Lake Michigan: Ethereal acoustic sounds from Niamh Keane

By Aideen O'Flaherty

E thereal acoustic songs, that evoke the sea and visceral landscapes, are a hallmark of Clondalkin musician Niamh Keane’s upcoming debut EP, ‘Lake Michigan’.

The 24-year-old, who is a past pupil of Coláiste Chilliain on the Old Nangor Road, lists English folk singer-songwriter Laura Marling as a key influence, and has developed her sound through performing in venues all over the city.

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Niamh performing on stage

Niamh is also a familiar face at the Troubadour Nights in Áras Chrónáin, the Irish Cultural Centre, in Clondalkin, where she has finessed her sound by playing both covers and her own original material, and it gives her the opportunity to mix with fellow musicians too.

Bristling with excitement ahead of the release of ‘Lake Michigan’ this Friday, May 29, Niamh spoke to her local newspaper about her path into making music, and the background to the creation of her new release.

Was there a particular moment when you realised you wanted to be a musician?

My parents involved me in music lessons and groups from a young age, so I can’t pinpoint a realisation on my part to be a musician, funnily enough. It’s just always been a part of my life.

However, I made a conscious decision to have a music career when I put a Bachelor’s of Music in Maynooth University on the top of my CAO form.

How did you feel the first time you performed live, and when and where was it?

My very first performance very likely included myself playing in a squeaky violin recital with twenty other senior infant students!

The first live solo performance that I remember was a talent show that was held in the middle of a Saturday afternoon in the Swan Shopping Centre in Rathmines.

I was maybe seven- or eight-years-old, and I sang a religious song called ‘Like A Sunflower’ that I learned with the Knockmitten Youth Choir.

I remember nervously thinking that I was definitely on the wrong stage! In contrast to my chosen number, the girl before me did a smashing rendition of ‘Genie in a Bottle’ by Christina Aquilera.

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Niamh Keane

As the name suggests, your new single ‘Lonely Sea’ is a stripped back, maritime-inspired sea shanty. What is it about the sea that inspires your work?

For this song, it was the wildness of the sea that struck me. It’s written about a pirate who becomes lost and despairs over the mistakes he has made.

The musical arrangement echoes the dramatic landscape of the sea with powerful percussion driving a big chorus section.

What’s the inspiration behind the name of the ‘Lake Michigan’ EP?

One summer during college I went on a J1 visa to Ohio with a close friend of mine. We wanted an adventure and I certainly got one – I ended up moving to Traverse City, a small town on the edge of Lake Michigan, a few states away from my original destination.

I bought an acoustic guitar, played open mic gigs and I started writing seriously for the first time in my life. All of the songs on the EP were first formed around that time so it felt like a fitting title.

There’s a track on their titled ‘Lake Michigan’ too.

What can listeners expect from it?

The EP is really an exploration of genres and sounds that interest me. The first track, ‘Nightsong’, was the lead single and drew comparisons to Enya when it came out in November.

However, there is also a sea shanty, a jazz-tinged love song and an acoustic piano number in there too.

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Niamh Keane

What was the most enjoyable experience you had while working on the EP?

Back in April last year, my dad drove myself and some friends up to this gorgeous vintage recording studio outside of Newry called Analogue Catalogue.

We spent the day recording the five tracks in this huge live room, with an old acoustic piano and an array of classic guitars, analogue synths and all kinds of cool instruments around. It was a great way to record my first EP.

It’s very scenic too and has two donkeys living on the land – they were a highlight!

You regularly participate in Áras Chrónáin the Irish Cultural Centre’s Troubadour Nights, how has this outlet helped you to develop as a performer?

I love the Troubadour Nights. Most importantly, it has been a great way to connect with local people who share a passion for live music and who want to support artists.

As a performer, it’s given me the opportunity to challenge myself, as we often do theme nights such as ‘Music of the 70’s’, and each performer will learn a couple of new covers, alongside the performance of their own material.

It really is just great craic, and I’m looking forward to the next one, whenever that may be.

The ‘Lake Michigan’ EP is out now and is available via streaming, download or on CD at www.niamhkeane.bandcamp.com

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