Singer Lyra: “I’m totally the girl next door, literally as bland as butter"

Cork singer Lyra, who just released her latest single, talks to MARTHA BRENNAN about pressing pause during the pandemic, her return to the stage, and plans to tour in 2022
Singer Lyra: “I’m totally the girl next door, literally as bland as butter"

Cork singer Lyra. Picture: Ruth Medjber

LYRA has been around the block. London, Los Angeles, Nashville, the list goes on. In the five years since she self-released her debut EP, W.I.L.D, it seems like the singer, formerly known as Laura McNamara, has been just about everywhere. But for the Bandon native, there’s still no place like home.

“I’m totally the girl next door, literally as bland as butter. I’m so normal it’s unbearable,” she says over the phone with a thick Rebel accent.

“I actually stay in Brighton when I’m in England because I have to be by the sea. After growing up in West Cork I just feel I need to have that root. I like to go out in nature and walk and swim. It’s the safe mode in my brain. And even at that, I’m back and forth like a yoyo.”

Cork singer Lyra, from Bandon, in County Cork. Pictures: Evan Doherty
Cork singer Lyra, from Bandon, in County Cork. Pictures: Evan Doherty

Lyra has spent much of the past 18 months in Cork, flying between her mother’s home in Rochestown and the UK when needed. She first returned home when her mother was diagnosed with Covid-19 early in the pandemic. Since then, the 27-year-old has been delighted to spend time “batin around” Kinsale with her sister’s children, seeing her friends, or visiting her brother in Dublin. Her mother has also, thankfully, recovered.

However, when it came to her budding career, the standstill the pandemic caused was “soul-destroying”.

“I felt like I had just gotten myself ready for the big push. I had all my songs written, I had all of the rehearsals done, I was about to go on tour and then it all fell apart,” she says.

“I really thought that I might have missed the boat. I thought people were going to forget about me.”

A new single, multiple UK festival appearances, and a television judging stint later - and the idea seems absurd. However, this time last year, Lyra really didn’t see it that way. She prepared herself for the worst and did all that any young person could do.

“Like everyone else, I just tried to keep myself busy,” she says. “I tried making banana bread but I was shocking at it.”

STEPS

Lyra first skyrocketed to fame in 2019 after Universal Music released her hit single Falling, which featured on Love Island and later on Grey’s Anatomy. That same year, she performed at Electric Picnic, the 2fm Christmas Ball, Latitude Festival, and supported some of the world’s biggest artists like James Bay, Jess Glynne, and Dermot Kennedy. Falling was later nominated for Single of the Year at the RTÉ Choice Music Awards and, by the end of the year, Lyra started to sell out her own headline gigs in Dublin and London.

Lyra first skyrocketed to fame in 2019 after Universal Music released her hit single 'Falling'. Pictures: Evan Doherty
Lyra first skyrocketed to fame in 2019 after Universal Music released her hit single 'Falling'. Pictures: Evan Doherty

“I always say that it happened in steps. First, my song Emerald was used in Striking Out. Then Emerald was used in a Guinness advert which was a massive step. Then Love Island used Falling and then Grey’s Anatomy. All of it together really boosted the songs,” she says.

Lyra’s music has also been used for the Hulu series Four Weddings And A Funeral and for a Virgin Media campaign. Listening to her music on television is still a “weird” experience, she says. The real ‘pinch-me’ moment was Grey’s Anatomy.

“It was so cool because my sister and I had always watched it and loved the music on it. When they used my song, I was like: ‘this is amazing’. Then they ended up using it for the promo video for the whole season so it’s still on the website which is just mad,” Lyra says.

“I told everyone I was a surgeon afterwards and I was heading off to Grey-Sloan.”

SILVER LININGS

It all put her on track to become one of the country’s next big artists. Her powerful, soulful voice was compared to the likes of Florence Welch and Amy Winehouse. Her songwriting was hailed by industry experts. A tour was booked, tickets were sold, and she planned a trip to California to record with a variety of producers, some of whom usually work with Lady Gaga. Then, 2020 hit.

Lyra performing at Kaleidoscope 21. Picture: GlenBollard
Lyra performing at Kaleidoscope 21. Picture: GlenBollard

However, Lyra didn’t let it get her down. After a virtual tour of the U.S, she was booked to become a judge on The Big Deal, a talent competition that recently wrapped up on Virgin Media One. Sitting on a panel with Jedward, Deirdre O’Kane, Boy George, and former JLS star Aston Merrygold was an experience unlike any other.

“I always say that everything has its silver linings. I got to be on The Big Deal which is something I may not have been able to do had I been on tour,” she says.

“I was so fortunate because it was such a fun experience. It really got me out of my comfort zone and gave me a taste of something outside of music. I loved it.”

GETTING BACK ON TRACK

It was when she was asked to take part in the Government’s first post-lockdown pilot festival in July that Lyra really started to feel like she was back on track.

“I was a bawling mess back stage. It was just so emotional. To be involved with it was an absolute honour,” she says.

Lyra says that she’s “lucky” to have landed such roles. As an outsider, it’s hard to believe that luck has anything to do with her career.

“I found it really hard to write at the start of lockdown because I was so low and unsure about where I’d end up. But eventually, I was like ‘right the time is over to be a weeping willow. This is your future, you have to make it for yourself’ and I started getting stuck into writing again,” she says.

Eventually, her latest single Lose My Mind came to life.

“It’s a different side to me that people haven’t seen,” she says. “I want people to dance and remember a time when they threw their hands up and let their hair down. Because I do that too.”

READY TO TOUR

As well as new music, a rescheduled tour is also planned for early next year.

“I can’t wait because performing is my favourite part of it all,” Lyra says.

“It’s mind-blowing to sing the songs that I write for my audience with them face to face.”

Lyra at the Ireland Pilot Music Festival this summer. Picture: Leon Farrell / Photocall Ireland
Lyra at the Ireland Pilot Music Festival this summer. Picture: Leon Farrell / Photocall Ireland

The unwillingness to “blow her own trumpet”, as she puts it, comes from the age-old relationships she has with her friends and family at home and the inherent modesty that comes with being a Corkonian.

“The music industry doesn’t last forever so I may as well stay down on earth, because that’s where I’ll end up,” she says with a laugh.

“I really never thought this was going to happen for me. I knew I could sing but so could my mam and sister. It wasn’t until I started writing and performing that I thought maybe I could really do this and look at me now!”

It’s a place “the girl next door” never thought she would be when she first started writing poetry in school and singing into her father’s dictaphone.

“I always wanted to be an artist and I knew that I would give a good lash but I really am living the dream,” she says. “And I have so many things I want to do. This is just the start."

"Lose My Mind” is out now.

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