As 2019 drew to a close and music sites published their top Irish tracks of the year, Rachael Lavelle was a name ubiquitous to most. Her song, Perpetual Party, released in September 2019 made its way into Nialler9, was reviewed to praise in The Quietus and earned her a spot in The Last Mixed Tape’s 10 Emerging Artists for 2020. Sitting here today, in a cafe in George’s Street Arcade, I am uncharacteristically nervous to meet this Dublin-based composer and sound artist. After her hypnotic performance at the launch of Maija Sofia’s album in December, I have listened to her two most recent singles, Perpetual Party and Eat Clean on a manic loop — and I’m worried I will be as stunned silent with admiration as the crowd were following her performance.
Lavelle’s music is purposefully absorbing. After studying a Masters in music and media technology at Trinity, she focused on expanding her production techniques in order to create “kind of dark soundscapes” by mixing technology with her voice to create a “sound world”. These skilled compositions beautifully uphold profound lyrics, through which she explores weighty themes like being lost in your twenties and wellness. She tells me that the subject of the music she’s currently making is a reaction to “getting a lot of information, constantly.” The song Eat Clean repeats the grimly funny line “I am lost on an elliptical machine.” “A lot of people laugh at that line,” she quips, “but it’s also kind of sad.” “There’s a lot of irony,” she notes, inspired by “watching vlogs of people telling you to live your life.” She laughs and admits that she is “kind of addicted” to said vlogs, but her interest in our age of “noise” is a crucial factor. Her humour refreshing, she even pretends to google “I have to sort my life out!”
“Using voices and soundscapes, Rachael Lavelle is creating soundworlds that are thrilling and new.”
She acknowledges this blend of humour and despair, emotions which, to many, encompass the helplessness felt at this age. She describes this stage of life as “not really knowing what you expect of yourself, having dreams/expectations about how your life will be and it doesn’t pan out like that.” “After performances people say woah! You’re so intense, she laughs. But it’s easy to understand why her young, contemporary audience can emotionally connect with her music and be startled by the comedy. “People respond to it in a really strange way,” she notices, “they’re like ‘are you being funny or are you being serious? I can’t tell. If you’re being funny that’s funny but if you’re being serious that’s really sad.’”
Lavelle’s music both sonically and cerebrally toys with its listeners: a song she performs which features a robotic voice is intended to “divorce emotion from the words; words just become words because they’re a computer saying words. People think it’s funny, and it can say really serious things as well.” This element of playfulness is evident in recent projects; she is currently recording an album but has continued composing for others. She talks about a piece she wrote for soprano Elizabeth Hilliard which she describes as a “smoothie piece.” When I ask what she means by that, she explains that “she made a smoothie on stage; we had all the ingredients and it was a piece I wrote for the Irish Composer’s Collective; it was to do with new beginnings/getting over a hangover, and I wrote a piece for her to sing — she was singing it while making a smoothie.” I can’t tell if she’s joking about the hangover. She also mentions a piece she composed for a four-tet based on a rollercoaster in Japan “which had the most inversions so I wrote the piece and then turned it around and it went backwards like a rollercoaster, it was really fun! I’m trying to do more things like that.
“These skilled compositions beautifully uphold profound lyrics, through which she explores weighty themes like being lost in your twenties and wellness.”
Using voices and soundscapes, Rachael Lavelle is creating soundworlds that are thrilling and new. I am not stunned silent, her quick wit and excitement when discussing current and future projects she’d be interested in — “I want to do a gig in a cave!” — is a relaxant.
Lavelle is currently working on an album entitled “Big Dreams.” Find her performing at the Quarter Block Party in Cork, opening for Spies on the 15th of February, and playing on the 28th of February at Whelan’s with Ritual Sea.