Light at the end of the tunnel for East Cork songwriter 

Written at the outset of the first lockdown, East Cork singer-songwriter Julia-Maria’s new single Morning Light points to the change of pace that many of us experienced over the Covid crisis’ quieter moments. Mike McGrath-Bryan finds out more.
Light at the end of the tunnel for East Cork songwriter 

Julianne Quirke, who performs as Julia-Maria. Picture: Niamh Barry

As things start to shift toward something resembling normal, or functioning at least, post-Covid, it's easy to look back at those first hectic weeks of the crisis - what had to be done, what could have gone wrong, the lives that were saved by staying in and keeping safe - and be overcome by those raw feelings of anxiety and worry. But in the quiet time that lockdown created for many of us, also came moments of reflection, re-evaluation and realisation.

East Cork singer-songwriter Julianne Quirke, making folk-pop with a band of collaborators under the Julia-Maria moniker, was one individual struck with such thoughts, channeling them into new single 'Morning Light', the second from her upcoming EP, released on streaming services two weeks ago.

“It's great to have it out in the world. It's such a strange experience, releasing music in a pandemic, like, it's so uncertain. But it's great to start showing people what I've been working on for the past, I don't know, three years at this point?

Julia-Maria, in the video for her song ‘Morning Light’.
Julia-Maria, in the video for her song ‘Morning Light’.

“This song was written just before we finished recording, actually, the week before the last session, and I wrote it and sent it to my producer Christian Best. And then he was like, 'it has to be on the EP'. So it was kind of written really quickly, recorded soon after, and it just kind-of fell together which was great. ”

While the process behind the song’s recording and production was very much a matter of spontaneity, its roots are in the aforementioned lockdown downtime, as Quirke was grappling with not only the professional and academic ramifications, but also with its effects on her own mental health.

“I suppose I've been extremely lucky that I never really struggled with mental health before this year. You know, I could empathize with friends who struggled, but I never could, I suppose, look back and say, 'I was struggling with my mental health there at that time'.

“It was definitely hard, having started to build a gigging career to a small extent, and being that I'm in college at the School of Music, being online studying music was difficult and strange. And, y'know, I was feeling like, 'oh my god, do I want to do music at all? Is there going to be any industry left after this?'. I was just on the brink of making a place for myself, and then everything went up in the air.

I wasn't even sure how I was feeling, until I put it into words, and I listened to what I had written

“So yeah, I was feeling a bit lost. And I was going for these morning walks because I couldn't sleep, and I just thought of this tune while I was writing. I'm walking up the hill behind my house, I live in the countryside. And I wasn't even sure how I was feeling, until I put it into words, and I listened to what I had written. 'Oh, that is how I'm feeling, like, and I'm sure loads of other people are feeling like this as well'.”

The single’s release was accompanied by a video that was also shot in the wilds of East Cork, taking in location shots at the Knockadoon cliffs and the Glenbower forest.

As we’ve seen in this parish over the course of lockdown, getting things like videos done has changed dramatically as the Covid crisis has worn on, with social distancing and other protocols happening - a process made easier for Quirke and collaborators with an outdoor shoot.

“I have to credit the fantastic Ryan O'Connell of Affinity Media, he did a superb job. We had two zoom meetings, and we had worked together before for a live recording, but he just totally got what I wanted, y'know? I wanted to give the idea that I was imagining the whole thing, like I was having some kind of mental break.

“I wanted it to be a little bit unhinged in a kind of ethereal, Alice in Wonderland... that kind of a vibe. That sounds crazy, saying that to someone when you're pitching a video, but he totally got it. When we filmed in Glenbower woods, we were very aware of how I wanted to stand, how I wanted to look in the last shot.

“We were doing all those overlays with the scenes in the editing and the post production, and we had multiple videos layered on top of each other. So it created this dream world, that reflected on being lost in your own head.”

Julia-Maria playing Coughlans. Picture: Kieran Murphy
Julia-Maria playing Coughlans. Picture: Kieran Murphy

‘Morning Light’ is the second single from Quirke’s upcoming EP, recorded at Monique Studios with veteran producer Christian Best.

Best has worked with a range of artists over the years from the studio, most recently including Cork-based acts Elbé and Laura Duff - Quirke discusses developing a rapport with Best, and the process of recording and producing an EP with him.

“Yeah, he's fantastic. I would have been quite inexperienced going into recording this EP, it's my first time recording in a studio, and going through that whole process, it was a huge learning experience.

“Christian was just so patient, and he was really creative with it. When I'm writing folky tunes, it's very much guitar and vocals. I wouldn't have thought about the instrumentation before, but when we went in, he was like, 'this has a great beat, let's do this drum groove'. There's a track on the EP called 'She', which was like a slow-paced kind of dreamy ballad thing that became this, like drum-heavy, band-focused thing.

“You let go of control when you go into a studio, and you open up the creative field to the musicians that you get in, and the producer, and (Best) is just fantastic. Really free, a no-judgement zone, you can try out things, they don't work, no big deal. Much more collaborative than I had expected."

The light at the end of the tunnel is slowly expanding for artists and gig-goers alike - there are post-pandemic events planned, be they festivals or tour announcements, coming after a 14-month hiatus and into a still-uncertain picture regarding protocol on the night, but also the overall state of cities’ music scenes.

It's been totally horrible this past year. You can't take that away, there's no way to sugarcoat it

Quirke reflects on what she’d see change in a post-pandemic picture.

“It's been totally horrible this past year. You can't take that away, there's no way to sugarcoat it, it's been particularly challenging for musicians and people in the arts. But I think it's an opportunity to rebuild, opening up new venues that we never would have considered venues before.

 Julia-Maria. Pic: Luke Kelly Wilmot
Julia-Maria. Pic: Luke Kelly Wilmot

“Every business is having to rethink, you know, and we can feed people outside, we can do takeaways, I think there's a fantastic opportunity to maybe have a bit more of an outdoor music scene in Cork, use Fitzgerald's Park more for events.

“Cork people are craving music, like I think, and if you're any bit of a music fanatic, like... the things I would do to be at a live show, y'know?”

Julia-Maria’s new single, ‘Morning Light’, is on all streaming services now.

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