Tipperary's Gemma Hayes heads into the limelight with debut disc
Gemma Hayes grew up in a one-road town in Tipperary County, Ireland.
Now the ravishing girl from the patchwork countryside is in the spotlight Ñ and for good reason, it sounds like.
Hayes' debut disc, 'Night on My Side,' is a folk-rock stunner that jumps narrow musical genres, leaving music stores with the question of where to shelve it.
'I knew it wasn't going to be an easy album,' Hayes says. 'It doesn't sit in any category easily. For the music industry, so much comes down to putting it in a category. Now the fact that it doesn't fit in anywhere has become its category.'
The album, produced by Dave Fridmann (Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev), received a Mercury Music Prize nomination. It's divided into night songs and day songs with conveniently distinct moods for the dual personality.
Stylistically, the day tracks owe something to one of Hayes' favorite bands, My Bloody Valentine. Oceans of electric guitar wash and crash. Noisy, hard edges scrape and go fuzzy with woozy feedback.
Come evening, there's 'Making Waves,' an up-all-night smoking sort of ballad. It hooks you simply for being so lovely, hoarse and torn. Then it gets under your skin with weird guitar warps that tease you for thinking it was going to be quite this vapid and, well, pretty.
Hayes says life in Tipperary Ñ 'quite beautiful but quite boring' Ñ changed when she heard Nirvana's 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' the first time.
The youngest of eight, Hayes, 25, comes from a musical family. Her dad is in a band called the Hillbillies. Her brothers and sisters are tired of hearing about her recent success, she says, and then modifies her comment: 'They think it's brilliant, but they are also kind of sick of it.'
Hayes went to college in Dublin but dropped out to play guitar and supported herself working in a launderette. Now she's doing interviews from the Soho Grand Hotel in New York City, and someone else is washing the towels.
She suffers from a bit of stage fright and prefers bigger settings for her performances.
'I find it quite nerve-wracking to get up at all in front of people,' she explains. 'In a small setting, you see faces. In a bigger setting, the crowd is far removed.'
Success has done a world of good for her confidence, though. 'People out there are willing to give an album more than one listen and give themselves time to get into it,' she says.
Her alternative rock side is not radio-friendly. The wall of guitars in 'Tear N My Side' and 'Back of My Hand' are too dense for easy access, but her good looks will land her the glamour shots.
Because she's got two X chromosomes, Hayes is inevitably compared to just about every female musician or singer who came before Ñ with the possible exception of rappers Lil' Kim and Eve. It's hard to resist. Strains of Dolores O'Riordan of the Cranberries, techno-folkie Beth Orton and indie rockers Liz Phair and Kim Deal lift her voice, giving the first listen a familiar ring.
'Yes, I've definitely been compared to just everybody,' Hayes says with another laugh. 'From the day my EP '4:35 AM' was out two years ago, it started. Beth Orton. Jewel. When I picked up the electric guitar, it was PJ Harvey. It used to drive me crazy. É But by the time the album came out, I learned to let it go over my head. I don't need to shout as much. Yeah, I'm female, and I'm not going to apologize for it. It's cool.'
Fame is notoriously fickle, but music is her steady companion, she says.
'I will always do this. I always did it before.'