Interviewing Evie: the haunted house of the Irish music scene

Lara Monahan sits down with the chair of DU Music Evie Kelly to discuss her upcoming EP Shiny Things

Over the clink of mugs and the boiling kettle, chair of DU Music, fourth-year politics student and talented artist and producer Evie Kelly begins by telling me about her stage name. “I just go by Evie in the music world. I didn’t want to use my full name; I just thought Evie on its own was pretty good.” The personal nature of this stage name, putting listeners on a first-name basis with her, fits beautifully with her musical style, which she describes as “very domestic…charming, but neighbourhood.” Evie created her first EP, Since The Fire, during lockdown. Since then, she has played to sold-out venues in Dublin, at Sligo Arts Festival for her Wild Atlantic debut, two of Doyle’s famed Ruby Sessions and further afield at the CCI in Paris. She doesn’t have any plans of slowing down, celebrating the release of ‘Devil’ – the first single from her next EP Shiny Things – with a launch gig in Whelan’s. 

I ask Evie how her next EP, coming out in the new year, will compare with the last one. “It is mature…more mature than what you have heard in every sense, in lyrics and in production for starters, I’m not producing it in my bedroom this time. The music, the arrangements, the decisions taken on how to make the songs. It’s a bit creepy. Haunting…that’s to do with the style of the vocals. A lot of reverb, a lot of synth, kind of ominous.” She characterises her vocals: “they’re not happy, they’re not very sad…they can be poignant.” Her meditative but confident tone as she speaks is recognisable in her music too: Evie’s distinct sound has emerged from a whole life of creating music. “I just wrote songs all the time and recorded them as voice notes on my phone for years and years. I have, like, a thousand voice memos that date back to 2013.” She sips her tea and explains that the “last EP included songs that I’d written when I was 16 or 17, and new ones, whereas these songs [on Shiny Things] are all brand new. They’ve all been written since the last EP; none of these have been harboured away for years.” 

Reflecting on Since The Fire, she tells me life in lockdown informed the album: “Everything was stood still…but I was supposedly in this new phase of life, which is just the story of Covid.” The EP, featuring both music from years before and the songs she was creating at the time strikes a chord – if you pardon the pun – with the feeling of growing up in stasis during the pandemic. “We grew up but through zero experience, which is kind of strange. We didn’t stay the same people, even though nothing changed.” 

“I grew up by the sea…a lot of the songs are about places by the sea, and I like to add those little effects like waves and water.”

She assures me Shiny Things will even surpass the strength of this first EP. “I think it is some of my best work thus far. I want it to be distinct, and not like something people have heard before.” Evie’s vocals, often layered and harmonised in her work, have an airy, weightless quality that soars above the accompaniment like a gull over water. Continuing to speak of Since The Fire, she says: “I grew up by the sea…a lot of the songs are about places by the sea, and I like to add those little effects like waves and water”. Shiny Things will depart from Since The Fire’s emphasis on home: “When I wrote all those songs [on Since The Fire] they were very like ‘Dublin’ and ‘home’ because that’s all I knew, and that’s all I wrote about. There really wasn’t anything beyond that in terms of my life.” Evie’s music is a by-product of her experiences, and in the last few years, Evie’s new experiences have been both various and impressive. Animated, she describes the last year or so: “I lived in Paris for six months, I grew up, my siblings grew up. Seeing people around you change, losing friendships, gaining friendships. I was suddenly able to write about all these things that I never had experienced before.” Evie’s dynamism is evident – the artist dubbed the haunted house of the Irish music scene works hard for her accolades. “I did the first semester here, which was great because that was when I started gigging. I gigged from September to Christmas, did my final show on the 3rd of January, and went to Paris the next day on the 4th of January. I didn’t come home until the 4th of May, when I supported Last Apollo, and the next day I went back to Paris for a final month.” She speaks of her move abroad as instrumental in creating her new music, from the independence it offered her to being surrounded by artists in residence in the CCI, right down to the cultural resonance of the city. “It was an amazing time of my life. Great city.” She gives me a knowing smile; we met for the first time last year in the French capital. 

“That was my experience of DU Music. I wouldn’t be where I am now without the people I met through it.”

How did the move abroad affect her musical style in Shiny Things? We have been talking for nearly an hour now, and Evie remains buoyant – gesturing over the dregs of tea in our cups as she explains: “I think [the EP] is still very inherently Irish…it feels domestic, homely. But also feels like it’s not comfortable…but I like that.” Even if Evie wrote the new songs elsewhere, Dublin is woven into the fabric of the recording process; she recorded in Sun Studios, Temple Bar, and the EP was produced by Jack Joyce and mastered by Killian Taylor. People she met in Dublin played for the upcoming EP: Joe Barford plays bass and guitar on some of the tracks, Matthew Wood percussion and Clara Lee plays the violin on all five songs. A particularly affecting detail is when Evie tells me that her brother, Oscar, did a piece for one of the songs: “He’s the piano at the end. Got him in after school, he came on the Dart, ran through Temple Bar. Had him in for about 15 minutes, we were very much on the clock. Played his piece and scooted to football training. Nice to have him in.” Evie has created a musical community that extends beyond just her family, and she begins to tell me how Dublin’s music scene, Trinity, and DU Music have contributed to her musical career: “It’s a community, and everyone is welcome in that community, but you have to go and find it. You have to embrace it… that was my experience of DU Music. I wouldn’t be where I am now without the people I met through it last year. I met Matthew, the drummer, at a Music Soc. event. I supported Last Apollo at The Grand Social at her headline show she was on the committee…I met my producer for this EP through the Music Soc, the master through the Music Soc.” Now the chair of the society, Evie has ambitions to continue this legacy of an energetic musical community: she wants “to give a load of exposure to artists that feel like they’re doing it on their own”. 

“The creatives go elsewhere and they do what they need to do, and they won’t do it here because there’s no money in being a musician here. [Ireland’s] losing out here.”

Our conversation quickly turns to Dublin, Ireland as a whole, and the country’s relationship with the musicians which make up so much of its cultural capital. Evie has talked of “packing up, moving to London and giving it a go” as one of her potential next steps. As we contemplate the lack of support for artists based in Ireland and their resulting mass exodus, I am reminded of Evie’s flair for not only music but politics too. “The creatives go elsewhere and they do what they need to do, and they won’t do it here because there’s no money in being a musician here. [Ireland’s] losing out here.” The revolutionary impact of music has been significant in Ireland’s history, and Evie explains: “it is a major identity in Irelandeven at the Rugby World Cup, everyone was singing Zombie. That’s one song and it brings the entire country together.” She suggests that the importance of musicians staying in Ireland for the sake of Irish culture cannot be overstated: “It’s important for the people in Ireland that they stay, and it’s important for the rest of the world [too]. The entire revolution in Russia was built on a rock movement; there’s a lot to be said for the mediums through which you communicate with people.”  

‘Devil’ is the first song released from Shiny Things, and it marks a new era of Evie. “It’s not one that you’re gonna have in your ears and that you are gonna play on repeat…it is more of a statement.” The song brings all the haunting intimacy of Evie’s previous work to a culmination with its “talk-singing”. She talks me through how “two lines [are] going at the same time, so one is kind of singing it, and the other is just there to be a buzz, like right up in your ear…an atonal hum. To give it that extra layer of [being] menacing, haunting.” Evie used the acoustics of a church to craft ‘Devil’, focusing “the big echoey sounds, the vastness of the way sound is travelling in a church.” We are into the technicalities of the song, and she is passionate as she describes how “from the beginning it comes in, there’s like a dun, dun dun…that’s a violin put through an octaver, taken down something like six octaves, and it is basically making a double bass kind of sound. It sounds like a pulse. And that goes through the whole song, and gives it that drive and pump, like your heart.” The song’s chorus also incorporates an allusion to church bells: “instead of playing the bassline on a bass, we played it really low on a piano and it just gave it this ring. The whole thing is supposed to be this big swarm of ringing…the way that the vocals were mixed really brings them forward so they’re right in your ears, in your face.” Evie isn’t afraid to break away from the norm. She doesn’t want to put out songs that only cater to “what you think people will like, or what you think the music industry wants to hear.” Even though she says this is easy to fall into, and sometimes strategic, she went with ‘Devil’ as the first song to release from the EP because of how unique it is. “I had reservations about it because it is not like, say, another song that I’m sure half the girls in the library might have in their ear tomorrow. But we went with this one because it says something maybe a little bit different.”

“Breaking the rules is central to Evie’s work.”

Breaking the rules is central to Evie’s work. Shiny Things will feature “a lot of the songs in a minor key, dissonance, a lot of rule-breaking in the classical music world.” She muses on these rules and how breaking away from them defines her sound: “‘you cannot put those two chords one after the other Evie!’ But I’ll do it anyway. That’s where you get the disjointed awkwardness of the songs, which I love.” Evie is one to watch as she breaks the rules, dancing with the devil after the release of her new single. No doubt, by the release of Shiny Things, we will all be dancing with her.