Laoise Fitzgerald is just a few tracks into her career, but that’s just the public facing side. Behind the scenes, her inventive approach to composing piano tracks and stark, slightly lo-fi sound has been brewing for quite some time, and the debut EP ‘How To Swallow Spiders’, featuring single ‘You Fall Like Snow’ has the feel of a far more established artist.
On it, Fitzgerald’s vocal is the star, distinctive and memorable, while the musical backdrop draws on classical and modern techiques to produce a delicate soundscape that feels like it’s borrowed a little from music hall, a little from jazz and a little from folk. The end result is not a million miles from the quirkier end of the Scandinavian repetoire – a little Bjork, a little Lykke Li, but with far less of a nod to modern quirkiness.
Hard to describe, in other words, and I hope Laoise won’t read the above and think I’m misrepresenting her. You should probably give it a listen! I talked to her ahead of the EP launch, and the backdrop to her music is nothing short of fascinating…
Congrats on the debut EP, obviously a big milestone. Can you tell me how it came together?
Thanks so much!
The songs were written during lockdown, I guess I had the time to write and reflect and work on lots of music then. After a while I realised I had material that I felt really good about and that fit together as a cohesive body of work so I thought… Maybe this could be an EP!
I had composed everything at the piano and initially shared the songs with a good friend and brilliant musician Kaitlin Cullen-Verhauz who helped me develop the arrangements. Then it was a case of workshopping the songs with other musicians, before recording at Black Mountain Studio in Dundalk with engineer Alex Borwick, who helped transform the music into what you hear on the recordings.
I understand ‘You Fall Like Snow’ is a letter to your young self in musical form. What kind of story did you want to tell there?
I wrote ‘You Fall Like Snow’ as a lullaby to my infant self. It is a story of resilience, reassurance and learning to re-parent and look after yourself. It is a story of the joyous realisation that it doesnt matter what has happened to you because you can still look after yourself and care about yourself.
I was exploring the psychotherapeutic ideas of Internal Family Systems at the time. The idea that I could care for the parts of myself that I felt most averted from was monumental. The song became a self soothing practice to play at the piano.
Are your songs generally very inspired by your own life experiences?
I guess so. I think songwriting and composing is what I rely on most to understand my life experiences. I have been doing it for as long as I can remember. I find piano playing to be a very cathartic experience that feels mindless but takes a lot of concentration. When I am overwhelmed or confused, playing will help soothe racing thoughts.
I have always enjoyed writing in various forms like creative writing, poetry and songwriting. I write a lot of streams of consciousness that are 90 percent nonsense. Now and then I write something that I think could make a nice song.
There seems to be a lot of complexity in your music, especially in terms of the mixed instrumentation. Do you have a background in composing in the more classical sense?
When I was a young child I began my music learning in the classical world. But traditional western classical composition never resonated with me. It felt rigid and too prescriptive. I came across Derek Bailey’s philosophy on non idiomatic improvisation and that has become the basis of my creative practice. Non idiomatic improvisation emphasises spontaneity and intuition in playing. This is the compositional tool that is the basis of all my work. On the EP you can hear 6 fully formed tracks but they all started as improvisation sessions at the piano.
What do you hope might come from the EP?
I hope people listen to it and resonate with it. It feels really exciting to finally have a completed body of work that exists in public. I am very excited to play the music live.. So I am hoping for lots of gigs.
How is your live set up looking, and how many tracks do you have ready to use in it?
Ive been working on the live setup with 3 great musicians. Kaitlin Cullen-Verhauz, Callum Browne and Daniel Kearns. We’ve worked through the full EP so that’s 6 tracks ready to go.
How do you set up live, in terms of accommodating the varied instrumentation?
So there are a couple of different variations of the music that I can play live. Most ideally I play with a band which consists of Kaitlin playing cello, Callum playing guitar and Dan playing drums. I play keys, synths and use a laptop to include some of the more atmospheric elements you hear in the recording. Between us we have developed a nice balance of improvisation and experimentation between the songs using tools like feeding the cello through pedals and including some live electronic elements. I can also play the EP with just the piano but it’s a slightly different experience!
How much ‘Dublin’ is in your music?
It has become more present in my music as I realise that Dublin is becoming more unliveable. There is an ever present sense that there is no future for a young artist in Dublin. As cultural and artistic spaces dwindle and access to affordable and reasonable accommodation becomes scarcer, I am battling to exist in the city I was born in. The impact this has on my mental health and personhood inevitably seeps into the music I write. The rose tinted image of growing up close to the ocean in a vibrant, creative city is progressively dissolving as I realise that I will likely have to move elsewhere to attain financial and housing security.
What’s been your favourite moment as a musician so far?
That’s a lovely question. Recording the EP was a brilliant experience. Sharing your songs and seeing how other musicians interpret them is always really exciting. The recording process was nicely balanced between being planned but not overly rehearsed so we could be intuitive and experimental but also get things done. We spent 5 days recording in Dundalk in Black Mountain Studios which is in a beautiful setting too.
What kind of plans do you have for the future?
I am planning a small tour of Ireland in Autumn to promote the EP!
I’ve also started working on my next collection of songs which I hope to record in the coming months and release next year.