“A Bit More Armour” Niamh Regan Interviewed

Overcoming self-doubt to follow her acclaimed debut album...

Four years on from her critically acclaimed debut album ‘Hemet’, Galway folk artist Niamh Regan returns with highly anticipated follow-up ‘Come As You Are’, an album fueled by introspection and self-doubt, uncertainty on what is to come and all that had already passed. 

Written in Attica studio in Donegal alongside producer Tommy McLaughlin – between tours with the likes of CMAT, Villages, John Grant and Soak to name but a few – the album is Regan’s way of coping with near continuous bouts of self-doubt, before brief glimmers of self-acceptance shine through to show her that progress is being made. 

“A lot of it is about being in your late twenties and kind of realising we’re all running out of time,” Niamh Regan confesses, “I’d have bouts of massive self-belief in the studio, and then in the next breath I would be like, ‘This is the worst piece of music I could have even imagined.’ It was a rollercoaster. But through that I found self-acceptance; this is where I’m at and making peace with that. That’s what the album essentially is, just making peace with where I’m at and being realistic with myself.”

Ahead of the release of ‘Come As You Are’, Niamh Regan sat down with CLASH to discuss the record, life on the road, riding the rollercoaster of creativity and following up the success of her debut.

You’ve been on the road quite a bit, what has it been like getting to perform songs that, when released in 2020, it may not have looked like you’d have the chance to?

Well before ‘Hemet’ came out I was finishing up training to be a primary school teacher… so to be quite honest I never really thought I’d be on the road or playing this record other than a few local shows all going well. I 100% dreamt about touring and wanted it deep down but just had kind of convinced myself that this life would be out of reach. But things just kept working out despite my disbelief… I hope it all keeps working out for this record (fingers/toes crossed).

But to answer your question, it felt amazing. I love performing ‘Hemet’ and over the years I’ve really enjoyed the exploration of the album with a full band/trio/duo/solo set up – kept it feeling really fresh for me on stage.

You recorded ‘Come As You Are’ whenever you got a chance between shows, do you feel like your experiences travelling and performing influenced what you were writing at the time, or the production style you decided to go with on this new album?

It did for sure. In this record it was impossible not to look at how my life had changed so much because of music and the opportunities it opened up for me, but also how it affected my personal life. It was a bit of a wild ride trying to find balance so this bleeds into the record for sure. Regarding the production, I knew from the get go I wanted the sound to be bigger, full band and I wanted to push myself without losing myself. I wanted to have material that could hold up on a tiny acoustic stage in the woods somewhere and on a mainstage with a full band. Having material that is diverse and malleable was important for me going into this record. 

How soon after the release of ‘Hemet’ did the writing for this new album begin, and when it did were you conscious of trying to to make it different sonically or thematically on what we heard on your first album?

I started writing straight away. But nothing was clicking. I was trying far too hard. It felt like I got a bit carried away with wanting to be liked that I started writing songs that I thought might do that. I was accumulating 100s of demos and going nowhere. I was leaning really hard into typical pop structures (which is so hard to do well) and just wasn’t connecting with anything. And the reason behind this – I think now  -was the fact I was trying to hide every part of my personal life in the songs. I felt very guarded after ‘Hemet’, because I felt it was almost too vulnerable in spots and I wanted to have a bit more distance between my life and my work life. Have a bit more armour on. 

Then I went and met up with Tommy McLaughlin in Attica with these bits of songs/ideas and I started to drop my guard a bit. It started to come together. Tommy really helped me out of a slump and I started writing from a place that felt really good. I found a new confidence for the direction of this record.

How far along into writing process did you start working with Tommy McLaughlin and begin pulling the tracks together? Once you started working together, did you always know it was towards a second album?

I was over a year writing before I went to Tommy. I knew very quickly from a few days in the studio that Tommy was the person I would do this record with. I loved his enthusiasm, honesty, and ability to whip out amazing bass lines out of nowhere. 

You’ve described the writing process as a rollercoaster, riding highs of self-confidence before spiralling into self-doubt and uncertainty – how did you cope with that and how important is it to have someone there to support you during the low moment?

I think honestly the self-doubt can be crippling when the bank account is running low and the clock’s ticking. I put every penny I earned from the last record into this one and I think I couldn’t help feel shame/worry when the songs weren’t coming together fast enough or if I felt I was being too risky. I’ve been told a good bit to have more confidence or ‘believe in yourself’ but I feel like there’s no better way to say ‘hey I believe in myself’ by putting money where your mouth is etc. and when that’s not working it’s hard not too feel like you might have misplaced your judgement/belief. I didn’t cope that well to be honest but I got through it because of my manager, family and feedback from gigs where I’d slip the new songs into. I am so glad I had their support and because of them I took my time and found the right songs for this album ‘Come As You Are’ of which I’m really, really proud of.

You’ve also described writing as ‘a trudge’ and that you felt very disheartened by it, is this a feeling you think many artists feel but are just maybe a bit wary of admitting?

I have no idea. I personally don’t feel wary of admitting it as I don’t always find writing a trudge but when I do, I do… but everyone is very different thankfully.

‘Hemet’ was a big critical success – earning nominations for both the Folk Awards and the Choice Music Prize’s Album Of The Year – do you feel that success, and having to follow-up on it, may have played a part in the uncertainty when creating ‘Come As You Are’?

100%. Before this album I was doing open mics and a handful of local support slots. Granted I’ve been playing music all my life but nothing like a headline tour. So, it was a shock, a big shock. It felt like zero to a 100 for me. So I’m glad I didn’t rush the second record and allowed myself to work through a lot of the self-inflicted pressures and changes. 

How would you describe the album sonically, and what influences did you pull from to create that sound? At what moment did you know it was done and ready to be heard?

Sonically the album pulls inspiration from bands like Wilco, Julia Jacklin, Ivor Cutler, Charley Crockett, Sylvan Esso, Judee Sill, Khruangbin, Alex G, Jackson Brown, Ivor Cutler,Kevin Morby, Hurray for the riff raff and lots more. I feel the album’s a little bit of a journey sonically but that’s what I’m most proud of.

What feeling do you want listeners to take away from the album?

I want them to feel and take whatever they want from it. Once we release the album into the world the songs are no longer mine to live with alone. These songs are out there for anyone who stumbles upon them and connects… for whatever reason or timing is at play  

Spending so much time on the road with ‘Hemet’ are you looking forward to mixing up the setlist with these new tracks? Are there any exciting plans for bringing these songs to the stage?

Yes and yes! I can’t wait. 

I will be doing a mix of shows this year with the band and solo. And happy to say some exciting international shows are in the works too.

Niamh Regan will release new album ‘Come As You Are’ on May 31st. Catch her at the following shows:

June
9 Nottingham Metronome (supporting Memorial)
10 Cambridge Portland Arms (supporting Memorial)
11 London Paperdress Vintage (supporting Memorial)
12 Bournemouth The Wight Bear (supporting Memorial)

Words: Cailean Coffey
Photo Credit: Molly Keane

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