AINE TYRRELL Stories from the sea

Irish singer-songwriter, Aine Tyrrell is returning to Western Australia to celebrate the release of her new album, Return to the Sea. She will play at Four5Nine Bar this Thursday, February 28, Nannup Music Festival on March 2 and 3, and finally at Kidogo Art House in Fremantle on Monday, March 4. BRAYDEN EDWARDS spoke to Tyrrell and learned the story behind the album is a colourful one, inspired by travelling, seal people, mermaids, mythology and the folklore of her homeland.

Your new album is called Return to the Sea, is there a particular meaning behind that title and does it summarise a theme you felt tied your new songs together?

The title of the album comes from folklore from Ireland about the selkies. Selkies are said to be cursed with a constant longing for what they do not have. When they are swimming in the water as seals, they yearn to be on land, and when they walk on two legs as a human, they long to be in the sea. They can transform from one creature to another by shedding their sealskin. Many men will irresistibly fall in love with the selkie’s human form and hide her seal coat to prevent her from returning to the sea. But a selkie will never stop searching for her true skin no matter what. She and her children will forever be drawn to the sea and once her seal coat is found, she will always return to the sea.

Mythology always comes from something, so you can wonder whether there is some version of truth in the documented sightings of seal people over the centuries. There are people still today who claim to be direct descendants from the seal people. Maybe mythology arrived as a way of explaining the unexplainable, to account for the women that did not fit in with the rest of society, as with other mythologies of sirens, witches, and mermaids. These could all be ways to explain women that just didn’t bow down to the patriarchy.

The sea is unpredictable, just like life is. We are taken away from our skin and our versions of home by so many things as we journey through life. But in the end, our skins are all we own and to return fully to our own skin is the single biggest revolution in life. It’s the most powerful thing anyone can do, man or woman. Although let’s be honest…hell hath no fury like a woman in her skin! And there is no fury like an Irish woman in her skin!

I heard you didn’t take the standard studio approach to this album and recorded it in a number of different places. Why did you take that approach for this and how do you feel it influenced the results?

We had an amazing experience recording my first album Queen of Swords on a road trip around Australia, so my creative partner in crime Mark Stanley and I always had the idea to return to Ireland to do something similar for second album. Locational recording does present some challenges, but these challenges always add to the journey of the album as a whole. We are able to reflect the noises of what we hear around us, write words from the stories of the people we meet, find inner strength in the perseverance of the ups and downs of recording and travelling, and be inspired by the ever-changing landscape around us. Each house, pub, church, and kitchen table where we gathered the songs on that road trip around Ireland had an amazing lesson for us and in the end a song to offer and each of those songs then wove themselves into a tapestry to make the final album. It created its own little bubble in which this album will forever live.

And how do you feel this new album is different from your first? Has it been a deliberate new direction for you or a continuation of what feels natural to you?

To me it feels like a continuation if anything a strengthening of the direction. My first album was very cathartic and personal and I don’t think I could have come to make this album with such strong statements for us if I hadn’t first done that. It is also the strengthening of the creative partnership between Mark Stanley and I. We have worked together for six years now, so the strength of creative trust between us meant we had such a great place to push each other to be our best from.

Although Australia has come to claim you as one of our own, it appears you still feel as close as ever to your roots in Irish music. What is it about the music and stories of your homeland that have made you the songwriter you are today and still mean a lot you?

I love Australia, but I always feel like a visitor here and always will. Ireland is home and holds such a sense of who I am, so I draw on all that wisdom and strength in my songwriting for sure. The melodies and the love of words I got from my Dad’s music growing up and still do. I do get to see Ireland from a different perspective now though from living so far away and I get to see and feel Australia from a visitor’s lense too and these two push and pull me and are a beautiful well to pull from in terms of creativity.

And are you conveying that tradition of storytelling through the songs on this album? Are there any songs you can share the story behind?

Yes songwriting is an age-old way of passing on stories and messages and that tradition is in my bones. There are amazing songs in Irish that were used to pass on messages to keep people safe, to pass on history, to pass language down. It is much the same for me. I feel the times we are living in and comment on that through song.

Track five, Whispers of Shame is quite a heavy track that I wrote for a woman in Ireland because I didn’t know what to do with the overwhelming feelings I had for what was going on at the time there. This woman’s courage and bravery touched me deeply as she never gave up on a mission to uncover the truth, which in the end  in this case was a mass grave of 800 babies that were buried at the back of a mother and babies home in Ireland. Her single act of courage through that has been a fire in the start to a change in the social climate in Ireland. And my song will be a little ripple in the big wave she made and a time marker I suppose for the history I have lived through.

And outside of that, are there any more contemporary influences that have had an influence on your music? Any that might surprise us?

Beyonce’s power and production on her new album Lemonade is certainly one of them. There are some amazing indigenous artists in Australia  like Yirrmal, Emily Wurramara, Dane Kennedy and Bunyarra Culture Collective that I have had the privilege of working with over the past few years and our shared histories of colonisation bring a certain fire to our creative work. There are also some of my Irish contemporaries I have had privilege of touring and working with like Wallis Bird, Glen Hansard, Liam O’Maonlai, Declan O’Rourke and I admire their strength in presenting our old culture in new ways.

You’re playing a run of dates all across Australia in support of this album, is there anything or anywhere you are looking forward to most?

That is like picking a favourite child! I just can’t wait to share these new songs with as many people as I can, anywhere in Australia or the world…I am there!

It must be exciting to be part of the amazing lineup for the Nannup Music Festival. Are there any other acts you are looking forward to checking out there?

The entire line up! For real. I love everyone on it. I actually can’t wait, it’s as if they have programmed all my favourite Australian acts and friends on one bill just for me.