SIOBHRA QUINLAN’s taken the long road to launching her first single, released earlier this month. She trained as an operatic soprano, studying an MPhil in composition at Trinity College and broadening her musical education in Berlin. That led – eventually – to a conceptual new composition that’s being self-funded by working with and teaching her art.
Along the way, Quinlan was also a part of the highly successful Trinity College Orchestra, where she combined a more classical bent with reproductions of contemporary classics like Pink Floyd’s ‘The Dark Side Of The Moon’ and covers of Daft Punk and Arcade Fire. Stepping into her solo guise for the first time, Quinlan’s new output can be broadly described as chamber pop.
“I started out with pure, straight music and nearly dropped out about three times in first year,” she recalls of her early days studying music at Trinity. “You go from being ‘oh it’s music, it’ll be fine’, to doing this really theoretical stuff. I’d actually made a plan to go to jazz college at the end of the first year, and I’d done the audition and got in. Then I decided I wanted to stay, as it clicked that I could pass the exams and there was something I can really take from it all.”
“I started doing a lot of the opera training, and working with a teacher called Veronica Dunne. She’s a complete opera legend, and I was fascinated by what she could do. She trains the voice as an instrument, and can do amazing things with it. Opera’s very technical, but it teaches you so many ways to use the voice.”
Quinlan later branched into jazz and wrote a dissertation on how opera can be incorporated into different styles, before using a period of more casual training in Berlin to work on her style and explore the city’s expansive performance offerings.
Naturally, Quinlan’s own writing takes in her broad influences, but also explores her own view of the world around her. As the first single reveals, she’s not afraid to make a statement.
Despite the financial pressures of the production process, Quinlan has chosen to donate the proceeds of debut offering ‘From His Rib’ to the Abortion Rights Campaign. “The title comes from my own thought process, thinking back to where patriarchal structures might come from. For me, Adam and Eve, that’s the root,” she explains. “The idea that women are less than men. The story of Eve being made from a part of Adam implies that women are secondary to men, and in being thrust out of the garden, it’s Eve that shoulders the blame.”
“It was the settling back into Ireland thing,” Quinlan said of her decision to hand over proceeds to the ARC. “I really noticed the difference when I came back from Berlin. I realised that we’re the exception, that there shouldn’t be a stigma like there is here. And it was just so infuriating. I wrote this around the March for Choice in 2016, after experiencing the difference in attitudes, stigma and understanding of the whole women’s health care thing.”
With the album – due later this year – still in the production process, Quinlan’s recorded her work alongside a group of musicians branded the SFiiiNX Sinfonia, an ensemble featuring members of the Trinity Orchestra, but also input from heady Dublin alt-rock band Spies. Getting everyone together in the studio has been a learning curve.
“By the time we got down to the studio I wanted to play around with percussion a bit more,” she explains. “It’s weird, when you’re writing that kind of stuff you do it through software called Sibelius, which is a kind of mock up of what it might sound like. I had this idea of what to expect, but it wasn’t until I started recording that I really knew, and I ended up doing a bit of playing around in the studio.”
The first live show will take place later this month, with unrecorded content also given an airing. “We’re playing at Fumbally Stables, which is intimate, but there’s space to fit an ensemble of ten people in there semi-amplified,” Quinlan tells us. “If the venue were too big, it would lose a lot of the timbre of the instruments. When we start to gig, it might work fine in one venue and not at all in another venue. It’s a whole other thing we have to work with.”
As for that full-length release? It was originally meant to be an EP, but Quinlan has decided to just keep going. “The album’s half done. It’s fully written, I just have to finance the studio and the production.”
With Quinlan already working with Ensemble, a kind of loose collective of a Dublin label, she’s alongside a highly respected group of musicians that fall outside of pop’s norms, yet are making waves.
“There’s a lot of up at 2am doing admin, back up at 6am doing it again,” she says of her journey, describing the passion behind the project. “It’s never-ending and rather addictive, this kind of work. Although it eats up all of your time, it ends up giving you energy in return. It can be hard to stop the development stage and bring it into real life…but I’ve now finally reached that point, and can’t wait to have it out there.”
Siobhra Quinlan will debut new music from her forthcoming album at Fumbally Stables on March 30th. Tickets, priced at €10, are available via Eventbrite.
This article is part of my weekly music column for the Dublin Gazette, reproduced here with permission. Note: this column is published in the Dublin Gazette several days ahead of on this website, so at times, some columns may be slightly out of date. The Gazette is a freesheet paper available across Dublin, published on a Thursday. Pick up copies at these locations.
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