It’s been a long path to this point for Ballincollig-based singer and music educator Aoibheann Carey-Philpott: longtime Leeside gig-goers might recall her spell with Cork rock five-piece Jodavino, across a pair of albums and a full-on gigging schedule that took in local supports for the like of Roxy Music and Lionel Ritchie among others, while others will be familiar with her turns into solo songwriting and community music facilitation.
There’s a great, almost disarming energy that comes down the phone when talking to Aoibheann; of speaking with someone who’s truly been taken by the rigours and self-examination of the creative process, and emerged on the other side with something they’re singularly excited to share with the world. A warm, breathy folk song with a subtly dreamy undertone, new single ‘Overcome’ is the first track to be publicly shared from her ‘Fragments of Joy’ EP, a title that speaks to that same vim and vigour.
“With a lot of things, I’m either hit by a melody or a lyrical idea, and with this song, the chorus came first, the idea of dealing with a particular struggle, without going too far into meanings, because I do love the subjectivity of finding meaning in songs, y’know? It’s about that sense of being submerged in the issues you’re dealing with, and keeping your head above
While her time in her previous sonic occupation saw her partake in some intricate studio work, the writing and arrangement of the EP over the last year or so has been a DIY affair, beginning with the earliest sketch of an idea on her Mac.
“I use Garageband a lot to demo, I can’t recommend it enough - to work through your ideas, have them realised and worked through before you hit the studio, is just invaluable. Long ago, the big onerous task was to get yourself into a studio, which wasn’t always accessible, and would be a huge undertaking, and technology has just made music-making easier for everyone.”
Given the collaborative nature of a lot of her musical work, to be taking things on her own terms and releasing under her own name allows quite a bit of free rein, but also presents the responsibility for each aspect of the music, too, which is always an adjustment.
“One of the biggest differences is that you’re the lone soldier, because it was always a comfort pillow, in Jodavino, to have other to bounce ideas off, to have encouragement and camaraderie: because you’re living with your own self-doubt a lot when you go to pursue songwriting on your own.
“There’s always that, ‘it is good enough, or is it working at all? There’s a bravery to it in one way, but I’m long enough in the tooth to be determined to see things through.
“You also get better at your craft. Jodavino was 15 years ago, so much has happened inbetween and there were amazing experiences with all of that, but I’m enjoying being where I am now, and arriving for myself now, having something to say, and being enriched by the experiences inbetween - they’ve walked me along the road to where I am, and it’s a nice place to be.”
It’s one thing to arrive at the present moment and have something ready to share - it’s quite another to be sharing it in the circumstances in which music finds itself amid the Covid crisis, with the usual model of radio, press, touring and gigging out the door for many artists. Aoibheann talks about the ups and downs of releasing recently, and the difficulty of cutting through the noise.
“In many respects, that world we knew has been stripped away, and isn’t there to tap into - a single launch, planning tours, and bringing
music out to towns and villages - that’s a challenge now, because you’re trying to penetrate through the absolute clustermuck of social media, always trying to beat the machine, and that sense of ‘can I raise my head above the water here?’
“The other side of it, is that it’s never been easier to tap into people, via social media. When I released a track in 2017, I sent out physical CDs, and the notion of that now is alien to me! Why do that now, with Google Drive or Soundcloud? It’s a mixed blessing, really. I can be doing so much, working away, trying to reach people. You’ll get people not coming back to you, but that won’t stop me knocking on the door. It’s about perseverance. All I want is for it to be heard.”
Outreach to the community can take many forms in music, and aside from her work with the Carrigtwohill and White Horse gospel choirs (currently on Covid-related hiatus), Aoibheann has contributed to Cork’s music community as a vocal coach and co-ordinator for MusicGeneration Cork City, as part of the project’s music tuition objectives.
Since the current circumstances made themselves apparent, however, she’s been working from home, which naturally changes the dynamic of one-to-one tuition on something so involved.
“We’re working from home, and dealing with our musicians in the administrative capacity, there’s only so much you can do via email or over phone: for the rest of my colleagues, it’s altered hugely. They’re not getting to meet their students in the flesh, which is what we do as we’re performance-based music education, inspiring people themselves - the kids benefit from being around it. It’s mentoring on more levels than music, y’know?”
On the curious topic of gospel music itself, it’s one that’s always attracted sideways glances in Ireland, being so closely tied to religion and spirituality that expresses itself outwardly, rather than the stoicism and restraint of the churches most Irish people might have grown up in, and perhaps subsquently left. Is it a tough sell?
“There’s a negative association for the majority of people, but for the choirs I work with, I’m fascinated by the range of people, the age-range: from their twenties to their seventies. There’s a lovely diversity to it, and it’s enriched by that fact, as well.
“What I love about gospel, and how it speaks to choristers around the world, is spirituality: it’s not about bible-bashing, rules or dogma - it’s about unleashing a joy from yourself, and your being, and your religion is irrelevant. It’s about vibrating on a higher level, and when I’m faced by that wall of sound, I feel like I could levitate. It’s transcendent!”
New single ‘Overcome’ is available on all streaming services, and for download from iTunes and Bandcamp. For more information, check out aoibheannmusic.com.