dude thing.” Morgan comments. “We’ve been encountering a lot of incredible women. It would be so good if it was more equal across the spectrum.” To that I say, right on. Although they told me that they’ve never experienced direct sexism, they told me there are a tumult of stories from their female peers. So, we clearly need more people like these lasses to take up the helm and represent.
The interview was an absolute pleasure and I’ve already committed their entire music library to memory, just from listening the their songs on loop. Get listening and spread the word, people – that is, if you like being the one to find ‘the next big thing’.