For Cork singer-songwriter Sarah-Beth, music is her therapy

With new EP 'Loud Demure', Sarah-Beth O'Mullane flips the switch from alternative pop to piano-driven ruminations and flights of fantasy. The Cork singer-songwriter speaks with Mike McGrath-Bryan about how it's come together, and collaborating over the course of the Covid crisis.
For Cork singer-songwriter Sarah-Beth, music is her therapy

Sarah-Beth O’Mullane: Wants to be more adventurous in post-pandemic gigging.  Picture: Rebekah Barlok

With Covid-19 effectively driving people into their own spaces, the artists of Cork have had time and space to think, not only about their own art and processes as well as the wider circumstances, but about their internal monologue, the voice they channel into their respective artforms.

For Sarah-Beth O’Mullane, that meant taking a step back from the momentum generated by Luunah, the alternative pop five-piece she fronts, over the prior two years, weighing up her own thoughts and putting life to ideas she’d been living with for the past while.

The end result, the Loud Demure EP, was released last Friday across the streaming services, and though its release was a product of necessity, she’s also expressed her happiness with how it’s been received, both online and in the little in-person conversations I’ve learned to make the most of.

“I’m happy with how it came out. It was actually something that I was meant to release ages ago, like before the Luunah album. I decided that with lockdown and everything, I was going to wait and delay until I actually released it, with the hope of gigs going back to normal and everything.

I thought ‘I’m going to put it out and see what the response is’. And it’s been really good so far.

“But that never happened, so I decided the best I could do now is to just release it and move on to new work. I was just like, ‘I’m going to put it out and see what the response is’. And it’s been really good so far.

“When you bump into people in the street then, it’s funny when you see the reaction, because usually when you’re just putting it out into the void, on the internet, it’s really hard to know who’s actually engaging with it.

“D’you know, when you get likes or plays, you’re not really thinking of it as real people, until you’re actually talking to someone right in front of you. So it’s nice, then, when people actually do meet you when they’re talking about it.”

Sarah-Beth’s ‘Loud Demure’ EP is available now on all streaming services
Sarah-Beth’s ‘Loud Demure’ EP is available now on all streaming services

An introspective record, focused mainly on a dichotomy of self-knowledge and escape, Loud Demure is a Ronseal title, according to O’Mullane: speaking clearly about the thoughts that inspired the record’s creation, while allowing a minimum of sonic distraction from its message.

“I wanted to keep it sparse, because it was more about the songs, that’s what I wanted to get across. Everything I was doing with Luunah is a bit more up-tempo, and that’s the project that I was leaving to that side of things. I’ve noticed when I just really wanted it to be about the words, and y’know, getting that through in the clearest way possible. So that’s why I kept it stripped back.

“It was very much about self-reflection, going back over things in my own head. Music is basically how I’d process anything, and I use it as my own therapy, writing songs. So things that I’ve been going through, like if a situation wasn’t great and I was longing for something better, that’s something that I write about. It’s me giving myself a guideline through life, a little bit.”

O’Mullane worked with producer and former collaborator Eduardo Moreira on the record, a continuation of a working relationship forged in the Cork School of Music’s popular music degree programme.

With Moreira living in Portugal throughout lockdown, production and direction was a more gradual process.

“I think it just got in my head to message him, and see what he said, because I was just thinking about him — we’d worked together before, and we said we’d work together again one day. When I was doing the first EP that I recorded, myself, he was mastering the tracks, but he was giving me advice in the studio, little tips and things that I could do. That was back in 2016 or 2017.

“I said that we should just do it, and he was in Portugal the whole time, so it’s been a back-and-forth working relationship, the whole way. Like, I’ve been recording with Christian Best and Brian Casey, and just sending them over to Eduardo, going back and forth, sending him new vocals or making changes, if I needed to. So it was kind of a nice thing.

“I haven’t seen Eduardo in person in, like, two years, I’d say. It’s actually bizarre, like having full-on working relationships with people just in the online space.”

As a result of distanced collaboration working out between the two, there’s a number of guests on the record, brought in by Moreira to share instrumentation and influences.

O’Mullane talks about the communications aspect of collaborating online, and making the best of the spaces in conversation the medium creates.

“I think everything is probably whittled down to, you know, a condensed message; it’s not the same as if you’re talking to someone in real life. It’s like you’re, there’s like a barrier between you and the person, so just try to be clear and concise in the way that you’re speaking.

“Obviously, if I was working on something again in the future, we would know how to do it online. And it’s brilliant that we can all do it online, but I don’t think it really beats being in the actual environment with someone and working alongside them on music.

“What it allowed for was a lot of freedom to do stuff with the production. If I wasn’t there, maybe I would have taken it a completely different way, as well. But I’m happy that it was more of a group decision, like Eduardo and a few others were, like, just helping with the production side of it, giving their input.”

The EP itself was tracked over two sessions, one with East Cork’s Christian Best in his Monique studio, and another with West Cork producer and session musician Brian Casey — two stalwart producers in the county.

What I would like is a culture in Ireland, where people buy tickets and go to random gigs, the way that Irish people go to the pub

O’Mullane took the opportunity to compare and contrast processes. “I don’t even know how it happened, really. I just got into my head that I wanted to, to release these songs, and I was doing the Luunah stuff with Brian Casey the whole time. I said I was doing stuff, would it be okay if he helped me out with a few songs and he was, like, ‘absolutely’. I was comfortable working with him and I knew how he’d worked as well.

“And I’d been down to Christian before, with another artist. I wanted to see what it was like as well, knowing the difference with the contrast of, like, what a different producer could do. They were both different, you get different results from working with different people, naturally, because people are so different anyway. I have a really good relationship with both, and we’ll work on more stuff in the future, no doubt.”

As the light at the end of the tunnel starts to widen, notwithstanding understandable jitters regarding variants of the virus, everyone in Cork music is thinking about what shape the artform takes next in the city — and for O’Mullane, it starts with a revision of how a wider audience approaches the live music at their doorstep.

“One thing I realised from gigging before the pandemic — if there was a way of changing the culture towards gigs? We know that people have been removed from music and gigs, it just seems like everyone is, like, bursting to go out and, y’know, experience life, everyone’s going to bars, just making the most of the table situation.

“What I would like is a culture in Ireland, where people buy tickets and go to random gigs, the way that Irish people go to the pub. If there were sessions where you buy a ticket, and just go to a venue and support a random artist, making a night out of it, I think that’d be a really good idea for getting people together in venues that are promoting original music.

“A lot of the venues that I would have been playing in Cork, if it wasn’t an original gig, it was all covers. And that’s what was wanted from pub owners, because they think that people want to hear songs that they know, and I get that completely. But you’re not doing things to your full potential if you’re just doing covers the whole time, or, like, doing sets that you’re not really crazy about, and not being adventurous. So, like, I think post pandemic, I’d want to be a bit more adventurous.”

  • Sarah-Beth’s ‘Loud Demure’ EP is available now on all streaming services.

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