Hailing from the depths of Connacht, singer-songwriter Étáin has crafted a trademark songwriting style, and boasts a delicate yet commanding voice filled with light and shade. Speaking to Trinity News, she discusses the Trinity music scene, her inspiration and the perils of navigating the Irish music industry as a woman.
The age-old transition from country to city life has inspired Étáin’s music in recent years. She notes that there has been a distinct shift in her style of songwriting since her move to Dublin to begin her studies at Trinity. However, Étáin believes that this shift may be due to the insight this change has given her rather than the location itself. She explains: “Having lived in both a rural and urban setting has been important all the same, because together, both contexts give way to that blend between the poetic and the conversational that I think is very important for my songwriting.”
“Hailing from the depths of Connacht, singer-songwriter Étáin has crafted a trademark songwriting style, and boasts a delicate yet commanding voice filled with light and shade.”
Her immersion in the college music scene has nurtured this inspiration, offering a rush of warmth amid an industry which she notes is “often particularly cold.” Reflecting on her surroundings, Étáin says that: “it has been amazing to be in an environment full of people from different backgrounds, with different experiences, outlooks, and ways of expressing themselves. That really contributes to your own outlook and how you process everything you’re seeing and feeling which, of course, has a big impact on your songwriting.”
All things considered, Étáin’s primary inspiration remains the sentimental, and her “strongly-held belief that songwriting is a form of emotional advocacy.” She holds onto the long-honoured openness of the songwriting tradition, musing that “songwriting is a great unifying force that never really leaves anyone behind and that is what the world really needs right now.” With landmark influences such as Joni Mitchell, Rickie Lee Jones and Joan Armatrading, it is clear how Étáin formed such a steadfast musical ethos, centred in storytelling and a disarming flow of vulnerability. Other influences including Sinéad O’Connor and Kate Bush inspired the sense of freedom and joyful abandon so refreshingly apparent in Étáin’s unique vocals, which are full of nuance and unapologetic personality.
“With landmark influences such as Joni Mitchell, Rickie Lee Jones and Joan Armatrading, it’s clear how Étáin formed such a steadfast musical ethos…”
With such a varied array of trailblazing female role models, it is no wonder that Étáin has followed in their footsteps as a musician who is unapologetic of her femininity and unafraid to take the space she deserves within the music scene, a space which is often male-dominated. Étáin speaks of the conciliatory representation often afforded to women, observing that “time and time again we are a novel afterthought in band line-ups, our appearance is constantly scrutinized while we are on stage and it is made clear to us from the beginning that we will not thrive in this industry if we do not meet society’s beauty expectations.”
She also speaks of the pressure to remain silent for fear of being “blacklisted”, and the resulting frustration which has inspired her to remain vocal and resilient. She observes that the current system “hands a lot of power over to these people to silence us. So it’s something that is very restrictive, especially when it is coming not only from the boys in the suits making decisions but the boys in the band too. More than anything though, it’s made me determined to keep calling it out when I experience it and to raise the issue when I have the platform to do so.”
“Noting the distinct lack of non-male acts on Ents line-ups, Étáin experiences a certain pressure to represent the underrepresented.”
Although grateful for Trinity’s music scene, which is a haven away from the big bad world of corporate music, Étáin notes that it is not entirely free of gender bias. Étáin was the only female artist to reach the final of Trinity’s Battle of the Bands 2019, a competition which secures the winner a sought-after Trinity Ball slot. Noting the distinct lack of non-male acts on Ents line-ups, Étáin experiences a certain pressure to represent the underrepresented. She describes feeling “responsibility to do justice to the outstanding female musicians in Trinity who can sometimes be overlooked”, which led her to take “the opportunity to dedicate [her] set to them” at Battle of the Bands. On an optimistic note, she concludes that there is strength in numbers, and urges women in music to remember “the power that [they] have as a collective and that [they] cannot be silenced.”