Chantelle Padden

First Published, March 2021

DREAMCHASER

Part 2

This year’s series of The Voice UK came to an end last weekend, with the Scot Craig Eddie confirmed as the winner. Last year’s victor, Blessing Chipata, also returned to the show to perform her new single. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not, and have never been, a huge fan of shows like TheVoice anyway, and this is one more reason why. While the show would never be on my must-watch list, I do tend to have a fairly good idea of what’s happening in the music world. And yet, I have no idea who Blessing Chipata is. No offence to her personally, of course, but nothing about anything she’s done before or since winning has ever registered with me. And, sad to say, I think the same thing will happen with Craig Eddie. 


His debut single will do well, and maybe the follow-up if the song choice is right. Chances are, though, by the time a debut album is ready to hit the streets, the shine on the title of The Voice UK Winner 2021 will be starting to dim. And that’s not necessarily a reflection of Craig Eddie’s talent in any way at all. The problem is that The Voice as a brand, as a TV show, will need to redirect the spotlight to its 2022 series. With very rare exceptions, a career built on being the last one standing on a show like The Voice almost always limits the winner to that fabled fifteen minutes of fame. And as if that wasn’t bad enough in itself, that clock starts counting-down as soon as your name is announced as the winner. The one thing that being this year’s ‘next big star’ guarantees, is that you have less than a year before you’re officially out of date. And good luck to you after that. 


From that perspective, CHANTELLE PADDEN – in the long run – has probably had a lucky escape. The Mayo woman, who first came to national attention here in Ireland when her golden, lucious voice saw Irish country star Johnny Brady choose her as his contestant on the TG4 show Glór Tíre, wowed judges Olly Murs and Will.I.Am earlier in the series. With both men wanting Chantelle on their team, she opted for Olly, who went on to describe her as a “superstar.” A few weeks later, however, when the ridiculous ‘battle’ stages arrived, Olly’s enthusiasm had waned and Chantelle’s journey was at an end. But only as far as The Voice was concerned. For Chantelle, bigger things, moments and achievements – ones that won’t come with a best-before date on them – are on the way. Her journey, the real journey, the one with music and not a TV show at its heart, goes on. And central to the next chapters of that story will be her manager Jeremy Medcalf, and her label, Legacy Records.


In fact, it’s a pretty amazing story as to how Chantelle first came to Jeremy’s attention. And not only that, but also about how the pair turned out to be living only twenty minutes away from each other after she moved to Cambridge, even though at the time, Jeremy wasn’t even aware that she had moved to the UK. As we begin Part 2 of our chat, Chantelle picks up the story…


“Well, the kind of frame of mind I was in, I wasn’t expecting anything to come of music. I was just like right, I need to get a day-job now, I need to start making some money. I can’t live on fresh air! [laughs]. I applied for a job in Boots, went through the whole rigmarole that we all have to do with interviews, and I got it anyway. I remember going in on my first day, it was a Monday, and I went in at 8am or something like that. I was sitting at the computer screen where we had to log in all our details, and I was like, uuugh…what am I doing?! I’m working here in Boots, when all I’ve ever wanted to do was sing. How did I get to this point? It was coming near the time of my break, so I remember getting up, grabbing my handbag, went down the street, saw H&M, and I said I’m gonna go shopping! Whatever money was in my purse, I said I was going to go shopping with, and it would cheer me up. Typical girl! Shopping solves everything [Laughs]. Went in, did a load of shopping, came out, and my partner – who was working in Cambridge – came to collect me when he finished. I’d have stayed shopping the whole day otherwise! I had to go down to Boots because that was where he was collecting me from, and I got into the jeep with a load of bags. And he just looks at me and goes, ‘Emmm….how was work?!’ He was looking at me as if I had two heads! I just said, ‘Don’t even talk to me!’ [Laughs]. I just said then, ‘Ah, it’s not for me’, and he burst out laughing and said, ‘I told ya so!'”


Chantelle continued, “But while all of this was happening, me having my little meltdown and wondering what was I going to do, a video of me singing at my going-away party was going viral. There were people from Egypt messaging, from Australia, it was very surreal. I’m not sure if it’s still online, it was on my local pub’s page, so I’d have to go back and look, but I think the song was about a hundred years old! A random song that someone had asked me to sing. But yeah, didn’t it start to go viral. And at the start of the video I was like oh please don’t go ‘live’, just because I was in such bad form, ya know, I didn’t want to be online. And you can actually see it, I wouldn’t look at the camera because I was thinking she’s goin’ ‘live’! [Laughs]. I was just down in the dumps that day, but it’s the reason why the song grabbed everybody’s attention, because it was a very sad, Irish folk song that I was singing. And that’s how Jeremy saw me. There’s no other way he could have seen that video [other than it going viral], because we had no mutual friends, he had no connection to Belmullet whatsoever. That video came up on his timeline, and he ended up reaching out to me online. There were messages over and back with him explaining who he was, and I was asking questions too, just to make sure that it wasn’t some randomer that was raving who was messaging me! [Laughs]. He asked me was I represented by anyone or did I have management because he would be really interested in arranging a meeting to talk over some ideas. I was like management, representation? What are you raving about! I’m currently working in Boots at the minute! [Laughs]. It was so crazy the way it happened.”

While Chantelle was by now almost resigned to the fact that a career in music may have slipped away, Jeremy, thankfully, had other plans in mind…


“He was talking about arranging a flight over and we’d meet at a place of my choosing and all the rest of it. But I had to tell him, sorry, I’m not actually in Ireland anymore, I’m over in the UK, and I’m not really doing anything music-wise, but thank you for reaching out. But he was persistent, he was like what do you mean you’re not doing anything music-wise, I think you’re phenomenal. But then he said, well actually Legacy Records is based in the UK, that’s where I’m living as well, and he asked me what part I was in. I said I’m actually in Cambridge and he was just like…what? I think one of his messages was just, ‘Are you having a laugh?’, he thought I was messing with him [laughs]. He happened to be living in Willingham, and I was in Harleston, literally twenty minutes away from each other. Absolutely crazy.” 


When she and Jeremy met, Chantelle wasn’t actively doing anything anymore as far as music was concerned, with no real contacts to speak of, and no idea about how she might even record anything. Having grown convinced that she didn’t have a chance of making it as an Irish country artist, she had been hesitant to even think about going near a recording studio. But by reassuring her that commercial country was the lane Chantelle should actually be in, Jeremy helped to change that. And, as Chantelle was about to reveal, Jeremy actually had very close personal links to the Irish country music scene himself…


“Now a lot of people don’t know this, but Jeremy’s mother worked on the Irish country scene, she toured with Foster and Allen, Daniel O’ Donnell, Philomena Begley. Michelle Calaz was her stage name. She even performed on Live At 3, a show I’m sure some people will still remember fondly. So he has some idea of how the Irish country scene used to work back then. And he was very surprised to see that it’s still working that way, with a lot of the same people who were heading the shows back then are still the main headliners. His idea was well, ‘Why don’t you try to bring something different to the table?’ Now obviously, I respect anyone I grew up listening to. Philomena Begley rang me the other week, and I was starstruck! The only time in my life I’ve ever been starstruck! [Laughs]. I wasn’t even starstruck meeting Sir Tom Jones, but when Philly rang me I was like WHAT is goin’ on?! [Laughs]. But I still got what he [Jeremy] was saying, and I explained that they were all still pulling in the crowds. But Jeremy suggested that maybe it was because no-one has tried to actually do something really different. That got me thinking. And I asked him if he thought that where I fit in the scene, would that work in Ireland? He was like, well, there’s only one way to find out! Lo and behold, the first album we released with Legacy was called Let’s Begin, and it went to #1 on the Irish charts on iTunes. So that was a sign that ok, I have some hope. My only problem is getting my name out there. I knew that I needed to be seen on certain platforms, be it a talk-show, or performing somewhere on stage. I went on tour with Nathan, which was amazing. He brought me on his 2018 summer tour. Phenomenal experience for me. A few things started happening when I got with Legacy, because I had the right kind of input, and they offered me great advice on how to approach things. I still have a lot to learn, and I’m always trying to improve and stuff. Legacy helped me to realise that if I don’t take the risk, I’m just going to be like everybody else. And I’ll keep slipping through the cracks, ya know.” 


Moving slightly away from the music side of things for a moment, one of the things I really love, and admire, and respect about Chantelle, is that she’s so open about having the same kinds of insecurities as everybody else. She acknowledges that what people generally see online – from most people – is usually made for online, it isn’t real-life, so it’s not always going to reflect real-life. One of the reasons why I think all of that is so important about Chantelle is because – certainly on the outside – her, and her life, seem pretty much perfect. Now, she could just let that perception be the only thing that anyone knows, but she doesn’t. I asked her why she felt it was the right thing to do, to say, as she has done, “Hey, I love my coffee, I love my chocolate, I love my filters, and I sometimes don’t love myself as much as I should…”


“I think back to my younger self, and if there had been more public figures who had been more open and more real, I don’t think I would have felt so self-conscious. Even though it [social media] wasn’t really a big thing when I was in my teens – it’s only after exploding now in the last while – but I’m well aware that I have a lot of younger followers. And they message me a lot of the time to tell me if they’re insecure about something, or if there’s something bothering them. And I always would keep that kind of connection with…I don’t even like calling them just fans, to be honest with ya. I’d be nothing without the people that follow me. Fans is kind of a basic word used by everyone. But I want them to feel like I can be a friend as well. An awful lot of younger people, and even people older than me, reach out. Everything we see online can be very…[pause]…edited! [Laughs]. It’s made to look perfect, and we only post the good parts of our lives. But ya know what? That’s not the way life works! Oh Jesus, when I say I went through an awkward phase, I mean I went through an awkward phase! [Laughs]. And I’m still insecure. But I’m open about it. Yes, I wear make-up, and I put on big lashes to try and make myself feel good, to feel ‘pretty’, whatever that is. I’ll never be perfect, and I don’t try to be. I can be the world’s worst! I’ve done shoots working with The Voice and I’ll be like, make sure you get a good angle on me now! [Laughs]. Part of me is making a joke, but a part of me is saying, oh Jesus, do I have to suck in now when I’m speaking here! [Laughs]. But that’s real-life, though. No matter whether you’re a size-zero, or a size thirty, whatever, you’ll always have different insecurities. It might be that you don’t like your figure, or you don’t like your hair, or your skin. I’ve always been open about the fact that my weight fluctuates. If I want to be good, and tone-up, and lose weight, I’ll just cut out the crap and try and be strict on myself. But then there’s another part of me that sees my skin flare up all the time from wearing make-up, your typical first-world problems [Laughs]. But I don’t see the problem in making those things known. We’re only human. And it might help someone else feel normal by doing that.” 

Chantelle has described her musical journey as feeling like “a never-ending road of potholes” sometimes! Apart from her love of music itself, and of performing, what else has given her the strength to keep going on that road? 


“Do you know how some people can work in a job that they may not necessarily like, but they still do it because they need to? Well, it’s kind of like I need to keep doing what I love because I know I won’t like doing anything else. My journey has been literally like a never-ending road of potholes [laughs], there’s always set-backs, there’s always knocks. But do you know what? I can honestly say that any knock or set-back – and there’s been a few – I’ve grown from them. Sometimes, if you’re not good enough, you need to take it on the chin, and you need to work on it. I’ve always had that mentality. Whatever is not going my way, I figure out where it’s going wrong, try and resolve the issue, and then crack on again! And if it keeps happening…well, your luck has to change some day! [Laughs]. Anyone who’s ever had longevity out of their careers has to do that. Look at Sir Tom Jones, for instance, he once had to work on a building site for years before he had his first number-one hit at the age of twenty-four. I’m only twenty-four, so hopefully I have some hits coming [Laughs]. But people like him, like Dolly Parton, they grew up in hard times, they’ve definitely had set-backs. Shania Twain has had set-backs. Even our own Margo. I actually had a conversation with that lady recently too, lovely woman. And she said to me, ‘Don’t let it hold you back, that you come from a small town, I’m the same. I come from the middle of nowhere too!’ [Laughs]. If I give up, then it will all have been for nothing. And someone that never gives up, will never fail. If you keep on tryin’, you’ll never be a failure!” 


CHURCH BELLS, the latest single from CHANTELLE PADDEN, is OUT NOW, available on all platforms and to request from radio. 

ENDS

Tolü Makay

First Published March 2021

LEAVING ROOM FOR THE UNIVERSE

Part 2

If you were tuned into the Tommy Tiernan Show on RTE 1 last Saturday night, then you’re probably waking up this morning with a smile still on your face. Now, on any given week, Tommy himself – thanks to his wonderful way of both talking to people and just letting people talk – could well be reason enough for smiles that last for days. Last weekend, however, Tommy was almost a guest on his own show and an observer filled with wonder, just like the rest of us sitting at home, as the powerhouse pairing of Tullamore singer/songwriter TOLÜ MAKAY and her best friend, the Longford poet, FELISPEAKS took centre stage.


The love for each other, for life, for their respective art-forms, and for creativity, that sparked between the duo – and into the middle of which they welcomed Tommy as if he himself was a long-lost friend of theirs – was the kind of wild, pure energy that, if it could be harnessed and shared, would be a light bright enough to lead us all through however many dark days remain until the last year becomes, at last, a ‘remember when.’ 
But thank God we had them to enjoy last Saturday night, all three; Tolü, Felispeaks, and Tommy. And thank God we’ll have all three and their prodigious talents to look forward to enjoying ‘live’ and in-person when the sun rises once more on those days we so long for. And in the meantime, for the journey, we have Tolü’ to soundtrack our lives. 


Born in Nigeria, raised in Ireland, and at home in Tullamore, it’s no exaggeration to say that Tolü is made for the world stage, and is already well on her way to a point in her career where recognition on that level begins to come her way. A nominee in the Hot Press Hottie Awards 2021; a landmark debut EP – Being – already in existence; a first long-player in the works; a place in the hearts of the nation courtesy of her tender treatment of N17; three sold-out shows in Dublin coming up between the end of May and early June; after last weekend’s stellar showing, it can surely only be a matter of time before Tolü becomes a regular sight on our tv screens; and not forgetting, of course, the beautiful balm for the soul that is her latest single, Used To Be, out now too…Tolü’s presence in the world is a force of nature and a blessing. And perhaps the most exciting part of it all is that her time in the limelight is just beginning…


In Part 2 of our recent chat with Tolü, and before we got onto some of the amazing things that have been happening for her – such as her by now famous, aforementioned, and oh so glorious version of N17, being part of Irish Women in Harmony, and the not so little matter of those several sold-out shows – I just wanted to ask Tolü a simple question: How was she doing? I’d seen her say about a week before our chat that it had been a year and a half since she’d seen some of her family. With the whole Covid situation being what it is, it’s difficult for all of us not being able to see people that we love and care deeply about. But in Tolü’s case, that also means not being able to share these magnificent moments in her life with her family…

“Thank you for asking. People don’t actually ask that. It’s been very tough. I’m actually going to start getting emotional now [laughs]. It’s been really hard, especially December, normally that’s when we go back home to see everyone; parents, grandparents, cousins, uncles, aunts, all of that. Even though all of these amazing things are happening, it feels quite lonely at the same time. I have amazing friends, and I absolutely appreciate all the goodness and all the love that I’m receiving. But then, with family, you also want them to rejoice with you and see the magnitude of what you’re experiencing. I can’t send them every single newsletter that I’m in, I can’t send them every post that everyone sees, or every TV show that I’ve been on. So it’s just little scraps that they see, so it’s hard for them to kind of engage with it all. Some days are tougher than others, but honestly, the support I’ve been receiving has been keeping me very positive. And I’m so grateful for that, because if I didn’t have my amazing management Welcome To The New World, and my friends that are showing me love every moment and asking me how I am, and who are actually being there for me to be able to see them, I think it would have been a very, very, very, tough, tough, tough [laughs], and weird space to be in. Because from the outside it looks amazing, but then on the inside I’d be really sad. I’m really grateful that I have people around to share moments like this with even though my family aren’t with me.” 

On then to Tolü’s magical version of the Saw Doctors hit, N17, which really did bring a tear to my eye when I first heard it. And I know a similar experience to that was shared by so many. It’s one of those moments where the listener can only sigh at the beauty of what they’ve just enjoyed when the song ends. But how did it all – Tolü, N17, and the RTE Concert Orchestra – come to be? 


“Yeah, so it was Kite Entertainment, they were the ones who were recording – they picked the song – and they were the ones who put me forward. But a friend of mine called Susan Scannell, I think she works with them and she was also there on the day when we were shooting, she was the connecting factor really. Kite got me in contact with Gavin Murphy from the RTE Concert Orchestra, we had a conversation – and I don’t even think we had a phone conversation, this was all WhatsApp texts, and him sending the arrangements for the orchestra. This was all done on WhatsApp, it wasn’t even a proper file or anything [laughs]. Then I quickly sent a voice-note with me singing over the tracks, so he could get a sense of what I was planning to do with it, and he was like, ‘Yeah, that’s perfect, yeah, that sounds beautiful already.’ And I was like OH GOD! [Laughs]. Then we went to shoot down in the Camden studio, and everything was obviously Covid friendly, and everyone was just lovely. It took a few hours to shoot, which was fine. They treated me really well. But even the night before, I was speaking to some of my family and stuff, and I think that kind of helped me to tap into the emotion that I needed for the next day. It was a long few hours!” 


Tolü, of course, has also been one of the artists involved in the Irish Women in Harmony collective, sending their version of Dreams by the Cranberries, to the top of the Irish charts…


“Oh that was amazing! I need to say a massive thank-you to Erica Coady who hit me up first, and then I got in contact with RuthAnne who is…whoah!…such an amazing person! She has so many accolades, and has written for some of the biggest artists we know of (Britney Spears, Niall Horan, Westlife, One Direction, Bebe Rexha, and more), so to be in her presence with so many other amazing Irish women, I was just like YES! Absolutely! How could I say no to this?! [Laughs]. And obviously we all know how amazing the Cranberries are. I think the song ‘Dreams’ is what we needed in that moment, in 2020. No-one really expected it to just grip everyone’s heart like that. It was something I knew I needed anyway, because there were no gigs, no concerts, I wasn’t going anywhere! I was stuck in Tullamore doing live-streams! [Laughs]. And I really didn’t like the appeal of live-streams, especially the ones on my Instagram because it was really hard to get a response, except for ‘likes’, but those are silent. I’m trying to see if Instagram will pay me for a feature that I think would be really cool for them [laughs]. But yeah, ‘Dreams’ was such an amazing moment. I really needed that collaboration to keep me going, and to feel motivated, and to have that drive, and to feel important and be part of something. No kidding, I really believe that in the next maybe five, no, even less than five years, some of the biggest artists that we’re going to be getting in this world are going to come from Ireland, because there’s just so much talent that’s pouring into this country constantly, and genres as well. It’s exciting to be part of something bigger than you. And that’s what Irish Women in Harmony did for me.” 


Looking forward instead of back next, Tolü has some big moments coming up in May and June – all going well – with a chance to get back in front of a ‘live’ audience again for her very own shows. How excited is Tolü for those shows to happen, and what does she want that experience to be like for her fans? 


“Oh I’m really excited! We have three dates in Dublin, and dates in Galway and also Cork, so it’s kinda like a mini-tour. I had a dream about headlining [my own show] in 2018, and I was like I have to do it! I don’t want to give too much away, but I’ve planned it out exactly how I want it to be; outfits, the entrance, how people are going to be seated, what people are going to see, and smell, it’s very detailed. It’s called an ‘experience’ for a reason. I want people to feel alive. I want people to be able to sink into every emotion that I’m portraying. I want it to be like a spiritual moment, but not like Godly or anything like that. I want people to tap into their emotions with every song that I sing. I want it to be world-class, but obviously you have to start somewhere, and this will be my first show. But I hope it will be the foundation for even greater shows. That’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to set a really good bar for myself so that I can develop the ideas that I really want to be able to manifest.” 

I pointed out to Tolü how I loved that she’s even planning her entrance, because sometimes I hate it when people just walk on and begin, something Tolü’s response indicated she agreed with, and certainly won’t be happening with her!


“No! [laughs]” 

In talking about how she was appointed as assistant to her choir’s head-mistress when she was just fifteen, Tolü once remarked, “It taught me how to performwithout knowing what performance was.” But I wondered what have all the things she’s experienced in the last year or so taught Tolü about who she is as an artist and as a person today? 


“The past year has taught me that I can be very hard-working, I’m tough on myself, probably tougher on myself than anybody else that’s around me, to be honest. But it’s also taught me that I really do love myself. I’m trying to learn or navigate how to be a better person, and I think that’s a really cool aspect that I have of myself. Another thing that it’s taught me is that I’m not patient! [Laughs]. I am not patient! I want things now! [Laughs]. It’s also taught me that I’m loving, and that means I’m lovable as well. It’s taught me that my need to express my emotions is ok, and being emotional is fine. You don’t always have to be so tough or have a tough exterior all the time. It has taught me to trust people more, because trusting people more also means that you trust yourself with the decisions that you make. That was a really big one I learned. What else has it taught me? Oh, and also to do as much as I can, but to leave room for the universe to do whatever it needs to do.” 

What does Tolü do to protect her energy? Parts of her job, such as speaking to me and those like me, obviously take up not just her time, but her energy as well. Any artist will have to put themselves in a certain frame of mind to spend so much time talking about themselves and their work to all kinds of different people. So how does Tolü make sure that she takes care of herself in that regard? I saw that she draws, for instance. Does that help? 


“Yeah, I did a bit of drawing last year, just to kind of find something. But lately, because it’s just been a rush of amazing, new, exciting things, and I’m still trying to navigate this new space of like…media attention [laughs]…it’s been interesting! I suppose one thing that has really helped me is not being on social media as often. Knowing when to turn off my phone. And also scheduling my days. I’m still quite bad at saying ok, Sunday, I’m gonna not work. Because I do find that I’m constantly working, which is very weird but I think is just something that artists do all the time, without even noticing. You’re constantly working, that’s not normal. I’ve started to take acting classes, professional ones, so that I can actually get better at that skill and focus a little bit more of my time. I have other projects that I’m doing as well. That helps me to remove myself as this ‘artist’ persona, and also helps me to be really disciplined with my time. That way, if I have an interview, or a show or something, it’s all scheduled and aligned and I’ve prioritised what’s the most important to me. Choosing what’s most important to me makes me happier, because even though it may still be work, it still makes me feel a lot more fulfilled than drained, if that makes sense?” 

And with that, unfortunately, we came to our last question. As regards Tolü’s vision for her debut album, which she hopes to release later this year, and taking into account the kind of person Tolü is – she had mentioned being an empath, being shy, and I know a teacher once called her an old soul, and also being a student of psychology and philosophy – I felt like she won’t be able to ignore everything that’s happening around her in the world, from the effects of Covid to the BLM movement, and such. Will her debut album, when it comes to us, touch on those issues in any way? 


“At the moment, with the songs I’ve selected, no. I think with the way I write, I don’t like to be as direct with political issues. And not even political issues, just things that we cannot control. I’m still trying to understand or even put words into context to even make sense of things. It’s more so sounds that come out, and me shouting and roaring rather than it actually being a song. But with some of the songs, I think it will stand the test of time in the sense that the emotional cue is there. And I think that no matter what situation we’re in, there will be certain songs in there that you can still relate to if a really horrible situation happens. For example, there’s one of the songs in there, that I’m still writing, where it just kind of talks about – and this sounds really sad, but I actually wrote this last year in spite of all the positivity – I wrote about finding somewhere else to live. Not like locations, I meant it like I wanted to get out of Earth. Which is really depressing to hear, but I was just like, is there an alternative? Cos’ this sucks. I wrote that song in the heat of BLM, and the whole situation that was happening in Nigeria with the police brutality [SARS]. I just felt like this really sucked, and it seemed to be the same thing over and over again, with famine, and brutality, and all these horrible things that are happening globally, and seems to be never-ending. You know, what’s the point? And that’s really depressing, and I’m soooo sorry! [laughs]. When I write songs like that, I don’t want to pinpoint one specific issue, because the way I feel is like every [emotion] in one. And it’s a lot to navigate. It’s a weird thing. I feel like I just grasp more to the emotional element rather than the actual situations. But hopefully in time I’ll get better at using words to explain and be more concrete with topics.” 


USED TO BE, the brand NEW single from TOLÜ MAKAY is OUT NOW. Her Dublin shows for THE TOLÜ MAKAY EXPERIENCE are now SOLD OUT, but some tickets remain for her Galway and Cork shows. For more information, visit Tolü’s official website, www.tolumakay.com You can also follow Tolü on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. 

ENDS

Chantelle Padden

First Published March 2021

DREAMCHASER

Part 1

You only need to hear CHANTELLE PADDEN sing once to know that she has the voice of a superstar. And truth be told, Chantelle has a voice miles better than many artists who have forged hugely successful careers and have had bestowed upon them that title of ‘superstar.’ More than even just that, though, you only need to see or hear Chantelle interviewed once to know the lady from Belmullet has the personality and charisma to match her vocal talent. And in the same way her voice is both authentic and unique, so too is Chantelle herself. 


So, given that shows like The Voice are based upon the whole premise of finding the world’s next vocal superstar, you’d imagine that once Chantelle had made it through to the ‘live’ shows, it would be impossible for a panel of four of music’s biggest names to leave her behind. Chantelle, after all, is EXACTLY what they were looking for. The voice, but also the looks, and then the personality as well, not to mention the work-ethic…everything was there. Everything was ready. Chantelle was ready. Her time, surely, had come…


Ah…but the problem, of course, with TV shows like The Voice, is that they are – and always will be – TV shows first. And that, by definition, means that the performers must come second. The idea that the judges must first choose their teams based only on hearing performers sing is great. What happens next, pitting performers against each other in ‘battles’ where one must be told they’re not good enough – for whatever reason – is actually disgraceful. That is not the way to showcase, encourage or support talent. It might make for good television from time to time, but those kinds of moments – certainly in my opinion anyway – are not worth treating people that way. Simple.


Anyway, if you tuned into the latest series of the show to watch Chantelle’s ‘battle’ a few weeks back, you were probably as flabbergasted as I was that Olly Murs decided her time on the show was going to end that night. A choice as bizarre as it was ridiculous. Well, as the saying goes, and it surely suits such a moment…their loss! Olly’s and the show’s. Chantelle’s talent, and indeed, Chantelle herself, are bigger than The Voice. And time, I’m sure, will prove it. Chantelle, to be fair, would never even think that way, let alone say something like that. But she doesn’t have to, because I will. And I’m not alone in thinking that way, either. 


Chantelle Padden is a born dreamchaser. And souls like that have an inner-fight that drives them on and on, and on again, until their dreams are in their hands. 


We’d been planning on chatting to Chantelle for OTRT for quite a while, before it was even announced that she was going to be performing on The Voice this year. And thankfully, that news gave us the perfect opportunity to finally put a date in the diary to do just that. 


So with Chantelle’s battle only days away when we sat down to talk the other week, I began our chat by asking her how she was feeling about it, what the past week had been like for her, and…what did she think the Saturday night ahead of her would be like? 


“I’m really excited! It’s another chance to showcase a little bit more about myself, and what I’d like to bring to the show, I guess. It’s the battle stages, and unfortunately only one can go through as there’s no ‘steals’ left. So the pressure is on to hopefully try and win Olly over. Hopefully he’ll see that the industry needs more female country artists in the UK and Ireland. At the end of the day, the prize is a record deal with Universal Records, so I’m hoping that I’m showing that I can be commercial and would be worth putting in a position to potentially grab that prize! We all go into this competition with that dream, everyone wants to do well. But I’m the only country artist on the show this year, I’m the only one flying the flag for country music. And of course I’m the only Irish contestant as well, so the pressure is on, I’m not gonna lie! [laughs]. It’s nerve-wracking, but at the same time, do you know, it’s exposure and experience that money can’t buy. So I’ll just be trying to do the song justice and get across the story of it. It’s a song that really resonates with me, being from such a small town, always longing for more, always wishing to grab a hold of that dream. I’ll do my best, and hopefully come out the champion of the battle. All I can do is hope. There’s millions of people watching this show, so it’s going to be of benefit regardless, so I’m definitely excited!” 

Chantelle’s breath-taking blind audition really threw her into the limelight on a massive scale, something she seems to have been handling brilliantly. Having worked so hard – and in some ways, waited so long – to get a break like this, I asked her to describe how it now feels to be at the centre of so much attention? 


“Well, for a very, very long time, I felt like I was slipping through the net. I wasn’t getting any opportunities when I was at home because I was just so far away from everything. The kind of country artist I am, I don’t exactly fit into the kind of country that we all love here in the west coast of Ireland. That’s a quite bluegrassy sound, with a jiving and waltzing feel to it. So I felt if I was to have any chance of getting signed to a label, that’s not the country they go for. So I felt like I had to try and break out from that, break the mold a bit, and bring something new to the Irish country scene, to try and make a name for myself in both the UK and Ireland. Everyone thinks that if you’re into country, it’s just ‘Ah sure go to Nashville, you’ll be grand there’, but I don’t think that should be the way. I think we should be able to make a stand at home, in our own country, on our own soil, and of course, in the UK too, where I have an amazing and a growing fanbase. And they’re all loving the fact that there’s something different on the show this year. And no matter what part of Ireland someone comes from, if you get on a show like this we’ve very proud of them and we always get behind them. But you never, ever see anyone on shows like this from where I come from. I come from ‘the sticks’, as they call it, literally! [Laughs]. I live on a peninsula, we’re only connected to Belmullet by a bridge! I had The Voice team Googling where I’m from! And after my blind audition, I had Mayo County Council reach out to me to tell me that Belmullet was trending on Google, but for good reasons! [Laughs]. People were actually looking it up to see where it is. And they [The Voice team] were gobsmacked to see that I come from a place that doesn’t even have traffic-lights, we’ve only one roundabout, and it’s the only roundabout in Europe that you can park on! [Laughs].

 “So it’s a very different angle”, continued Chantelle, “the fact that I’ve made it onto the show this year. You often hear about someone who comes from the middle of nowhere and they have a dream to be a superstar, but yeah, I kinda moved to the UK to start recording in the style I’m doing. It’s kind of the only avenue I could have gone down for 2020. I was very hesitant in the beginning to even go for the show, because, you know yourself, we don’t see a lot of country on these shows. So I thought maybe they wouldn’t get who I would like to be as an artist. Looking back on it now, I’m delighted I did obviously, because I made the televised shows. And to be fair, the feedback has been amazing so far, and hopefully it will continue…fingers crossed! [Laughs]. People know my name now, whereas for years, I just wasn’t getting any opportunities. I felt like I wasn’t able to just get up and go see a band in Ireland, regardless of what genre, because we’re so far away from everyone. There’s an awful lot of hidden talent around here, where I’m from, but we just don’t get the opportunity. I have an awful lot of younger followers who look up to me, and they message me on a daily basis for advice, and to just ask, well how did you do it, that kind of thing! And I tell them to just go for it. I love the fact that people around here aspire to be musicians. If you come from a small town, or if you’re stuck in a city even, where you’re kind of outnumbered by people taking the limelight, just try your best and get out there. Scream so loud that they can’t ignore ya! [Laughs].” 

Chantelle’s talent – and indeed, the lady herself – will transcend genres anyway, but her heart is undoubtedly in country music. And her latest single, a version of Carrie Underwood’s Church Bells from her Storyteller album, follows on from her recordings of songs by artists like Maren Morris, Lady A, Dolly, Cam, and Little Big Town. 


“Well! Do ya know what! It was actually just meant to be a little cover to upload on social media! And as soon as I announced that I had a new cover coming, I had loads of radio stations messaging me wanting a version of it to play. So that’s how it came about. I’m hoping to start releasing my own originals now soon, which is the same vibe as the covers that I’m doing my versions of. So yeah, people were requesting it, and I didn’t want to say no! [Laughs]. Even though it’s a cover. So I said there would be no harm in sending them on my little version. But there’s only one Carrie Underwood! Hers would be tough shoes to fill! But I’m glad that people are appreciating that I’m trying to bring that kind of vibe over here and make it a bit more current, and get it out there a bit more. I believe that that more commercial country – Maren Morris, Carrie Underwood, Lauren Alaina – I wish that was more popular over here. To a lot of country fans, it sounds quite pop, and that’s what I used to get on the show. They kept saying to me, ‘Are you sure you’re country?!’ [Laughs]. They all thought country was banjos, fiddles, diddly-aye, and I was like, no! Country is progressing so much. It can sound really rocky, or it can sound really poppy. I just have the benefit of dibbling and dabbling in the more rockier or more poppier sounds. But I’ll always pay respect to what I grew up on, which was actually Irish country. There’s always going to be that little bit of a mixture going through me. You’ll always hear little sean-nós vibes when I do a ballad. I’ve been told loads of times that I have what’s called a sean-nós curl. It’s hard to explain, but it’s a type of technique that sean-nós singers in Ireland use. I’ve just picked up so many different traits from listening to so many artists over the years. I’ve listened to anyone from Nan Tom Taimín, who is a phenomenal Irish folk singer, right up to Dolly Parton, Celine Dion, Whitney! Bon Jovi! Guns ‘n’ Roses! [Laughs]. I listen to such a mixture. That’s why I’ve always been a bit muddled up! [Laughs].”

Chantelle had mentioned that Mayo County Council reached out to her recently, but – and no offence to Mayo County Council – someone else a little more glamorous did just that, too! None other than American country giants Dan + Shay, after Chantelle posted a cover of their huge hit, Tequila…


“Well, like the ‘Church Bells’ scenario, I just popped ‘Tequila’ up as a cover on my socials and I just tagged them in it. Because if I’m doing a cover of someone’s song I’ll always credit them and mention who it’s originally by. So that’s what I did. And the next thing, they liked it! And they commented on it, and they sent me a lovely message! And I was like, is this really happening?! Because this was before The Voice was even aired. So yeah, that was just really exciting. Because the likes of those people, who are just so busy – even during these crazy times, because I’m sure they’re flat-out recording or writing – the fact that they took the time to sit and watch some randomer’s cover of their song, and then felt the need to message and reach-out, I thought that was so…I don’t know, just very genuine of them. They really appreciate their fans. And that’s what I am, I’m a massive Dan + Shay fan. Maybe they appreciated the fact that I’m a country singer, from rural Ireland, over and back to the UK a lot, because you can see by looking at my page that I’ve been trying to build my name and get out there, and trying to popularise the same style of country that they sing. Yeah, that was definitely a, ‘WHAT is goin’ on?!, moment! [Laughs].” 

As a country fan, and as someone who is involved in the country music business, it actually breaks my heart to think that someone with Chantelle’s talent, her work-ethic, and her personality as well, felt like she had to leave Ireland to pursue a career in country music. But, at the same time, I unfortunately understand it too. Chantelle has spoken about being told that she didn’t “fit in” on the Irish country scene, and how she felt like she had no “pull” on that scene. I asked Chantelle to tell me more about that, and I wondered if there was ever a certain moment when she knew it wasn’t going to happen for her in Ireland? 


“When I began releasing little self-released albums which were done in local studios, nothing big-budget, it was my parents who funded them, and they happened to have got played on the local radio like Midwest and stuff, I was ten years old. So my name has been floating about for a while as a child singer. I was only young. Then, as I went through my teens, I focused on school, ya know, as much as I could, my heart belonged in music! [Laughs]. But I had to make it work and juggle the two of them! I always carried on gigging at the weekend, and we got the chance to perform over in the UK in the Irish centres, there were lots of gigs, nothing too crazy. But I was always hoping that an opportunity would come along if someone heard me. You’re classed as a brand in the music industry, so someone is not going to buy into you unless you can make them money. As I grew up, I became more serious about music. I knew it was the only career I wanted to do. And to be quite honest with ya, it’s the only real job I’ve ever had! I don’t think it would have been in me to walk away from it. But I did go through spells where I actually did hang up the microphone, and that was out of sheer disappointment. I remember going for different kinds of competitions over the years and no-one got why I did country. And I didn’t really know anyone on the Irish country scene to reach out to, to bring me up singing with them, or to get my name out there in that way. Then in 2018, going into the third year after I’d left secondary school, I was still gigging with one of my best friends, Sean Fahy. He carried on gigging with me after my grandad retired when I was sixteen. He was a major help to keep me going. Obviously as a friend, but he was a fan as well, and he loved supporting me as well, and to this day he does. And he was the main reason I kept gigging when grandad retired. I genuinely didn’t think I’d have the courage to do it on my own. I was a very self-conscious teenager, so I definitely needed grandad as that safety behind me to give me that pep-talk if I ever got nervous.”

“So having Sean there to fill that place when grandad retired”, explained Chantelle, “that was amazing for me. We were gigging near my hometown, at an annual festival called the Inver Festival, where Johnny Brady and his band were down headlining. Me and my friend Sean were the warm-up act, so we were doing a little slot beforehand, just using backing-tracks and a guitar and a drum-machine and that was it. Johnny heard me singing for the first time and he was like, “What?! Where?!”, he was very taken aback that he’d never heard of me at all! And I was just like, well, I don’t really play much outside of Belmullet, I wouldn’t really be known. That’s when he asked me onto a country music show on TG4, called Glór Tíre. That’s actually about three years ago now since I was on it. We clicked, he was right up my street, his was really the kinda vibe that I’d love to see in country. And to this day, he’s one of my best friends in the music industry. So Glór Tíre was kind of the moment where I realised, oh…do I fit into the Irish country scene? Now, I got amazing comments from Caitriona, Jo, and John, the three judges on the show, it was always amazing feedback. But it was always, well, you’re more so r ‘n’b, or maybe rock? That, to me, was like, ok, I obviously don’t fit in on the Irish scene. But to this day, I’d still be good friends with the judges. Caitriona and Jo, we’ve always stayed in contact after the show. I’ve done interviews with Jo and everything, and she’s always saying to me, “But sure we were right, you’re very American country.” [Laughs]. See, they were afraid that I’d try to fit into the Irish country scene, and neglect the kind of passion I have for the American scene.

 

And as it turned out, Chantelle’s time on Glór Tíre left her well prepared for her time on The Voice when it arrived…


I learned so much from the show. Sure I had never been on TV, with cameras and everything. As an adult singer, I had lacked all that experience, because I’d never had a chance to do it until Glór Tíre came about. So I got used to cameras, and interviews, and to how everything ran, I guess. And without that, I would have struggled with The Voice. I think I needed that bit of experience. I think I came fourth on Glór Tíre [laughs]. But do you know what, it was an amazing experience. And it’s a voting show, and to be fair, sure no-one knew me [laughs]. So I wasn’t expecting to get far on the show. In order to win by votes, you need to be popular and well-known! But I knew that going into it. So I said, do you know what, it’s exposure, and nothing but good can come from it! After that, it wasn’t how Glór Tíre panned out, it was more so the fact of what do I do now? If I don’t fit into the Irish country scene, what am I going to do? Because that was the only country that would get you gigs over here. I was so kind of over-thinking the whole situation, and I was so disheartened about what opportunities I might get at all, so I left Ireland to go to the UK. I moved over to Cambridge, and yeah, I gave up music. I stopped gigging, cancelled any gigs I had in the diary for Ireland. It was a crazy time!”

 
CHURCH BELLS, the brand NEW single from CHANTELLE PADDEN, is OUT NOW, available on all platforms and to request from radio. Stay tuned for PART 2 of our chat with Chantelle coming your way very, very soon! 

ENDS 

Tolü Makay

First Published March 2021

IT’S TOLÜ’S TIME

ü

Sometimes in this life you just have to believe that the universe has a plan for you. And most of the time, when that plan begins to unfold in real-time, here’s what also happens. What you realise is that had you tried to even imagine what was about to manifest with you at its centre, there’s just no way you ever would have been able to call it. Not in a million years. And yet, folks, and yet, as this almost blessed intention of the cosmos reveals itself, what begins to take place and what you begin to witness feels like the most obvious and the most natural thing in the world. It’s as if no other outcome was ever possible. 


The Saw Doctors released N17 as their debut single in August of 1989. And despite the fact that the song is undoubtedly possessed of a certain sadness given that it’s about an Irish emigrant’s longing to travel once more over those Galway roads with their “stone walls and the grass is green”, it also gave life to an elation of sorts in every performance. That, of course, was in no small part due to the uninhibited joy and ferocious energy the band always found a way to tap into when they stepped on stage. 


Fast forward to the beginning of this year, and N17 is once again the song that everyone is talking about. But it’s a very different world this time, and a very different N17 too. And yet, folks, and yet, in the care of the prodigious talent that is TOLÜ MAKAY, not only did this version of N17 feel unquestionably perfect in every note and every phrase, it was perfect for the moment too. And, while few of us could ever have predicted this crossing of paths between a song that already held a special place in so many hearts, and a singer whose heart and spirit is proving every bit as big and as charged with passion as her voice, the moment when it happened feels as immediately undeniable as the perfection of a daffodil or a snowflake. No other moment was possible, except this one, a moment of beauty designed by the universe itself, for our enjoyment. 


Tolü has just announced the forthcoming release of her brand new single, USED TO BE, out on March 5th, and I had the pleasure of sitting down for a chat with her recently. Before we even got to that convergence of destinies between her and N17, I wanted to talk about this remarkable lady herself, by going straight to Tolü’s E.P, BEING, to chat about her songwriting. 


Now, a lot of songwriters often say that they write because it’s easier to say things in a song sometimes than it is to say it in ‘real-life’, or in person. And sometimes, their songs actually help them to work out things in their own lives. So for Tolü, I wondered if songs like Don’t Let Go, You Are Enough,Me, Myself & I, and even something like her spoken-word piece V.N, are as much messages to herself as they could be to whoever else might need to hear them? 


“Definitely. I wrote those songs to help me get through a lot of mental challenges that I was going through. And also to help me to just keep going and really pursue the dreams that I really have in mind. So I’d definitely say that I was writing and singing for myself. It wasn’t even until a few months before it had to be released that I came up with a name, and it kind of wrote itself for me. Definitely for me, and for a long time, it [writing] helps me to know who I am, and to know that I needed to get through certain stages of self-love and self-confidence. That was definitely a stage that I was going through in order to help me to get into a new stage of life.” 

With her songwriting, it sounds like Tolü probably incorporates a lot of her own personal experiences, and things that are happening in her own life, into her songs. Would that be fair to say? 


“Yeah, definitely [laughs]. When I write my own songs and release them, it definitely comes from  my own experience, a personal or emotional story that I had to understand. Cos’ a lot of the times when I want to express myself, I find it hard through words. So you’re totally right about songwriters being able to express themselves through music. There’s certain things that I wouldn’t be able to just say, but I can sing it because it helps me to attach the emotional cue that I feel with certain words. And it may not even be the word. It may just be how something sounds and how it resonates or portrays certain emotions that I can’t naturally bring out with just words.” 

One of my own personal favourite tracks on Being is the aforementioned V.N, the spoken word piece. As we all know by now from Tolü’s remarkable video for You Are Enough, she can act! So I wondered if V.N. was something which was written and rehearsed, or had it been free-styled? 


“No, that’s just something that I was saying to myself. I actually recorded that to myself on a voice-note in 2019 when I needed to boost myself up. Because a lot of the times, it’s only you that can really get you going. You can get whatever motivation, or whoever is around you to help you, but if you don’t believe in yourself, in your core, things are not gonna move. People can believe in you so much, but if you don’t believe in yourself, it’s just not gonna work. I really needed to kind of speak to myself in the third-person, and that’s exactly what I did with that voice-note. So I had that voice-note for a whole year before I decided to use it. I listened back to it, and I was like, ‘This is nice. It kind of sums up the entire EP’ [laughs].” 

What I most love about that voice-note is that Tolü ended it as if she was talking to a friend, which is, of course, exactly how we should talk to ourselves…


“Definitely! Honestly, I can spring towards negative thoughts a lot, but I think that’s just human. But I think it’s important that we train ourselves to be kind to ourselves, the way we would want other people to treat us. Another thing that I’ve learned is that if you don’t learn how to treat and love yourself, then you’ll be very accepting of people treating you badly. It’s something which you kind of have to unlearn, which is quite difficult. But yeah, the need to speak to yourself in a positive manner is a daily thing that I’m quite conscious of, and I’m really happy that the voice-note made it out to the world.” 

Speaking of the brilliant video for You Are Enough (which, as a matter of interest, was filmed right beside where I live, and which I somehow managed to TOTALLY MISS!),not only has it shown that Tolü can act, it’s also proved that she can dance too! I felt like the video was something Tolü would have been very involved in. From an acting perspective, I wondered had it been rehearsed?

“No, it wasn’t rehearsed. It was basically just, ‘Do this, and we want you to do this…’, and then…just do it! [laughs]. So no, it wasn’t rehearsed or anything. We just had a few hours in the cafe [the Riverside Cafe, Main Street, Tullamore…now on its way to becoming an iconic musical and cultural landmark thanks to Tolu!], to do what we had to do, and if it looked good on camera, good. And if it didn’t…! I had an amazing director, Martina McGlynn. I wasn’t thinking of doing a video at all, because there was literally no budget! [laughs]. It was done in 2020, when there was a whole pandemic! Martina was actually the one who came up with the concept, and she said she’d love to make a music video for me. So we went over her notes so that I was comfortable with it. And I really love dancing, I love being able to express myself through different forms of art. And funnily enough with acting, I really do love acting too, and being able to portray certain emotions clearly, which is another way of communicating really. So Martina hit me up, and she got in contact with my manager, and we had a few meetings, and literally two weeks after that we were outside shooting. It was a three-day shoot. We asked Paraic [Jennings] from the Riverside Cafe if we could use his space, and he was lovely and said yes.”Tolü continued, “And I got five girls from the Midlands School of Drama to be part of it. I sent them – I think a week before the shoot – a quick video-clip a friend of mine had choreographed for me, and I also had learned the dance so I had to go in and teach them as well. They picked it up in like an hour! They were professionals, so great. I remember the day of the shooting, their mammies came down [laughs], and they were standing at their cars, obviously social-distanced and all, watching us. They were so cute [laughs]. It was great. There were only three people on camera, and myself. It couldn’t be a huge production, but it was really great. And obviously the quality of the video was amazing. Martina is just an awesome professional. I think that’s even her first music video, but that’s just a testament to how amazing she is. Even with that small team that we had, they did such a fantastic job of portraying exactly what ‘You Are Enough’ is. It’s amazing to create a song and then for someone else to visualise it in quite a mirrored way as to how you want to let other people see it.” 


I read recently – with absolute horror, might I add – Tolü’s experience of boarding school, where she had been called Elizabeth by her teachers, presumably because Tolü was too much to come to terms with. Somebody’s name, after all, is who they are. To willingly and on purpose not use somebody’s name, is pretty much to deny their existence to a large extent…


“Yeah, it’s a weird one. Because you know when you’re young, I think back then I wasn’t vocal. It’s only actually now, in my twenties, that I’m trying to be more vocal in using my voice. But back then, I was very quiet and a lot of things would hurt me, and I wouldn’t know how to say it. I would just accept it as being [how things were]. But I noticed in going back and reminiscing on that time, I didn’t sing for an entire three years. And singing is a huge part of who I am. So for me not to have done that really shows the depth of how shut up I was from who I was supposed to be. That’s from age ten to about thirteen. So those were difficult times, but I never really assessed it as that. I remember when I left that school and I started singing and going into competitions back in Tullamore, and when I was talking to friends from the boarding school, they were like, ‘We never knew you could sing.’ And I was like…yeah! [laughs]. It was weird. I don’t even know if they did it in a malice way, I don’t think people do these things intentionally. I assume that they saw that my middle name was there, and assumed that was just the name to call me.”

Ah, so Elizabeth IS at least Tolü’s middle name? Well that at least makes it a little bit less weird! 


“Yeah. Oh my God, no! That would be so weird! [laughs]. Imagine if it was just some random name! [laughs]. No, no.” 

I was curious about how that experience might have influenced Tolü’s songwriting. Did it make her even more determined to put herself – Tolü – into her songs, to make sure that her songs are completely what she wants them to be, and a reflection of who she is? 


“That’s a tricky one. Before I started getting into songwriting, I was just singing. That was a way for me to just tap into my emotions, and also to connect with other people. That’s how I kinda was with the church. I was still singing right up until university, cos’ I won a gospel-pop competition and I was managed for a year so I decided to start singing about my own experiences rather than singing about God. And there’s nothing wrong about singing about God, I just wanted to expand. So I suppose, from uni days I started writing poems, but I’m not great with poems. I think it’s just more so thoughts and journaling my feelings. Then when I had the confidence to write my first song, which is ‘Reflection’, that was actually a poem that I then arranged into a song. When times got really tough and I just really needed to have an outlet outside of saying God is good all the time. I was like, you know, I’m in a really tough situation and I want to talk about that and I want to sing about that. With ‘Reflection’, that first song, I felt so torn between who I believe I am within myself, and between who people see me as. That can be quite conflicting. That’s why I started songwriting and journaling my thoughts, because it helped me figure out who I am in my inner voice.” 


One of the things I most love about interviewing songwriters is the chance to figure out how and why they write the way they do. Tolü has studied psychology and philosophy at N.U.I.G, both of which delve into the human condition in different ways and can offer fascinating insights into people. And songwriting, of course, can be very much about examining and revealing the human condition too. I wondered if it was the fact that Tolü is a songwriter that led her to studying psychology and philosophy, and having studied those subjects, did they add any different elements or styles to her songwriting? 


“I actually don’t know. Before I started songwriting, I was already in uni, it was after or towards the end that I started getting into songwriting. But it definitely did add an element of curiosity, and also wanting better and questioning everything. In terms of why I choose positivity or why I choose ways in which to reflect, I do believe that psychology did help me. With psychology and philosophy, it’s all about the human condition and the mind, and society and how we relate with one another. I don’t know. It’s quite a tough question to actually answer. I just knew that I’m very in-tune with my emotions in ways that I wish other people were. And sometimes that can be a lot. Like, I call myself an empath, if that makes any sense? I feel way too many things that I think other people just do not feel. And it’s really hard to kind of express that. Growing up, you’re kind of shut down…no, not shut down…you’re somewhat ridiculed that you’re thinking too much or you’re feeling too much, and it [whatever you’re thinking about or feeling] is not that much of a big deal. Last year’s songs were very happy and very positive, but even within that year, there were a lot of sad songs that I wrote [laughs], that you’ll probably hear this year. There’s some quite depressing [laughs]. But I’m learning that it’s important that I’m allowed to express myself however possible. Human emotions are very raw. And I think that’s why I wanted the EP to be very raw. I just wanted it to be a release of what I was holding for three or four years. And it did exactly that for me, because once I released it I really felt that now, I was going into a new chapter. Now, becoming who i’m supposed to be. Now, I have a voice that I feel confident in. So, it definitely did help me in navigating and expressing myself as a human being. That’s why I named it ‘Being’ [laughs].” 


BEING, the stunning EP from TOLÜ, is OUT NOW, available on all platforms, AND her brand NEW single, USED TO BE, is out on March 5th. Watch this space for Part 2 of our chat with Tolü coming your way in our St. Patrick’s Day edition! 

ENDS

Lainey Wilson

First Published February 2021

FEELIN’ IT WITH HER WHOLE HEART

If you’re a country music fan who pays attention to what’s going on across the Atlantic, then you’ll already have been singing along to Things A Man Oughta Know by LAINEY WILSON for quite a while. The track was first released as part of her 2019 EP Redneck Hollywood, and to date has racked up in excess of thirty-five million streams, an achievement which earned it a place on Spotify’s Nashville Worldwide Hot 50. Things A Man Oughta Know was also featured in NPR’s (National Public Radio) Best Music of 2019, who referred in glowing terms to Lainey’s “honeyed, crystalline twang.” And as of last Friday, Things A Man Oughta Know and the gorgeous, warm, southern charm of Lainey’s vocals can be enjoyed on her brand new long-player, SAYIN’ WHAT I’M THINKIN’. 


Approaching the tenth anniversary of when she first rolled into Nashville in her camper, Lainey is a prolific songwriter and every song on this new collection has a piece of her heart running through it. Heralded as one of CMT’s (Country Music Television) Next Women of Country in 2019, and also featured on MusicRow’s Next Big Thing 2021 list, Lainey likes to call her sound ‘bell bottom country’, a style which blends traditional country with a funky but modern flair. In short, Lainey’s music, much like any encounter or experience with the lady herself, will leave you with a great big smile on your face, and with your world brightened immeasurably by the light she pours into life through everything she does. Am I a fan? Damn right, I am! And if you’re not one already as well, then you will be as soon as you hear Neon Diamonds – the opener on Sayin’ What I’mThinkin’ – kick in. Much like Lainey, it’s pure country bliss. 


Last week, I had the pleasure of spending some time in Lainey’s company when the release of Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin’ was just days away. With that personal and career milestone so close, and her schedule all kinds of crazy right now, I began our chat by asking Lainey what life was like as she counted down the hours until release day? 


“I am on cloud nine! I seriously cannot believe it that it’s about to be here, somethin’ that I’ve worked so hard for. My team have just worked their fingers to the bone for this, it feels good! I’m humbled and excited. This record is who I am, what I want to say, and how I want to say it. And it’s pretty damn cool that I can put something out to the world that is truly who I am.” 

I wondered how Lainey felt about her album coming into the world when the world itself is such a very strange place these days? 


“I think, more than ever, people need music. The power of music is really unbelievable, and the healing that it can really do. Music has always been that way. But clearly, it’s been a rough time for everybody around the entire world. And even though these songs specifically aren’t even talking about that, at least it’s a good place for people to kind of escape, or just kind of be in the moment.” 

As if an album release wasn’t enough for Lainey to be feeling excited about when we spoke, she was also getting ready to play the Grand Ole Opry again last Saturday night. The Opry not being somewhere that you can just rock up to on showday and wing it, I asked Lainey about how she was preparing for that big night…


“Oh absolutely it’s not! [laugh]. Honestly, when you just brought it up and reminded me, I got nervous all over again! [laughs]. It is so cool and I’m so excited that I’m being invited back, it really is an honour every single time. I dreamed about being up there when I was a little girl. I remember being nine years old, and I remember exactly where I was sitting in the crowd. We saw Bill Anderson, ‘Little’ Jimmy Dickens, Crystal Gayle, Phil Vassar…and I just knew, a crazy, crazy feeling came around me, that I was going to have the opportunity to do that. How do I prepare? [laughs] I don’t know if you can fully prepare, honestly [laughs]. It’s kinda one of those things where you just say a prayer, take a shot of whiskey, and do the thing! [laughs].” 

We’d only just gone past Valentine’s Weekend when Lainey and I spoke, and it was actually on St. Valentine’s Day last year that Lainey made her Grand Ole Opry debut. I asked her what was going through her mind just before she walked out on stage, and, after experiencing such a high, did she get any sleep at all when she got home that night? 


“[Laughs] It was truly unbelievable! And I was so nervous, and for weeks before it, leading up to my debut. But the crazy thing is that right when Terri Clark introduced me and I walked out there on that stage, I had this overwhelming feeling of peace and calmness all around me. It was a huge moment for me, but I felt like I was at home. That was just a reminder, ya know, that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. It makes me get emotional even talking about it, because it truly is one of the most magical places for country music. It IS THE most magical place for country music. To stand on that stage and be a part of it is…overwhelming!”

People often say that in some of the biggest moments of their lives everything seems to pass by almost in a flash and is over before they even know it. So I wondered if Lainey could actually recall being up on stage and in the middle of her performance that night? 


“Yes! As soon as I stepped foot inside that circle, it’s like the entire world just stopped turning, just for a second. And it was just like my dreams were seriously coming to fruition and that was just a huge step for me, and in my life. It made me feel like that nine year old little girl sittin’ out in the crowd wasn’t completely crazy [laughs]. It was just this weird, nostalgic feeling that this was what I was born to do. And damn it, I’m doin’ it! [Laughs].” 

Lainey has co-written every song on Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin’, and if anyone was to try and describe her in just one word, then I think ‘songwriter’ would have to be high on that list. Lainey has spoken before about how important a good hook is in her songwriting, and how that tends to be a starting-point for her more often than not. I asked Lainey how that songwriting process usually unfolds, and if she has a routine around her songwriting? 


“Ya know, the cool thing about songwriting for me is that it’s honestly different every single time I sit down in a writing room. Sometimes, the ideas fall out of the sky. Sometimes, the melodies fall out of the sky. Sometimes, you have to fight for it. I get a lot of my ideas just from listening to peoples’ conversations, just finding hools and words that draw me in and catch my attention. It’s so cool because I’ve been able to write with a lot of incredible songwriters here in Nashville who have just taught me so much. And I love being in the room with people who can teach me somethin.’ I want to learn somethin’ every single time I sit down. I’ve been able to learn how to put myself into the shoes of whatever it is that we’re writing. If we wanted to write about that tree outside or whatever, well, you put yourself into the shoes of that tree and write about how that tree is feelin.’ That’s so cool that you can do that with songwriting. It’s like acting for three or four hours or however long it is that it takes you to write the song. I will tell you the songs that end up sticking out for me, and the ones that I end up actually recording in the studio, are the ones that are the most real and true to me. The ones that I have gone through or experienced. It’s pretty cool. I mean, every single song on my record really is true to who I am, and down to my core tells my story.” 

Lainey had mentioned her nine year old self when we were talking about the Grand Ole Opry, and as it happens, there’s a particularly interesting line in her bio about how she also started writing songs at nine…about tequila and cigarettes! I reminded Lainey of that old writer’s adage, to write about what you know, and told her I hoped that wasn’t what she was doing back then! 


“[Laughs] That is so funny! Anthony, I’ve always been like an old soul, you could say. I sang that song when I was nine years old to my parents. And it definitely had tequila and cigarettes in and they were like, well first of all, we don’t have alcohol in the house and neither one of us smokes cigarettes, so we don’t know where this little girl picked this up! [Laughs]. But I’d been listening! I’m always super-aware. And I knew that I heard it in a few country songs, so I said hey, let’s put it in there! I don’t know what it means, but let’s put it in there [laughs].” 

What I, as a fan, love about Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin’, is that it clearly matches who Lainey is as a person. It’s country, inescapably and unapologetically. Honesty pours out of every lyric. A sense of fun runs through this whole collection of songs. And, you can tell that Lainey just wants fans to enjoy listening to it every bit as much as she enjoyed recording it. And I know this matches up with who Lainey is as a person because in every interview I’ve ever heard with her she manages to laugh, and have fun, while always staying true to the importance of the songs from a songwriter’s and a musician’s perspective. So what I wanted to know was how has Lainey managed to maintain the positive attitude and outlook on life that she so evidently has? As she closes in on her tenth year in Nashville, and is now becoming that proverbial ‘overnight success’, there must have been times along the way that were tough to navigate…


“There’s been times when I probably should have packed my bags and moved home. But I’ll tell you the truth, and tell you that that really has never crossed my mind. I’ve always known that this is what I was supposed to do. And I knew it was goin’ to take me a long time. In August, I’ll have been here for ten years. But it’s just one of those things, I’ve known it deep in my heart and in my gut, this is it. There’s no Plan B. I felt like if I had a Plan B, then Plan A wasn’t gonna work! [Laughs]. So, the things that have kept me goin’, first of all is prayer, for me. The second thing is little bitty steps in the right direction. Those are the things that would keep me going. When I see progress, I’m like, ‘Alright, one step closer! What’s next?’ Those are the things that seriously just keep me excited and happy. And also, ya know, just seein’ the reaction and the connection that people are makin’ to the music. THAT is a songwriter’s dream, to see people really gravitate towards what you poured your heart and soul into. It’s pretty magical. And it just keeps me on my toes and makes me want to continue doin’ it every day.” 

Speaking of songwriters and dreams, I had to ask Lainey about Ashley McBryde. I have always believed that every dreamer needs a believer in their corner, and Ashley has certainly been that for Lainey. I asked her about a particular conversation I knew the two had about this subject on Ashley’s tour bus one night, and also what having that kind of support of someone like Ashley means to Lainey for the kind of person she wants to be as well? 


“Ya know, I have looked up to Ashley McBryde for a long time. And I’ve also seen that it has taken her a really long time to kind of break through. It gives people like me the courage to just stick it out. More than anything, Ashley McBryde is extremely talented. And it’s very rare that you’ll find somebody who stands in your corner that’s just as kind as they are talented. And that is the definition of Ashley McBryde, I’m tellin’ you right now. She wants to see me win. It ain’t this competition thing, I mean, truly. With everything in her, she wants to see me win. Talkin’ about that story on her bus one night, I believe we were in..maybe…Texas? Shoot, i don’t even know. But we were on the road. And we were drinkin’ whiskey [laughs], cos’ you know, the truth comes out when the whiskey comes out! [Laughs]. We had been playin’ music on the bus and she grabbed my hand, and she said, ‘Lainey, I love you, and I believe in you, and I want to help pull you over this wall. But you gotta promise me that whenever you find somebody that you love and believe in as much as I love and believe in you, you’ll do the same exact thing.’ And that right there, is it. That’s really it! I plan on doin’ that when I can. It’s about supportin’ people, genuinely supportin’ people, and lovin’ ’em. I mean, at the end of the day, we all moved to Nashville with the same dream and the same goal. And we know just how bad each other truly does want it. There’s nobody like Ashley.” 

From a little town called Baskin, near Monroe in Louisiana, Lainey opened for the great American country star Tracy Lawrence in Monroe when she was just eighteen years old. Fast-forward to last year, and Lainey was on tour with Tracy and Justin Moore before Covid brought the world of ‘live’ music to a halt. I asked Lainey to tell me about being on the road with those guys, and especially about something which most people might not appreciate the significance of, the fact that both men would regularly stand side-stage and watch Lainey open each night’s show…


“It’s so crazy, ya know, like, the artists that I grew up listening to, having the opportunity to go on the road for people like them was a huge moment for me. But the cooler part about it all was becoming friends with these guys. I had a twenty-five minute set on stage, and every single time I played, they were there, side-stage, watchin’ me and cheerin’ me on. And when I’d walk off they’d give me a high-five. That also shows the same [kind of] character that Ashley has. It’s one of those things like, wow…never in a million years did I think Tracy Lawrence would be sharing his whiskey with me! [Laughs]. But it does make me feel like when I have the opportunity to stand side-stage for somebody and really help boost their confidence, then that’s what I’m gonna do. Because they [Tracy and Justin] will never understand how special those moments were for me.” 

That particular tour, of course, was cut short due to everything that’s been happening with Covid 19. But since Lainey has been off the road, she’s become a mama to a little fur-baby, a French bull-dog named Hippie! I asked Lainey how Hippie was getting on, and if, when everything gets back to normal, she’ll be getting back out there on the road with her? 


“Hippie is rotten! [Laughs]. Hippie is so rotten. That’s the word for her! But she’s so sweet, she’s my girl! And I’m hopin’ that if she can figure out this whole potty-training thing that she will be on the road with me! [Laughs].” 

When Lainey first went to meet her album producer, Jay Joyce, a gentleman who has also worked his magic with the likes of Keith Urban, Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert, and Brothers Osborne to name just a few, his two dogs were there to greet her that day. Just one of the stories I’d heard about Joyce was how he’d walk up to musicians literally while they were playing and slightly untune their guitars just to get a different sound. I asked Lainey to share a little bit about how her experience of working with the enigmatic producer had been…


“He really is a mad scientist! I knew, as soon as I went over there and hung out with him that first time, when he opened the door smokin’ a Marlboro Light in the middle of this sanctuary studio, I knew we were goin’ to be friends! He is just himself! And I feel like my best friends are the people who are unapologetically themselves. Those are the kind of people I gravitate towards. And we hit it off. It was one of those kind of kindred spirits moments. A lot of people told me, ‘Ya know, he’s scary! He wears a black trench-coat, lights his cigarette on a toaster!’ [Laughs]. I was like, oh gosh, I don’t know what to expect! [Laughs]. But truly, I just learned so much. I felt like I grew so much during that entire process. And I really did let Jay do his thing. It was just so cool seeing these songs come to life. He kinda like puts it all in a pot, puts a little fairy-dust on it, and voila!” 

Going back to Lainey’s songwriting and a link she has to a guy who has really been making a big name for himself amongst Irish country fans over these past few years, and that’s Luke Combs. Lainey was actually one of his first co-writers in Nashville, and Luke even cut a track they wrote, one called Sheriff You Want To. I asked her about her memories of those sessions with Luke…


“I knew from the get-go that Luke Combs has something special. I saw him play at Tin Roof Revival and he had not even moved to Nashville yet. But I knew that he had ‘it.’ At this point in time, I had absolutely nothin’ goin’ on. He had just started to get an underground following. We developed a friendship, and he would come over to my camper-trailer and we’d write songs. We were both really just learning how to write, and how to collaborate. And I’m a firm believer that two brains are better than one. I think it’s important to write by yourself every now and then, but it’s interesting to see all the different angles that come from two people being in a writing room. So like I said, we were just two kids in there tryin’ to figure it out. I’m so proud of how far he has come, and he truly is just also a great person. It’s so awesome to see him do so well.” 

In closing, I asked Lainey to share the best piece of advice she’s ever been given, or the biggest lesson that she’s ever learned when it comes to either songwriting or just life in the music business…


“The story that comes to my mind is this. I grew up riding horses. My daddy brought this horse home, and he was not ‘broke.’ Daddy was like, ‘Hey, Lainey, get on this horse.’ So I crawled up there, little Lainey! The horse started buckin’, and I was cryin’ to get down. I was like, ‘Let me off, let me off, I’m terrified.’ And he told me, hold on. And I held on. I’ve carried that with me into my adult life, and throughout this whole process. Because this really is a crazy ride! It’s got a lot of ups and downs, a lot of twists and turns. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s about. It’s about the ride. It’s about feelin’ it with your whole heart. And damn it, I’m holdin’ on! [Laughs].”

~ SAYIN’ WHAT I’M THINKIN’, the brand NEW album from LAINEY WILSON, is OUT NOW, available on all platforms. 

ENDS