During this period of impending quiet, Dani Larkin has been strumming up momentum. Released last month, her new single, a gentle and tender giant of a folk tale, ‘Samson and Goliath’ has received backing from the likes of RTÉ, BBC Radio Foyle and Ulster. The singer-songwriter hasn’t been held back by the times, taking part in online performances for Ruach Music, Sound of Belfast, and Outburst. Riding this wave right through until the end of 2020, Dani is set to play an online broadcast live from The Sound House Dublin on Dec 17, announcing details on the night about an exclusive listening party for her debut album ahead of its release in early 2021. We caught up about what it’s been like to make music – and to simply exist – during the longest year.
‘One day at a time isn’t it, these days?‘, she says.
Very Much so. How are you finding Lockdown 2.0?
I’m not really a party person, and my ways of being with people are making loads of food and having friends round. So when that kind of stopped happening, I was like ‘Right. Okay’. Last week I was working for Outburst, so I was in a studio in town writing songs and having the craic, so I’m still living on that high. What about yourself, how are you feeling?
Each day as it comes! It’s so difficult, but so much easier when people talk openly about how they’re coping or not coping.
It’s exceptionally challenging, you know. I was saying to a friend earlier, I’m just living a wee kind of love buzz at the minute, and I’m high after a week of making things and releasing a single, et cetera. The first couple of months were exceptionally difficult, and it was a long, hard year and a half- couple of years for me. I haven’t always felt comfortable voicing my struggles, and sometimes that comes with believing that I’m invincible. That’s something I’ve gotten better at. One of the things about the time that we’re living in is that it pushes us to communicate more honestly, because we don’t really have a lot of choices. I know this is the first time that we’re talking, but I really admire and respect and appreciate honest conversation.
I’ve never really thought about the fact that before Lockdown if you’re having a bad day, you meet up with friends for a drink or to watch a film, but now you can’t do that. You have to talk, it forces you to get to the crux of it.
It’s lovely to hear that you have those kinds of relationships in your life to begin with. It’s a big challenging time, and those of us based in the arts in whatever format, we’re just learning to take care of each other, and stepping outside of those cycles that aren’t as healthy.
Do you think this period of reflection will force an attitude cleanse within the arts and the music scene?
One can dream, Addison, one can dream. When I started playing music seven years ago, I started doing open mics and I very quickly realised I couldn’t go out and do three or four a week, because even if I was having one pint, it was costing too much, and I just did not feel good… I kind of made a pact with myself that I wouldn’t drink before playing. And that’s kind of put me in good stead, because it would be very rare for me to have a drink before a show. I enjoy having a drink after, but that isn’t my main thing by any stretch. That’s really healthy for me, and I get that that’s unhealthy for other people. To answer your question around cultural attitudes, like I really hope that people understand the healing elements of music and the arts, on a very fundamental level. Even if it’s in a gig environment, because it’s the magic right? Music is just fucking magic. And to be able to express ourselves in that way, and for me personally as a songwriter, to express myself – ugh, its just such a fundamental part of my being. I can’t change that, I don’t want to either. I hope wider cultural norms begin to accept the importance of the arts. Because if we don’t, it’s going to be a very unhappy place.
How have you felt creatively during Lockdown?
Ebbs and flows – more than ebbs and flows, just waves. General waves. The first couple of months for me was just me trying to keep myself between the hedges. I was in a very fortunate position because I had just finished recording my debut album at the beginning of March, just before I went on a residency programme to Annaghmakerrig. I was working very hard to create music and have it ready, so I was in a very privileged position in that I’d had a bit of time. I was able to make some music, and then I guess, sit with that for a bit. But I found it very hard to write music, I’m only now this time feeling like I’m beginning to get into a rhythm, or I’ve created enough stability for myself in these ways that I feel safe and curious enough to explore these things I haven’t expressed yet. And that’s very exciting.
A couple of things have happened in that time. My creative energy has gone into thinking about getting the album mastered, and the artwork designed, and what stories I am going to share with people on the album, and through the album. With that I’m working with two animators to bolster that narrative aspect of that work – that’s new, and that’s exciting. It’s a new kind of creativity. I guess now that all of the wheels are in motion for those things, I can go back to a place of writing songs and expressing again. Another beautiful thing that happened was on that residency. I came across my Great-grandmother’s surname that disappeared when she got married, and it was Larkin. That was a big journey for me because up until that point I’d been creating as DANI, and then to take on ‘Larkin’ just seems to have really – fuck, I don’t know, taken on this source of strength that comes from a very beautiful place, a very sacred place. I love my family very much, so to take on this name feels very powerful. It also seems to be attracting the things I want to be doing, and the momentum with the album.
Often when artists use a moniker or first name, there’s an element of anonymity – a separation of artist and person. It’s interesting that using a name that is your own, but not your own, is infinitely more personal for you.
Yeah, you know, you know my last name now because you have it on Zoom, but not many people do. I guess it’s this balance or this play that I as a person and musician enjoy exploring vulnerability. But not in the sense of ‘How vulnerable am I willing to be?’ because the answer to that is ‘Very!’. But as an artist, what part of that am I willing to share? The name Dani Larkin is very powerful and feels very connected to me, without being my whole self. That’s an exploration and kind of tipping point I’m at, at the minute. Especially in conversations with my friends at Outburst, it’s all very interesting.
I was at the Oh Yeah Centre when you recorded your version of Ferron’s ‘Misty Mountain’ for Outburst’s The New Lesbian Songbook. I was so taken by it, the honesty and connection of it, even though it was a cover. It actually reminded me a lot of Adrienne Lenker’s style, that something so stripped back can have such power.
Magic. I’ll definitely check her out. My manager (Laura McCabe) came up recently at the weekend, it was the first time I met her. We sat for a night having a couple of smokes and a bottle of cava to celebrate the release. We just sat listening to music, and I was like ‘Wow! This is the first time I’ve done this with someone in so long, I can’t even remember. So thank you, I love getting put in the direction of new music. With the Outburst performance, that’s my first cover I’ve ever done. I don’t do them as a general rule, but Ruth is a good friend of mine, and I was delighted to be involved in the project. Delighted to sing a song that has such power in and of itself. Ferron is an incredible musician and songwriter, and it felt right. I hope I did it justice.
It was very moving, you definitely did. I felt the same when I heard your new single, ‘Samson & Goliath’. That feeling you mentioned about being in a room and feeling that magic of being together in a room, audience and artist, and that sense of connection. Does it feel like a big missing piece, not having been able to play live?
I signed a management deal with Jawdropper in September, working with Laura. This is the first time I’m working with official management, and it’s been an incredible journey. It’s been a very different relationship with releasing a single, because there’s someone to share it with and to celebrate with. Yes, I have Kate and George as part of the band, and that’s incredible, but we’re not able to hang out or see each other at the minute. So being able to have this manager person who’s also working toward the same thing and is excited about it has given me a different kind of connection with it, and a lot of hope for the album I’ve been working on. While nothing will ever replace a live performance and being in the room, having someone to share that with and someone who’s working so hard on it, I couldn’t be happier with it.
‘Samson and Goliath’ is available to stream and download now, taken from Dani’s forthcoming debut album set for release next year.
Register here for Dani’s secret album listening party and catch her livestream from The Sound House Dublin Dec 17, 7:30.