Electronic music star Elaine Mai told David Hennessy about her debut album Home being nominated for Ireland’s Album of the Year and why it was worth all the stress of getting back onstage after so long without live shows.
Elaine Mai has just seen her debut album Home nominated for Irish Album of the Year alongside big names such as Villagers, Orla Gartland, Soda Blonde and Mick Flannery with Susan O’Neill.
Elaine has come a long way since she started performing in 2011 with just a guitar and a loop pedal, evolving her sound into what has seen her described by Today FM as, ‘One of Ireland’s leading electronic artists’.
Elaine, from Charlestown, is also one of Ireland’s most in-demand producers and has topped the Irish Radio Breakers Chart with Butterflies with Soulé and Sorcha Richardson in 2019, and again with her remix of Nothing by Loah in 2018.
Elaine told The Irish World of the nomination: “It was amazing. I was absolutely chuffed for sure.
“You know, I think it’s a really nice way to kind of pause and look at all the amazing music that came out in 2021.
“Especially considering that it was a difficult year, again, for the industry.
“It’s actually incredible to see how many amazing albums were released that year.
“I just think, with the quality that is out there, you could easily double that list with the amount of amazing albums that were released in 2021.
“I definitely was really happy to be on there.”
The list of nominations for album of the year is completed by Bicep, For Those I Love, HousePlants, Kojaque and Saint Sister.
“I’m a huge, huge fan of Bicep myself. I love HousePlants’ album, they’re a collaborator of Daithi’s, and we’ve been working together for years.
“And I think the stuff he’s doing is just class.
“Then there’s obviously Soda Blonde’s album which is just so beautiful: A really, really incredible album.
“Then you’ve got For Those I Love and Kojaque. There’s just so much good stuff on there.
“I would say it’s a really interesting list across genres. There’s a lot of different types of music covered in there which I think is really nice.”
As the name suggests, all the songs on Elaine’s album centre around the idea of home.
“They’re all kind of based around the theme of home and the different ways that we can feel and experience that.
“I think it’s really interesting the way that different pieces of music can make you feel and I think the idea of home in itself can be interpreted in so many ways.
“I think for a lot of people it’s where you live, where you’re most comfortable but I think there’s a sense of home in communities, in clubs, in groups of friends, in nights out, in all of those kind of things so it’s just trying to evoke that feeling in each of the tracks.
“I think it’s a really nice theme to centre that around.
“It kind of kept me on track when I was writing as well, to make sure that that was the feeling that I was writing from.
“It’s a theme that kind of runs through it for me.”
Like most performers, Elaine has found the pandemic challenging. Did it help her to have the album to focus on? “I think everybody really struggled in the pandemic because there was a lot of negativity and just bad news and people having a really difficult time.
“In a way it was great to have it to focus on but at the same time, it was hard and quite often difficult to write because you’re being constantly reminded of this difficult thing that’s happening in the world and the pressures on a lot of people.
“So I would say it was great, but it was also tough at times if that makes sense.”
The album also featured contributions from singer-songwriters like Loah, Ailbhe Reddy, Sinead White and MayKay.
“When it was working well and I kind of started working with MayKay and collaborating with the other artists, that was amazing because that was a real lift in what was quite a dark period.
“All of that was awesome and a really nice distraction from everything going on.”
MayKay and Elaine combined for the single No Forever while Ailbhe Reddy features on Still Feel.
Sinead White features on Go Slow.
How did Elaine enjoy collaborating with these other artists? “I think the thing that I enjoyed the most about it was getting to see their take on my work and really kind of giving them free rein to do whatever felt right for them in relation to each of the tracks.
“I think that’s a testament to how talented each of those songwriters and singers are because they came back with these amazing ideas to kind of add to each track and take them to a new kind of place.
“I loved that because with each song, I didn’t know what I was going to get back but I just felt what we worked on came together so well for the final product.”
Along with Elaine, Loah and Ailbhe have both been part of the fundraising female collective, Irish Women in Harmony.
Did the collaborations on Elaine’s album come from that project? “Actually, no.
“I had already met Ailbhe from playing shows with Daithi, and we just had a really good kind of connection and spark.
“We had performed with Daithi and hung out backstage and kind of gotten to know each other. I think we pretty instantly knew that we would want to work together at some point, I think that had been on the cards for quite a while.
“And then it was great for it to happen as part of my album.
“And in terms of Loah, she reached to me about a remix a few years ago out of the blue, and I’m just so glad that she did because working on the remix was so much fun.
“I did a remix of her track Nothing and it really kind of got me to know her work and her talent as a songwriter.
“She’s such an incredible lyricist and vocalist.
“I always had in my head that we would do a track together if the timing was right, and if it worked out and it just happened to then as well.
“Sinead has been a long time collaborator of Daithi’s, so we would again have spent a lot of time eating grapes waiting to go on stage and stuff like that.
“Sinead is amazing and we again had quite a quite a good spark and a great relationship so we had kind of spoken about potentially working together at some point.
“Again, that just came together pretty easily as part of this album.
“She’s such a brilliant songwriter and an incredibly talented musician.
“She’s a really excellent pianist and her vocals never cease to amaze me when I hear her live.
“She’s just got incredible control and range. And an all-round great person. She’s a good egg.”
Elaine may not have got to play the album as much as she would have liked to but she says the timing of the release worked out well as it came in October when some shows were allowed.
“It actually weirdly ended up being kind of a good time because we did have a little bit of a reprieve there.
“I did get to do a bit of an album launch, which I did in The Workman’s cellar which was great to actually finally perform it live and have a proper show. And it was sold out which was cool.
“And then I did perform some shows. I played the Mother Block Party, I played Other Voices so I got some really nice shows in around the time of the album release which was awesome.
“As I say, it actually ended up being well timed just by virtue of where it fell.
“But there’s plenty more life in that album, and I really want to get out and play it and give the songs the air time they deserve.
“Hopefully with things going well and restrictions lifting, that will be the case this year. That would be my hope.”
What was it like to be back onstage after so long with no live shows?
“The first time back playing was very stressful.
“In general, I get quite tetchy before shows anyway.
“I do tend to get nervous before I play but I would definitely say that was multiplied by 100 for the first show, because it had been so long since I played, I was playing all new music, I had a completely new setup- There was a lot going on.
“It was stressful but it all went off really well. And all those shows went really well.
“The work and the stress was worth it in the end.
“As soon as I am up onstage and playing, I remember why I put myself through that stress.
“I just love playing the tunes and seeing people reacting to them.
“And that’s a huge part of why I do this.
“Getting back and playing in front of people just reminded me how much I missed it to be completely honest.
“And now we’re back in a scenario in Ireland where the curfew’s eight o’clock and live shows are kind of off the table again for the moment.
“Hopefully with a vaccine rollout and everything, things will start to ease up hopefully in the next few weeks so that we’re looking at a summer full of shows.
“Who would have thought we would have been two years into this now? It almost feels like that’s not real. It’s quite surreal to say that.
“I do think that people are finding it difficult especially in certain industries.
“People working in the entertainment industry and in hospitality and stuff like that, it’s just been extremely difficult.
“Who knows what is going to happen? Fingers crossed.”
How does it feel to look back on how far she has come since she started performing with just a guitar? “It feels great. I know it (the debut album) was a long time coming but I’m definitely glad I didn’t rush it because I’m super happy with all of the tracks on the album and how it all came together.
“I think it’s really cool to look back and see the progression since 2011.
“And I think if I could go back in time, I would probably just tell myself to not stress out too much, that these things take time.
“And that is the reality. You have to kind of learn and grow and evolve and really take that time to hone your craft.
“And I think about myself in another ten years and how much more I will have grown as an artist, and I find that really exciting as well.
“It’s cool to see that progression but in my opinion, you never really stop learning and improving and evolving.
“So I’m excited to see what else is on the cards as well.”
Home by Elaine Mai is out now.
For more information, click here.