Aoife Meade, the Laois songwriter that is breaking boundaries

Peter O'Neill

Sat in a bathrobe and pyjamas in her kitchen getting ready for her show tonight in Limerick City, Aoife Meade ponders the question of why she uses so many different instruments by herself on stage.

“It kind of stems back to secondary school where I thought I’d never reach that level of comfort with an instrument. For me and myself, I just take an instrument and write a song.”

Aoife delivers this line like everything else she does. Honestly and with a lust for life.

Secondary school is where her desire to perform for people also comes from. A close friend of hers who knew her then, Hannah Scott, recalls the moment she realised Aoife would always have music in her life.

Before a school talent show, their Home Economics teacher asked Aoife to sing acapella after finding out she was entering. When she obliged, Hannah said her immediate thought was “Holy sh*t, that girl can sing.”

Aoife then won the competition singing Valerie by Amy Winehouse. “I didn’t want to hear her for a long time after that, I’d always be asked by relatives to sing ‘that song from the show,’” Aoife laughs.

Cut to present day and she’s come a long way from that Laois home economics class. Her debut album “Bird of Prey” released in September last year touches on multiple genres and influences such as jazz, spoken word and folk.

One poetic number, “Slumber”, is a stand-out. Conjuring elements of Jim Morrison’s “American Prayer” and “Lose Yourself” by Eminem in the themes of the song, she delivers an emotional spoken-word rebuke of societal pressure on young artists.

The torrent of thoughts sprawled over a looming landscape of sound announce Aoife’s fears and frustrations in devoting her life to music. This holds further sway when you consider the fact that Aoife’s Bachelor’s degree is in Voice and Dance, which she completed last year.

“College seemed so natural, it was like the next step,” Aoife said. “I’m so glad that I had music in secondary school cause I know a lot of people didn’t.”

Although she says she knows that they didn’t mean it, she admits that her song “Slumber” was partly written as a response to jokes from friends in STEM courses about her not doing a real course.

“They make that joke constantly, and most of the time it brushes off… but sometimes it’s hard not to think about it,” she divulges. “Also I was graduating soon when I wrote it so you know.”

Like most great artists, this isn’t apparent when Meade is onstage. Performing at a venue below a bar, she commanded the stage brilliantly despite the challenge of being the opening act of three different indie artists.

A member of University of Limerick’s drama club, her stage presence from acting, along with natural talent, shines under the small spotlight. Although this a pub show, she’s playing as if it’s the 3Arena.

Another highlight of the album and her live shows is ‘Juniper’; a smooth, relaxing, beat-driven track, which has the power to relax the most excitable of Labradors or even an addict dying for their fix.

“I wrote that in about a half-hour,” she laughs, “but it was the first time that I let myself make a pop song.”

“I had a friend from years ago that was way into music who was very against electronic sounds, so I had that ingrained in me. But when I went to write Juniper, I thought well the sounds are there so why not!”

This is even more impressive when it becomes apparent that she plays all of the instruments herself for her show, swapping between the ukulele and guitar, before finishing with three songs with a backing track to provide rhythm.

“I am the type of person to pick up an instrument and be like cool! I’m going to do something with this” she says with a hint of self-deprecation. “I’ll take any instrument and write a song.”

The highlight of the set is a song written about Aoifes’ dearly departed childhood dog that ensures the full attention of the crowd. The chorus’s refrain of “I’m so sorry”, speaks of the simple sadness of losing a furry best friend.

The storytelling and emotion in this song evoke a strange mixture of Randy Newman and Lana Del Rey. An odd combination but much like her other genre-bending numbers, it works.

“More often than not it [the songwriting process] just kind of starts from nowhere, but when it gets going I put the intention to it and then I know where it’s finally going.”

It’s this honesty she brings to her music that those close to her highlight as her strongest attribute as a songwriter. No pretension,  just expression.

Although she’s realistic about how hard it is to be an artist, like most musicians she is a dreamer, and one that strives to resist being boxed in to just one genre and to celebrate her uniqueness. “I think she doesn’t believe enough in herself sometimes, but I think she’s on her way to that,” says Scott.

With the sheer talent onstage and the intelligence and enthusiasm displayed in conversation, it’s hard to imagine that she won’t.

Peter O’Neill

Image Credit: Peter O’Neill