- Mon, 2007-06-18 15:01
Sinéad O’Connor really needs no introduction. She is a unique and captivating performer with a jaw-droppingly powerful and heartbreakingly beautiful voice. In recent times perhaps only Bjork and Prince come close.
She is an artist whose great talent like that of other female artists (e.g. Amy Winehouse, PJ Harvey), is often trivialised by focus on her iconic looks or her attitude. Yet O’Connor’s visual appearance becomes an irrelevance (if it was ever relevant), once she opens her mouth to sing.
Sure she has strong opinions but she is always honest, intelligent and articulate. After the global success of ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’, she chose not to play the game, but instead proceeded to speak her mind and raise a family. Vilified and damned at the height of her fame in the 90s, for her expose of child abuse in Catholic Church on Saturday Night Live, she has been spectacularly vindicated by the success of all the recent Irish child abuse court cases. She comes in a long line of forthright female singers – Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin, Dusty Springfield, Chrissie Hynde, Patti Smith, Madonna – with a voice to match the best of them. However it would be wrong to pigeonhole her just as a “female singer”, for there’s more to her than that – she’s universal.
I Like Music caught up with Sinead to talk about her new album, Theology, her voice and her children.
“I Like Music because… it makes me happy.” Sinéad O'Connor
ILM: Your new single, I Don't Know How To Love Him is out now (released on June 11th) from the musical 'Jesus Christ Superstar'. What made you select that one as a cover?
Sinéad: Well, the record is based around particular scriptures. And 99.999% of those are Old Testament. When I finished making the record, I felt that perhaps it would be a good idea to pay some kind of respect and attention towards the New Testament. But when you’re trying to create any kind of scripture through music, there’s a very fine line between corny and cool, and I think that’s more the case when you’re dealing with Christian songs. So I wanted to find some kind of song that wouldn’t be toe-curlingly embarrassing. I’ve always loved that song anyway, and it seemed the perfect thing to do.
ILM: Your album Theology is out on June 25th. Can you tell us which track you had the most fun laying down in the studio and why? Or, which one was the biggest labour of love?
Sinéad: I don’t think were any that were taxing in particular. There are two that we worked on perhaps more than the others which were Something Beautiful and I Don’t Know How To Love Him. It wasn’t that it was taxing, it was very enjoyable actually, but we wanted to get it right, so it took us a while to make sure we nailed those. The song that I love the most between both records and the one I enjoyed putting down the most was, If You Had a Vineyard, and very close to that would be the acoustic version of song 33.
ILM: There’s nine original songs on there, the first CD raw featuring your incredible voice and acoustic guitar and the second given the full band production treatment by R’n’B producer Ron Tom. Great idea, was there anything in particular you learned from both Steve Cooney and Ron?
Sinéad: Oh yes, enormously, you learn a lot from any producer you work with and those two guys are very good friends of mine and there’s a lot I constantly learn from those two. Confidence really I guess, from both of them. You know where you have people in your lives who are affirming of you and you have people who aren’t necessarily affirming of you? And you might be nervous in the studio with them? Well those two would be people who, in all areas of my life, would be encouraging in a big brother kind of way and make you feel good about yourself and give you confidence; not that they wouldn’t give you a boot up the arse if you were being an idiot. But I feel very safe with them. They’re very encouraging.
ILM: The album is stunning and inspirational, just beautiful really and it’s your attempt to create a place of peace in a time of war and your own personal response to what has taken place and is affecting everyone around the world since and including September 11, 2001. What is the key message/question from the theme on the album about the world we live in?
Sinéad: What I meant by the whole idea of a place of peace, the album would be very much my own two cents when it comes to what’s going on in the world war wise; the massive war which has been going on since September 11th. And I suppose therefore the message which is really whispered, is that the God character (for want of a better description), in fact does not support war or support the use of violence as a means of sorting things out. The wars which are going on, whether it’s America and England with Iraq and Afghanistan or whether its Israel and Palestine or Israel and Lebanon, they’re being fought on the back of how a few people interpret particular theologies and the God character is being misrepresented on all sides by a bunch of people who claim that it supports the use of violence. And the object of the game of the record was to list out the scriptures that reveal the opposite to be true, so that would be the message of the record quietly, the God character is actually extremely different to how its being portrayed.
ILM: Totally, no matter what religion you believe in and follow, it’s wrong to be violent and war is wrong, and yet many wars are fought on the back of religion, like you say.
Sinéad: So, as an inspirational woman - what inspires you on a daily basis?
I suppose the same as anybody else, looking out of the window and seeing beautiful trees and a lovely blue sky or people. Obviously my children in particular and the people I love.
ILM: You’re a working mother with four children. How do you achieve work-life balance?
Sinéad: That’s tricky enough to get the balance right. But I basically operate on the basis that the children come first, work comes second. The best way I can describe it, my daughter, she’s 11 now, but some years ago she asked me, did I love music more than her? And what I did was I drew a big heart on the wall in the kitchen and I divided it when it comes to three quarters of the way across and I said, ‘the largest part belongs to you and the kids and the rest belongs to music.’
But it is tricky to get the balance right, because a lot of pressure gets put on you to leave home more than you want to.
I only tour every two years and I do it mainly in the summer time and say from May to October, in any of those months I don’t leave home for more than 10 days, whether it’s promo or gigs and say on a morning like this I’d be doing phoners but I’d work from 9am to 2pm, so the kids are at school and back at 2.30pm. The same if I’m recording, I work while they’re at school.
ILM: You wrote your first single at 14 while still at school – are your children showing an interest in creative careers musically or otherwise?
Sinéad: Yeah, all my children have been very creative. My 20 year old is interested in tattoo drawing and interested in making records, so he’s a nice artist and one of my sisters is a painter also, but he also wants to produce records. My daughter she’s in various choirs at school and church, although she doesn’t like the choir mistress at school so says she wants to leave. Then I have a three year old boy who’s obsessed with music, he just wants to climb into the guitar and then I have a five month old and if anyone sings to him he starts laughing.
ILM: That’s good to see that the creativity has been passed on to them.
Sinéad: Yeah, so hopefully I’ll make some money out of them one day [laughs].
ILM: I was about 14 when Nothing Compares to You came out and it gets me still today every time, I hear it and makes me cry, your voice is so compelling on it – how do you feel about that song now? How do you keep your powerful voice on form?
Sinéad: I still have enormous emotional attachment to that song and every single time I’ve ever sang that song I always want to cry and always at the same point. In rehearsals for the tour, before we got to that song, I’d say, ‘lets have a break, lets have a sandwich’ and do anything to avoid it otherwise I’d end up bursting into tears. I love that song; it’s just a terribly powerful song. In terms of keeping my voice in check, the school of singing I come from is called Belle Canto, which is a particular method of teaching, which doesn’t use notes or scales but teaches you that you feel the feelings, so it’s almost like acting the thing.
ILM: Kind of like method acting?
Sinéad: Yeah, exactly. So that school of thought would tell you that you don’t necessarily practice notes or scales, you just go on stage and sing the damn song and it always works, if you feel the feelings you get the notes. But I’m 40 years of age, so I don’t necessarily sing as hard as I might have. As you get older you tend to want to sing softer, so I wouldn’t be trying to belt out the same version.
ILM: Can you describe the Sinead O’Connor process of making such wonderful music? Is it lyrics first then melody? How does it usually work?
Sinéad: I suppose it’s different each time. Sometimes you just have a melody going on inside you for a few weeks and you just try and pick it out on the guitar and later you’d try and think of words for it, and other times you’d get them both at the same time, but you’d never get the words on their own, that doesn’t happen. I’d have lots of melodies generally going on inside of me, so you wouldn’t have words going on too.
ILM: No, otherwise you’d go quite mad.
ILM: 'Universal Mother', 'Faith And Courage'. 'Sean Nos Nua', 'Throw Down Your Arms' (reggae) all brilliant albums and all different and unique/independent. Of all your albums which holds the most special place in your heart?
Sinéad: Well, I know it sounds corny, but it would actually be Theology. I’ve never made a record that I don’t like, so I’m proud of them all, but Theology would be the one I’m extremely happy with and most fond of.
ILM: What is your advice for other artists passionate about what they do who want to get a record deal?
Sinéad: I’d say don’t. Get a real job! People often ask me in the street, ‘how do I get into the music business?’ And I just say, ‘stand up and sing’. If you have to sing in the street, sing in the street. If you believe in yourself, just stand wherever you can and sing and it’ll happen. If you’re crazy enough to believe you can do it, then stand up and do it and it’ll happen.
Sinead O’Connor’s new single, I Don't Know How To Love Him is out now (released June 11th). Her new album, Theology, is out June 25th 2007.