Áine Cahill has one of those special sort of voices that makes you think that even if the Guardian hadn’t named her a ‘One-to-Watch’ for 2017, and even if she hadn’t been especially chosen to play live on the BBC at Glastonbury last year, and even if she hadn’t made such a huge impression that her name started trending on Twitter… she would probably still make the big time anyway. The 22 year old from County Cavan has been making waves in her home country for a while now – she supported local heroes The Strypes and played 2FM’s Xmas Ball at Dublin’s 3Arena – but last year’s Glastonbury show, and this year’s excellent single Plastic, look set to make her just as popular on this side of the Irish Sea. Ahead of festival performances at The Great Escape, Field Day, and Secret Garden Party, we talk to Áine about growing up on the Spice Girls and the powerful effect a Lady Gaga radio session had on her chosen career path.
I read that growing up you were more involved with sport than music, can you tell me a bit about how and why you began writing songs?
Yeah that's right; I was a huge tom boy growing up. When I was 15/16 I saw a video of Lady Gaga performing a radio session and I decided I wanted to play piano. So I did. I just started learning my favourite songs from YouTube. I started writing songs when I was 18; it was a way I could express myself and get some things off my chest, really. I've always found it hard to talk to people about what I'm feeling and songs are my way of saying things I suppose.
What were your formative musical experiences? What did you grow up listening to?
I didn't grow up in a musical household; I always say that I ‘discovered' music when I was 13. That's when I really started to listen, but I LOVED the Spice Girls. I've two older sisters and we would pretend to be our favourite members, I was Baby because I was the youngest! I also loved Britney Spears, this would have been the late 90s/early 00s, after that I can't remember having much interest in music until my teens. I couldn't cope without it now.
Do you think living in Ireland influences your music or career at all? The songs on your soundcloud all make me think of escapism and wistfulness; do you think that has to do with growing up somewhere relatively small?
Hmm, I wouldn't say the songs that touch on escapism have anything to do with where I grew up, I was going through a rough time for a while in my teens. I felt trapped; on one hand I never wanted to leave my room and I hated school, and on the other I wanted to just go away somewhere. It's hard to explain properly I think…
More practically, since you don’t live in a big city, has it been harder for you to get noticed? Or do you think not being part of a larger scene gives you more freedom?
I think if your music is good enough or different enough you will get noticed no matter what. You don't have to live in a city, the internet can reach everywhere. It doesn't matter if you're living in a city with millions of people or a county with 76 thousand. I wouldn't say it's easier or harder to get noticed.
What’s your creative process like? How does an idea become a song?
I usually think of a title, a word just sticks out in my mind. I know straight away if it'll be a song, I feel it. I write lyrics and melody with some chords on piano all at once, I think having a title beforehand makes it easier to know what to say, it’s kind of like a guideline.
How would you describe your sound? What does an Áine Cahill song sound like?
I would say it’s pop music with a hint of 1950's jazz, film noir etc. It's a mix of modern and classic elements.
Are there certain emotions or atmospheres you try and evoke with your music?
I wouldn't write a song to target a specific emotion. I think how I sing and what I say does evoke emotion but that's not something that I'm planning, if that make sense. I think it's subconscious.
Can you tell me about your relationship with film and how this influences your music?
I love Marilyn Monroe, I really connected with her story. I’ve seen a lot of her films and she got me interested in old Hollywood. I have a few songs inspired by her; she’s a huge influence for me.
Black Dahlia was inspired by Elizabeth Short, how do you know when you’ve found something you want to write about?
I just get this feeling in my chest, or something sticks with me for a few days and then I have to write about it. I don't know how to explain it, I rarely ever sit down at the piano and say ‘I'm going to write a song' and force something out. I just know.
You’ve just released your latest track Plastic, what can you tell me about that?
I wrote Plastic a while ago, I realised things about a few people in my life and I wanted to write the song to send a message. ‘I know what you're doing and I'm not letting it happen again.' I was hurt, to be honest, I felt very stupid but Plastic is an empowering song for me. You can't let someone use you or control you; stand up for yourself.
Lastly, what’s next for you? What do you hope to achieve in the near future?
I'm going on tour in April/May and have a busy festival season lined up! I'm finishing some tracks in the studio too, so hopefully there's an EP on the way. There is a long list of goals I'd love to achieve but I'm doing everything one step at a time.
Áine Cahill plays Field Day 2017 on Saturday 3rd June at Victoria Park. Tickets here.
Words by Gemma Barnes