Interview | Gaze is Ghost

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Laura McGarrigle, or Gaze is Ghost, is an Irish singer-songwriter based in Cambridge, by way of Paris, India and Sweden. A crafter of beautiful, multi-instrumental, genre-blending folk, she reminds us of French innovator Camille, or experimental composer Sasha Siem. We went along to the shires to talk to this well-travelled dreamer…

Hello, please introduce yourself and your music to the uninitiated.

My name is Laura McGarrigle, I make music as Gaze is Ghost and I released a small EP of seven songs last January, Plume, featuring a range of instruments.

Tell us a bit about Plume and the music you’re currently working on.

I was studying music in Edinburgh when I wrote Plume, and I was lucky enough to know a band of musicians from a range of backgrounds – string players, a harpsichord player, a drummer, a guitarist… The songs for Plume were a collection from that period in my life. I’m working on a new release now and that’s a much more cohesive body of work. You can think of it almost as a double-sided album. One side’s going to be a bit more upbeat and slightly electronic, and the other side will be a bit darker, more cinematic, maybe?

What’s your song-writing process?

The music comes first, I find it difficult to put it to words – there’s a Cambridge-based poet, Fay Roberts, who was talking recently about the marriage of words and music, and she said “the words are the sketch, the music is the colour”. I feel like words are too much of a definite thing, too much of a stamp. I like things that are very open to interpretation, so I’m trying to embrace that and write words in a way that adds to it [the music], that doesn’t necessarily narrow it down – that can enlarge it.

How did you start out as a musician?

I was classically trained in piano from the age of eight until I was about eighteen, but it was when I was fourteen that I realised the joy of writing my own compositions. It was a bit of a revelation, it made piano playing instantly more enjoyable. Then when I was about sixteen, I joined a band as a keyboard player, and it took a few more years for the classical background and the more poppy background to finally meet.

What were the first pop influences to come in?

At the time I was listening to a lot of Tool and A Perfect Circle, a lot of heavier music, which I don’t think you can hear in my songs at all, but I grew up with a lot of older brothers and sisters, and they’d be listening to a lot of Kate Bush and Thin Lizzy, classic rock, and I heard a lot of soul and Motown from my parents.

Which classical composers were you interested in?

When I was about twelve my brother gave me a score for Debussy, and I loved him. Then I discovered Brahms and Rachmaninov, very romantic, dramatic, over-the-top composers.

What was your best ever gig?

Living in Paris wasn’t a great time for me, but one of the best things about being there was the open mics – they were just amazing, an insanely high standard of music. Playing in that environment was really lovely and supportive, it was almost like some kind of secret society. I also played a gig in Armenia which was really nice, it was a UNESCO-funded project bringing together musicians from Poland, Romania, Georgia, Turkey and Ireland. One of them was the winner of the Armenian version of The Voice, so that was quite surreal because he was kind of a minor celebrity. He sang haunting Armenian folk songs with this really strong wailing going on in the background. I’d been used to playing by myself – even if there had been nobody in the audience I wouldn’t have cared, the people on stage were so fantastic.

So travelling exposed you to different kinds of music?

Definitely, I spent some time in Sweden and I really regret not learning to play the nickelharp [nyckelharpa] while I was there. I love French chanson as well, and Indian sitar music.  

What inspires you?

Of course music inspires me, the more diverse the better. I think what you create is your own way of dealing with life, a reflective process or a digestion – for a lot of artists I know, it’s not so much a response but a continuous compulsion, you have to do it.

If you won a billion pounds what would you do with it?

Funnily enough, in my home town there’s a lady who’s won the euromillions and it’s kind of the talk of my town. So I feel it’s infinitely reduced my chances, knowing this person [laughs]. I don’t think there’s going to be two people from this very small Irish town winning the lottery! She’s given a lot of it away,  that’d be the only sane thing to do with a billion – nobody needs that much – so I’d just try to live well, buy a few grand pianos… maybe a small island off Donegal, and a boat. That’d do me.

Which of your songs is your favourite, and why?

I don’t have one actually. My mum gets really annoyed because the stuff I wrote when I was seventeen or eighteen is probably what she prefers out of all my music – it’s a lot simpler, and I absolutely hate it. She keeps saying “Most musicians say their songs are like their children, Laura, you’re rejecting your children,” but I have real trouble listening to my music once it’s done, after a certain time has elapsed I don’t like going back. You have to keep moving forward.

What are your plans for the future?

Other than the new album, I’m collaborating more with other musicians, and a Cambridge guitarist called James Duffy, so that’s a new, slightly different direction. I’m going back to Ireland to play a small music festival in Derry at the end of February called Other Voices and we’ve been shortlisted to possibly go on TV. Irish TV though, so probably nobody James knows would ever see it.

Finally, we’re always looking to expand our musical horizons. Do you have any recommendations of bands or artists we should be looking out for?

I’m playing with a couple of amazing bands from Manchester at the beginning of March: Shield Patterns and Gymnast. One of the guys in Gymnast was in my composition class back in Edinburgh, I didn’t realise it was him. I’m really useless at describing the kinds of music people make, you should check them out!

Interview: Becky Varley–Winter