After a special performance together in 2020, two of Ireland’s best folk singers have joined forces to create a narrative driven and emotionally vulnerable EP. NI Music Prize winner Joshua Burnside and Lemoncello’s Laura Quirke sat down for a virtual chat with Sam from The Jumble, discussing their beginnings, working through 2020, and all you need to know about their upcoming EP ‘In The Half-Light’.
Hi Josh, Hi Laura! Let’s get started with an introduction, can you tell us a bit about yourselves and how you came together?
Laura: Well, I’m from Carlow- and musically, so far, I’ve been working as part of the duo Lemoncello with Claire Kinsella. We’re in the middle of recording our first album, but since the pandemic I’ve been writing a lot more, and I’ve started a solo project. I want to collaborate and experiment, and just make things musically in another context. Josh and I met at the Other Voices festival, we were put into the same house and had lots of nice sessions. I was a fan of Josh’s music and we kept running into each other, giving us opportunities to work together. We were invited (separately) to do a livestream performance at the Duncarin and we happened to be going up on the same day to record, we ended up being asked if we would have anything we could perform together. I had just finished writing ‘Taking the Wheel’ as a duet, but I hadn’t really thought about who would take up the other part at that point, it felt like an abundance of synchronicity that there was an opportunity to duet right there. I sent Josh the track, performed it at the livestream, and ended up putting together the ‘In the Half-Light EP’ at the end of it all.
Josh: After hearing Laura sing a few of her songs years ago I was super impressed, I always knew I wanted to work with her in the future. The pandemic presented an opportunity to collaborate with new people and try new things,and the fact that it ended up with this EP is fantastic.
The EP was recorded in the midst of a slight ease in restrictions back in 2020. How have you found navigating the music world and recording throughout the COVID crisis? Do you think this EP would be different if it wasn’t made in 2020?
Laura: As a track ‘Taking the Wheel’ was very much inspired by feelings and musings that came out of the pandemic. I was concentrated on the details of a conversation and the unsaid between two people, and that’s a result of spending so much time around the same few people in the same context. When you’re in that position things become exaggerated, you notice more than you would when you’re constantly on the go. As well as that, the EP pretty much happened by accident- that’s a result of having the extra time, which we wouldn’t have had if 2020 wasn’t the year it was. We had nowhere else to be and it was a very fertile space for creativity. It’s fair to say that the EP may not have happened at all under different conditions.
Josh: When there’s nothing else to do we are just more likely to spend time playing about with instruments and making music, so I agree that 2020 gave us the exact environment we needed to make ‘In the Half-Light’, the environment was also very unique- even though we constantly stuck to the rules it always felt a bit sneaky, it was bizarre. On top of that, there were a lot of moments when we couldn’t actually meet, I think that influenced the EP to have a more experimental direction. At the end of the track ‘Far Away the Hills are Green’ all the layering of the vocals, talking, and the madness that goes on may not have happened in a ‘normal’ studio session. Likewise the end of ‘In the Half-Light’ is a result of me mucking around with reverbs and delays for ages, if Laura was with me in the studio that would have been very boring for her.
‘Taking the Wheel’ sounds fantastic- and lyrically, it’s so narrative driven. The story of these two characters- Sarah and David, driving through the rain, trying to work out their feelings. Can you explain a bit of the musical inspiration for this track?
Laura: I was listening to loads of John Prine, he’d just passed away around the time I was writing. I didn’t even realise how much his music inspired me while I was writing, but retrospectively I hear it. I can say the same about the show ‘Normal People’, it deals with a lot of the same theme of unsaid things between two people. Other than that it’s just a mess of everything I have listened to before.
Josh: The first time Laura sent me the demo of the song it reminded me of the soft sadness of an early Sufjan Stevens track, so I pinned that as a production reference for me. We also both wanted the broken radio sounds and the almost grungey feel of the chorus. It was pretty fortunate that the studio we were working in (Vault Artist Studios) had people rehearsing nearby, and we were able to pick some of that chatter and background noise up- you can hear it at the beginning of the song.
Although it’s a tricky question with the unsure nature of everything as we ease back out of lock down life, can you tell us what’s coming up for you both in the future?
Josh: It’s a bit of a mixed bag, we were hoping to organise a launch for the EP- depending on restrictions and rules. There’s also potentially a performance at Stendhal festival in August, but it is still a bit up in the air. It’s hard to plan things at the minute, and over the past…. Fifteen months?! I’ve learnt not to get my hopes up too much and go with the flow.
What’s the one thing you’re most excited for when things go back to ‘normal’?
Laura: I cannot wait to go to gigs. I can’t wait to see all the lovely people who aren’t in my bubble, I want to be able to go out and meander in and out of crowds and talk to people in the music scene, there are so many fantastic Irish musicians and I am so excited to see what they have created over the past fifteen months.
Josh: Before the pandemic I ran a folk night at The American Bar, I can’t wait to get that up and running again. I’m looking forward to pub lock ins and long sessions, just getting back into the swing of things.
The ‘In The Half-Light’ EP is out on July 16th.
Listen to ‘Taking The Wheel’ on The Jumble Magazine Local Music Playlist.
Interview by Sam Dineen