“I’M JUST TRYING TO BE ME”
Clare woman CLODAGH LAWLOR burst onto the Irish country music scene in a blaze of sequins and sparkle as the winner of The Late Late Show’s Search For A Country Music Star last year. That achievement saw the then twenty-four old embark on a series of high-profile appearances around Ireland alongside heart-throb Nathan Carter and other big-names on the country circuit. And earlier this year, Clodagh picked up the Best Newcomer prize at the Sunday World Country Music & Entertainment Awards. The power of her vocal ability on-stage is matched by her willingness to chat freely off-stage which certainly makes the rising star good company to be in.
Her new single, Me And Johnny Cash, a cover of the Rainey Qualley track which topped the country charts here in Ireland about four years ago, is due out in the coming weeks. We had a chance to sit down with Clodagh a few months back, in the days just after the release of her brilliant version of One Day At A Time, and today, in picking up Part 2 of that chat, Clodagh took us back to the day she auditioned for The Late Late Show’s competition…
“On the way up – because I know sometimes TV isn’t about the music, it’s about how you look or whatever – I was saying to my Ma, some twenty year old producer or researcher is gonna tell me I can’t sing and I’m gonna be gutted for the next two years! [laughs]. So I was really nervous about the whole thing then, and I kept thinking I was doing it all wrong, ya know. I was thinking I was gonna get a ‘no’, and then be gutted for another two or three years, because when I did The Voice of Ireland, that really took a toll on me for a while. We got up there anyway, and there was swarms of women everywhere! And I was like, what is goin’ on here?! I’d seen that Ryan was going to be there, so I knew about that, because it was the launch and everything. But I couldn’t figure out why there was so many women outside the door of the hotel, and that made me even more nervous because I started thinking there was thousands applying for it! [laughs]. The Ennis Brothers were there as well, I knew the lads from the Cowboys and Heroes Festival, and they were like, did ya see all the women outside? And I said yeah, what’s all that about? Oh Nathan Carter is here, they said! And I was like, what?! [laughs]. So then I was having a mini-heart attack, thinking I’m not prepared for this mentally! [laughs]. Then I saw Margo, and the lads were like, yeah, Margo is a judge as well! But then I started thinking well look, if I don’t get this, at least I’ll be able to come away with some constructive criticism, ya know. They know what they’re talking about, so if a ‘no’ comes from them, well I wouldn’t have been as gutted about it.”
But there was another surprise waiting for Clodagh when her audition began…
“So the producer asked me would I sing ‘Shallow’, and I said, yeah, no problem. And then I just came out with this – and even as I said I it I was thinking Clodagh, why are you after doing that?! [laughs] – I said Nathan, sure if you want to sing it with me, you’re more than welcome to! [laughs]. And he said no first, but I had to go back out to my Mum to get the backing-track and when I came back in he said he would actually sing it with me. I came out of the room after it then, and everyone was like, ‘Did you just sing with Nathan Carter?’ And I was like, yeah, I did! But you know what I have to say, Nathan is the most down-to earth person. Like I was saying, when you’re going into such a small family – country music – you’re kinda scared, you don’t know who you can go to, or who you can’t go to. Nathan is probably the first person I’ve really dealt with in the business, and he’s just so humble. For his age, all that he’s accomplished is incredible. I’ve always admired him. I’ve loved everything about him, as far as his professionalism and work-ethic goes. He’s such a role-model for people in country music, especially new artists. When I did the Marquee in Cork with him, you really see how much goes into what he does. It’s not – and it’s never – as easy as just getting on stage. You have to put everything into what you do if you want something as big as what Nathan has. And everything he gets, he deserves.”
Clodagh mentioned her experience on The Voice and the toll that took on her…what exactly did she mean in that regard?
“I was eighteen when I entered that, and I wanted to sing, and I wanted to be on TV, and I wanted people to know me. That’s what you want – what you think you want – at that age. Don’t get me wrong, it was great to get that opportunity to get on TV. But it’s not a music show. It’s not about music. It’s a TV show. And I know that now. I’ve learned about things like that in the business now. But there was a lot of things that I never expected to be a part of it, and that never came across on television. You think that you’re with the judges all the time, and that they’re always giving you advice. I picked Kian Egan, but sure I was with him for about five minutes, I’d say. That was all. But they were all so lovely to me, they were. Una Healy was a judge, Rachel Stevens, Bressie, and Kian Egan. And they were all so lovely. But you don’t see them. It’s not that you end up in the same room as them or anything like that. I hate to say it, but if anyone asked me for advice about talent shows, I don’t think I’d tell anyone to do it. Because as I said, you’re there in a room, singing a song and giving it your heart and soul, maybe for a twenty-year old researcher to tell you if you’re good enough or not to go onto the next stage. And I just don’t think that’s a great thing for anyone’s self-esteem. Once you hit the screens, especially with social media nowadays, that’s a big thing, and it’s all about what you make of it. But I think if I’m being honest now, at twenty-four, and with everything I know about the industry, I’d be able for it a lot more than I was at eighteen.”
Out of everything that’s happened to Clodagh since The Late Late Show – and there’s been so much – what’s been her favourite moment of them all?
“Well I suppose the biggest show I’ve done since The Late Late Show would have been the Marquee in Cork with Nathan. On the Late Late Show that night, they announced that Nathan would be playing the Marquee in Cork, and I didn’t know but it was then that they told me that I’d be performing with him. So when that night came we sang ‘Hurts So Good’ together, such a cool song. And then I got to sing ‘My Church’ on my own with Nathan’s band. And sure that’ such an experience for the first time, too. Cos’ I would never have performed with bands before that. The first time I performed with a real ‘live’ band was probably at Cowboys And Heroes, and then I ended up performing with Nathan at that as well. With all of Nathan’s band, you’re just looking at absolute professionals, they bounce off you on stage, it’s such a col experience to work with people like that. Then when I was singing ‘My Church’, Nathan came out on stage at the end of it and I didn’t realise. And that was another really cool, really lovely moment as well. The Farmer’s Bash was another really great experience. And I think for myself as an artists, that was the biggest production that I’ve ever done. So far anyway! That was up in the SSE Arena in Belfast, and it was incredible.”
In those really big moments, is Clodagh able to take a second to herself to take it all in? Or does it all just pass by so quickly?
“Sometimes, you’re on a schedule and you’re just trying to do your songs and talk to the audience as well. Obviously everyone knows ‘My Church’ is by Maren Morris, but up in the SSE I could see a few people in the front who knew ‘Be Right Here’ and ‘Promise Me’, which were two tracks I had done with songwriters in Nashville prior to The Late Late Show, and had produced those with Peter Maher. When we had those done, I was thinking well these aren’t really Irish country, but I’m going to have to release them anyway because I’d spent so much time and money doing them. But they’ve gone down way better than I thought they would. They have a real Nashville sound. So it’s great that people still know them, and great to notice little things like that in the middle of it all, ya know. With social media, I have people sending me videos every day of them listening to my music, and that to me is just incredible. Because last year nobody would have known who I was. Every week there’s something more, it’s always evolving for me, and the views are going up every day. It’s incredible that way, and those are moments when I just sit back and I’m so grateful. Grateful for RTE, for The Late Late Show, and for Nathan! And Margo and Jonathon Owens as well, for all giving me that opportunity to put myself out there. Because I know loads of people are capable of doing it, but to get those opportunities is hard. So to see the results online and stuff, it’s class.”
What’s the biggest lesson that Clodagh has learned so far since this all began for her?
“I’ve learned so much in a short space of time about the music business side of things. It’s important not to get too down if other people aren’t appreciating you as an artist. Obviously when you’re putting yourself up on social media every day, there’s going to be people who aren’t going to like you. And they’ll have something to say. But you just have to separate yourself from reacting to things. There’s always going to be some people who won’t want to see you doing well in life, and I think everyone has that. So the lesson is to never react to anything like that and to always stay positive mentally myself, so that I wouldn’t let one comment get me down out of maybe four thousand comments! I think that’s the thing. It’s just training yourself to not react, and not let yourself get down. Everyday I’m learning. It’s tough, but I’m still loving it.”
Is there any musical background in Clodagh’s family I wondered? Whereby someone might have an idea of what she’s experiencing and going through these days?
“No, I’m the first singer in my family. When I say tough, what I mean is that I’ve been fortunate enough to start off with some really big gigs, huge ones to get. So you get those opportunities, but then beyond that, you have to deliver. Whatever you do will have your name on it, and you want to deliver what’s in your head, which might be something amazing, like Shania Twain, ya know! [laughs]. But how do you make that actually happen? And even when you’re fortunate enough to be getting great gigs, you’re thinking how do you prolong this? How do you make this your life? Because recording and everything is expensive. And sometimes people don’t see that side of it. They might see you doing loads of gigs and they think you’re making loads of money, but you’re not at the start! But you have to appreciate that too, you have to start at the bottom and build your way up. People have to like you, and you have to build a fan-base, and everything like that. There are some routes that I just don’t want to go down, because that’s just not what I see for myself. And sometimes just trying to relate that back to people is hard. Like, doing an album, by the time you have that recorded, packaged and sealed and everything, you’re talking thousands of euro. But that’s to do it top class. And when I do something, that’s the way I want to do it, no half measures. That’s why I love working with Peter Maher, he’s amazing. He’s been so good to me with advice down the years, and being in the industry as well, he knows what will work and what won’t. He’s honest, and that’s one thing that I love. He won’t steer me the wrong way. He’ll let me down gently if he thinks a song is terrible. But I appreciate that. Better that than someone telling you something is a great song, and then it only gets a hundred or two hundred streams.”
When we spoke, Clodagh had just released her version of one of country’s most familiar staples, One Day At A Time. I asked her why that song in particular…
“Growing up, the likes of Big Tom, Margo, Gloria, Philomena Begley and everyone were playing in the house at home, so I suppose you’re trying to find a sound that generation – my parents, like – want to listen to, as well as my generation. Country music is such a mixture nowadays with so many young people listening to it, and thank God. But there’s also people who have been listening to it for years. So I was looking for a song that would appeal across both age groups really. And ‘One Day At A Time’ has always been one of my favourite songs. There’s a great meaning behind it. And it has, again thank God, it’s done really, really well for me. We brought the video for the song out last week and that’s had an incredible response as well for me. Keltic Country TV put it up on their Facebook only four days ago, and there’s already over 200,000 views on it, which is incredible. The song obviously relates to a lot of people, with their families, or a time in their lives. So I think what I wanted to achieved, I achieved. I didn’t want anything too complex with the video, because the song isn’t complex, it’s pure simple. I just wanted it to be me and no-one else, with a behind the scenes studio vibe.”
How would Clodagh actually describe her style as an artist for people?
“My sound, I suppose, is obviously country, and at the moment country music is going for a kind of contemporary sound, I find. As an artist, I think I relate to all ages, there’s no age or niche that I’m going for, just everyone that listens to country music. But at the same time, I want to give my own versions of old, classic songs. I’m not trying to copy anyone, just to be myself. My image is nearly like Dolly Parton sometimes, with all the sequins I wear! [laughs]. I’d say if anyone robbed my house and went through my wardrobe, they’d think I’m in a tribute band to her! [laughs]. But I’m really just trying to be me, to create something new. Country music in Ireland is so important, it’s in nearly every household. So I think there’s a need for new artists to be coming up. And it’s so great to see so many new artists coming through. And, to see a younger generation listening to country music as well.”