I’ve been a huge fan of Lisa O’Neill’s for a few years now, so when the opportunity to interview her for The Irish Times presented itself, I was delighted. Lisa is a truly unique and incredibly talented Irish musician and her latest album, Heard a Long Gone Song, is truly wonderful. My interview with Lisa is below.
It is notable that, when asked about her formative years, Irish folk musician Lisa O’Neill responds by saying that she accidentally poisoned herself when she was 18 months old by drinking rat poison.
“I don’t know why I’m telling you that,” she laughs. “But it’s all part of the journey. I mean, there are some of us who explore and there are some of us who play it safe. The safe has never suited me.”
That declaration is not entirely surprising for those who have listened to O’Neill’s haunting, melancholic and deeply affecting folk music. Across three albums – her 2009 debut, Has an Album, her breakthrough 2013’s Same Cloth or Not, and 2016’s Pothole in the Sky – O’Neill has always gravitated towards the unusual. Her subject matter is varied and often surprising. In one track from Pothole in the Sky, called Gormlaith’s Grieving, she sings from the perspective of Brian Boru’s widow. In another song, No Train to Cavan, from Same Cloth or Not, she sings about the lack of a rail service to her home county.
Her style is eclectic, but it is also marked by a profound sense of empathy for experiences that are both personal and foreign. Her new album, Heard a Long Gone Song, follows in that vein. “Safe” is not a word that would spring to mind.
Other than the rat poison incident, O’Neill lists a number of key experiences that have shaped her as a musician. She started playing the tin whistle when she was seven, and she has been told that she started talking “very early.”