Dylan O’Neill sits down with singer/songwriter Maria Kelly and chats about supporting KT Tunstall, performing all over Ireland and the UK, and mental health.
I met with Maria Kelly just before she left for Berlin to record songs for a new project. Still shaking off the last remnants of a Christmas cold, she suggested meeting in The Good Food Shop for a coffee.
As with any music artist, the most interesting question is always “how did you get started?” Maria just smiled, no doubt expecting the question, “When I was younger I used to busk on Shop Street and play outside the town hall.”
For the Mayo native, her final year in BIMM Dublin Music College is just a small part of the journey.
Kelly’s first single ‘Before It Has Begun’ was released by Veta Records in 2015, and has been described as a fusion of atmospheric alternative folk, taking influence from the likes of Daughter and Staves. “The basis of it is folk, so I started playing guitar to Irish traditional music.” Among some of the other artists that have influenced Kelly’s music are Kina Grannis, Orla Gartland, and Regina Spektor. Speaking about Regina Spektor she says, “I loved her ability to story tell and she had this really kooky way of writing and singing.” With the recent release of her debut EP ‘The Things I Should,’ she has begun to listen to the singer/songwriter Phoebe Bridgers.
“I write really introspectively and …when I was younger I was really bad at expressing how I was feeling and I think I started songwriting to do that myself.”
The tone of Kelly’s music shows the journey she is on both professionally and personally. “I write really introspectively and …when I was younger I was really bad at expressing how I was feeling and I think I started songwriting to do that myself.” Her writing sparked the interest of Matt Harris, co-founder of Veta Records, who offered to work alongside Maria and produce and distribute her songs. “He just saw me play at a gig and he basically just liked what I was doing.” However, social media has played a huge part in helping spread her music to listeners. “Spotify is great once your song gets picked up, because so many people can hear it but it’s quite difficult to get your song picked up and get it in playlists. I find Instagram is great. People take things in visually, much more than they do on Facebook.”
“One of Kelly’s favourite venues to play at is Workman’s.”
After three years of working with Veta Records, Maria has played shows across Ireland and the UK, performing in venues such as the Servant Jazz Quarters in London, the Great Escape and Electric Picnic. One of Kelly’s favourite venues to play at is Workman’s. “The sound is always really good. It also feels like someone’s old house.” Used to more intimate settings, Kelly found visiting the National Concert Hall, where she will be performing in a couple of weeks’ time, “surreal.” “I feel like it would be a lot more formal, and a bit more serious, but I’m really looking forward to it.”
One of the highlights of last year for Kelly, was winning the RTE 2FM’s Other Voices vote, and travelling to Dingle, Kerry to take part in the eir Other Voices Festival. The festival featured acts from both Irish and international artists. Wyervn Lingo and Sigrid were just two of the big-name stars at the festival that Kelly met (or was in the vicinity of, being too star-struck to say “hello”). “The actual experience was amazing. We were treated really well. It was really weird being in front of loads of cameras, but we had our make-up done.”
“Now with a fan-base of over 3,000 monthly listeners on Spotify, is it any wonder that Kelly has been asked to support artists such as KT Tunstall, James Vincent McMorrow, Marc Cohen, and Billie Marten?”
Now with a fan-base of over 3,000 monthly listeners on Spotify, is it any wonder that Kelly has been asked to support artists such as KT Tunstall, James Vincent McMorrow, Marc Cohen, and Billie Marten? Kelly certainly didn’t believe it at first. “It was just insane. Every time I hear it I’m just like ‘that was me!’” Having artists such as these in her corner, Kelly says, is a real confidence boost. “It’s easy to get lost in everything like with the album and social media and when you get to do stuff like that and you see people who are obviously established, giving you the thumbs up, that’s really reassuring.”
Her work over the past few years has not gone unnoticed. Kelly was both terrified and elated to be named one of the Irish Times “50 People To Watch.” She felt both the pressure to write music and the excitement of someone thinking that much of her in 2016. Overall, Kelly said that the article brought a lot of “positive things” to her. “A lot of people saw that article, I think I gained more of an audience from that, it was just another confidence boost really.”
“Kelly was both terrified and elated to be named one of the Irish Times “50 People To Watch,” feeling both the pressure to write music and the excitement of someone thinking that much of her in 2016.”
More recently, following her hometown concert in Westport, Kelly was named one of Golden Plec’s Picks of 2018. “I got to hang out for the day and chat loads about my songwriting which I always love to delve into.” The positive thing about being selected for this award, is not only the article that was written, but they also promise to share and promote the artist’s work. At this point, Kelly looked bashfully at her drink, recounting how she met one of the writers at an industry festival, and happened to mention that it would be “very nice to do the Golden Plec’s thing. Maybe I just sweet talked him, I don’t know.”
Looking to the future, Kelly plans on releasing a single with her friend, singer/songwriter Ailbhe Reddy, but her big project of the year is to be released in April. Coinciding with her thesis, Kelly plans a whole physical release surrounding the theme of mental health. “I’ve just been writing about it a lot recently and bringing it more into my everyday conversation with people.” Opening up about her experience with social anxiety, Kelly said how remarkable it was for her to discover just how many people it effects. One day she was working on a song and she asked on her Instagram account if people would describe their experience with social anxiety. “I took loads of the words used to describe social anxiety and filtered them into my song. I want to release that basically as this project and just be really vocal about what it’s about.” One particular story that moved her was a woman coming up to her and telling her about a song called “Dark Places,” which contained a very literal description of what it feels like to be depressed. “She made this really good point that people, especially in Ireland, are very afraid to look at the dark.”
Keeping with her more intimate line-up of gigs for 2018, Maria Kelly will be playing in Fumbally Stables on February 15th. Maria’s latest single ‘Hollow” is now available on Spotify.