Last week our Audience Development Manager, Mary Claire Cowley had a chat with singer songwriter Sophie Coyle in advance of her upcoming gig supporting Joshua Burnside at the final COLLIDE collaboration in the Spirit Store on Thursday 28th of March.

Read the full interview in which Sophie discusses her creative process, what inspires her, and the challenges faced by women in the music industry along with giving us a sneak peak into the inspiration behind her upcoming album Cuentista.

What inspired you to pursue a career in music?
I have always loved singing. I’ve always had this urge to sing and to make my voice heard. I was in choirs over the hears and sang in bands with friends doing backing vocals so that gave me a taste for live performance and original music. And I’ve always loved writing aswell so being a singer songwriter combines the two really nicely. I wouldn’t say I ever set out to be a singer songwriter, but it did just come about at the right time, and I never looked back.

How would you typically approach the song writing process?
Usually, I would get the germ of an idea that niggles away in my head. I’d write down a few lines. It always comes from a feeling with some visuals in my head as I’m quite a visual person and so it’s a desire to express that feeling. I might write down a splurge of words. Sometimes it comes out in verses already or sometimes it’s a stream of consciousness. Then I pick up the guitar and tinker away on whatever chords I’m loving at that time. I don’t find melodies difficult to pluck out of a series of chords, but it needs to be a tune that reflects the feeling or vibe of the lyrics. Sometimes I’ll have a song brewing for years and then finish it off like four years later.

Where do you draw inspiration from, for your lyrics?
I love stories. From my last album The Burning Gorse that is definitely a story. Nearly a ghost story but it is definitely imbibed with real life experience, and I think you need that to make a song relatable and there are other songs on my new album Cuentista and lots of those are based on real life experiences because it’s all based on travels that I had in South America years ago.

Do you have any rituals or habits that help you get into a creative mindset?
Nowadays with three kids, I just go with whatever time I get, but there used to be a time where I’d love to be away maybe in the countryside and go for a walk and free up the head. You find as you are walking that things just float into your head and settle in nicely. Now I’ll settle for a nice comfy room and good atmosphere.

Do you ever have that moment of divine inspiration?
My head is always chock full of to do lists and calendar dates. My husband Jinx always carries a notebook and his way of going about song writing is different. Where I think I come from a real feeling place and things must settle and be distilled and I do need a bit of peace and quiet to write so its challenging being surrounded by three young kids, but every now and then I do get this urge to drop everything and write.

How would you describe your musical style?
Its very story driven. A story and a narrative are important to me. I really appreciate other song writers when they are a little bit vaguer about what they are singing about. Mine is a story start to finish. I love word play. I do love rhyme, but not like too obvious a rhyme. The words, the writing is really important to me and the melody too, yes, I’d describe it as story driven.

Are there any reoccurring themes or messages in your music?
My love of nature. I am a gardener aswell. I studied horticulture years back. A deep love of nature and I suppose the obstacles humans face, human struggle and how we cope in our human ways. People feature in them, but their more in the distance. There’s a lot of nature.

What do you hope listeners take away from your songs?
I think I’d like people to be uplifted. To make them stop and think about their own life experiences and just a nice tune on their ear as well.

Tell us about your latest album?
I got funding from Create Louth and started the recording four years ago. Covid struck and everything. I had a clutch of songs and I really wanted to make this album about travels in South America it’s 20 years ago since I was there, its kind of hard to believe, but sometimes it can take that long for an experience to form themselves into stories where you have that night bit of distance and not quite as much emotional attachment. It had such a powerful effect on me that travel in South America and I travelled through quite a few different countries there and each country had its own culture and beautiful music and it just got into my soul.

So, I wanted to kind of pay homage to their lovely rhythms and the beautiful landscapes, amazing people, the experiences I had and the friends I travelled with. So yeah, I brought the songs up to the Black Mountain Studios here in Louth. A fantastic studio and Peter Baldwin did amazing work on the recording of it. I also got to record with Gavin Wynne in Wynne Wynne studios locally too another total gent and professional which brought such magic to the recordings and played with loads of lovely local people here. My band, Caroline, Sharon and Conor and then Glas Quartet which would be well known around these parts and had some lovely arrangements done by Anne-Marie McGahon. So, it’s just such an exciting experience for me. It did take a while because we had two kids along the road, two more kids. So yeah, it took a while, and the advice was don’t rush it make sure you are happy with it and make sure it’s the right time to put it out.

I also did the artwork myself and I did the first video for the single Wanderlust myself and its good to be able to use those skills and put them out there. I have like a stash of sketchbooks from my travels so finally I get to use them, which is great.

Climate change is a big thing now and it really puts me off travel now, but when I came back off that trip, I thought I would continue travelling forever I just absolutely got the bug. One of the songs…the single is called Wanderlust and its just that feeling of wanting to continue travelling and exploring the world forever, but things have changed a lot since then.

Are there any standout tracks or personal favourites on the album?
I do have a special grá for Wanderlust because I really wanted to write this tango style, bar room heartbreak song. And I think I might have overdone it, maybe it’s too sad, but it’s got this nice little waltzy rhythm to it which helps to carry it off. The other songs that I would consider singles Honey Coloured Loving which is a lovely upbeat very percussion heavy song and it even features my kids very faintly in the background. There’s a sort of party noise. Then there’s one that I co-wrote with a friend Carolanne Jane Webb and it’s Mr Saspirilla and I think the fourth single release would be Your Call which is definitely evocative of being on the amazon river, mosquitos, night time and hearing weird sounds probably jaguars rumbling around in the background.

How do you adapt your songs for live performance?
It is a challenge, and I knew when I was recording the album and especially in the mixing where you are adding all these lovely sounds I knew I’m not going to be able to replicate this on stage, so myself and Sharon and Caroline and Conor have been rehearsing the last couple of months. We just sort of pick it apart and figure out what doesn’t need to be played live and how we can do other things in an approximate kind of way. I definitely wanted to go for something more alt-folk with this album with curious sounds coming in and I suppose some of that just can’t be replicated. But it’s gonna sound beautiful that I can assure you.

Will you be playing any tracks off the upcoming album when you play supporting Joshua Burnside as part of COLLIDE?
Yes. Sharon, who plays keyboard, harp and accordion and Caroline Whately who plays bass they are going to be joining me and yes, we will be playing one or two songs from the new album and maybe a couple from the previous album, more familiar to people.

And so, what do you enjoy most about performing live in front of an audience?
I love getting into the mood of the song and then there’s that moment where you absolutely click with the audience, where the song kind of takes over and it’s not about you anymore, it’s about the song and the voice kind of carries it. I love performing with my friends and my band it’s always a joyful thing. Touching the hearts of people is lovely when your songs make a real connection with people.

Are there any challenges your have faced in your music career and how have you overcome them?
I suppose I came to music relatively late. Performance as a singer songwriter. I kind of started when I was 28. I know that in the music industry its preferable that you start earlier. It hasn’t stopped my motivation or urge to produce music or perform and do gigs. So somteimes I would wonder is age a challenge.

Do you mean in terms of ‘time of life’ having three young kids?
No I think I mean more about you as a package appearing in front of audiences. There can be certain preconceptions about what a musician should be or look like.

Do you think as a woman there are more preconceptions than as a man?
I do think so yes. I do think that maybe it’s probably more appealing if you are younger looking. And it’s still quite a male environment, but I know that the last ten years that huge efforts have been made to balance things out more, but still you go into venues and everybody is still a guy. They are all lovely, but it can be a little bit intimidating or maybe that’s just something I have to get over.

You say when you go into venues but obviously when you are chatting there about going into a recording studio, I’m assuming most of the sound engineers are men?
Yea. It’s an area of music where its quite rare to find women and if there are women sound engineers yes they do really stand out, but it’s not an area where you find a lot of women. I don’t know why that is. I’m sure that’s changing even as we speak.

Are there any lessons you have learned along the way that you would like to share with aspiring musicians or people that might look at you and say. “I’d like to do that’
Yes.  Grab every opportunity you can get to perform. Especially outside your home town. Don’t be afraid to announce yourself as a musician. Don’t be afraid to be a creative person. It can be daunting, it is a really good pursuit and a good career.  In more recent years I’m more at peace with the fact that I have so many strings to my bow. I would have thought just pick one thing and be good at that and you know these days theres this sort of sense that you need accreditation for everything. That’s a big thing. I haven’t been to music college. I studied piano growing up that’s it. So it’s kind of you have to be bold about it. I am a musician that is what I am. I don’t have to explain myself, let me work be proof of that. We can’t be fit into boxes. We all have unique combinations of skills and we should be able to utilise them all.

Sometimes its hard to say I am doing something a little bit different, even in these times when being different is acceptable but it’s still being different under a label.

Tell me how you are feeling about the upcoming Collide gig and what it means to you to be part of the Collide collaboration?
Well I am in the fortunate position to have been able to attend every one of the COLLIDE gigs and I am just blown away by how it’s been curated. The bands have been incredible. Like absolutely blown away by the talents and the amazing bands. The BONK stands out, John Blek, just increditble and it’s lovely that local artists are and integral part of that. So I am really proud to be part of it and looking forward to meeting Joshua Burnside, who’s a real household name and has an amazing track record and an incredible list of albums and the fact that he is just up the road in Belfast and there is a few other connections there with other musicians. I will be doing my album tour there in the American Bar in Belfast and my support act they all kind of know each other so it’s nice to make those connections and this has given me the chance to make that connection with him and further connections and make that community a bit closer. So yeah it’s lovely to be part of such an impressive series of gigs.

And I can’t say enough good about An Táin Arts Centre and the crew there. Like just how much life you have brought to Dundalk over the last few years and it’s just nurtured so much creative talent here and brought amazing projects and really exciting things. So yeah I’m really proud to be part of this and I love the Spirit Store it’s a fantastic venue so I’m very excited about it and hoping to reach out to new audiences there.

Tell us about your own album launch.
I’m going to be launching my Album on the 12th of April in the Bello Bar in Portobello in Dublin and then in the Spirit Store in Dundalk on the 13th of April and really looking forward to that. We have amazing support acts we’ll also be playing in Galway in the Roisín Dubh upstairs and in the American Bar in Belfast later in the month. We have super support acts, we have Selk from Dublin, Gar Cox from Dublin, Rowan from Dundalk an amazing rising talent and Brian Quinn in Belfast so we are going to be bringing something lovely to the people.

Sophie Coyle will be supporting Joshua Burnside on Thursday 28th March at the Spirit Store, Doors 9:30pm as part of COLLIDE a late-night collaboration, produced by An Táin Arts Centre in association with The Spirit Store, supported by the Late-Night Events Programme from the Arts Council of Ireland in partnership with Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sports and Media