Treading new ground

Marlene Enright, erstwhile singer of the Hard Ground, is gearing up to release her debut solo effort. She talks to Ronan Leonard
Treading new ground
Marlene Enright

IN recent years the Cork music scene has witnessed a surge of piano-playing, Americana-tinged singer-songwriters, and at the forefront of that movement, along with Jack O’Rourke and Anna Mitchell, has been Marlene Enright. Having released two lauded albums with the Hard Ground, she has used their hiatus to produce her solo debut album Placements and Second Cuts, released on March 24.

Enright can set an exact point on when work on the album started. “The first song I wrote on this album was Shiny, I remember exactly as I had to get it finished for a support gig that I was doing for Jack O’Rourke. The bulk of the rest of the album was written between March and July of 2016 — so it was all done over 10 months or so.”

Recording didn’t begin in earnest until all the material was written. “I recorded When The Water Is Hot and Underbelly with Christian Best in January 2016 and the rest of the album was recorded at my home by Brendan Fennessy in July and August 2016. The whole album was mostly arranged by myself and the band [Davie Ryan on drums, Hugh Dillon on guitar, and Eoin ‘Walshy’ Walsh on bass], and mainly prior to recording.”

Enright says the recording process was different in ways but one she really enjoyed.

“It was great working with Christian and Feno, they’re both great engineers and bought their ideas to the table which was great. In terms of production, I had clear enough ideas about what I wanted it to sound like but I’m never great at explaining myself so I end up using emotions, colours, and ridiculous scenarios to get my ideas across rather than musical terms a lot of the time. They both played an active role in the production side of things.”

Many artists who produce their own records admit that going through the nitty-gritty of putting an album together means they end up with a different opinion of the material when the process is finished, a theory to which Enright can attest.

“When I was writing and recording it I didn’t think there was a central theme but hindsight has made me realise that there was. Doubt, indecision, and lack of clarity rear their ugly heads a lot throughout the album — I think a lot of what I was writing about stemmed from these three feelings.

“Self-acceptance is something that comes with age, I think. You accept more things about yourself as you grow into yourself, you learn to take the bad with the good.”

While the Hard Ground had a style resulting from the meeting points of her and Pat Carey’s writing styles, Enright doesn’t think her own solo writing has a singular style. “My own stuff can be dark but it has a poppier sensibility than the Hard Ground have. When you break all kinds of music down — be it folk, country, RnB, rap, rock, pop — when you’re left with the raw material, a good song is a good song is a good song: Groove, melody, lyrics, the main ingredients.

“On this album I’ve been influenced in equal measures by the Bee Gees, Willie Nelson, Kendrick Lamar, and Celine Dion…ish.”

Enright’s hands-on approach to the practicalities of making her record has also extended to the booking of her opening acts. “Support gigs have helped me hugely over the past few months. It’s a chance to work on your set and the performance of it without having too much to lose. I have some seriously talented people supporting me so I’m very lucky, it doesn’t seem fair to say I’m giving them a chance but rather they are augmenting my gig: Caoilian Sherlock, Ailbhe Reddy, Emma Langford, and Brian Casey are all names worth looking for.”

Like most independent musicians Enright also has a ‘day job’, managing a music venue, which she reckons has informed an increased professionalism in her own music career. “I love my job, you meet so many people through the gigs at the White Horse [in Ballincollig]. You gather a greater sense of what is valued by audiences, artists, promoters, and agents. It doesn’t influence what or how I write in any way, but it does allow me to gain a greater understanding and respect for other people’s roles in the music industry and to know what needs to happen to keep everyone ticking over and breaking even.”

  • Placements and Second Cuts is out Friday, March 24. Preorder at Marlene Enright and band play the White Horse on March 24; The Mariner, Bantry, on March 25; and Coughlan’s, Douglas St, Cork City, on April 13

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