Singer- songwriter Polly Barrett told David Hennessy about her first album in nine years and returning to songwriting after motherhood.
Polly Barrett has just released her third album Sapling be… and the third single Following Her Truth to acclaim.
Following Her Truth follows the success of singles Huge Mistake and Sapling Be and is the third instalment from the auto-biographical album that sees Polly discuss motherhood, love, loss and finding one’s peace.
But Polly’s latest album comes a full nine years after 2014’s Probably Me. The time in between has seen Polly become a mother.
Although she thought she may never get back to writing and recording, she is now back with an album that is dedicated to her seven year old son and one he even gave her the title for.
Sapling be.. comes nine years after your last album, how does it feel?
“It feels great. I think I needed that time.
“There’s been a huge change in my life and it just feels so good to make this album now.
“It felt so different, and so much more considered and thought through, but also it flowed a lot more.
“It just all just feels a lot more right somehow.
“I was just thinking about this earlier and this sentence came to me: I knew how to write songs before but now I know how to make music.
“That’s how it feels different.
“There’s just so much more depth and more layers there now to pick from, the stuff is just really kind of flowing and singing and sounding great, I’m delighted with it.”
It’s obvious why it’s been nine years though, you were busy raising your son..
“Yeah, I naively thought when I discovered I was pregnant that I’d be back to gigging a few months after he was born and that nothing would really change in the long run- I could do whatever I had to do with a baby on my back or that kind of thing.
“But the reality of it hit me a lot harder.
“Some people do manage that and fair play to them but I think everybody’s experience is different.
“Everybody’s child is different. Everybody’s family is different.
“And yeah, for me, that was just not gonna happen.
“I really just kind of ended up going into a cocoon for a long time just to figure out what the hell was going on and what I was doing and how I was going to get through this with a healthy me and happy baby and healthy mind.”
How long did it take to get back to it?
“He’s seven and a half now.
“I started writing again in 2020 so he was four when I kind of started being able to write again.
“I literally couldn’t write before that, ever since getting pregnant with him.
“I thought, ‘Oh God, I’ve got so much now to write about, write about this amazing love that I have, and the hopes I have for my child and the beauty of life, and all this stuff and it just wouldn’t come partly because I think all of that stuff has been written about so many times that when you try, it can end up just sounding so cliché because it’s been said so many times.
“And it’s all really, really cheesy lines that you end up coming out with.
“Somebody said to me, ‘You’re busy creating a person inside you so you can’t be thinking about creating anything else, that’s not gonna happen. You need to focus on creating that.”
This album is all for and about your son, isn’t it?
“Yeah, it really is.
“The title track from the album Sapling Be.. is about him, it’s for him and he came up with the title himself actually because he used to make up these kind of weird songs when he was a toddler and I would always ask him what they were called.
“And he would give me these strange titles afterwards. They were so funny and I would write them down.
“And one of them was Sapling Be.
“And I just thought that was lovely, such a random pairing of words but also, such a lovely image as well.
“So I decided to try and make a song out of it which worked, I think, quite well.
“And then I thought, ‘Oh, I’ll have to name the album that then as well as a kind of tribute to him’.”
Following Her Truth is the current single.
“I don’t often write songs about things that piss me off but sometimes it’s kind of fun to, it’s kind of fun to allow yourself to just go on a rant sometimes and that’s why I wrote that song.
“I really wanted to write an upbeat ranty song so I wrote that and it’s kind of about a type of person that just really irks me, the type of person that you can come across in your life- They’re basically narcissists, I suppose. People that kind of just only serve themselves and behave in a really selfish and self centered way but use spirituality or some kind of connection to the divine to justify their actions and they can just go around being pretty awful people really but they sort of parade themselves around as if they’re doing amazing things for the world because they’re following their truth, or they’re being called to do those kinds of things.
“Those statements that people come out with like, ‘I was really drawn to do that…’ As if that makes it okay and you don’t have to explain anymore about why you did that horrible thing.
“There’s one I hear a lot as well and it’s in the song as well actually, ‘It’s just something I had to do’.
“That’s the justification, ‘That was something I had to do’.
“And I’m like, was it? Did you have to?
“So I just decided to go on a rant and write that song.
“It felt really good and I really enjoy singing it and playing it.
“It’s just a fun song. It’s great to dance to and sing along with and we love performing it at gigs too, it’s just great craic.
“It’s not really supposed to be like a preachy self righteous song, it’s just supposed to be a bit of craic really.”
Huge Mistake was the previous single, is that about how you found yourself in Schull and that journey?
“I guess so. There’s kind of elements of that in it about all the decisions you make in life and how it can all feel like you’ve just done a terrible job at life at certain points and feel like everything’s just been a big mistake.
“And, ‘Why couldn’t you have just done things the way everybody else did them and in the right order?’ This kind of thing.
“But it’s also essentially a love song, and it’s the one true, romantic love song on the album.
“It’s also a bit of a first for me because it’s a song about happy love.
“It’s not unrequited love which I’ve written about a lot.
“It’s an actual kind of like, ‘Oh, yes, we finally made it, found the right person. Everything’s good. It’s been a long time coming and it’s not all been for nothing’.
“That’s the sentiment, I suppose.”
And is that how you’re feeling? Have you found the right person?
“Oh, yeah, definitely. Thank God. Five years now. Going Strong.
“That song is about how when you find the right person, they kind of shine the light on you as well.
“They show you that actually you’re okay, you’re not a disaster and you can shine that light on them too.
“You can both kind of be there for each other and bring out the best in each other and show each other all of the great things about each other and how lovely that is to kind of go on that journey together where you’re just sort of bringing each other up all the time.”
There’s a big nature theme on this album, isn’t there? With songs like Hedgerow, Sparrow, Sapling be and Standing by the Sea, it’s very nature- orientated, isn’t it?
“It is but then again, I think my music always has been, and my life kind of always has been as well.
“Nature, it’s everything really to me.
“It’s my environment, it’s my religion, it’s my therapy, it’s actually everything. I just love it.
“That’s why I couldn’t live in the city for very long.”
Polly studied acting musicianship at the Rose Bruford College in Sidcup, where she was in the same year as Umbrella Academy, Merlin and Game of Thrones actor Tom Hopper.
While in London she would often busk on the city’s South Bank.
Did you have enough of London? “I did.
“Actually I was finding my mental health was suffering at the end of my time in London, I was just really struggling with the amount of people and the amount of buzz and the amount of just action, just too much for me.
“My brain couldn’t cope, and I was really craving the peace and quiet of home and the countryside and the slowness of things.”
Having moved back to Ireland, Polly would have stints in Dublin, Belfast and Cork City before finding herself closer to home in her home town of Kinsale before finally settling in Schull where she has been since 2014.
“The community really welcomed me when I when I first got here, I felt very welcome in a way I hadn’t felt anywhere else before.
“I felt really accepted, people were just so kind and lovely.
“As soon as I arrived, I had strangers calling to the door to offer me a loan of tools or just to tell me about things that were happening.
“I just found it so sociable which is gas because I was worried about feeling isolated down here and being so cut off, which we are really but then to have that kind of lovely sense of community was just really, really lovely.”
You certainly don’t get that feeling in a bit city like London but also not in too many places anymore..
“It does seem to be something that is disappearing unfortunately, but it also kind of almost feels like in Schull that people are trying their best to keep it alive.
“People just go out of their way to help you which is amazing and it’s lovely, and it’s infectious because the more people help you the more you want to help people.
“It just kind of fosters this really lovely environment where everybody’s looking out for everybody else and it’s gorgeous.”
Another song on the album is Old Wound, can you tell me about where that came from?
“Old Wound is basically a song about an old friend of mine who I had a really great friendship with.
“There was a gang of us who would pal around together in our early 20s and we had some brilliant times, just doing really fun things camping and climbing and just having a really, really great time.
“And there was one friend who was the leader of that group.
“It was his ideas, we would always go looking for things that he had suggested and things like that.
“It’s such a formative time, your early 20s that I still think about that time so much.
“Me and him aren’t friends anymore, we fell out and it makes me so sad that I don’t have him in my life anymore so I wrote that song thinking about all the things that remind me of that time and remind me of him and remind me of that kind of lovely feeling of being so young and free and adventurous and having climbed a mountain and drank loads of beer and being exhausted and just feeling so kind of happy with your lot.
“So it’s a sad song about a happy time.”
Do you think the person it’s about will know it’s about them? Or do you not think about that?
“I do think about that. Probably if he listened carefully enough to the lyrics..but he probably wouldn’t bother,” Polly laughs.
It’s like that?
“Yeah, I’d say so.”
The album Sapling be.. starts with the end of the world.
“Hedgerow is pretty dark.
“That was probably the last song I wrote for the album.
“I wanted to put it first because I felt like it was a really good kind of intro to the album.
“I really wanted to kind of convey that sort of dark magical, mystical side of my writing in this album that I want that to kind of be the through line even though the next track then is Huge Mistake which isn’t dark and mystical although it does have that kind of cosmic, soul matey type love which is kind of a similar theme.
“Hedgerow kind of is a bit of a stream of consciousness song, I don’t even know why I came out with it, why I opened my mouth and the word hedgerow came out, but it did.
“And the next thing that came out was grey crow and it all just started feeling very symbolic and dark, and of another time and so as I wrote the song- And it really did just kind of flow out- I was imagining some sort of an ancient culture around campfires, predicting the end of the world. And there were all these kinds of signs and symbols happening around them in the hedgerow and the grey crow watching things and fields being black and things turning brown on the fire, and all these little things that we’ve lost now we don’t notice things in nature anymore because we’re obsessed with our phones and the ads on billboards and stuff.
“But the ancient cultures were so much more aware of nature’s patterns and they could see things in them that we can’t see now, and they could tell things about the next season or the next harvest or whatever, from what was going on.
“So you have this idea of a song that’s kind of like predicting the apocalypse in an ancient time, where all these signs are telling you that the end of the world is coming and it’s very dark and scary, but also inevitable and almost a bit comforting in the fact that it’s inevitable.
“It’s very dark but I love it.”
We won’t have to wait another nine years, will we?
“I can’t stop now.
“Now that I had such a long gap where I really thought it was all over and I’d never write again and now that I have it back, it feels so right and it feels like the success of this album as well- And when I say success, I mean like how happy I am with it and how happy everybody on the team, how everyone feels about it.
“So because of that success, I feel like I have to keep going. It’s like a sign. I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m on the right path actually, there’s a reason I’m still doing this and I need to keep going’.
“There’s going to be more definitely.”
Following her Truth is out now.
Sapling be.. is out now.
Polly plays Port Duggan’s Ennistymon, Clare on 2 November.
Sapling be.. is available in full on Bandcamp with certain songs being drip fed to other streaming services.
For more information, click here.