Lisa Canny plays the harp, but not in the way you might expect. She used to be a traditional harpist, winning seven All Ireland titles in her teenage years. As her taste changed and she began composing, though, Canny changed genres, but not instruments.
Now, as a modern pop performer, she still uses a harp, delving into realism like hip-hop along the way. Her sound would be unrecognisable to the more traditional side of the music, but the result is a truly unique sound, still based around the musician she grew up with. Based in London today, she’s exploring a very different musical world.
“The harp is an extremely versatile instrument,” she says. “Obviously it works beautifully for more ethereal, whimsical and romantic musical soundscapes, but start dampening, muting, bending and flicking the strings, slapping the soundboard and de-tuning on the spot and you have a whole new dynamic to play with.”
“It also has such an incredible presence on stage and in a room, not just because of its size but also its curves, colouring, attitude and the history it carries in its existence. I named mine Jane. She has a really strong personality to me too! She’s elegant and sophisticated but also totally chaotic, sensitive and dramatic. Most instruments have personalities to me. Like a painter has colours and textures to play with, I lean into the individual character of instruments and their unique sounds to help me tell stories. Same goes for the banjo. Mine’s called George and he is a big awkward dumbass but he’s great craic and a bit of a bird, so everyone loves him anyway!”
The way Canny views her instruments also plays into the way she writes.
“To blend harp and banjo into my more modern leaning tracks, I focus more on the story than the sounds,” she explains. “Once I’ve found what the harp and/or banjo’s role or place is in a song, the rest sorts itself out. I also just try to have fun with it! Whatever feels good is what I go with. I try not to overthink or over-analysis my compositional choices anymore. I chase feeling. If it feels right, it’s right. I’m addicted to that transcendent feeling I get when the music takes over and you stop thinking. Some call it “flow state”, others “enlightenment”. Whatever you call it, it’s one of the most incredible feelings in the world. Once I jump on that wave, everything blends naturally!”
Latest single ‘Know It All’ in part addresses the idea of forging your own path, of self doubt and creativity.
“‘Know It All’ has many meaning to me personally”, Canny says. “Originally it stemmed from a life experience in love and lust that took an unexpected turn, but like most creative ventures, it grew more “legs” once I looked at it through a different lens.”
“As part 1 of a 3-part concept E.P., this track represents the part in my creative journey where I did the majority of my “experimentation”. I’ve been trying to find myself creatively for years. Moving from the West of Ireland to London and from trad music to avant-pop has been amazing and brilliant and inspiring and wonderful but it has also brought with it great challenge and sacrifice.”
“For the most part, the process has been really enjoyable, but there’s also been plenty of moments of frustration and moments where I’ve felt completely lost. Looking back now I see that every moment has all been necessary.”