Continuing our series for International Women’s Day, we’re pleased to introduce singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Ali Comerford. Having studied in London and New York then played in orchestras around the world, Ali is now back in her native Ireland and has released her debut solo single He Knows this week, with an album to follow later in the year. Join our conversation here to find out more…
How are you doing, what’s kept you going through lockdown?
Honestly as with most people, there are good days and bad days. I think it’s hard to remain positive 100% of the time but what I will say is that with a little bit of grace (for myself and the people around me) and a whole lot of music, this has turned into a very transformative time. The lockdown forced me to stop moving and to come home and really it’s been a blessing to spend more time with my family even if it’s through social distanced walks or chats through a window. Also it gave me the agency to actually release my music for the first time which is really exciting.
You’ve been playing music since you were really young, who or what got you started?
My Mam was adamant that all of her children would play music and thank God for that! I was in a primary school that promoted music, everyone played something. Regina O’Leary was the driving force and champion of music lessons for all. I’m extremely grateful to her for her patience and persistence. Imagine running an orchestra of 50 6 year olds?!
What are your early memories of listening to music with family or on the radio and TV?
Earliest memories are probably dancing with my sister Lori to whatever was playing and feeling completely exhilarated, like you are in the exact right place at the exact right time. The idea that music could not just enhance but effect or change your mood was clear to me from a very young age. As the youngest child of 4, I was a giant people pleaser so I think as soon as I found out I could make people happy through music, I was hooked.
Your debut album is set to be released later this year – what can we expect?
Lots of strings, lots of emotion. I think this album is just my heart wrapped up in sound waves, that’s why it’s been so scary putting it out into the world. I played everything myself so its all acoustic.
Has it felt strange moving away from making purely classical music?
Not really actually! I’ve always played many different types of music. When I was a kid me and my brother and cousin used to sit outside a local bookshop every week and busk playing and singing Beatles songs and anything that was within the 4-6 chords we knew. We were occasionally paid to stop but I can’t blame them. When you’re on to the third hour of hearing “It’s been a hard days night” from a group of 10 year olds, I think it’s the right decision to pay them off. But even while in college, I took a pop song writing course at the Royal College of Music as an elective while I was doing my masters in violin performance and I loved it so much. Every Friday morning we would gather in one of the towers and listen to pop very loud while analysing lyrics. It felt so liberating to enjoy that music in such an intense classical environment, it was the best part of my week. In New York I played violin in a few bands on the side for fun. I have never subscribed to the idea that music has bounds and that includes boxing yourself in to one genre. The beauty of music is that it transcends any barriers that we as humans usually like to enforce so it is possible to have Debussy and D’Angelo on the same playlist.
Your single He Knows showcases your vocals beautifully – how does it feel taking centre stage when you’ve been surrounded by people in an orchestra previously?
It’s a little nerve wrecking I’m not going to lie but it’s also extremely exciting. I want to be the most authentic performer that I can be and I think for me right now that means I have to showcase this other side of my musicianship that till now I kept for myself.
Are there any female artists who you’d cite as influences?
There are so many female artist that I massively look up to: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Tabea Zimmermann and Martha Argerich are absolute giants in their fields and I have been greatly influenced in different ways by all of them. Be it their stage presence or musicality or lyrics, each of them has moulded me as a musician and I am truly grateful for that. There’s also artists like Yebba, Lizzy McAlpine, H.E.R and Celeste that are doing really beautiful and exciting things right now and they definitely inspire me to create every day.
You’ve spent time in London and New York, will Kilkenny always feel like home?
Definitely, my family is mostly here and I think in that way even when I leave I know I will always have a place here. It offers that sense of comfort that only home can bring.
What’s your favourite venue that you’ve played?
I think that anywhere that someone asks you to come and play, it’s a privilege. It’s more about the vibe of the audience and the energy you can create together. There have been a few special stages though that I can’t deny were highlights, the Royal Albert Hall and the National Concert Hall in Dublin were really great but the big one was in Carnegie Hall, it was one of those moments where I thought ok this is why this is hyped so much!! I felt the amazing energy there and it made me want to give my all.
And what are your hopes for the coming year?
This year I want to release my music, create as much new music as possible and commit to being a good human. If I can manage those things in this crazy time I will feel like I have accomplished a lot.
Photos © Shane Hatton
11th March 2021