Following the release of her single ‘Bone House’, Kane Geary O’ Keeffe speaks with Étáin on the wonders of music production, visuals in music, and the value of connection in the creative arts.
The sun stretches from Meath to Cork as I sit down across from Étáin Collins, known simply by Étáin to her fans. Soaking up the light of a Leinster window from my own place in Cork city (where the sun shines brightest), I video chat with Étáin as she basks in the success of the singer-songwriter’s newest single, Bone House. We agree to pretend that my Teams background of a high end apartment is in fact my actual bedroom, and get to talking about the release of the new track. “I was lucky that I got to record [Bone House] because I won the UCC singer songwriter competition last year with the Music Soc. The prize was you got to go for a day to Wavefield recording studio”. Étáin is quick to praise those who helped her with the song, while also drawing attention to her UCC connections, which are of course the secret ingredient to any and all success. “Brian at Wavefield was great with suggesting things to add to the song,”Will we add this or do this like we can try this” and it was just so exciting. I love that sort of collaborative thing you know”. The hard work definitely seems to have paid off. Bone House, a folk pop ballad driven by Étain’s wistfully acrobatic vocals, reached a thousand streams on Spotify just days after its release.“I was so excited it was my little secret goal. I don’t want to compare it to numbers but you still do and I was really, really delighted”.
Discussing the significance of streaming revenues in the wake of venues being closed, and the absence of concerts, Étáin highlights the value of having physical places of connection as a performer, “Obviously there are no gigs so you don’t get to talk to people or have them come up to you. So now online is the only way to see how the release is going and to connect with people”.
With Covid laying many roadblocks in front of the arts since March of last year, Étáin is one of many artists who has seen their creative process shift in the wake of these isolating times.
“I was just like, I don’t know what to do here because nothing’s going on and usually like things just happen and you write down little phrases or things and then you come back to them”. Despite this challenge, Étáin seems to have spun a positive yarn from this past year, renewing the passion of writing for writing’s sake. “It’s been so long now and I think I’m trying to get more into the habit of just writing. And if it’s bad, it’s bad and that’s fine. It always builds towards making something better down the line”.
Music has had its work cut out for it recently, providing the backdrop to countless strolls around Fitzgerald’s Park and the Marina. Étáin speaks of the music she’s discovered during quarantine, praising the tunes of the Emerald Isle (as one would expect). “I was very late to The Murder Capital but I’ve been listening to their album a lot. I try to listen to a lot of Irish music. I think there’s something so special about it, you can feel so connected to it”. We joke about the angry vibes conjured by The Murder Capital, which stands in stark contrast to Étáin’s more relaxed, soulful melodies. “I feel like I can listen to a lot of things and then it’s different to what actually inspires my own stuff, like say with The Murder Capital and Fontaines D.C, I like the way their writing is very poetic, and I aim for that”.
As we zone in on the specific qualities of Étáin’s music, I try to uncover the origins of the more psychedelic traits present in the production of her single You’re a Picture. “Happy Alone actually did the production for You’re a Picture, and maybe it comes slightly with their influence. I do love that sound, the hypnotic, mesmerizing kind of sound. I don’t know if that’s what You’re a Picture has. I just liked that idea of a soundscape. I think that that kind of music feels very cinematic and I love when you can almost picture something along with the music”.
Talk of cinematic soundscapes allowed for a quick detour which consisted mostly of my rambling about Nine Inch Nails, and Trent Reznor’s conversion from industrial rockstar to Oscar-winning film composer. Despite my chattering on, the sidetrack ties nicely into a discussion about the overlap between the musical and visual arts. Étáin elaborates on Bone House’s cover art, and the inspiration behind the track’s visuals. “For the cover I just wanted something that captured what I thought the song was about. For me it’s the fact that ‘bone house’ is from Beowulf as a phrase that they use for your body, so that’s kind of where that came from, the skeleton”. Étain is quick to follow up this somewhat dark revelation with an fittingly contrasting image of life. “I think the skeleton is slightly morbid, but, like with the sunflowers I was like maybe this is kind of hopeful and exact”. These chats about visuals bring the personal workings of Bone House to the surface. “For me Bone House is all about fragility, almost like looking back at your old self and looking at how you are a new kind of thing. And so, I wanted it to be sort of hopeful with the tears on the petals to represent the status behind it”.
Étáin releases her music while also working as a postgraduate student. As such I take the opportunity to ask for the advice she would give to students of the creative arts who are hoping to one day find their place in the industry. “I would say that you should try to look in different areas. There are some really great podcasts like The Irish Music Industry Podcast, I listen to that all the time”. The trials of the past year have allowed Étain to observe just how interconnected the music industry really is. “There’s this ‘She Said So’ Dublin thing which I’ve started going to which is an organization for women musicians. It’s all online at the moment but they do workshops”. With these suggestions, the singer songwriter assures me that reaching out to others and staying observant is the key to getting ahead. “looking at how people in the industry are doing things, you’ll notice that they’re all connected and it doesn’t seem so impenetrable”.
The country-wide sunshine continues to throw seductive winks at the both of us so we both click into the inevitable interview question surrounding the future. She assures me that work is ongoing towards a music video for Bone House, which will build upon the petal visuals seen in the cover art. “It’s just gonna be hundreds of pictures basically, and it’s all based on that whole idea of the petals moving and they move into different shapes”. It sounds really great and takes inspiration from stop motion animation. I also hear word of some recording later in the year. “Hopefully in the summer we’ll be able to do that again and then I’d love to release something at the end of the year”. Despite the sense of finality the question draws, we continue to speak at length about gigs, cinema trips, and the arts in general. The fallout of weeks inside and away from fresh faces really comes through as good conversation becomes that bit more valuable. An agreement to make the most of the weather and those five golden kilometres completes a conversation defined by Étáin’s clear passion for music and the importance of connection.
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Be sure to check out Bone House and You’re a Picture on Spotify