Damien Rice does interviews only slightly more frequently than Axl Rose or Sly…
- Posted on Sep 29th 2011 5:00PM by Eric R. Danton
It's a more confident Hannigan who returns with a new album, 'Passenger' (out now on ATO Records), which the Irish singer and songwriter recorded in a mere week with producer Joe Henry.
"It was a very relaxed session," Hannigan says. "It was like going to some amazing, beautiful musical summer camp -- in February, in Wales."
Hannigan told us stories from, er, camp, including what the songs on 'Passenger' are about and how Ray LaMontagne came to sing with her.
How different was your mindset about making this record?
So different. On the first one, there were so many sort of technical issues in my mind to getting it done in terms of enjoying writing songs but not feeling massively comfortable. And how to put it out, how to do the artwork, how to gather a band together, being on stage by yourself. There were so many elements to the first one. With this one now, I feel so much more confident in terms of making a body of work that hangs together and has a theme. It's just much more cohesive. It feels wholly different, and so much of it was written on the road, so it has a slightly different feel to it in that way.
How did you avoid the road-record clichés?
[Singing] "Here I am, another hotel room, blah blah blah, life is going fast." [Laughs] I suppose for me it was being physically away from home made me think about home more, that nostalgia and distance, and as I was thinking about the idea of home and what home means to me, other bits came up, other things that I'd left behind at home from years ago that I had tried not to think about in the intervening years. The physical distance and being on the move all the time created a nostalgia in my mind for home and for a time of innocence, as well, so a lot of the songs have that infused in them. In general, it's not about where I am but where I'm looking to.
We have to ask: What kinds of things hadn't you wanted to think about?
[Laughs] Well, there's a few songs about things. 'Paper House' is about something many years ago that I hadn't thought about and I needed that distance, without going into specifics. [Laughs] If you go into specifics, people go, "Oh, that's what it's about. How mundane." People have got to find the spaces in between to put their own feelings and story into. I don't want to ruin it for anyone.
Fair enough. What about your collaborators: Joe Henry produced, and is that Ray LaMontagne we hear singing on one song?
It is, yes! With Ray, I had it in my head that I wanted a duet, a proper duet -- not just someone singing harmony, but two people singing together. So I thought of who had the most beautiful male voice I could think of, and Ray has such an extraordinary voice. I had met him a few times, so I thought I might as well ask. He said he'd love to do it and he hadn't even heard the song. It was wonderful.
And Joe Henry, that was just an incredible stroke of luck for me. I was doing a Kate McGarrigle tribute concert in London, and her family were doing it and lots of wonderful people, and Joe happened to be doing a concert next door and he popped his head in because he knew a few people and wanted to honor Kate, and he happened to catch me singing a song and, to my gratitude forever, he liked my singing and sent a note to my manager saying, "If I can be of assistance in any way, here I am." So we went to visit him when we were in L.A. and he came to meet us at the train, and the first time I shook his hand I though, "This is the man for the job."
Why was that?
He has such an incredible elegance about him, just a quiet, assured elegance. He's a wonderful musician, just the coolest person I've ever met. I really trusted him with the music, and he's so incredibly tasteful, and I thought, "He can sit in there and be tasteful." [Laughs] For us, for the band, we made the record very quickly, we just did it in a week, and for us, the really exciting part of the process was that it was all done live, there weren't any overdubs or anything like that apart from Ray and some strings. We were playing in the room down the lines to Joe's headphones, and I think it was really important that he was on the other side of the glass. We were playing in order to make Joe feel something. That was sort of the intention.
How much did your experience with Damien Rice shape the way you work now?
Hugely. They were my formative years, and working with Damien was a wonderful experience. We were kids starting out together -- I was a kid more than he was -- but we were figuring it out together at the time. It was a really special time. He definitely works quite methodically. I don't have any technical ability at all in that way. And I have ears of turf. I can only hear the performance, I can hear the song. I can't hear the intricacies of EQs, and nor do I want to. I'm quite happy to sing and play.