Riona Sally Hartman interview – Q&A

Riona Sally Hartman

Singer-songwriter Riona Sally Hartman is an artist with a defined sense of musical style, born out of jazz and folk leanings that culminate in a sound that is entirely her own. With the release of her debut studio album Big Starving Thing forthcoming, Hartman took the time to speak to T.L.M.T. about songwriting, storytelling and her current Fund:it campaign. 

You’re about to release your debut album Big Starving Thing. What can you tell us about the experience of making your first full length solo record?

It’s been incredible! I did most of the recording about two years ago and only recently was able to get back into studio to finish it, all that time marinating the songs has just made them all the tastier. It can be really difficult to have an objective ear when you’re producing your own album but the time away from it has really given me that.

How would you compare the album to your last E.P. Sealegs?

The album is a much more ambitious project, not just in terms of length but the production, arrangements, instrumentation, songwriting…etc. is all much more ambitious than the EP. I’ve been non stop solidly gigging, recording, studying and teaching music since we recorded my EP and I’ve got a much more cohesive vision of the music I want to make and a better understanding of how to make it than I did then.

In videos for your Fund:it campaign you’ve spoken about characters in your songs. What is it about creating these personas that interests you as a songwriter?

Yeah so most of the songs on the album have accompanying micro stories (very condensed little short stories) based on fictional characters. There’s a romantic voyeur called Mr Tom Peeping, there’s a woman called The Screamer (have a guess why!) a telepathic mother and son…etc. The characters are each like perfect little crystallisations of an idea so they’re a great tool for communicating a story succinctly. I think a little bit of fiction can sometimes help to tell a much bigger truth.

And I’ve never really had much interest in writing diaristic music, for me it’s always been about trying to communicate big ideas and I think sometimes personal details can distract from that. It’s like when you’re watching a famous actor in a movie and you can’t suspend belief enough to invest in the character coz the whole time you’re thinking ‘that’s not a soldier that’s Brad Pitt! I saw a photo of him eating his breakfast in a magazine this morning”, it can be like that with songs: people hear personal details in a song and start thinking about who it’s about rather than what it’s about. It can distract them from hearing what the songwriter is actually trying to say sometimes.

The album title comes from a lyric of mine: “I want my words to eat me like a big starving thing” and that’s the crux of it really: I want it to be about the work, about the ideas, not about me. I think the fictional characters come from that.

What is you are trying to raise money for with Fund:it? What kind of rewards does the campaign offer funders?

I’m trying to raise the funds to master and print the album. The recording and mixing is mostly done, only a few tweaks left to do there, and the artwork is nearly finished. I’m so looking forward to holding a physical copy in my hand, with a project like this where there are stories and songs that go together there’s such a big difference between a digital and a physical copy.

I kept the fund it campaign short and the rewards quite simple: digital downloads, CDs, tickets to the Dublin launch and invites to a once off exclusive listening party. The invites to the listening party are very limited and I’ve a few surprises up my sleeve for that one so that’ll be great fun.

Do you like the idea of the Fund:it model? Do you think it helps to support artists?

I think an audience funding a creative project is a brilliant model and some artist like Imogen Heap and Becca Stevens have done it brilliantly. I’m a big fan of both of them so I really enjoyed their campaigns and the way they involved their audience meant I really did feel involved and invested in the albums. Now that I’m on the other side of the fence I can see that i wasn’t naive to feel invested; the funders really do have an important role to play and not just because of the money but also because by raising their hands they’re showing that there is a demand for creative music.

It seems to me like crowd sourcing/crowd funding online is very new territory and we haven’t quite figured it all out yet but the possibilities are exciting.

What do you have planned following the album’s the release? Will their be a single in the build up?

There’ll definitely be a launch in Dublin and then hopefully an Irish tour. No dates confirmed but you can sign up for the mailing list at to keep posted. Also I’m hoping to get over to New York in 2015 to do some gigs and introduce Mr Tom Peeping to some audiences across the pond.

There is already one song from the album available on bandcamp called ‘Frida Kahlo’s Delight’ (although it will be a slightly different version on the album) and I’ll be putting up lots of videos up with snippets of the songs and stories during the campaign.

For more information on Riona Sally Hartman’s Fund:it campaign click here

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