Feature: Cara Dillon
We just go with the flow …
With her latest album A Thousand Hearts under her belt (see review in Shire Folk 131), Cara Dillon took time out of her busy promotional schedule to talk to Shire Folk about Disney, singing in Gaelic and obscure nineties indie bands.
SF: It’s been five years since Hill of Thieves so what have you been doing in between times?
CD: We’ve been very busy. I had a baby girl, but apart from being busy with domestic stuff, we also signed a band called Winter Mountain to our record label, Charcoal Records. They’re fantastic and we’re so proud of how the album turned out – they’re great lads. That’s mainly Sam. He produced the album and he’s been working really closely with them. Apart from that, we’ve been touring on and off and I recorded a song for Disney’s Tinker Bell; Tinker Bell 3 it was (Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue). I went to Abbey Road and recorded a song with an orchestra there – it was an amazing experience. We do a song at the opening of the movie and a song over the closing credits. From that I was asked to go and sing at Disneyland Paris’s twenty-fifth anniversary, and over the spectacular show they played another song that we recorded for them. So there’s a bit of Disney magic in there! Apart from that we’ve been concentrating on our new album more recently. So it’s been quite a busy time.
SF: So you did Disney and Julie Fowlis did Brave – there’s a bit of a folk and animation thing going on.
CD: It must be time for a folksy thing to be going on at Disney and Pixar. It was a wonderful experience and something that I would never have dreamed of being asked to do.
SF: It must be a different experience to recording in your own studio to find yourself in Abbey Road with a full orchestra.
CD: A totally different experience. Even in the way they work. When we record Sam produces the albums and we work really closely together, whereas when you’re asked to do something for Disney there’s like three producers flown in from LA and every single word you sing is under scrutiny. It’s a different experience altogether, but it’s great to see things like that and see how it all operates.
SF: On this album and the previous one you’ve included a couple of songs in Gaelic. Has that been a deliberate policy or just chance?
CD: I absolutely love the Gaelic language. I don’t speak it fluently, I only know enough to say ‘Hello’, but it’s a really beautiful language. I didn’t make a conscious decision to do that, but the first song, ‘Eirigh Suas a Stoirin’, I’ve been singing since I was fifteen. I used to sing it in a band I was in when I was at school. We started to do it as an upbeat song in our live performances and afterwards people kept asking where they could get the song. It seemed really natural to record it down. The other song, ‘Taimse im’ Chodladh’, is a song I’ve loved for years and years. I knew the melody and Zoe Conway, who occasionally plays with us, recorded a version of it. The melody is so beautiful that I said to Sam we should have a go with that. We had a listen to it and we got a good friend of mine to translate it and write it out in phonetics for me. When it was translated it turns out that the hookline of the song is, ‘Don’t wake me, I’m sleeping’ and it says, ‘Take your spears to the Englishman’ [laughs]. I said to Sam that I don’t think we should record that bit. It’s a beautiful, poetic song about Ireland, but there’s this undercurrent that runs through it. I can’t sing that, married to an Englishman! We have a laugh about it in concerts, but it goes to show that music and language transcends everything and that none of that matters. The melody shines and people seem to love it and connect with it.
SF: It’s a fantastic album. The track that really jumped out at me was ‘River Run’, and the way that you’ve done it, with just you and the piano, makes it sound really personal to you. Is that right?
CD: When Sam and I were signed to Warner Music when we were nineteen, they gave us a pile of CDs of different bands to listen to and this band Suddenly Tammy!, an American band, we picked out their CD and we were listening to it constantly and that song is one of theirs. She wrote it about River Phoenix ...
SF: Oh, it makes sense now ...
CD: For me, when I sing it just takes me to a completely different place. River Phoenix in some ways doesn’t mean that much to me, but it seems to be a whole mixture of things that stir my soul, I can’t explain it, so you’re right, it is very special to me and it’s one I’ve been singing since I was nineteen. I used to sing it at soundchecks all the time and then we decided to put it on the album. It’s such a wonderful song that the world deserves to hear it. Obviously Suddenly Tammy! didn’t really take off ...
SF: I can’t say I’ve heard of them to be honest.
CD: No. I think the girl who wrote it is a teacher now in New York. We had to write to her and ask her permission. She was just thrown and couldn’t believe that somebody had picked up on it – it would mean the world to her. I said to Sam for all of our sakes, more for her because she’s a teacher and she’s written this brilliant song, how great would it be to get it in a movie and make some money out of it?
SF: I just thought it was about a river.
CD: When I sing it I think of it as a river, but you can interpret a song, can’t you?
SF: You’re in the middle of big tour at the moment aren’t you?
CD: Yes it’s never-ending touring at the moment. We’re heading over to Belfast and Dublin to do some promos for the album and then we’ll be back for lots of festivals over the summer, then we’re going to China in the autumn. Then there’s more stuff pencilled in for the New Year. I think there’s talk of Sam and I doing a little tour – just the two of us. Give us a chance to do all the songs we’ve ever recorded from across the board. We never have a grand plan, to be honest. We just go with the flow. It’s the same with the music and the recording process. If the next album doesn’t happen for a few years, then so be it, but it has to be the right time.
Cara Dillon’s latest album A Thousand Hearts is out now on Charcoal Records