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Q&A | Dowry speaks to the Last Mixed Tape ahead of TLMT 5

ená brennan (photo by stephen white) 21 (1)

Multi-instrumentalist, composer and songwriter Dowry (Éna Brennan) will perform as part of the Last Mixed Tape’s 5th Birthday celebrations at the Sound House on February 7th. Ahead of next month’s show Brennan recently took the time to speak to TLMT about what she’s listening to, what inspires her music and future plans. 

What’s the last record you bought?
Until yesterday I had not bought a record in quite some time… Once a month I put together an hour long list of music for my DDR radio show, all of which feature string instruments in some interesting capacity. This list exists first as a private Spotify playlist, then I purchase the songs via the various available platforms before compiling them into a show. More often than not I just purchase the song I want to feature but sometimes an album grabs me.

The most recent example of this is Laurie Anderson’s Landfall, easily one of my favourite releases of 2018. I bought it online a while back and yesterday I picked it up in a record store. It’s a 30track beast of an album coming in at just over one hour of music featuring the illustrious Kronos Quartet, electronics and Laurie’s spoken voice. It’s a stunning collection of musical fragments which convey a post-catastrophic stillness and reflection which you could apply to any disastrous global event. Laurie and her music hangs in this no-(wo)man’s land suspended slightly outside of our atmosphere, our little planet but a small part of the view from her window frame.

What’s the last song you played on Spotify?
Gold, the eleventh and bonus track from Chelsea Wolfe’s Unknown Rooms: A Collection of Acoustic Songs (2012). I’m hooked to this album. It’s so haunting.

What inspires your music?
I am fascinated by timbral transformation; detaching a sound from its recognisable source. I love the challenge of identifying instruments in other people’s music and love when an artist takes one and turns it into something totally unrecognisable. I have a lot of fun discovering various sounds that I can make with the violin, with or without electronics, and get very inspired when I come across an interesting or new one! I’ve played around with the voice in this capacity as well but not for a while so I want to do more of that this year. My starting point for a song tends to be an underlying texture (this could manifest itself as a drone or melodic pattern) and then I dip into my book of words to see what story could best join that sound. Sometimes the pairings change but I like that a song can take different shapes as they develop!

How was ‘In É’ written and recorded?
In É was born out of improvisation. I was tremendously nervous when I first took to the stage (or corner of the bar) on my own as Dowry and found comfort beginning a set with violin improv using only a couple of pedals. I would start every show like this, and after a while certain ‘on the spot’ decisions began to reoccur; the key, starting note, rhythmic structure etc. It gradually turned into a repeatable piece. So you could say that I wrote it on the job!

Once it felt solid I approached Stephen Dunne (a wonderful engineer who I had worked with many a time through Tandem Felix) and we set aside a few hours to record it in Lamplight Studios. It actually ended up being the last session of that studio before sadly another Dublin creative space bit the dust. We recorded it as it’s performed and the 7th take was the one! The working title at the time was ‘In The Beginning’ but thankfully I changed that to In É just before uploading the file to streaming platforms. It’s still the only track I have officially released in the last year/ever but I promise to kick into gear to follow it up soon…

What has been a standout moment for you touring and performing as Dowry?
I have been so fortunate this year with the gigs I have had the chance to play! Dowry tends to appear in many different guises and forms which makes each moment hard to compare but I think the one I’m going to go with is the music trail performance I played with Stephen Tiernan (guitar) and Rory White (cello) in An Díseart as part of Other Voices Dingle. I have played many solo and a couple of full band shows which have been very special but this particular Dowry trio setup has really clicked into place, and that OV performance was our first go at it. It was amazing to play in such a beautiful space and I still can’t get over passing people already queueing to come see us as we rocked up to soundcheck. The three of us have played a few shows together at this point and this edition of Dowry is one I’m quite excited about.

What are your plans for 2019?
More releases! It’s time… oh and a big gig to blow everyone’s socks off. Stay tuned…

Tickets to TLMT 5: Sorcha Richardson / Jackie Beverly / Dowry live at the Sound House on February 7th are priced at €10 and are on sale now via Eventbrite. Doors are at 8pm.

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