‘When I’m writing a song the movement, performance, video and artwork are conceptualised and buzzing around my brain at the same time.’ Says alt-pop artist Æ MAK.
Dublin-based Æ MAK, aka Aoife McCann, makes bright yet leftfield artpop and she spent 2018 perfecting her sound with a run of singles.
Alongside the release of Glow, Love Flush and Too Sad To Sing she filled out the rest of the year supporting the likes Django Django, Warpaint and tune-yards, performing a sold out Irish headline show and playing festivals across the UK including The Great Escape, Latitude, Liverpool Sound City, and Electric Picnic.
Aoife was the first artist to be chosen for the Festival Republic and PRS Foundation supported initiative ReBalance Programme, which launched in 2018 to support and promote female led bands and solo artists.
Earlier this year she signed a worldwide publishing deal with BDi, and has just released the single Dancing Bug with Irish pop duo Le Boom.
Here Aoife chats to M about the origins of her music making, her songwriting process and much more…
How did you first get into making music?
I didn’t start writing until I was about halfway through college, I was 20. I don’t think I ever saw myself as a songwriter or had the urge to make my own music, I didn’t realise it was a possibility for me. I was definitely too busy creating trouble for my brilliant parents and focusing this wild energy into acting the muppet. I’m 25 now, so still a bit of muppeteering going on, but I’m busy writing and performing.
My dream as a teenager was to be Velma Kelly in Chicago, on Broadway, of course; so I auditioned for a heap of musical theatre degrees across the UK when I was 17; I didn’t get in. Heartbroken. That memory of me trying to leap and ‘plee ay’ across the studios of the Royal Conservetoire of Scotland chills me to the bone, if only they could see me now arching sun salutations across the stage…
So I went to BIMM Dublin and studied vocal performance, turned out it was meant to be. I met my band there and Mr. Daniel McIntyre, the main producer I work with – we both signed our very own publishing deals with BDi Music side by side this year. It was special!
For me, I started off writing songs to create a platform I could perform through. I didn’t realise that I would be… good at it. Or that I’d fall in love with the process and become totally consumed by it. I wrote my second song I Can Feel It In My Bones – the first was an awful meandering, dramatic Joanna Newsom rip-off – in 2015 and I’ve been growing as a writer and performer since, as Æ MAK but also as Aoife McCann, ‘a young aspiring songwriter.’
What are your primary influences?
I talk about energy quite a bit, I think I’m primarily influenced by this energy buzz I have in my chest, I can’t explain it honestly in any other way than that. This feeling comes out of me in excited bursts of melody, rhythm, ascending brassy synth lines from in between my vocal chords!
So I did start songwriting to be able to perform the way I wanted to. I wanted to connect the energy I feel when I’m performing on stage to go hand in hand with the songs and soundscape, but now a whole new world of enjoyment and connectivity has opened up to me through creating the songs themselves.
I’m really inspired by artists who are interesting performers. Artists who challenge their audiences, making them view the art and the music in a different light through their performance style, I don’t know, making them discover a different part of themselves or how they feel about themselves. So I’m not so much influenced by specific artists’ music but more so the energy (here we go) and intent behind it, how they move their audiences. Aldous Harding does this stunningly. I am in awe of her. She’d probably hate that though. David Byrne is another genius I’m besotted with. Again, more so his outlook on life and songwriting. And them moves, of course.
How would you describe your music to the uninitiated?
I think the sound will always be in flux but right now I would describe the sound as challenging, left field pop music, with catchy melodies and bitey, crunchy lyrics that you can dance happy and dance sad to. The songs themselves behind the sound really are purely pop songs, maybe slightly weird pop songs. I can definitely whack out a mediocre pop ballad on the piano when I’m in the mood though.
What’s your process?
Usually I’m making up ideas while I’m buzzing around, dancing in my home kitchen – my parents live in the most beautiful house out in the countryside, mountains on one side, sea on the other. I don’t, so I spend my weeks going back and forth to feel inspired and luxurious for a bit.
I’ve always been in love with melody and harmony, belting out the likes of Simon & Garfunkel’s Baby Driver from the backseat as a child. Little earworms and hooks; so the majority of the time the vocal melody and rhythms come first, the lyrics forming around the vowel and consonant shapes of the vocal metre, meaning coming through along the way.
The overall concept and the visual side influence it massively from the get go too. When I’m writing a song the movement, performance, video and artwork are conceptualised and buzzing around my brain at the same time.
How have you found the experience of being in the ReBalance programme?
Invaluable. I’d been creating, performing under Æ MAK and working the business side myself since 2015. So as a self-managed, DIY act at the time in late 2017/early 2018, the ReBalance programme pretty much gave me the platform to introduce myself to the UK music industry and to form beneficial business relationships basically.
It allowed myself and the band to perform on some very nice stages which wouldn’t have come about so easily for an up and coming Irish artist in the beginnings of their career; like we played Sunrise Arena at Latitude, The Great Escape, Little Big Tent at Electric Picnic. I was also awarded a week’s recording time in Leeds. Myself, Dan (Æ MAK producer) and Peter Kelly (Æ MAK drummer) headed over to lay down and produce three songs, one of which I released last year; Love Flush.
I want to write and perform for a living, to do this successfully it helps to have one hell of a booking agent. So, at the start of last year, Festival Republic introduced me to Matt Bates at Primary Talent. We loosely stayed in touch throughout the year and then, in October, Festival Republic had their first ReBalance showcase and invited UK booking agents, publishers, press etc. The Primary Talent crew came and, badda bing badda boom, young Æ MAK has a world class booking agent on her team. Seriously though, the whole team at Festival Republic have completely embodied the ethos behind the ReBalance programme, this isn’t me churning out BS or saying what I think I should be saying – they’ve whole-heartedly helped me grow as a professional artist and I’m not one for sugar coating things or licking asses, but they’re lovely, lovely heads.
You signed a worldwide publishing deal with BDi earlier in the year, how’s that going?
It’s going pretty flipping amazingly. The opportunities and working relationship I now have with Sarah and the team feels like it’s exactly what I’m meant to be doing, it’s actually a bit surreal that I get to do this all because I dance about the house singing made up gobbeldygook and vamping them C, Csus chords… and that’s something other people might like to hear and enjoy? Ha! I know I’m making light of my myself here, but it’s a bit mad and it’s only the beginning, I’m sure I’ll get used to it soon. So, at the moment, I’m in London every couple of weeks co-writing with other upcoming artists and producers for their artist projects. I’m heading to New York for the first time ever next week to work with a writing team at The Royalty Network for my Æ MAK project that I’m really excited about. So, that’s my reality right now, surreal, happy out. Love to BDi.
You played Eurosonic this year, what was that experience like?
Yes, ESNS is amazing. Really cool and inclusive vibe. Never have we been treated so well before. I mean, we got our own personalised Æ MAK Heineken beer. I don’t drink Heineken but, thank you. Showcase performances like these are never anyone’s favourite shows, of course, but in the right context they’re a bloody brilliant opportunity to further your professional career. I definitely went over prematurely. It was nice being booked for it and recognized, of course – this was before my agent was on board. John and Maya, my management team at Jawdropper are a force of nature. But, to get the most out of it professionally, you want to be the buzz artist or band of the festival. We did have the craic though, of course.
Do you prefer recording and making music or performing?
I really don’t know. They both make home to a very different feeling. Making music comes from a raw, primitive and emotion driven part of me. Performing that music is a whole other story. I definitely go into alter-ego mode and the performance becomes its own entity, full circle, I’ve become what I wanted to become before those songs had been fully written. Getting deep into it here, but I love it all. Three different processes for me, writing at home with my body and piano, bringing those songs to Dan and collaborating on my vision of the sound for them with him; recording and producing, and then it comes full 360 and I’m on stage with lots of people in the room joining this world I’ve made up in my head.
Is there a full-length release on the horizon?
What does the rest of 2019 hold for you?
Making up songs, gigging; we’ve some very nice shows and festivals coming up this summer in Europe that I’m really looking forward to. SUN! CANS! One thing I’m really really excited about is my collaboration with Irish electronic band Le Boom. Myself and Chris wrote something a bit class together last year and we’re releasing it this month. I’ll be guesting with them for some UK festivals this summer which will be a buzz.
Thank you for having me <3
Photo credit: Katie Ball