Irish singer-songwriter Cathy Davey chats to Aoife Valentine ahead of her residency at Whelan’s about conquering writer’s block and clearing her pipes
If there is one thing which is strikingly obvious throughout Otwo’s time speaking to Meteor award winning singer-songwriter Cathy Davey, it is that she is extremely grounded. Humble and modest, yet quietly confident, it is clear that in the eight years since the release of her first EP, Come Over, she has found herself on much steadier footing than in the beginning. Where she was once terrified of performing on stage and uncomfortable with even being labelled as a ‘singer-songwriter’, she is now quick to admonish her own harshness: “I think that was just a rebellion against something which
I didn’t really know anything about when I was twenty-two. I am a singer-songwriter and I wish I could go back in time and give my younger self a talking to.”
The stage fright however, is not something which she has conquered completely. “It comes and goes because now I haven’t gigged in quite a while. I think once you’re in the swing of it, it gets easier but now that I’ve been away for a while I know that it’s going to be pretty nerve-wrecking. I think at this stage in my career I may as well enjoy it as much as possible because you kind of get a sense of you only have one life and once that kicks in, you stop being worried about the same things as you do when you’re in your early twenties.” However, she does defiantly add: “But I think I can handle Whelan’s!”
Whelan’s, rather than acting as a yardstick for how big the crowd can get before her nerves set in, is indeed the venue which Davey plans to call home for the next month, something which she hasn’t done since the release of her second album, Tales of Silversleeve. “I haven’t done a residency since the beginning of Silversleeve and this one’s a bit different because each night is themed so it’s a bit more work involved but I think I’m up to it.”
Instead of playing three standard gigs, Davey has decided to limit such normality to the first night. She explains: “The second one is called ‘Songs That Scare Children’ and I did one of them before a couple of years ago. It’s songs like that which would make you have that feeling that you’re a kid, that you’re gonna have nightmares, but it’s thrilling all the same. The third gig is favourite songs of mine from years of yore and it’s just songs I love from the forties and fifties; a smoother night than the first night, the Cathy Davey gig.”
It was during the period in which Davey laid out her plans for these themes that she was forced to look back on her debut album, and consider whether her openly harsh criticism of her work was really justified. “I started listening to the first album again because I was considering doing some songs for the next show from Something Ilk and I realised that I had been very, very hard on myself and everyone involved probably. It’s the first album of someone who was very used to playing on their own and it was their first attempt at having some kind of presence or making their attitude known; it’s the voice of a younger person. The album sounds very nice sonically; it’s kind of teenager-y but there’s something in there so I’m gonna go easier on myself now.”
The writing process has been something of struggle in the past for Davey, but she insists that it is something she has come to peace with by now. “I think everyone who writes or does anything where they have a certain amount of pressure on themselves to come up with something that is essentially self-gratifying then that pressure is so much more than anything anyone else could put on you and it causes problems but I think after the second album I realised what it was and I haven’t seemed to let [writer’s block] cause as much trouble as it did in the past. I know its game!”
However, there is still something of a break-in phase when she begins writing a new album. “You have to clear the pipes and there’ll be a fairly long annoying period where everything I write is shit; then you eventually get to a stage where you find your feet again and you’re writing things that are important to you.”
Plans for a fourth album are well under way, and Davey is already back writing once more, but she is hopeful that she can do something a little bit different this time around. “I’m not sure if it’s going to be the same format as the last three. This is an art form where it’s dependent on how you’re received to evolve and I think if I’m to keep an eye on my incentives, I have to make sure that it’s interesting enough to drive itself so I’m not forcing it into shape. I’m writing and writing but I want it to morph into something other than just the next album. I’m not sure what that is, I have a kind of idea but I would rather do and not say.”
She remains mysterious when Otwo pushes for more details, but she does tell us: “I’m recording all the time and it’s all for me. It’s all selfish really, I’m just writing to enjoy it.” With progress continuously being made from her bedroom, where she records as she doesn’t feel comfortable in studios, we can but hope all will soon become clear.
Cathy Davey plays Whelan’s on February 2nd, 9th and 16th. Tickets are priced at €22. The Nameless is out now.