QUITE unexpectedly, Cork singer-songwriter Liv Monaghan found herself singing to make a living after moving to Paris in 2012.
Liv, who studied drama and history in Trinity, says: “After graduating, I moved to Italy for a while and then back to Dublin to work in the Abbey.
“It was then I decided to move to Paris to study in the Jacques Lecoq programme. It is an international theatre school for design.
“I was finding it hard to get a job related to my studies and, weirdly, singing became one of the more viable options.”
Monaghan grew up in the northside of Cork city and played piano and flute from a young age.
“I have two living siblings and, though not musicians themselves, my parents bought us an old second-hand piano as soon as the eldest could hammer one,” she says.
“Introducing and encouraging any art is one of the best gifts a parent can give their child.”
Despite this early start, Liv says she had a lot to learn when it came to jazz.
“I didn’t know a lot about the style when I began singing, but I find there is a generosity in the jazz scene.
“If you are in any way good at all or show promise, people will work with you. You play off standards and improvise, so when people are playing with someone with less knowledge (like myself at the beginning), they end up playing well anyway.”
In 2014, Monaghan created Bird&Bass, an alternative jazz group. They recorded and released her first album, Beauty in the Park, a minimalist somewhat experimental project, with little or no harmonic support.
“After making about €75 on Beauty in the Park and spending over €2,500 in personal funds (which is not a lot of money for an EP), I was, as an artist, crippled for months,” she says.
“People think listening on Spotify is supporting when in reality, listening on Spotify gets €50 for 10k downloads.
“It is really great to have people listening for free, but it is also nice to be able to buy a loaf of bread! After that, I said there was no way I would be doing that again.
“I looked around me and all the artists I was working with were crowdfunding. I have raised almost €4,000 and have been so blown away by the support.
“Some 60% of the crowdfunding support came from Ireland. People from Scoil Mhuire, my secondary school in Cork, supported this. That was a big deal to me.
“This LP is different in that I had a harmonic instrument for support and it’s a bit more commercial and less experimental. The whole process, from writing to now, was probably 18 months. Sava Medan, bass, and myself worked together on arrangements. There were three rehearsals with the full band then we went into the studio and recorded the whole thing in just six hours. In terms of style, I am probably overly influenced by Joni Mitchell, and this should come across on Slow Exhale. I also love Jeff Buckley and Marc Ribot.
“The style of Slow Exhale is a mixture of jazz and folk. There are also touches of blues and world music, but it’s rooted in jazz with its arrangements, and there’s a lot of folk in my singing and in the landscapes I am trying to create through the tracks.
“The artwork for the LP is a collaboration between Thibault Martin and Aldona Gritzmann. Thibault is a designer who made part of Rhianna’s Met Gala bishop’s dress and Aldona is a self-taught photographer who also worked with the top fashion photographer, Ellen Von Unwerth Aldona also made all the layout.
“That is the thing about Paris, there are a lot of different types of artists here.”
In terms of her writing style, Liv says: “I love to really go deep into an atmosphere of sound. I sit at my piano and the music that comes inspires words... People say, ‘Oh you should write a song about that experience or that person’ but I can never do something as specific as that, I go off into space with the music and an idea comes and then I run with it, it has a life of its own. I actually think it’s a kind of spiritual process, I’m not sure that it’s always the writer writing the songs… Aretha Franklin said they’re up for grabs — they’re in the ether.
“Life right now is quite nice, but I’m always on edge, though that keeps things interesting! I’d be in a nine to five otherwise. Paris is very artistic and there is a huge respect and appreciation for the arts here. The music scene has links to New York specifically. There are top quality musicians here.
“If I were to compare Paris to Dublin, for example, I would say it is possible to make a living from art in both, but they each require different strategies. I see Irish artists doing better than me in Dublin, getting paid better etc… then I also know that for my style, Paris is much better. The French culture tends to appreciate art for arts’ sake, whereas the Irish are always looking for value in financial, rather than spiritual or philosophical gain.”
Slow Exhale is available in all the major outlets, on iTunes, Spotify, Deeper and Amazon.