"All the songs have an undercurrent of unease..." - hmv.com talks to Lisa Hannigan
It's been five years since Lisa Hannigan's second full-length LP Passenger, but she finally returns today with a new album named At Swim (you can preview and purchase it on the right-hand side of the page).
We spoke to Hannigan about making the album, working with The National's Aaron Dessner and why this is an album with a profound sense of unease...
It’s been five years since your last album, what have you been up to?
"Well, trying to write it mostly! I got a bit stuck in the writing process for this record so it took longer than usual to get it together. I’ve also been presenting a culture podcast called Soundings with my friend Dylan Haskins and singing in films."
When did you start work on the songs for At Swim?
"I started while touring Passenger but it was a slow process from the beginning."
You worked on the album with Aaron Dessner from The National, how did that come about and what was he like as a producer?
"Aaron sent me a lovely email out of the blue right when I was feeling very lost and disheartened in my writers block. He started sending me music to write to which freed me up enormously - some of these ended up on the record. As a producer he was wonderful! He had a very clear idea of the sound he wanted from the beginning. It was very interesting and illuminating for me to hear the songs through his ears and he created such a beautifully textured and layered sound for the record."
You worked on the album in Denmark and then recorded in a church in New York, what was that like? You must have captured some incredible sounds?
"We spent a couple of days in Denmark writing, but the bulk of the recording was in a beautiful converted church in Hudson New York called Future-Past. We spent a week there getting down the foundation of the songs - drums, bass guitar, piano and vocals. Then Aaron spent time building up the songs in his home studio, adding a trombone choir to 'We, the Drowned’ and more synths and strings. It was great to have some distance at that stage so I could hear the songs afresh."
Can you sum up the album lyrically? Is there a common theme or do the songs sit apart from each other?
"I think all the songs have an undercurrent of unease or a sense of displacement/ loss at their heart. I was between homes at the time and often on my own in strange cities and this seemed to diffuse most of the song in some way."
When did you settle on the title of At Swim?
"Well leading on from the above it seemed to sum up the feeling of drifting confusion that underpinned the record. I had a few others in mind but that immediately felt right."
What was the song on the album that took the longest to get right?
"'Undertow'. It existed as a first verse curse for a long time. I had a verse or two but nothing felt right as a chorus so it was in danger of never seeing the light of day. I really liked the verses though so always hoped I could work out a way of finishing it. Then, long after the rest of the songs were recorded I went around to my friend Iain Archer’s house and we finally figured it out! I went over to Aaron and put it down just in time to have it on the record."
And which came together most quickly?
"'Prayer for the Dying'. I wrote that very quickly, before my tea got cold. The emotions of the song were so high that it happened very fast."
What are your plans to take the album out live?
"Well, I’ve just finished an Irish tour where a lot of the songs had their first airing. It’s always a challenge to represent a record live but I have great band and we’ll figure out how to do it live, the trombone choir will be tough though! I have a new synth that Aaron used a lot on the record so I need to learn how it works!"