Ailbhe Reddy makes fuzzy alt-folk that’s the perfect hangover cure
Ailbhe Reddy tells us all about her second LP Endless Affair and why she doesn’t regret all of those open mics when no one was listening
For Dublin-born Ailbhe Reddy, music, writing, drinking and hangovers are all linked together, and all find themselves featured on her second LP Endless Affair. “When I wrote the album, I was working in a music shop, and I used to go for pints every single night after work. Really good craic, but oh my god, it takes its toll on you!” she tells us over zoom. “I used to go into work very hungover, and I used to print off blank receipts, and just write how my hangover was making me feel.”
“So many of the lyrics came from those little receipts, I constantly had them around,” she adds. And so, the feeling that a lot of Endless Affair captures is the one that comes alongside a brutal hangover. The trundling undertow of: ‘oh fuck, did I really say that?’.
Lockdown saw Ailbhe looking back at that feeling with a new perspective.. “I was already writing about that topic – drinking songs, or even despairingly hungover songs, are almost a subgenre. But then, with lockdown, it was all I wanted to do – just go out, but I couldn’t. I’m a very social person, I was feeling so packed in. It was all I could write about as it was all I was thinking about. I was examining all that stuff in this really heavy way.”
“I remember taking out a box that I had a keyboard in, and the bottom was stuffed with receipts that were just full of like, basically me despairing, hungover in work. Employee of the month…”
That’s not to say the whole album is steeped in regret. “I was also analysing the positives. Songs like Inhaling, there are positives of that young wildness that you kind of feel at certain points in your life, when you don’t know if it’s the last summer you have where you’re an absolute mad thing.”
Songs like Last To Leave strike a balance between the two, honing in on the most dramatic and overblown side of hungover regret. “To me it’s totally tongue-in-cheek, but performing it I’ve noticed it’s totally dependent on the audience. If you play that to a crowd on Saturday night, they’re like ‘woo!’ – on a Sunday night, they’re like ‘woah…’ So the song acts as a mirror. And that can be very funny or very scary.”
“I love pub culture. I love it, you know? I love the social part of it. But there’s some of it that, as you get older, you examine and go like, oh , is it weird that this is my go-to activity as an adult? Like, shouldn’t I be going to a fucking museum or something?”
A Gig’s A Gig
In Dublin, as with a lot of places, drinking and music are pretty inseparable. “All my first gigs were singer-songwriter nights in pubs – and you got paid in booze. It’s part of like, getting to know other musicians, but everything is tied to drink companies and the drink companies assume worldwide are the ones who are like sponsoring things. Which is like, great and awful in equal measure, depending on what way you’re looking at it.
“I don’t know if we’ll ever get them apart. And especially pub culture in Dublin, you know, like, I grew up learning Irish tunes, like from like, the Dubliners, stuff you’d hear being played in the pub down the road. The first time I ever jammed was with my uncle, who played in a pub band.”
There are, of course, some advantages to cutting your musical teeth in pubs. “Nothing teaches you to disassociate and just play the game like playing open mic nights where no one is listening. It gives you a thicker skin. I know people who have skipped that step and I find it wild. It makes you look at the good gigs that you do differently, too.
“It’s like wow, I can’t believe people are like, filling this room and are really into it. And those are more and more frequent, and that feels really, really good. But then I also have the skillset to be like, if you do end up being booked on something not great, and people aren’t listening, you’re able to just power through. Especially when you’re playing solo or anything, it’s a good thing to remember. Like not not here, in fact, so sometimes it can be a bit tough. So I’m glad that I know how to just be like, ’that’s fine! A gig’s a gig!’”
Going through the ringer of solo acoustic gigs also informed Ailbhe’s direct, lyrics-forward songwriting approach. “I’m totally just hiding behind music to get my thoughts across. That’s what I love in songs, you know, it can sound really good. But if the lyrics are throwaway, I don’t like it. I’m the lyrics-first kind of person.
“I usually come at a song with a concept rather than a riff or a chord progression. Like Last To Leave, for example, had the concept of being the last to leave a party, what that feels like, that kind of arrogance almost going in thinking ‘I know I’m going to be a total pain in the ass.’ I normally try to approach it by just building a track out from lyrical ideas.”
Sometimes this means building sounds that balance out the tone of the lyrics. “For I’m A Mess, I had all of these hangover lyrics I had written on my little receipts. But sonically, I definitely wanted to start with that weird tch, tch, tch, tch snare hit. I just thought it was such a weird way to start a song. And that descending guitar line was so central to the song – it’s so goofy, especially a song like that, where you read the lyrics and it’s this serious thing, like ‘oh, god…’.
“It’s kind of meant to be a bit petulant – I don’t actually believe what’s said in those lyrics, they’re just stupid little insecurities being levelled at somebody else. You kind of need the music to balance that out. So I tried to figure out the dorkiest guitar sound I could possibly get away with.”
But writing concept-first isn’t a hard-and-fast rule. “Every once in a while you get a song that just comes out – it’s not planned. Those are the lovely ones like Pray For Me. That, I just sat down one day, and I was noodling on guitar, and that song just came out in 20 minutes. And that’s special, because it’s not heavily edited or contrived.”
Not all of Endless Affair is as stripped-back and raw as Pray For Me. Like so many great indie-folk records, it’s peppered with extra instrumentation, with horn and synth lines augmenting acoustic and electric guitar parts. “I guess that comes from the people I was listening to when I wrote the album, from 2019 to early 2020. A lot of Julia Jacklin, and Andy Shauf, he has loads of brass in his stuff. And Villagers, another Irish band. I had a friend who played trumpet, and I was like ‘would you ever think of doing something for me on some demos, just to try it out?’”
“So we ended up doing that on a few of the demos for this record. On the more playful songs, the ones I felt were tongue-in-cheek, they same space was filled out by a synth sound – and for the songs that were more earnest, we had the trumpet. So it’s balancing interesting production elements, while also not losing the bones of the song. The best thing about this style of music is – if you take away all those elements, you still have the song. I would never put a song on an album that I don’t think I could get away with just playing a guitar and me.”
Given the financial reality of touring in 2023, writing songs that stand up without all of their production is an important consideration. “On tour, we play all of those songs with just a three-piece. I mean, it’d be amazing to bring the brass section at some point – but needs must, y’know! Travelling around the US, it could only be as many people as we can fit in the car with the backline.”
Ailbhe says that, in general, touring post-COVID is “as challenging as ever. People are struggling a bit more, so it’s harder to sell tickets, that kinda stuff. But then – you’re kind of a bit more grateful for it, I guess? I was meant to be doing the tour I’m doing now three years ago, and there was a stretch of time where it seemed like gigs just weren’t going to be a thing anymore. You can bitch and moan, trying to organise things on a budget, but you have that thing to fall back on where you go, ’the whole time you were sitting inside this is all you wanted to do – so make the most of it!”
As Ailbhe looks down the barrel of a tour, writing new material isn’t her main priority, but she’s taking inspiration from musicians who really embody being a songwriter.. “I’m listening to a lot of Big Thief at the moment – Adrienne Lenker is a freak and seems to just be always writing for Big Thief, for side projects and so on – so there’s constantly stuff coming out from her. which I think is very cool. I like those songwriters that are constantly just looking for new songs. I love that. It’s so much, as a fan, to keep up with. Which I think is so fucking cool. I have such respect for it.”
“I’m hoping to start writing a new record maybe at the end of the year. Ideas are starting to percolate for sure. But probably won’t get around to it until touring is finished. I’m wrapping up in Dublin – we’re doing two shows in Whelan’s, the last one is on May sixth. And after those, I’d say the hangover I’ll have on the seventh might be worth a whole third album!”
Ailbhe Reddy’s new album, Endless Affair, is set to release on March 17.