In the interview, Róisín O keeps her advice. Sometimes she withdraws. That’s perhaps understandable after years of asking questions about her mother, popular folk singer Mary Black, and her brother Danny O’Reilly, frontman of The Coronas.
But in their music you can find another Róisín O – probably the real one. Nothing is holding her back on her new album Brave. In fact, each song tells a story about her romantic past. The title track, for example, is about Róisín finding the strength to end a relationship. “Sometimes there’s nothing particularly wrong, but you know it’s not right,” she tells me.
Although some songs are about the same person — “a long-term relationship,” she says — “the album isn’t just about that relationship. It’s about a couple of relationships. It’s also about courage.”
“The songs are personal and, without going into too much detail, these songs are a mini story of how to deal with and try to overcome a broken heart.
“It wasn’t until I put some of these lyrics down on paper that I understood some things about myself. It has started a lot of good things in my personal life and in my career.”
Music was an almost inevitable choice for Róisín given her family’s legacy. The Blacks are one of Ireland’s most important musical dynasties, comparable to the Brennans of Donegal and their band Clannad.
Born Róisín O’Reilly in September 1988, the singer grew up in Harold’s Cross, Dublin, with two older brothers, Danny and Conor (the only one in the family who didn’t go into the music business became a surveyor for Dublin City Council). .
Her maternal grandfather, Kevin Black, a piper, violinist and mandolin player from Rathlin Island off the coast of Antrim, died when she was one year old.
Music was in her blood. Just like a feeling of mischief. One day at St. Pius X Girls’ School in Terenure, one of the staff cheekily informed her, “You are not my teacher.” When asked to apologize, she refused. “As a toddler, I was defiant. I didn’t mind telling lies. I was so brave,” she says. “I would never have the nerve to do that. It’s before you learn about consequences, about crossing a red line.”
At the age of eight, Róisín crossed another frontier – this time into the realm of performance. On the piano at home, she learned to play Des’ree’s “Kissing You” from the film’s soundtrack Romeo + Juliet. She might as well sing it soon.
Róisín’s upbringing in affluent South Dublin, with pianos in living rooms, contrasted with her mother’s inner-city Dublin childhood. Mary shared a bedroom in a tenement with her three brothers until Sister Frances was born.
When Mary got off the bus to go to St. Louis High School in Rathmines, she didn’t tell anyone that she was from public housing. “I felt like Judas denying where I live,” she once said.
“They didn’t have much money,” says Róisín. Every weekend, without exception, she visited her maternal grandmother, Patty Black, on Charlemont Street. “Her house always had a lot of bread and butter.”
And also songs. Róisín remembers Grandma Black cheering her and Danny on to sing a party tune. “Danny was the apple of her eye because he also loved performing as a kid. I always remember that from a young age she encouraged me to perform for family.”
At the age of 12 – on a cruise ship in the Caribbean where the Black family (Mary, Frances and brothers Shay, Michael and Martin) were booked to perform – she made her public debut.
Her mother asked if she wanted to sing alone. Yes, she replied, she wanted to sing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” by Eva Cassidy. It’s a very hard song, said Mary. “But I knew I could do it because I knew the song so well.”
She was right. Her performance was so powerful that she received a standing ovation.
“That was the moment when I got the beetle to sing,” she says. “That’s when I realized that this is all I wanted to do with my life.”
There were other important moments. A 1999 Christmas present from The writing is on the wall of Destiny’s Child had a major impact on young Róisín. “It was the first album I owned without being taught about my parents’ folk roots, my brothers’ indie rock collection, or my schoolmates’ boy band obsession.”
Her father, Joe O’Reilly (who also managed his wife’s career alongside Dara Records) was home all of the time she was growing up because, as she puts it, “my mom was away so much with tours”.
How was it?
“She was very good at never going more than three weeks. So I didn’t have any horrible memories of my mother being gone for so long. But even when my mother was there, my father still took me to school. He was a very practical father. They were both great parents. They were both so understanding of the career I wanted to pursue.”
Róisín took her next tentative steps in this direction at the age of 13, when she wrote her first song. A year later she lost the faith that had been nurtured by the nuns at Our Lady’s Secondary School, Templeogue. “I was pretty religious. I had a phase in which I went to mass with my father a lot.”
One day she was watching Peter Mullan’s film The Magdalena Sisters, that was about three girls who were about her age at the time and who were sent against their will to asylum homes run by Catholic orders. “It was also around the time that a lot of the sex scandals were circling around the Christian Brethren in Ireland. I just stopped believing in God.” Her faith never returned.
In her memories Down the crooked road, Mary Black described an experience that influenced her own faith: the trauma suffered by her younger brother Martin at the hands of a religious order in Dublin. The child, who had seizures, was bedridden in a hospital for over a year. Mary wrote: “Many believed that the hospitals purposely kept children in the hospital as long as possible in order to receive the maximum funding [from the government].”
“I’m an absolute atheist and have a bit of a dislike for the Catholic Church,” says Róisín. “In general, the idea of religion is something I no longer need. I realize that I don’t need any of that to be a good person.”
In 2003 Grandma Black died. Instead of praying, Róisín says she is talking to her late grandmother. “Take care of me,” she begs them.
Someone actually took care of her, because in 2012, at the age of 24, she released her 11-track folk album after graduating in musicology from UCD. The Secret Life of Blue. The title was partly a reference to their Jack Russell “Blue” and partly to the album blue by her hero Joni Mitchell.
“I was so young and naive when I released my album.” She was afraid it wasn’t going to be good enough, “or felt like I wasn’t good enough, I didn’t have the confidence in myself.” This echoes something Mary said in a 2001 interview about her fear, “that people think I’m terrible… I had no confidence at all.”
Still, Róisín exuded confidence as she sang “Grace” with her brother Danny and cousin Aoife Scott at Kilmainham Gaol as part of RTÉs 1916 century program back in 2016.
In late 2017, she began a musical partnership with John Broe called Thanks Brother. “Being in a band took the pressure off me. It spawned a Róisín O album. Then, as Thanks Brother 2020 came to a natural end, I had this new found freedom. I was a little discouraged, but my mother always said, ‘Write songs.’ I felt ready. And the songs gushed out of me. I’ve lost my fear.”
Written whilst staying at the family cottage in Dingle during the various lockdowns, Brave proves that the 34-year-old has grown up as a musician.
“I’m more comfortable as a person now, especially standing up for myself, for what I want as an artist. I feel much more comfortable and confident. It took me a while to get here.
“I don’t want to harp on about how hard it is to be a woman in the music industry, but I think it takes a little bit longer to settle in as a woman because you might not get as much of a hat as of right now.”
She doesn’t find the music and concert industry explicitly misogynistic. It’s more nuanced than that. “I was standing on stage, electric guitar in hand, at a pre-show soundcheck in Ireland and the sound engineer asked the guitarist standing next to me, ‘What’s with her guitar pedals?’ The guitarist said to him, ‘Why don’t you ask her?’
“As a woman, you have to shout a little louder to be heard,” she says. “I think I’ll scream louder now.”
With two older brothers, she also had to speak for herself. “Certainly. The matriarch also taught me how to pronounce, and so did the grandma. They were all strong women.”
Róisín O’s album “Courageous” will be released on April 29th. A nationwide tour begins April 22nd with dates in Limerick, Cork, Kerry, Dublin and more. Tickets are available at the usual pre-sale points.
https://www.independent.ie/entertainment/music/music-news/as-a-woman-you-need-to-shout-louder-i-am-shouting-louder-now-roisin-o-on-her-new-album-famous-family-and-opening-up-41463246.html “As a woman, you have to shout louder. I’m screaming louder now’ – Roisin O on her new album, Famous Family and Opening Up