Míde Houlihan: “I Wanted to Create Something That Was Sadness and Comfort”

Having put her debut album out into the world and put in the hours on gigging, Cork-based singer-songwriter Míde Houlihan is continuing as she means to, with a new E.P. suitably titled ‘Shifting Gears’. Mike McGrath-Bryan has a chat with Houlihan ahead of her launch gigs at Coughlan’s and Golden Discs.

Momentum can affect artists in different ways, and what quickly goes from self-expression or jamming with the lads once a week, to suddenly becoming a set of responsibilities and obligations, can affect one’s creative process and desire to continue pushing themselves. Clonakilty singer-songwriter Míde Houlihan knows this all too well, between years of gigs and the success of 2015 debut album ‘Coloured In’. The latter met great critical acclaim and specialist radio playlisting, with IMRO following up by presenting her with a Christie Hennessy Songwriting Award that year.

The next step for Houlihan was a matter of patience, but manifests itself in ‘Switching Gears’, releasing next month. Timing aside, a focus for Houlihan was on narrative and storytelling, going straight to the very basics of the craft. “I’d been sitting on these songs for some time, trying to decide how I wanted them to meet the world. I think, as long as I’ve been writing, I’ve wanted to created situations that people can relate to, and make people feel like it’s okay to feel the way they do, because other people do too. I wanted to create something that was sadness and comfort, so it needed to be upbeat at the right times.”

Once this delicate balance had been settled on in Houlihan’s own time, inbetween a hectic schedule of gigs, making a coherent studio statement meant finding the right person for the job, and translating her internal language to a common process. “I’d heard great things from people who had worked with Christian Best (of Monique Studios), and loved the production on so many things he’d done, so I contacted him. We hit it off in the studio straight away. He just got it. We used images like ”monkeys on a train” to describe the way we wanted the song to feel, and we’d both laugh, but also know exactly what we were talking about.”

The extended-player is also the very first release for local label Unemployable, spearheaded by local raconteur Michael Grace, following a run of gigs around the place under the marquee. The boom in local labels and collectives has been well-documented in these pages as of late, and the combination of elbow grease and shoe leather is, as ever, the key for artists and their collaborators. “They’ve been incredible, we’re in contact almost every day, and they have news about potential gigs, interviews, etc. They always have their eyes peeled for new opportunities, and they work so hard to get them. You can tell they really believe in what we’re doing.”

Houlihan has been gigging around the place for eight years, with the Brú among her regular haunts. She’s quick to offer her take on the scene in Cork city and county, as well as an eternal conundrum that afflicts new and new-ish artists everywhere. “I think for a cover band or act, it’s not so difficult to get started in the Cork gigging scene. I do remember there being more songwriter sessions a few years back, and I think they’re a great platform for original music. It’s hard to convince a venue that you will bring a crowd if nobody’s heard your material, and it’s hard for people to hear your material if you’re not playing any gigs.”

‘Shifting Gears’ launches with a gig in Coughlan’s on Douglas Street on Friday 15th, as well as a lunchtime instore gig at Golden Discs. On the topic of the former, Houlihan exudes admiration for the place, and relays her experiences eagerly. “I’ve played Coughlan’s as a support act on a number of occasions, and have absolutely loved it every time. People go there for music, they respect and enjoy the music, and that’s a real treat, when you’ve played so many noisy bars. You get that pin-drop moment, and it feels like you and the whole room are sharing something pretty awesome.”

That gig is followed by a homecoming show in DeBarra’s on the 24th, that plays straight into Houlihan’s upbringing and local history. Familiarity, warmth and the end of a national touring cycle will make for a special gig for Houlihan herself.  “I’m really happy to be finishing there, because I grew up in Clonakilty, and everything about that venue feels like home. It’ll be like a huge, comforting group-hug at the end the tour, which I probably will enforce (laughs). I’ve seen and played some of my favourite gigs there. They even make sandwiches for the acts at the end of the night. I don’t think it gets more homely and lovely than that!”

The title ‘Shifting Gears’ is a statement in and of itself, but is no trite affirmation, as Houlihan will attest to: after the success of her debut, the time is now to simply hit the road and put the effort in. “I just want to get out there, and gig as much as possible. Play as many festivals as will have me, do an Irish summer tour, tour outside of Ireland, get singles and music videos out there, and work really hard to push this as far as it can go.”

Míde Houlihan’s new EP ‘Shifting Gears’ launches on CD and across digital platforms on Friday February 15th, with a daytime gig at Golden Discs on Patrick Street at 1pm (free), and an evening gig at 9pm at Coughlan’s on Douglas Street (€5). The launch continues on Sunday February 24th at DeBarra’s in Clonakilty.