Gráinne Hunt is an Irish singer songwriter, who’s talents have seen her tour across Europe and the US and release three full length albums in total, two solo, one in collaboration with Brendan Walsh on ‘Songs From Ireland’.
So how is one of Ireland’s hardest working musicians finding the imposed chill time? I found out from a totally more than 2 metre safe distance.
Hello, who are you and where are you right now?
Hey there! So I’m Gráinne Hunt. I’m singer and songwriter (and oft times knitter!) based in Kilcock in Kildare Currently I am at my kitchen table.
Firstly, you’re a proper working touring musician. How are you coping with lockdown?
‘Proper’ is an interesting word choice!! But yes, I am definitely a working touring musician, though now it feels like it’s all a bit unknown. I’ve had gigs cancelled from the first weekend of the country beginning to lock down, when I was supposed to travel to London with Kila for the Patrick’s Day Festival at the London Irish Centre, and since then it’s been a bit of a domino effect. I had a German tour in April cancelled, Swiss tour in May, and going forward 3 short German tours that would have been 9 gigs over June and August cancelled. Not to mention the only other work I’ve done the last couple of years – Festival Admin – out the window! I’ve looked at rescheduling some of the gigs for later this year, but am not sure if even that will happen at this stage.
I’m sort of resigned to that fact now, and am trying to use my time well. I’ve just started The Artist’s Way with a group in the US and I’m really enjoying that so far. This week I had a singing lesson with an amazing Irish singer, Gemma Sugrue. I’m doing some online collaborations too. I’m lucky enough that I’m helping my sister out with my nephews too, so I’m getting some family time in too, which is great!
You did a livestream with the hashtag #IrelandPerforms in conjunction with Culture Ireland, FMC and Facebook. With this new norm, how do you make a livestream memorable not only for the viewer, but also yourself. You don’t want to feel like your just singing to a camera.
I was so delighted to have been chosen as one of the artists for #IrelandPerforms – I think it was a great initiative. I had applied hoping to be accepted so that I could do the stream as a replacement for my German tour that had been cancelled, but didn’t get the confirmation in time for that. I ended up doing a stream about 10 days before my #IrelandPerforms one in line with my German dates. While it wasn’t ideal to have two quite close together, I think it made me way more comfortable in front of the camera, and with the idea that there was no audience and there would be no interaction at all.
I live on my own, so there was no one here to tell me who was tuned in, or what people were saying, so it was literally just me and the phone! I was definitely more comfortable for the #IrelandPerforms gig, and actually enjoyed it way more than the first gig.
As they were so close together time wise, I wanted to figure out a way to connect with the audience, so I really looked at my set and decided to tell different stories and introduce people to some of my co-writers. Set up wise, I took the whole thing quite seriously and did a sound and lighting check to make sure that the room looked well and that the lighting worked. I moved furniture about and created a little nook and I have kept the corner of the room that way as I quite like it! I definitely think that as artists we need to treat it like a proper gig, think about the staging, the setting, the lights and even how we dress. I have to say it was lovely to get my gig-face on for it!
You’re from Co. Monaghan but you live in Co. Kildare, what’s the best thing about both places?
I think the best thing about Monaghan, specifically my hometown Carrickmacross, is family and friends – you can be away for a while, but always come back to open arms and catch-ups like you’ve never been away!
As for Kildare, I’ve been living here for about a year and a half. I lived in Dublin for long periods of time over the last 17/18 years, and I loved it, but I thought getting away from the city but still being close would allow me to be more productive. While I’m still working on that, I love being here. I’ve got some really great friends living nearby, I have lovely neighbours and live in a quiet cul de sac and the village is small but friendly. We’re on the banks of the Royal Canal and I get out along that as much as I can.
Has Germany become a home from home for you? It seems to treat you well.
Germany has been really good to me over the last couple of years! I did about 20 shows there last year, and I’ve discovered that everytime I go, I meet more people, and make more connections for more gigs. It’s constantly expanding, slowly but surely, and it’s made me realise that to get further there, I need to spend more time there, which I’m happy to do. What’s also happened is that I’ve made real friends in the people I’ve met there which is something really special. I haven’t managed to pick up much German though, thanks to their impeccable English!
‘This Secret’ your latest album, was released in late 2019. It was recorded in Nashville. What was your Nashville experience like?
Nashville was nothing short of amazing! I had an incredible experience. I met the producer Thom Jutz at the seminars at Belfast Nashville in early 2018. He was so laid back and cool, and talked about how easy it was to record in Nashville – how quick it was, how great the musicians were and how he worked and he totally sold it to me. I messaged him afterwards and told him I’d be interested maybe in coming over, but had no idea when, but would keep in touch with him. He was keen and liked what I’d sent him so that was a good start! A few weeks later, and months before I had even decided to actually go to Nashville, I randomly met a couple, Sharon and Chris, at the Rubysessions (the night Theo Katzman played!) and they were from Nashville. We were chatting and I said that I might go to Nashville to record, and they immediately invited me to stay with them.
Fast forward to August, things had changed financially, I had to move out of the apartment I was renting in Dublin and had moved in with my sister and her family. I was trying to figure out what to do – if I should set up as self-employed or get a ‘real’ job. I opted for the former when a couple of music things came along, and looked at my calendar for the rest of the year and realised I had a window when I could travel to the US (about 6 weeks later) and I got in touch with Thom. We discussed budget and instrumentation, then dates and made a plan. I would be in Nashville for about 7 days, and we’d scheduled 5 of those for studio, knowing we had some additional time if we needed it. I booked flights! I also made a trip of it, heading to LA for a week before and Portland for a week after. Travelling to the US is always an interesting one, as I have been stopped and questioned before, so I get serious anxiety in the days leading up to departure and full on do no believe that I will actually make it at all. Thankfully the Immigration Official was lovely and sent me on my way with ‘Maybe next time you’ll be famous!’ as I told him I was going to record.
After a week in LA, I was Nashville bound. I flew in, picked up my rental and headed for Sharon and Chris’ house. In true serendipitous circumstances, they live only 30 mins from the studio on the East side of Nashville. I couldn’t have been better located! Sharon and Chris played a huge part in my Nashville experience – they were so welcoming and I spent any time that I was not in studio with them. I didn’t have a typical Nashville experience, but I had a really special one staying with them. Anyway!
On day one, I headed over to Thom’s studio and we spent a couple of hours charting out the songs for the musicians arrival the next day. Day 2 was drums and double bass, Thom on guitar and me, all playing live together for the morning, from 10-1 for 7 tracks. I had said that I would like to lay my guitar and vocals separately, so that I could focus on each fully so with the band all laid down we spent the afternoon laying down my guitar parts, and Thom adding some additional guitars and keys here and there. Day 3 we did 4 live songs, just Thom and I, two guitars and my vocals, and we spent the rest of the morning on the remaining vocals and harmonies. Thankfully I had a good vocal day! We spent the afternoon mixing 7 or 8 of the tracks, and finished them off the next morning. It was a whirlwind, but an easy comfortable one! I really think of the record as a snapshot of that time there!
Not only are you a solo artist, you’ve recently collaborated with Brendan Walsh to release ‘Songs from Ireland’. How did the project come about and how did you choose which Irish classics would be included?
So Brendan and I met at NUI Maynooth in 2000 when we both started our BA (Mus) there. We struck up a friendship that mostly involved me calling by his house daily on the way into class to wake him and bring him with me to class. We never actually played any music together while we were there. Over the years we fell out of touch, but about 5 years ago, with the wonder of the internet we came back into communication. Brendan had been living in Switzerland for years, playing music with his band The Led Farmers, but it was like we’d never been out of contact once we started chatting. Knowing I was playing more music than I had been since university, he asked me would I be interested in singing some songs with him for a festival his father organised in Co. Clare, the Shannonside Winter Music Festival.
Over whatsapp and email we picked a repertoire and Brendan arranged songs for the opening concert of the festival. We played a mix of some folk songs and a couple of my songs. On the night, we nailed it. It went down a treat, and Brendan decided that maybe it would be a good idea for us to record some of the songs and release a record together.
In choosing songs, we both brought different songs to the table, and some made the cut and some didn’t! It was easy to be fair – there are so many songs that could have been included, that we’ll look at including the next time. We did think initially that we would pick songs that were in the public domain and stay clear of any licencing issues, but then some of the songs we really wanted to include needed licencing, so I just dealt with it and sorted it out! In May 2018 I travelled over to Luzern for a week to record and make some promo videos for the record. It was another quick process. We were in the gorgeous Soundville Studio and recorded live over 2 days. We had a special set up in studio with perspex walls between Brendan and I so we could see each other, but as much as possible not have the sound bleed into each others’ mics.
Once the record was finished we decided to launch a FundIt campaign as a means to pre-sell the album. It was a massive success, reaching our target quickly and going beyond. Songs from Ireland was released in April 2019 with thanks to many funders!
Is this a project that you will both take into the future?
Absolutely! This week we released a video that we worked on over the internet and we used it to launch our Facebook page. We’re going to do a song a month like this for the foreseeable future, and we’ll be looking at making another album in 2021. We have some ideas for expanding the project too, so we’ll see what happens!
You released your first long player, Firing Pin, in 2015. Releasing a debut is a big thing. What were the most important things you learned from the process?
The record came about because I’d met a guy called James Cramer, from the band Tupelo. He’d reached out to me on Twitter about me doing a guest vocal with his band (which we never actually did!) and we ended up chatting about writing together. A few weeks later and we’re hanging out and writing. He’s a really motivated forward moving guy, always thinking and he really just encouraged me to get it recorded. It hadn’t really occurred to me that I could just do that, and he really just made it sound so simple. So I would definitely say to anyone who is thinking about getting into studio to do it. What are you waiting for? If you’ve got the songs, get in and get them down so you can start working on the next ones!
Also I’ve learned not to be precious about things – don’t spend days listening to mixes and focusing on small things that might not be perfect. There’s beauty in imperfection, and the recording captures a moment in time, so allow that moment to be represented!
What albums from other artists would you suggest we check out to see how you got to here on your musical journey?
Joni Mitchell –Blue
Tom Waits –Closing Time
John Martyn –Solid Air
A Woman’s Heart
Anything by The Dubliners
The Frames – Fitzcaraldo
Glen Hansard –Rhythm and Repose
Damien Rice – O
John Sith – Great Lakes
Tom McRae – Tom McRae
John Mayer –Born and Raised / Paradise Valley
Brandi Carlile – By the way, I forgive you
What is your songwriting process like?
I tend to accumulate ideas, loads of little small melodic and chord ideas and record them in my phone, while adding bits of lyrics here and there if I’m feeling something at the time. Sometimes they can be complete songs from a structural point of view, with all the melody parts and chords, but little or no lyrics. They tend to hang out on the phone for a while before I come back to them really, as I feel I have more musical ideas than lyrical ones. I’m currently doing the Artist’s Way which encourages morning pages (a three page brain dump before you start your day) and I’ve found this in one thing that gets me writing – the more I write, the more I write – if that makes sense.
If I can, I’ll take myself away somewhere to write – I’ve taken some gorgeous Airbnbs in remote places without distraction to just focus on finishing some of the things I’ve started and feel that helps. I’m always trying to figure out a way to do that at home – but there are more distractions here. I also do co-writes which is a whole other story really, as you’re inviting someone else and their process into the equation – so it ends up being a balance of how I do it and how they do it, with some give and take (and hopefully not a tug-of-war!)
You’ve been on tour with a number of artists, what’s the most amazing place you’ve played so far?
I have to say, the first time on the Olympia stage still gives me the feels. I was asked by MCD last year to open for Ms Gladys Knight (for two nights!) and I honestly spent two days on the verge of tears ahead of it. It was amazing! I’ve also opened for Eagle Eye Cherry (him and his band were beyond sound!), The Bay City Rollers (great craic) and Kane Brown (didn’t meet him, but great show!!). I’ve also been lucky enough to share the stage with our own Glen Hansard on a few glorious occasions at home and abroad – impromptu shout outs, stage crashing as I’ve come to call it and serious harmony fests!
You’ve launched a Patreon page to help support your artform. What will supporters get from this?
So I launched my Patreon a while back, and haven’t really been pushing it very hard! It’s one of those things that I struggle with!! But, anyone who signs up for my Patreon will get access to Patreon only content. All videos that I’ve uploaded have been created specifically for my Patreon subscribers, so it’s completely exclusive content! I’ve been doing my own songs and throwing in a cover or two here and there. My plan is to provide better video content and expand on how I make the videos – recording the audio and video separately and editing it all together.
If people can purchase an album, where is the best place for them to buy it, so it will benefit you?
My solo records are available on Bandcamp – https://grainnehunt.bandcamp.com/
But due to licencing, Songs from Ireland is not available online to download. We only have the licence for physicals and streaming, so if anyone would like a Songs from Ireland record, drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can work it out.
The world landscape has changed, what are you looking forward to doing once we reach the future normal?
From a musical perspective I’m looking forward to being able to play gigs, of course, and being in rooms with people where we chat and move about without restrictions.
Personally, I’m looking forward to seeing friends and getting some hugs – heading out for some brunch and coffee and catching up with people in real life and not on a screen!
Send us a selfie?