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Irish singer-songwriter Lisa Hannigan talks to Philly2Philly


Lisa Hannigan recently returned to Philadelphia to support her second album, Passenger, playing a sold-out show at MilkBoy Philadelphia. Lisa Hannigan photo: Diane Cooney

Local fans may recognize her voice from her collaboration with Damien Rice, whom she performed with for years.  Her second album finds her in great command of her performance and songwriting. Gavin Glass who also plays in her band, was the opening act- playing songs from his album, Myna Birds.

I spoke with her a few days before the show and she shared her perspective on how her approach has changed since her debut album.

“Well I think with the first record, because it was all so new, ….I didn’t know how to do anything. I never recorded in a studio before, never been in charge of a band before, been in charge of arrangements…so everything was kind of new and I was finding my feet,” says Hannigan.

“For this record, I felt so much more confident about the hats I had to wear. They were much more comfortable this time around.“

When Ms. Hannigan is in town, she’s busy with appearances at the local radio stations.

“I never have enough time to hang out,” she laments. “The boys always make sure they get their cheesesteaks, and that is a non-negotiable part of our trip. I haven’t gone to see as much of Philadelphia as I like.”

 Before becoming a vegaquarian five years ago, Ms. Hannigan enjoyed a cheesesteak,

“I do remember it was delicious,“ she recalls.

Joe Henry (who also produced Over the Rhine’s latest record) worked with Hannigan.
Lisa Hannigan photo: Diane Cooney
“I initially …I met him and we talked about music … it was all very upbeat,” Hannigan says.
“There was no nitty gritty at all…. It was all very general. I just felt a great trust with him that he… would look after the record.”  

Ms. Hannigan originally thought she was going to need two weeks to record the album, but Mr. Henry believed they could do it in one.  

“Sure enough, we got it done in our week. And his way of recording is you know, it’s people playing live. After a couple of takes of a song, he’d go, that’s the one, and invariably he’d be right….It was a very natural easy process. He brought the best out of everybody.”

She continues, “It’s became about our playing for Joe – instead of trying to play it right, that sort of thing. It’s a terrible curse when you’re recording… you don’t want to mess it up…You want to capture the nitty gritty kernel of a song. Express the feeling more than anything else. I think just because you’re playing to one person…try and illuminate the ins and out of the songs for Joe and then of course, the more singular you are about something the more universal it becomes, you hope anyway.”

Hannigan’s confidence is apparent with the new material.

“I’ve gotten a bit more.. I feel freer with my songwriting,” Hannigan admits. “ I used to be afraid of the blank page. I feel more comfortable just sort of messing about. Letting things happen, writing lots of stuff and discarding lots of stuff as well. … That works for me. Write away and not be too afraid of things… of every line being right. That’s a very stultifying kind of way going about things for me anyway.”

Her all-male band provided a lovely contrast to her and the gentleman switched it up, playing different instruments throughout the set. After a lengthy encore, Ms. Hannigan chatted with fans and signed autographs. Her live performance is more dynamic than the record, which is more contained. One thing is constant: her amazing voice.

Check out the latest video, for her new single, Little Bird


Contact Diane Cooney at dcooney@philly2philly.com

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