Lisa O’Neil – In Focus

Recently signed to Rough Trade, Lisa O’ Neill is an old soul living in the 21st Century. She takes on traditional irish folk songs and makes them her own, alongside writing originals that are  beautifully sad.

Her newest album ‘Heard A Long Gone Song’ shows her evolve more into ambitious songwriting. Ahead of her Irish tour Jimmy McCormac caught up with her to talk more about her lyrics, raw sound and connection with Shane Macgowan.

Photo Credit: Claire Leadbitter

Sounds: You have a song called ‘Rock The Machine’ about mechanisation taking over dockers jobs. In general do you think the rise of technology and machinery are going to take over the future of other jobs?

L.O.N: I think that the rise of machinery has created many jobs for people and continues to do so. However, with that, machinery has also caused the loss of countless jobs in many areas of life. Most of the people who lost their jobs to the rise of machines, it is sad to say, do not possess the skills to adapt to a new way of life forced upon them. The song is in a way a lament to that fact. It is my opinion machines will continue to create and destroy livelihoods for the foreseeable future.

Sounds: Through each album your sound and voice seems to have become more raw. Was that a deliberate shift in the way your present your sound in your recordings or just something that naturally happened?

L.O.N: It was a bit of both really. Over the years I have been lucky enough to meet some fantastic and inspirational musicians, some of whom feature on this album. They have opened my mind to a new perspective on music which I find intriguing and want to explore.

Sounds: On the song Violet Gibson you tell the story of Violet attempting to assassinate Mussolini. Where did the inspiration to write about this particular incident come from?

L.O.N: I wrote the song on Violet Gibson after I was challenged by Ian Lynch of Lankum. It was he who first introduced me to Gibson and suggested I write a song about her. I in turn challenged him to write a song about the ‘Wrens of the curragh’.

Sounds: You have a powerful cover of the pogues ‘Lullaby Of London’ on the new album. Can you explain why you to use the lyric ‘Heard a long gone song’ as the album title?

This is the first album on which I have included not only original compositions but old folk songs as well. With that in mind McGowan’s lyrics seemed fitting.

Sounds: You write many songs in narrative. Have you thought of writing a song as a collaboration with another artist and splitting character voices?

L.O.N: I have entertained the idea for a while but as of yet no fruits have been reaped from my labour.

Sounds: You’re working at a theatre group in Adelaide at the moment. What inspired you to do work in theatrics?

L.O.N: I find other mediums of creativity to be a great source to my own. So far it has been exciting to observe a piece of theatre at its early stages. I enjoyed the challenge that I was presented with in this instance, as a songwriter it is usually a solitary process, here I am working with a script and am writing songs within that context.

Sounds: You toured Europe with Glen Hansard and Divine Comedy.  Were these experiences interesting to go out with these other Irish musicians?

L.O.N: Every tour is different and no two acts are the same . I have different memories from all my tours. Glen Hansard and Divine Comedy have both been extremely generous to me with their time and advice, and with sharing their stage and their audience. But what proved most valuable to me was joining them for a spell on their individual journeys and observing them at work. From that I learned something you can’t study or learn from a book. I learned the social part of music education. I will always remember the kindness I have been shown by both.

Sounds: You played at Shane McGowan’s 60th Birthday party. How did this come about? and what was it like playing for one of your heroes?

L.O.N: It was a bizarre experience playing alongside so many people who I admire such as Nick Cave, Sinead O’Connor as well as Shane McGowan, of course. I was glad on the night to have many friends around me such as Cormac Begley, Lankum  and Glen Hansard among others.