First Published August 2016
COUNTRY QUEEN LISA TO VISIT TULLAMORE
It would not be untrue to say that Lisa McHugh has almost single-handedly brought a brand new sense of style, fashion, fun and excitement back into Irish country music over the past few years. It would, however, be both unfair and untrue to say that as if the main reason for Lisa’s success has not always been her music and her extraordinary work-ethic first and foremost.
Recently named Female Artist of the Year at the RTE Irish Country Music Awards, Lisa is about to release her fifth album, ‘#Country’. And country music fans in the midlands, already excited about getting their hands on Lisa’s new album this Friday, now have even more reason to be happy because the country queen will be paying a visit to Tullamore to sign copies of ‘#Country’ in TRAX on Wednesday, August 17th at 2.30pm.
I’ve had the pleasure of chatting with Lisa for this column on many occasions now, and every time we talk it always seems like she has so much happening in her career that fitting anything else in would surely be an impossibility. And yet, going back to the work-ethic I mentioned in the opening paragraph, fit even more in is what Lisa keeps on doing! With the release of ‘#Country’ and her visit to Tullamore on the horizon, Lisa was kind enough to take some time out of her crazy schedule to talk to ‘On The Right TRAX’ last weekend. And I began by asking Lisa about the title of her new record, ‘#Country’…….
“Well I can’t personally take the credit for it, not for the hashtag part anyway, that was actually my musical director Ray who came up with that. It’s a very modern and very today part of most peoples’ vocabulary, and I just adde ‘country’ to it. I think the album itself, Anthony, is probably my most country to date, and by far my best album and my favorite album, too. We’re tryin’ to appeal to a wide age-group and obviously the younger ones would very much relate to the hashtag and the older ones would certainly relate to the ‘country’ part.”
Having mentioned that she feels like this is her most country album to date, I wondered if that was the result of a natural progression of her career, or more so to do with a conscious choice to make this album that way?
“Probably a bit of both. I suppose it comes down to the songs you want to record and the arrangements you come up with, and they all determine the direction an album goes in. And with the songs I’ve recorded for this album, there’s a lot of dobro, a lot of steel guitar, a lot of banjo. It’s goin’ down the road of a slightly Bluegrassey feel to it, and I absolutely love Bluegrass music. Now there’s still tracks on there with great punch to them, of course there is, and there’s the jivey numbers as well, and the big productions. But it also has the contrast of having very minimal instrumentation on some tracks, ones which are all about the story [in the song] and the vocal. So it’s a very versatile album, I think, Anthony. And I hope people will enjoy listening to it as much as I enjoyed making it.”
In one of our previous chats with Lisa, around this time last year, I think, she had indicated that she was starting to spend more time on her songwriting, and that this was an area she was keen to work on and develop. So has that desire borne fruit for ‘#Country’?
“Not for this album, no, but we have been working away on that side of it. But as you mentioned earlier, things have just completely exploded as regards how much we’re tryin’ to achieve and get done on a daily basis. And at the minute, there’s just not enough hours in the day! Not even close to enough! With this album, though, we’ve been looking at material for the past maybe 10 to 12 months, and I’ve recorded way more songs that we could actually put on the record. And I was very lucky in that I came across a lot of songs that haven’t been done in years, and some that have never been done in a country style but lend themselves very well to our market and to my voice. But yeah, songwriting is very much a part of my career that I intend to keep developing in the years to come.”
On the afternoon we spoke, Lisa had surprised her fans that morning by releasing a second single (‘High Cotton’ having been the first) from the new album on iTunes, a track called ‘Satisfy You.’ I asked Lisa what prompted this move.
“Yeah, well we’re in ‘album week’ now, so it’s a week today that the record will be released, and I just wanted to get some momentum going and get people talking. So what better way to do that than to release another track from the album to whet peoples’ appetite and give them a clue of what they can expect next week. ‘Satisfy You’ is an old song, originally recorded by The Sweethearts of the Rodeo, and I haven’t heard it for years. It was suggested to me by my producer Jonathon Owens, and when I thought about it I could instantly tell that it would work for our market. It’s so catchy, it’s lively, has a simple melody, and is an upbeat number. And ya know, Anthony, it went to number 1 on the iTunes Irish country chart within about 40 minutes of its release, so I was delighted with that. And fingers crossed we’ll get the same excitement and demand for the album, too.”
During her career Lisa has released albums, toured, made some of the best videos on the country scene, hosted her own tv show, and even co-hosted an Awards ceremony, too! But perhaps one of her biggest challenges yet (and that’s saying something for a young lady who is constantly looking for new ways to challenge herself) comes next month when Lisa will record her first ‘live’ concert dvd. With so much else happening right now too, and the days beginning to fall away as the dvd recording draws ever closer, I asked Lisa how is she feeling about it?
“[Laughs], Honestly? Well today has been a day where the phone has not left my ear, so today at least I haven’t been thinkin’ too much about it! But certainly, in general with it, yeah, there’s an awful lot going on. But you know, not only is it something I’ve always wanted to do, but it’s something people have been asking about for years, too. And I always knew that when I did it, I’d want to do something that had never been done before. Of course by doing that it brings an added pressure and even more hard work, with extra dedication and time going into everything behind the scenes. So it’s proving a bit stressful at the minute [laughs], I’m not gonna lie! There’s a lot of phone calls goin’ on, and a lot of organisation needed for set design, materials, camera crew, lighting. You name it, and there’s an awful lot of it! [laughs]. But even so, I’m also very excited about it, and I can’t wait to actually get on stage and start the show. I think that’s when the stress will disappear for me. And of course the next day I might be able to have a long lie-in too! [laughs]. So yeah, I’m very excited about doing the dvd and I know it’s going to be something I’ll be very proud of.”
One of the many qualities which has stood Lisa apart from the crowd has been her ability to give stunning concert performances, as well as high-energy and fun dance shows. I wondered if her dvd would be a combination of both these sides of Lisa, or would it perhaps focus on one more so than the other?
“This concert dvd is definitely going to be a performance. We want to have a show where, when people turn it on at home, they can enjoy it just sitting down with a glass of wine, just chillin’ out. But if there’s also someone there with a bottle of beer and they want to dance, we want them to be able to do that too! But the performance on the night will be concentrating on the finished dvd and how people will be able to enjoy it at home, Anthony. It’ll be a mix of all the material we’ve already recorded, and some of the new album as well. So it’s going to be a wide-ranging selection of songs from my career and hopefully that will give people loads of different options as to how they can enjoy it!”
Before saying our goodbyes, I asked Lisa about her upcoming visit to TRAX in Tullamore where she’ll be signing copies of her new album. Signings are something quite different from getting up on stage to sing, so I wondered if they were something Lisa was able to enjoy in a similar way?
“I suppose it’s actually something that we don’t do very often, to be honest. And it’s very different, as you said, to a ‘live’ performance and to normal shows. But I really enjoy signings because I find them very personal and very relaxed, and I get to meet my fans which is something I always love. They can come along and have a chat, or get a photo, or I can sign the album, ya know. It’s fun, but to have that communication and direct contact with your fans is very important. Fans want to feel that you’re very accessible and approachable. And that’s one of the most important things you can try to achieve with regard to your fans and yourself. That relationship is so important and I love any chance to get to know my fans, whether it’s in person, or on social media, or through my shows. So I’m very much lookin’ forward to hearin’ what people think of the new album when they come along to the signing in TRAX. I can’t wait to meet everyone in Tullamore, I’m really excited about it! Fingers crossed the feedback will all be positive!”