The Last Mixed Tape recently caught up with songwriter and producer Gemma Dunleavy ahead of her headline show in Whelan’s on March 5th to speak about what inspires her music, her process and her collaborations.
“I work differently when I’m collaborating with someone.” Gemma remarks, speaking about the difference in approach from her solo output to her extensive collaborative works which include Murlo, Swing Ting and Cocteau Twins’s Simon Raymond. “I get to have a bit of fun with it, and think if I was in a movie, what does this scene look like? or, what type of personality does that scene need? And then I match what those colors or beats need. It’s kinda like creating an alter-ego.”
“But in my own work, I’m not trying tell my story inside someone else’s book.” Dunleavy continues. “So it’s more personal than that, it’s about my surroundings, my family, my community.”
Reflecting on her writing process, and how production on new music is currently taking shape in the studio, Gemma states, “In the past, how I worked on music was quite anti-social. I came to realize that I wasn’t enjoying making it over the last while. I realized the juxtaposition of how I am in music and how I am in life wasn’t making sense, and that was why my process wasn’t working for me. So I had to change that. That’s how I’m working now, I’m putting myself in situations that make me more open. I’m going into the studio with an no idea of how the songs will be at the end of it, but I know how I’m going to work on them. That’s what’s important to me right now.”
“I’m working a lot with Jack from Club Comfort, and that has been so nourishing for me. We played a show in Limerick, and even just hanging out before and after the show gave me this community of amazing people, and even though it sounds cheesy it’s like a family. And that’s what I grew up with, so it makes sense for me to seek that out in how I make my music. Even working on each others projects and building a network of people around me, makes me feel like “how did I ever do this without that sort of circle around me?”.
Gemma Dunleavy’s music is one of striking individuality in its voice (both lyrically and sonically) with the captivating ‘I Was Never Young But I’m Not Yet Old’ and her most recent single ‘Better 4 U’ capturing the imagination of many with a music that expresses her city through a truly unique prism. Speaking on what influences her, Dunelavy says, “I think you’ll never truly see yourself from someone else’s perspective, and if you keep second guessing about what is or isn’t your sound, you’ll end up thinking about the end product way too much. Where I’m from people don’t think about how they come across, and that’s the charm. They say what they mean. So if I stopped thinking about how my music comes across and more about how I feel when I’m creating it, that way it will always be true to who I am in that moment.”
Indeed, Gemma Dunleavy’s connection to her community shines through with the music video for ‘I Was Never Young But I’m Not Old Yet’ (see below) giving us a glimpse into the North Dublin Inner City area she grew up in, and includes family, friends and neighbors in the cast.
Speaking about the importance this has in her work, Gemma comments, “I come from an area where there’s real issues on your doorstep, growing up in area that was literally the epicenter of the heroin epidemic in the 90’s means that a lot of people you grew up with or that are in your family were affected by that. I feel like I have so much weight in my feelings that I don’t want to say anything lightly, I need to do that justice because I’m talking about a community that brought me up. I don’t feel a pressure to write about politics because where I grew up people are more concerned about who needs a house, who needs a drug program, real things. I think it would be a privilege to choose whether or not my music is political, for me it’s just what I am saying. Even my last song, it wasn’t political, but it still needed to stick to who I am and what my values are.”
“I grew up with people slamming my accent, my area, and the people I know.” Gemma elaborates, as she speaks passionately about her community and its ties with her songwriting. “In the past I’ve been very protective of my up bringing because it’s been shown in a bad light. But in reality it’s the best gift I could have ever got. So now I don’t just want to be protective of it, I want to shout it out. I do free singing classes and every time I end doing cart wheels coming out of it because I’m so proud and blown away by the talent the kids from my area have. People can put on all the street wear they want they want or put on a common accents and talk with all the slang like they’re from a working class area, but really having that soul or spirit is not something you can dress up with. And I feel it ties in with my music and the projects I am working on in my community”.
Tickets to see Gemma Dunleavy live in Whelan’s Upstairs venue on March 5th are priced at €15 including booking fee and are on sale now via ticketmaster.ie.