Lisa Hannigan Interview: Stitching Together A Solo Debut Two years after her sudden dismissal from Damien Rice's band, in which she sang backup for seven years, the Irish singer has crafted her first solo album. Literally, crafted: Not only did Hannigan write the music, but she also hand-stitched the liner notes.
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Lisa Hannigan Sews Together A Solo Debut

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Lisa Hannigan Sews Together A Solo Debut

Lisa Hannigan Sews Together A Solo Debut

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block. The Irish singer Lisa Hannigan spent seven years singing backup with her countryman, the popular Damien Rice, her delicate vocals entwining his.

(Soundbite of song, "Volcano")

Mr. DAMIEN RICE and Ms. LISA HANNIGAN (Singers): (Singing) What I am to you, it's not what you mean to me. You give me miles and miles of mountains and I'll ask for the sea.

BLOCK: Well, two years ago, Damien Rice suddenly dismissed Lisa Hannigan from his band. Now, she's out with her debut solo album.

(Soundbite of song, "Ocean and a Rock")

Ms. HANNIGAN: (Singing) I feed your words through my buttonholes. I pin them to my fingerless gloves green and prone to fraying.

BLOCK: Lisa Hannigan is 28. She's from what she calls the full-on countryside in County Meath just west of Dublin. As a girl, she'd spend summers in a little fishing village by the sea, where her mother's family is from, and again and again, she comes back to the ocean in these songs.

(Soundbite of song, "Ocean and a Rock")

Ms. HANNIGAN: (Singing) Thoughts of you warm my bones. I'm on the way, I'm on the phone. Let's get lost, me and you. An ocean and a rock is nothing to me.

BLOCK: Lisa Hannigan's album is called "Sea Sew." That's S-E-A S-E-W. And the sewing part becomes clear when you take a look at the lyrics inside the CD. The words to the songs are stitched, each letter hand stitched to a piece of linen, and Lisa Hannigan sewed the lyrics herself.

Ms. HANNIGAN: I did, I did. I wanted to put the labor into it, really. You know, I wanted each word to have taken the time to create. And I wanted to make something that had texture that didn't, you know?

And so, I made the whole thing. I have it at home, and it's about twice the size of the CD case.

BLOCK: Now, how long did that take?

Ms. HANNIGAN: It took May.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HANNIGAN: It took a month, in all, to do. But I really enjoyed it, because it was at the end of the process of making the record, so I'd had, you know, all the writing, and arranging and rehearsing. And I gave myself a month where I just was doing the artwork. And it was a really lovely kind of solitary time for me.

I just wanted everyone that had the record to — for it to be sort of special, because music is so - it's so easy nowadays to send it through the Internet, and it's like sending an email as opposed to getting a letter. And I wanted people to be able to hold it in their hand, and for it to be sort of quite a tangible and textural thing. I think it worked.

BLOCK: When you got these songs written down in your head and then it came time to rehearse them with a band, and I think a lot of the band are friends of yours, where we you doing that? How did the music come together for you?

Ms. HANNIGAN: Most of the songs, I sort of — I tend to go away and write by myself or start something and then maybe go for a walk and go for a big — you know, hours and hours, really, and come back with threadbare boots and half a song, you know?

(Soundbite of song, "Pistachio")

Ms. HANNIGAN: (Singing) Sit down and smoke away. I wouldn't knock it till you're in them shoes. Oh, watch as our subtlety blows away, as a blusher gives way to a bruise.

Ms. HANNIGAN: And so I arranged the songs and then brought them to the band, and we rehearsed them all down on a farm, down the country here.

(Soundbite of song, "Pistachio")

Ms. HANNIGAN: (Singing) Swap the boots for red shoes.

Ms. HANNIGAN: But when we started recording, I wanted it to sound like rusty custard.

BLOCK: Rusty custard.

Ms. HANNIGAN: Rusty custard, yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: I think that might be something unique to Ireland, or else I don't know.

Ms. HANNIGAN: Oh, well, I wouldn't recommend eating it. It sounds quite dangerous. But I wanted that sort of rusty creaky sound and just that warm and creaminess, as well. So…

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: So when you sat down with your band, is that sort of the instruction you gave them, I want this to sound like rusty custard?

Ms. HANNIGAN: They nod - they nodded and smiled politely.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HANNIGAN: Yeah. Right, Lisa, whatever you say.

(Soundbite of song, "I Don't Know")

Ms. HANNIGAN: (Singing) I don't know if you can swim, if the sea has any draw for you.

BLOCK: Tell me about the song, "I Don't Know."

(Soundbite of song, "I Don't Know")

Ms. HANNIGAN: (Singing) If you're better in the morning or when the sun goes down, I'd like to call you.

Ms. HANNIGAN: "I Don't Know" is - it's that moment where, you know, you see the turn of somebody's elbow or a book peeking out of someone's bag on the train. And I do this anyway, I sort of construct a person behind it, invariably positive. And I think that song is about that moment, where you're sort of full of hope about someone you really have no idea about.

BLOCK: All those possibilities.

Ms. HANNIGAN: Yeah, yeah.

(Soundbite of song, "I Don't Know")

Ms. HANNIGAN: (Singing) If you walk away, I would keep my head. We could creep away in the dark, or maybe not. We could shoot it down anyway.

BLOCK: At the very, very end of the CD, at the end of the last song, it's just your voice. You know, your voice just naked, unadorned. Was that a deliberate choice to end the CD that way?

Ms. HANNIGAN: I definitely wanted to end on that song, and "Lille," is the song I think you're talking about, and it's - not necessarily anything to do with the voice or anything, but I just - it, for me, is a really hopeful tune.

(Soundbite of song, "Lille")

Ms. HANNIGAN: (Singing) Went out to play for the evening. We wanted to hold on to the feeling on the stretch in the sun…

Ms. HANNIGAN: It always makes me smile when I'm singing it. Even if I'm not necessarily at the beginning, I always am at the end. And it was the first song I wrote when I left the band.

BLOCK: You're talking about when you stopped singing with Damien Rice.

Ms. HANNIGAN: Yeah, yeah.

BLOCK: Which was quite an abrupt transition, if I understand this right. He fired you, essentially, like 10 minutes before a show.

Ms. HANNIGAN: Yeah. I mean it was, and it wasn't. It was in itself, but you know, we'd worked together for seven years, so it was a long enough time to be working with anyone. And, you know, I think it had just come to the end of its natural life, really, and so it was fine.

BLOCK: You know, I can imagine, easily imagine, a song, given what you had gone through and the ending of this musical partnership, that that song could've taken a very different turn.

Ms. HANNIGAN: Yes, it could. I mean, it could've been quite dark. But I think it's definitely, it's definitely shining a positive light on stuff, as opposed to a negative. I suppose you can't really shine a negative light on things, can you? You can turn the light off.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: Well, Lisa Hannigan, thanks very much. Good to talk to you.

Ms. HANNIGAN: Thanks, Melissa.

BLOCK: Lisa Hannigan's CD is titled "Sea Sew." You can hear more songs and watch her videos at

(Soundbite of song, "Sea Song")

Ms. HANNIGAN: (Singing) There's one man, he's like the wishful thinking in my life, I see so, and he's like the wine on the weekend. And though he is like…

BLOCK: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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