Christopher Shannon Interviews Sinead O'Connor

For Personality Clash
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Besotted by Sinéad since the age of nine, acclaimed young designer Christopher was thrilled to be given the opportunity to interview his childhood hero.

On the eve of the release of her first album in five years - the spikily titled ‘How About I Be Me (And You Be You)?’ - the pair connected by telephone for a lengthy conversation that covered mutual friends, past collaborators, working methods, musical influences, parenthood, Irish heritage, politics, and more, all liberally peppered with swearing (most impressive was Sinéad’s use of the word “per-fuckin’-fection”). Praised by Sinéad at its conclusion for the success of his first ever interrogation, Shannon declared he would never interview anyone ever again, so that she would be his only conquest. Here is a small portion of what was said.

Christopher: The new album’s really exciting. For the first week I had the album I kept going back to tracks again, like I didn’t give myself the full run a few times. And then when I did, you kinda go up and down, up and down, and you get more in tune with the mood of the songs and where you’re going, and then ‘V.I.P.’ comes in at the end and, oh God, it’s so clear. When I listen to it, I don’t think this is someone trying to tell me to be religious or trying to telling me to be anything...

Sinéad: It’s asking questions; it’s not telling anyone anything.

Christopher: It’s someone saying, ‘Get a hold of yourself’. I am grateful within my job that I get to deal with visuals and be creative, but I also am frustrated by what essentially it is as a job, and I don’t know how to get around that. And that song at the end, that’s why I’ve listened to the album so many times, and I’ve thought, ‘Oh God...’

Sinéad: Well, I was more thinking of musicians, because the way I feel is that we are in times where people are in desperate spiritual need, and the existence of war is the proof that we have a spiritual crisis. Spiritual leaders of the world are doing a pretty shit job, and in the event of that being the case, musicians are supposed to be almost the emergency service. So in these times, it seems odd to me that while it’s extremely valuable to shake your tits and arse and everything, it’s also as important to stand spiritually and get involved spiritually and be concerned with what is going on spiritually in the world. I don’t know if I can find the words to articulate it, that’s why I write songs, I guess.

Christopher: There’s nothing about the song that sounded snidey...

Sinéad: It’s just a series of questions really, just wondering where are our heads really at here? I want to be careful, because I don’t want to be a musical snob, because I hate that. Because, look, entertainment is very important - and the most important and in fact spiritual word uttered in music, as far as I’m concerned, is “A-wop-bop-a-loo-mop-a-lop-bam-boom”, so I don’t want to denigrate the importance of mere entertainment, as people might call it, because we need that. But what’s happened at the moment is that a lot of the time we only have that and we have a lot of artists who raise around awards, and thank God, but then they do fuck all when it comes to standing in the street when there’s a pitched battle for the honour of God, which there has been in Ireland certainly for the last four years.

Christopher: I watched your interview on one of the Irish late night shows and what you said was very straight-forward and slightly unnerving because it was so to the point and without anger. It was just very descriptive of what had gone on and the frustration you felt with those things. It becomes almost inarguable when you put it down like that.

Sinéad: Evil can flourish when good men do nothing, and these are those times. Certainly in Ireland, and that was what the song was more inspired by - a kind of silence on the part of Irish artists. But I’ve been thinking, I think it began with MTV when Cribs started. Music began to change into the thing where people began to want to be famous, and instead of youngsters going, ‘I fuckin’ really want to be a singer’, they’re going, ‘I really want to be famous’, and there’s all this emphasis on fame instead of actual art or feeling or the expression of anything other than ‘do me baby’.

Christopher: What can artists do? Because I do think people do listen to artists, and people are massively influenced by what artists say - I mean have been this week, just listening to the album.

Sinéad: See, I don’t believe that I have the right to tell anyone what they should do; all I have the right to do is express how I feel myself about certain things. But the song doesn’t tell anyone anything, it merely poses some questions for artists to think about. So, if anything, if I were communicating with artists, I would say: ‘Have a listen to the song, have a think about it, see how it affects you, continue as fucking normal.’ I just think artists at times need to understand that in fact we are more than we think we are and are there for spiritual guidance as much as entertainment. That doesn’t mean you stand there preaching, but it means that you don’t stay quiet when you see evil being done. Specifically I’m referring to Ireland and Irish artists when I say that. In the aftermath of the various church reports there were extremely few Irish artists that had anything to say about it, and to me that’s criminal, and it is clear that evil can flourish when good men do nothing. Artists shouldn’t preach, but they should stand: pick one cause that matters to you - one cause, don’t stand for them all - one thing that you are passionate about spiritually, whatever it fucking is, and what platform you get given by God and what material you get given by God and what ‘success’, as well as using it for entertainment and fun for yourself, also use it for helping the thing that you feel passionate about in the world.

Christopher: What do you think terrifies people about not doing that?

Sinéad: That you get the shit kicked out of you if you put your head above the parapet. If you spiritually put your head above the parapet and challenge the ‘shitstem’ - certainly that’s my experience as an Irish artist - you get the shit fuckin’ kicked out of you. Dolores O’Riordan [lead singer for The Cranberries] herself said in an interview years ago, they asked her why doesn’t she say anything, and she said, ‘Well, look what they did to to Sinead O’Connor when she did.’

Christopher: When you think about what you’ve been through and how much shit you’ve had in those ways, you must feel glad that you’ve done them, because you feel that you’ve had your say?

Sinéad: The way I feel about it is, you know the movie True Romance?

Christopher: Yeah.

Sinéad: You know the scene in the bathroom where the drug dealer’s beating the shit out of the girl and she just keeps laughing at him? I find I identify with that. In other words, I now understand, and it’s taking me until recently to understand it, that me being me means I’m going to get the shit kicked out of me and that I just have to embrace that and not let that stop me. My mission, since I got in music, is to keep being me no matter what. So then I have to accept that I’m going to have the shit kicked out of me, but I’m still going to keep being me. I’m not going to let that stop being me.

Christopher: How do you feel when that happens?

Sinéad: You’re hurt, you’re on the floor, and you get up and you get through it and then it happens again and you get up and you get through it. You just fuckin’ get on with it. It’s so hard, but it’s not always terribly bad. You just fuckin’ deal with it. To me, I feel like God has been playing a bit of a game with me, and I’ve felt that all my life, that in any circumstance, will I be true to me? And in any artistic circumstance that I’ve been in, that’s been challenging; I’ve almost felt God fuckin’ challenge me to be myself. For example, people always get at me for being on Twitter...

Christopher: I love you on Twitter!

Sinéad: Yeah, but people tell me I shouldn’t because of the media. But my thing is, but look, I’m not asking the fuckin’ media to follow me, so why should I let the fact they are following me stop me being like the guy next door? I just want to be able to do the same shit as the guy next door. My job shouldn’t mean I have to behave any fuckin’ differently than anybody else, so why should I change my behaviour? Which, again, is about the album title: how the fuck about I be me? I think it’s great that I can get myself out of any kind of isolation, and that’s why I think people are on Twitter: we are all keeping each other company. You’ve got a bunch of people who for one reason or another don’t get out much, or are feeling a bit lonesome, and we are all reaching out and being friends with each other. It’s fuckin’ beautiful; I think it’s fantastic for that reason. But I get the shit kicked out of me from every fucker for being on it. But I just say fuck off. Fuck it, because I’m not having it that anybody is making me be anything but me. I’m not making it that my job defines my entire life.

Christopher: Oh Sinéad, I want you to put a list together of things that I should listen to.

Sinéad: Definitely Curtis Mayfield.

Christopher: Who else?

Sinéad: Bob Dylan. But not the early stuff. I don’t want to overwhelm you, so I’m gonna give you two Bob Dylan records and one Curtis Mayfield record. The first Bob Dylan record to listen to is ‘Slow Train Coming’, and then the next is ‘Infidels’, but you have to listen to them in that order. And then the Curtis album to listen to is ‘There’s No Place Like America Today’. There’s a song called ‘Jesus’ - when I put it on I just listen to it for an hour straight, over and over and over and over. You will not be able to stop listening to just that one song.

Christopher: That’s what I do with you! (Laughs)

Sinéad: That one song will kill you. It’s the best song ever written about Jesus, ever, in the history of songs about Jesus.

Christopher: I hope you don’t mind but I’m going to use you for my catwalk music this season.

Sinéad: Okay, excellent. Just make sure you use my new fuckin’ record! (Laughs)

Read Clash's review of Sinead O'Connor's new album 'How About I Be Me (And You Be You)'.

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