Ciara Doyle speaks to award-wnning singer Julie Feeney about the Choice Music Prize and being a woman of many talents
Julie Feeney, the Galway-born winner of the Choice Music Prize in 2006 with her first album 13 Songs, has found herself on the 2010 shortlist for new album pages. Feeney is a multitalented artiste: the singer-songwriter, producer, composer, conductor, theatre artist and – wait for it – hat designer. While she has her roots in classical music, luckily for us all she decided to venture into the world of pop and rock. The list of her musical instruments includes keyboard, alto recorder, treble recorder, harmonium, accordion, violin, harmonica, melodica, xylophone and the clock. The awardwinning multi-talented songstress tried to express to otwo what an amazing feeling it was to win the prize with a debut album – and in a completely different musical sphere to what she was used to.
“Absolutely unbelievably amazing,” she says. “It was such a privilege and such a joy. It was my first entry into what I perceived as the rock and pop world, coming from a classical world so it was quite a jolt to win the prize!”
Julie also reflects on how the win affected her in terms of spanning the two genres of classical and more mainstream pop and rock. “The transition is relevant to how I develop as an artist. As I went on I gravitated towards working with orchestras still, so the transition is ongoing and it will be ongoing. I’ve become a completely different artist to who I was then.”
Julie produced pages entirely by herself and worked on the different aspects of the album individually and separately, explaining that “It was necessary to have compartmentalising of the different parts of the album, because it was such a big project.”
Feeney stresses how important it was to be organised and prepared for the production of the album. “I needed to be ready way ahead of time, and I had a limited budget so the money I did have went on the two sessions spent with the orchestra. I needed to know that I was ready because I couldn’t throw anything away, including time.”
Julie spent a considerable amount of time working at the Artists’ Retreat in Annaghmakerrig in County Monaghan, where she spent six weeks preparing what would become the lyrics for her new album. She needed this time away to gather all of her notes and ideas that she had accumulated in her thought copies, she says, and achieve her ambition to transform the words into poems. Julie reveals that she felt the need to be “sure that the words were all right and that they were going to be able to stand up over time.”
When the music had been produced and recorded and she was satisfied with her poetry, it would appear to most people to be quite a daunting task to slot the pieces together. No so for Feeney, however, who says she simply felt that “some of the words then suggested music and some of the music then suggested that they would be with certain of the poems.”
But as was clear from her many titles, Julie Feeney is not one to stick to what she knows, and has taken inspiration from her own award-winning music video for her song ‘Impossibly Beautiful’, featuring designer headgear by Piers Atkinson. This sparked a theme of outrageous hats in Julie’s live acts, and Feeney herself has decided to venture into the artistic and suitably creative world of design herself. Her first design was debuted at this year’s Meteor Awards, where she was up for nomination for the Best Irish Female Artist, competing against artists including Dolores O’Riordan and Laura Izibor. She seemed unsure of how the award show would go, modestly commenting that “I have no idea, and it’s a funny one in that it’s votes, you just don’t know. It will be a great night though!” As it happened, neither Julie nor the above mentioned two won on the night, as the award went to Wallis Bird, but the Choice Prize still lingers on the horizon.
One thing Julie was sure about when we spoke to her however was her hopes for her potential designer future. “It’s certainly something that I’m going to continue to do myself. I hope I can get into making headpieces more.” But music remains at the top as her true passion and love (as she said herself, “This is what I want to be doing when I’m 90!”) and if she manages to secure another Choice Music Prize on 3rd March then such a lengthy career could be on the cards.
Feeney’s universal passion is clearest, however, when otwo asks about her upcoming gig in a certain National Concert Hall in May. “Really I’m absolutely ecstatic!” she screams. “I have a lot of work to do. In fact a huge amount of work, but I’m really excited.”
Julie Feeney plays the National Concert Hall on May 29. www.nch.ie