First Published June 2020
THE PURE JOY OF COUNTRY MUSIC
If you know anything at all about the entertainment scene in Ireland, then the name of CLAUDIA BUCKLEY will immediately bring to mind her dad, JIMMY. He, of course, has been one of the most well-known voices of the last few decades in Irish country music, both as a solo artist first of all and in more recent times as a third of The Three Amigos. That immediate connection is just part of what goes with being the daughter of someone famous. But, let me tell you something, there are two sure-fire ways to change that and make it just a by-the-by that Jimmy has anything to do with things where Claudia is concerned. And I say that with only respect for all.
It’s this simple. First, just listen to Claudia sing. That’s it. Just listen. See, there are a lot of brilliant female voices out there on the Irish country scene. But for some reason that I haven’t quite figured out yet, they get far less attention than their male counterparts. For proof of this, check out the line-up of nearly any big country festival you can think of – any year, every year, year in and year out – and you’ll see that the ratio is usually at least five male artists to one female. And that’s just wrong. It’s also a story in itself and for another day.
My point is, that even with so many great female voices out there, Claudia is something entirely different. Her voice IS country music. Every word, every phrase, every line…they drip with the heritage, the tradition, and the history of the genre as sure as if Claudia’s very soul itself had been dipped in some magical elixir composed only of those very special elements. So, just listen to her sing. That’s all you need to do. And enjoy it, because hers is a voice that doesn’t come along very often. And when you hear it – and as soon as you hear it – I guarantee that you’ll think of Claudia only as an artist in her own right forevermore.
The second way to make sure you never fall into ever thinking of Claudia as anything like ‘just’ Jimmy Buckley’s daughter, is to just talk to her. Whether it’s only for a few minutes or anywhere longer than that, it doesn’t matter. Talk to Claudia even the once and you’ll be sure of a couple things. This is a young lady who is brimful of self-confidence and self-assurance, but in the most humble, sweet, and good-humored of ways. She knows not only exactly who she is and where she’s come from, but who she wants to be and where she wants to go. And, how she wants it all to happen, too. In short, even now, at just twenty-two, Claudia is her own boss when it comes to her music. She’s also one of the best chats you could ever have when it comes to music! She knows her stuff, and she gets just as excited and passionate talking about country music as she is about being up there on stage.
So go find a way to listen to her sing, or spend a few moments in her company if you ever get the chance to. Because that’s literally all it will take to have you be like, ‘Jimmy who?’ But, in a good way, Jimmy, in a good way!
I had the pleasure of spending a little time talking music and life with Claudia just last week, as it happens. Our first time to chat properly, and just the first time of many, I hope. The first thing I wanted to ask her about was her debut album, the release of which has been delayed due to the ongoing Covid 19 crisis. Without giving away any of the specifics or the surprises that are waiting in store for us when the time comes, I asked Claudia if she could offer fans a feel of what they can expect with the album?
“Well I suppose for me myself, I wanted to do something a little bit different, I guess. With country music, albums are being released left, right, and centre, so I wanted mine to be a little bit different in the way that what I grew up listening to has always been really authentic, old-style American country music. It’s what I was raised on and it’s what my ear naturally gravitates to, I guess you could say. I’m very much the type of person who does a lot of research on music, on what’s relevant, and what people are liking, but also on what sounds good for you yourself [as an artist]. When I knew I was going to be bringing out an album, I said o.k, I love country music literally more than anything, so… I want to do something that sounds like me, that the songs are going to tell stories, but the album is going to have something on it for everybody. So it’s gonna have something for people who grew up listening to old-style country music that love to hear the old-fashioned, authentic country sounds with pedal steel, and dobro, that stuff that you only hear in Nashville. You don’t really hear it on records anymore, so I wanted to have that old feel. But I also wanted to have singles on there that would appeal to people who might just be starting to listen country music, that more modern, pop/crossover vibe as well. So it’s an album that I thoroughly enjoyed making. I mean, I was so excited in the studio, I can’t even describe it! [laughs]. Coming out of the booth after having each song done, and going back then to listen to them, I was just so, so happy. And I would be a really self-critical person, and really hard on myself, ya know. But I really, really love this. I have full faith in it. It’s always going to be something – even in twenty or thirty years time – that I’m gonna look back on and be really proud of it. I hope people like it just as much as I do, because I’ve put a lot of work into it. I hope it’s the type of album you’d put on in your car and just let it play through. I didn’t want to make an album where you’d be like, ‘Oh, skip track two, skip track three…!’ [laughs]. Ya know? [laughs]. It’s a happy, feel-good album, but it has some really heartfelt songs on there as well.”
I get the feeling from what I’ve seen and heard of Claudia so far, that her album will probably lean more towards the American country side of things, as opposed to ‘country and Irish’?
“Well, I guess Irish country music in general is kind of a take on American country music anyways. Everybody defines it differently. But people who love the Irish stuff, I’m pretty confident they’ll also like this. I thought of that aspect of things as well. But I have to stay true to myself and what I’m actually good at. I mean, I’m a singer. You give me a song, and I’m gonna sing it. But if it’s something that I really wanted to be what I thought good, it would have to lean more that way. It’s a real through and through country girl album. But it has cross-over country, old-style, emotional ballads, duets…there’s really something for everybody on there.”
One of the reasons that making a good debut album can be so hard to get right is because it can be so hard to pick the right songs. And that can be so hard because you literally have to pick from all of the songs that you’ve ever loved. So I wondered what the process was that Claudia went through to arrive at the final selection of songs that made the cut for her?
“Well I’m very much the type of person who’ll get out my guitar, and who’ll get out my iPad, and I will literally sit at the table for hours on end going through old albums. And that’s no problem for me because I grew up listening to the likes of The Judds, to Buck Owens, to George Jones, to Merle Haggard. I absolutely love doing that. I’m a music nerd! [laughs]. And I have no problem saying that [laughs]. I will sit there and I will go through those albums for hours, and it brings me pure joy. I love it! So I sat and I went through stuff that I love, I went through stuff that I thought I could possibly do my own take on and refresh it, make it a little bit more modern to appeal to the younger audience and older audience. There was millions and millions of songs that I loved! But, there’s going to be albums in the future as well, this isn’t going to be my last album ever. So anything that I didn’t fit on this one, I can always do it again. The tracks [on the album] have a nice flow to them. As I said, I sat down and I knew I wanted to make an album that you’ll let play through. I didn’t want to have this kind of a thing where you’re like, ‘Ah, skip it, skip it, no, not a big fan of this one…!’ [laughs]. So the songs fit well together. The album was produced by Jonathan Owens in Spout Studios, and he’s obviously one of the top producers in the country. I’ve worked with him since I was young, so he’s seen me grow up in this whole thing and gives me lots of advice. He’s seen my love for music blossom, and he was so thrilled doing this with me as well. And when I went back to the studio to listen to the finals of the tracks, he was jumping out of his chair with excitement, as was I! Because he grew up listening to country music just like I did, so he’s so into it, and I’m so into it. I got lots of advice from lots of people, but I also stayed true to myself on the matter.”
Claudia has said recently that she’s been using this ‘lock-down’ period to prepare for when she can get back out on the road again, something every artists out there should be doing in whatever ways they can, preparing and not simply waiting for this to be over. So I asked Claudia what has she been up to in that regard…
“You know how, pre-lock-down, you’re always saying oh I’ll get around to doing this, or I’ll get around to doing that? Well now is the time to get around to doing things we always said we wanted to do, and that will benefit us in the long-run. I’ve been learning up my guitar. My dad came in to me one of the days and he sat down and said when did you get so good on guitar? And I said well, I’ve been putting in the time, it’s not like we don’t have it! [laughs]. So I’ve been learning up stuff, I’ve been finalising things, I’ve been turning my hand to writing little bits and pieces as well that I might do on down the line. As singers and entertainers we kind of just have to sit and preempt, I guess, what’s coming. And it’s very, very hard to do that. But we have to make a guess so that things don’t completely fall into oblivion for us altogether! You kind of have to keep things going somewhat. So I have songs and singles ready in the can, ready to go as soon as this is over. I may change my mind depending on how long this lock-down and pandemic is going to go on for, but I’ve never really liked the idea of releasing stuff while this is going on. I suppose I didn’t want to seem insensitive releasing a really happy, feel-good song when the majority of people aren’t in a happy, feel-good mood, do you know what I mean? But look, maybe in a few weeks. You’d never know. But I’m happy that I’ve put in the work before all of this was going on – while touring and while gigging – to have singles and stuff ready to go, so I’m happy enough. But day to day, like I said, I’m an absolute nerd, I’ll go and sit at the table and root through these albums for hours with my guitar. I’ll just mess around with bits and pieces. That’s what makes me happy while this is going on. If I didn’t have that…! My mum said it to me, ‘If you didn’t have that bloody guitar!’ [laughs]. She hears me roaring – that’s how she describes it, roaring! – from morning until night out in the conservatory that I’ve converted into my little music room! Dad says he loves when he comes back in in the evenings and he’ll hear me at it, he says it keeps him going, which is nice.”
Although she’s still only twenty-two, I wondered if Claudia could recall a moment when she first realised that she could actually sing?
“Do you know what? It never really would have stopped me if I thought I could sing, or I couldn’t sing! [laughs]. I just liked doing it anyway. You know that kind of a way? When I was young it was just the done thing. Music was constantly playing in the house, we were constantly playing music in the car, it was all we talked about. When new stuff came out, Dad would bring it to be and be like, ‘What do you this of this?’ or ‘What do you think of that?’ I was going into primary school asking people, ‘Have you heard this George Jones track, or this Johnny Cash one? Oh my God! Unbelievable!’ And they’d be like, ‘Who? What?’ [laughs]. I went to school with an ‘I Heart George Jones’ key-ring on my schoolbag and one on my pencil-case as well. So I was like, o.k, I’m clearly a little bit different [laughs]. All the other kids had Justin Bieber and stuff like that. That was just always my thing. I was very shy, very timid, never a very in-your-face kind of child. I always kind of kept it [singing] to myself. My dad would always hear me humming and stuff. There was this one time that I was adamant to make him hear me. I wrote this little tune myself, no music or anything, but I wrote it down on an A4 refill pad. He was sitting in watching TV and I went into him and I said, ‘Dad, I want you to listen to me here for a second. I wrote this’. I’d say I could have been seven or eight years old. But he didn’t really pay any heed, he was like, ‘O.k, go on.’ But I said, ‘No, can I get your undivided attention!’ [laughs]. I said turn off the TV, I want you to hear me. But then I realised I was getting a bit brave, so I got a bit shy and I turned around. I didn’t want him to see my face, because I knew I’d either start laughing or crying, one or the other! [laughs]. So I started off singing my own little tune. From hearing my dad sing country music my whole life, I had learned how to sing country, and my voice would naturally fall into those little fills and the little country phrasing, it just came naturally to me. He let me sing the whole way through, and then I turned around – and he’ll kill me, because he hates when I tell this story – but he had a little tear in his eye. And he called in my Mam, and he said, ‘Why did nobody tell me this one could sing?!’ [laughs]. That’s when I kinda thought, o.k, I’m onto something here [laughs]. I knew then that I would always have his backing if it was something that I wanted to do. But he always knew early on that it was something I wanted to do. But he was definitely cautious. He let me see for myself how cut-throat of an industry it is, and you can get so many knocks. But equally, you get great opportunities coming your way, and you meet fantastic people, you get to work with amazing musicians. All of these things are the really amazing side of it. But, it’s equally so difficult. And so difficult when you have a family, and you’re away…He let me see all of these things. But, you get bitten by that bloody music bug…! [laughs]. Then you can’t get rid of it that easy! So I said, look, I’m in this, I want to do it. And he said, ‘Do you really want to do this?’ I said more than anything! And he said, ‘Oh thank God! I was hoping you were going to say that!’ So yeah, he helps me along and gives me so much advice. I’m so grateful to him. And so proud of him. And he’s so proud of me, too.”
~ To stay up to date with all the latest news on plans for her debut album and other news, you can follow Claudia on Facebook and Instagram.