words by emma madden
In the months which followed the pivotal #metoo conversation, publications were quick to put the artist and the hashtag together in the same headline. In doing so, they claimed that music was paralleling this paradigmatic shift, that it was now a vehicle for women to tell their previously untold stories. Promises of x being the ‘first band for the #metoo generation’ became a neat headline, but what exactly did it reveal about the artist’s individual experience?
Rather than just presenting the headlines, Irish musician and visual artist Brigid Mae Power relays the lived experience of dealing with leftover trauma. On her upcoming album ‘Two Worlds’, she gives us a window into the minutiae of coping day to day. Some of which are spent in a disassociative state, others in her husband’s arms, and occasionally there are those days which are all fight and triumph.
That’s the case on lead single ‘Don’t Shut Me Up (Politely)’, a moment in which Power’s dauntlessness overcomes those who have mistreated her. “Don’t you find the spirit threatening?” she dares them. “But guess what I can hear, it’s my spirit still breathing, breathing loud and clear”. And then we hear it too, all of her resilience, all of her spirit. What follows is 55 seconds of Brigid Mae Power’s rebel yell. Her voice is limitless as it soars over drums which crash like gnashing teeth. Her spirit commanding all of the space and all of the picture.
She calls me to talk about ‘Two Worlds’ and the power of #metoo from Galway, Ireland, where she spent much of her time growing up and where she now lives with her husband and fellow musician Peter Broderick.
Hi Brigid! Have you heard the song Galway Girl by Ed Sheeran?
I actually haven’t. I’ve heard the one by Steve Earle. Actually, maybe I have heard it but it’s not really that catchy.
When did you move back to Galway and what was the decision behind that?
Well, OK. I just found it too hard to live day to day life in London, so I just came back here momentarily, but I ended up getting pregnant so I stayed! So yeah, I’m still not planning to be here for too much longer but I’m just waiting for American visas to come through. It just rains too much here, it’s disgraceful.
The song ‘Is My Presence In The Room Enough For You?’ seems to be about detaching yourself from a social situation, and looking out through the window and peering at the waves instead. Is this the kind of detachment you experience when you were growing up in Galway?
Absolutely, but I’d say the only difference in my adolescence was that I was a bit more mouthy. That song is really about coping with different social settings, times when you wanna get intense and to the core of things but everything’s just surface level, so you end up daydreaming instead.
Has moving back to somewhere familiar helped you with working through things from the past?
I mean, I did meet some great people here, and I met some amazing women that understand, but it’s still a very patriarchal country, and there’s a mindset that is just mind-boggling to me.
Was your move back something to do with offering solidarity to the women who have been in your situation, but haven’t been listened to?
Well, we’ve only begun openly talking about these things, so I didn’t really know until I experienced the harshness here myself.
But you must have experience it while you were growing up in Galway too?
Well, me and my friends who I went to school with, we’re only comprehending now. It was totally normal for us to go out and our ass be grabbed, or someone puts their hand down your top. It was completely normal and you just laughed it off, and we were conditioned to find it normal. I’m only just waking up from that conditioning now. In a way I loved growing up here because I had much more freedom and I could go wherever I wanted, and everywhere was sort of safe, but I found it terribly repressive too.
I feel like that repression is evident even in the way you sing. It’s like you’re use your singing voice to rebel.
It does feel like that to me and I do feel that, I have that sort of rebel spirit in my family and I also just have some issues with authority, especially here. What bothers me the most are those little condescending comments, when you just want to say ‘shut up’ – politely – but not having the balls to actually just say that. But when you move back to your hometown, you get that sense that nothing has really changed.
So you use your voice to get back at that authority?
I’d say I definitely use it as a way to connect with that feeling of being free. When I’m singing it takes me to a place that is completely free and I like going to that place, and I totally lose myself in it.
That’s exactly what makes your music stand out at the moment. It seems like songs are becoming more and more compact and the lyrics are becoming more economical, and what you don’t have so often anymore are singers like you who take the liberty of stretching out the notes over the words.
I don’t think I even really realised that until someone did a review last year and they said that I take ages to sing one word. That’s just how long I take to do it, it doesn’t feel like a long time. I think this record is also about me struggling with that feeling of being rooted or down with my feet on the ground, ‘cos when I’m singing or playing music I’m very up in the clouds and it’s a nice feeling, getting to avoid day to day life, avoiding being committed to planet Earth. I can get lost in that, it’s very easy when I’m singing. But this year has just been about reality for me. I can’t be up in the clouds forever.
Will the desire to start grappling with reality more make a difference to your music from here on out?
No, I don’t think so. It’s just finding a balance. The problem with me is that I can go on singing and go up in the clouds, but for the past few years I’ve been really struggling when I stop singing, it’s like after I do a show I struggle to get back down to reality. This year’s been about balancing those two things
How do you balance them?
Doing a lot of self work, healing from trauma. I also do a lot of yoga and I do a lot of walking and I try and meditate. Those kinds of things. I mean I don’t do it all the time, but I can just get lost easily. You know what it’s like to spend three hours on your phone, and then you’re just like, ‘Where am I? What am I doing?’
Much of the subject matter on this album is about what we as women are currently going through. Would you have had the momentum to speak about your trauma were it not for the momentum of #metoo?
Probably not, no, because what happened to me happened years ago, and I don’t think I could have talked about it last year. I think people would have been like ‘don’t be airing out your dirty laundry’. But this change is kind of exciting because it’s limitless now. I understand that for some people, joining in with #metoo just isn’t the way for them to express themselves, but I think I needed it. It just felt completely right for me to do that.
Brigid plays The Servant Jazz Quarters on March 27th
More info here