At the end of January, folk singer-songwriter Niamh Regan will embark on a solo tour that will see her perform across Ireland, stopping off in Ballydehob for an intimate gig at Levis’ Corner House on February 10. The Galway musician is no stranger to Levis’, having performed at their Secret Song festival a couple of years ago and playing a handful of gigs there to promote the release of her album ‘Hemet’ and her EP ‘In the Meantime’. She is now gearing up to release her second album in May, having spent much of 2023 in the studio working on it.
Niamh Regan’s first album ‘Hemet’ was released in the middle of the pandemic and announced her arrival as one of the most distinctive songwriters in Ireland today. The 2020 release earned ‘Album of the Year’ nominations for both the RTE Folk award and the Choice Music Prize and led to performances on The Late Late Show and at Other Voices. The following year, Regan released a four track EP entitled ‘In the Meantime’ which was written while confined in rural Galway.
The name for Regan’s upcoming album has not yet been disclosed. What can be revealed however is that, like a lot of musicians who have had a successful debut, writing a second album has been quite a challenging journey, one that was almost three years in the making. It took the songwriter some time to figure it all out, but she kept pushing until she got to a place where she felt comfortable and confident in what she was doing. “It’s funny how you can kind of have a lull year of waiting, overthinking, and tripping yourself up,” she confesses.
Whereas Niamh’s first album was centred around piano songs, with her vocals and songwriting at the fore and a subtle instrumentation arranged by New Zealand producer Alex Borwick, the upcoming album was recorded in Donegal with producer Tommy McLaughlin of Attica Studios, and will have a bigger ‘band’ sound. “I was really lucky to work with Tommy and I feel like he helped me get over myself, as well as figure out what I wanted to do and what I wanted to sound,” she explains. “Thematically, this album is quite different and is more about self-acceptance and coming to grips with yourself.”
Regan cites Julia Jacklin, Alex G, Andy Shauf and Wilco as inspirations for this record, and while there’s more of a ‘band’ energy to the album, the first single to come out will be a stripped-back acoustic song called ‘Madonna’. “It’s kind of fitting to have that as the first single, even though it’s not exactly what the rest of the album is going to be bringing,” she reveals.
Niamh studied Traditional Irish Music at University of Limerick, where she specialised in the flute and the guitar. Though she hasn’t played the flute since she graduated, traditional music is part of her heritage. Her parents were big music lovers, and she attended the Fleadh, sessions with ceili bands and grupa cheoil from a young age. “Either consciously or subconsciously, Trad music is very much in my songwriting because it’s what I grew up with and what I was surrounded by. The formats, the ballads, and even the drama in songwriting comes from ballads that have been there for centuries before,” she continues. “I have a lot to thank that world and that community of music for, giving me the confidence to keep going with what I wanted to do. It was a good foundation for sure.”
Lyrically, Niamh gets a lot of her inspiration from reading, watching films and just chatting with friends. “One thing for sure about lyrics, they’re important to me, but I also like the notion that it’s just a conversation as well. It’s just a few words and a few intentions behind it, and I think the work that I enjoy most that I put out, is when I’m not overthinking it, and I think I’m way more honest when I’m not trying.”
Songwriting doesn’t always come easily, and she had to get a bit of a regiment going for her second album. “I’d set aside a time and it didn’t matter if I just played scales on the guitar for 45 minutes”, she explains. “As long as I sat down and wrote a line or two and just practised, I was happy.” In the end, she decided she would be better off doing some co-writing sessions to get the juices flowing. Producer Tommy McLaughlin came onboard. “Even if they’re not songs I would use on the album, it was kind of getting me to not take songwriting too seriously. Like, just do lots of co-writes and throw lots of rubbish out there and have fun. And that’s when it started coming together and I started writing a little bit better.”
Collaborations are now a central part of Regan’s songwriting process, even if the resulting songs do not necessarily get released. “I write with as many people as I can just for fun,” she explains. “I think a lot of songwriters spend a lot of time trying to get out of their own heads and the best way to do that is writing with others. It’s really good for the brain.”
In recent months Niamh Regan has popped up on stages at home and overseas supporting American songwriters John Grant and Sam Amidon and Irish pop singer CMAT, amongst others. Playing live is her favourite thing to do, and the support slots are where she’s sneakily been testing her new songs to gauge reactions from the audience. For her forthcoming solo tour next month, there will be plenty of the old material, and four or five new songs introduced each night. “I’m excited to share some new songs,” she enthuses. “I just love playing live and I think that’s the main thing I’d like to focus on. And you know, if people come to the gigs, that means you’re doing something right!”.
Niamh Regan plays Levi’s Corner House on February 10. Her forthcoming single ‘Madonna’ comes out on February 7.