This article was first published on CLUAS in Sept 2004
Gareth profiles Elaine K, a US-based Irish singer-songwriter
Over the centuries there has always been a musical link between America Ireland.
And the tradition continues today with many contemporary Irish musicians and
groups choosing to live, write and perform in the United States and in so doing
almost feeling half American. Stand, for example, abandoned Dublin for NYC long
ago. Similarly Ruby horse abandoned Cork for Boston and now Elaine K has
followed. The talented songstress from Dublin's Southside has also opted for the
bright lights of NYC.
Neatly presented in recycled cardboard, Elaine K's new album 'As Is' is a delightful collection of acoustic songs. The album doesn't have an American feel to it but the track 'Lucky' certainly does: 'Nothing is the same, nothing will ever be again / Quiet as my voice is now / it's simply because my heart / is so much louder than I can stand / Lucky as I am, I don't feel so lucky'. Almost whispered in a delicate honest ton, it is dedicated to those New Yorkers who survived the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Elaine explained 'I lived in New York through 9/11, and I felt kind of guilty of having survived it and not lost anybody to it. The song is about loss, through the grieving process you don't feel so lucky or so great'.
A daring topic to write about considering that many could take the song out of context but, through its raw lyrics and gentle vocals, Elaine personifies an air of understanding. She stressed she is not trying to 'cash in' on such a tragedy: 'A epitaph type song would be just cashing in, this is more of a song for the survivors'. This itself underlines even further the strength of the previously-mentioned link between Irish musicians in America: they become part of another community and, gradually, their Irishness slips away as they become part of the society they live in. And the music scene back in Ireland suffers as many such talented musicians choose to live and perform in the USA.
Singer-songwriters have to be among the most opinionated people in the world and Elaine K is no different. Discussing the topic of whether she tries to avoid writing about certain subjects, she admits that 'sometimes my opinions come out in my work but I don't think it makes me into a political activist'. Asking her what makes a good singer/songwriter, she replied 'A good singer songwriter should have the ability to connect, by nature they are usually introspective but should have very good sense of themselves in their writing'. And it helps if they are 'able to produce a moment in their sound that's avoiding any other influence'.
With two albums out, which she believes are selling well in Tower Records and on Amazon.com, she has no immediate plans to record soon. She seems to be just happy making a living from music. But these days she is only an occasional visitor to her home shores, could it be the difference in the audiences? 'Irish audiences more reserved, sometimes harder to turn in your favour but when they do turn in your favour they are just amazing, so loyal and stick with you forever' Elaine enthused. So it's not the audiences, or the venues, maybe it refers back to the old clich?'if you crack America, you are set for life'. While Elaine may not have 'cracked America' (yet!) on the scale that eluded Oasis she does have a dedicated stateside fanbase which makes it easier for her to live and work in an environment where income hasn't been a major issue, as of yet.
Maybe Elaine K's choices and experience raise a point. Should we not be making the Irish music scene one that is more attractive and secure in order to hold on to our home-grown talent?
Check out Elaine K's website www.elainek.com