Inni-K: “Something New Opened Up In Me”

Eithne Ní Chatháin’s new album under the alias Inni-K resides somewhere between Irish folk’s brittle nature, and quiet indie innovation. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with the Kildare woman about writing, recording, and the Gaelgoir revival in Irish music.

Inni-K, the working name of singer and multi-instrumentalist Eithne Ní Chatháin, brings a broad church of sounds under her remit. Parlaying a background in folk and trad music into contemporary composition, elements of wider folk, indie music of various hues and more experiemental fare permeate her work, playing to the strengths of a clear, yet distinct voice. Her penchant for progress has brought her to share stages with a gamut of established names, including Malian kora exponent Toumani Diabate, drummer Jeff Ballard, Frames man Glen Hansard, Liam Ó Maonlaí, Lisa Hannigan and many more.

Second album ‘The Hare and the Line’ has released this past month via Green Willow Recordings, marking the end of a four-year wait and heralding an expansion for Ní Catháin’s sound that makes itself felt right from the opening seconds of its title track, not shy of asking grand questions (‘how do you/I define her?’) of her own place as an artist and as a human being. With the album available now, the question of what comprises a ‘finished’ record emerges, chiming with her feelings on the album as a whole. “I feel very satisfied & proud, to have the new album completed, and to have it out in the world. I really look forward to performing the songs live over the coming months, at gigs and festivals, (and also) to see how people interact and engage with the songs.”

The creative and post-production processes differed this time around, coming together over the past year or so, after the jettisoning of an unreleased long-player. The disappointment of a body of work not coming together can be a difficult one to overcome for many artists, but Ní Catháin took the impasse and new start as a challenge. “I pretty much had the guts of an album of different songs ready to go about a year ago but something in me knew to hold off, they didn’t feel quite right. I think, in hindsight, they were a stepping stone in clearing the way to the new songs on this record, but it is always a little disappointing to let go of something you’ve been working on and face the blank page again. In doing so, however, I think something new opened up in me, and the songs on this album came quite easily once they came. They are, I think more personal in theme and tone, and feel quite different.”

Collaboration and co-writing opened up the process of creating the new record for Ní Catháin, with arrangements and post-production making all the difference not only for getting the record done and dusted, but for doing so in a manner that kept her own engagement up as a creator. “The whole process was a much less lonely experience for me than ever before. It was a lot of fun. Songwriting for me seems to be an alone endeavour, maybe necessarily so; and I do really enjoy that. But from the moment I brought the songs to my friend, drummer & main collaborator Brian Walsh, things started getting interesting. Brian was more involved in the makeup of the songs much earlier in the process than with my last album (‘The King has Two Horse’s Ears’), and I think the songs are richer for that.”

Post-production began after that whole process came to its conclusion, with producer and engineer Alex Borwick leaving his mark on proceedings. The motley crew decamped to a remote location in the depths of winter, with embellishments made at various locations thereafter, and the resulting mix of atmospheres resonates throughout the record. “We totally hit it off as a team, and within a couple of weeks, after pre-production work on the songs in Rathfarnham with Alex, and with Brian up in the lovely Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Monaghan, (we) headed to a farmhouse in Co. Wicklow with two jam-packed cars full of our gear for a week before Christmas, and got to work on the bones of the album… we kept working pretty much over Christmas, spending a day recording rhodes, organs and piano up in the stunning Hellfire Studios, in the Dublin mountains, and then in various guest musicians houses around Dublin. I was so happy to have such great musicians & friends join us for the project: Dónal Gunne on guitar, Seán Mac Erlaine on clarinets, Patrick O’Laoghaire (I Have a Tribe) on backing vocals, Caimin Gilmore & Cormac O’Brien on bass. It was a really fantastic collaborative experience and I couldn’t have asked for a better team.”

It’s eclectic company to keep, but Ní Catháin is no stranger to breathing rarefied air, having shared the stage with some of the living legends of folk musics from all over the world. Her comfort with operating within folk is displayed most deftly on the new record in the quiet, tape-warm sparseness of ‘Póirste Béil’, and it’s this ability to bridge gaps that has put her to the forefront of the new wave of trad and folk. “I’ve seen it mostly in Dublin, just ‘cause that’s where I spend most of my time, but I’m sure it’s the same around the country. It seems there’s more of interest in songs and tunes, in a stripped back kind of way, that they stand on their own. There’s definitely more pride, and an interest around it now, and so many fantastic singers and musicians.”

Ní Catháin’s use of bilingual lyrics is an important talking point regarding her place on the Irish music scene, as the mother tongue has made a steady re-emergence in Irish music. Rappers like MC Muipéid and Belfast trio Kneecap, dancehall crooner Ushmush, blackened metallers Corr Mhóna, and even Corkonian humourist Craic Boi Mental have all made An Gaeilge central to bodies of their work. It’s a point of pride for many people. “It’s great that Gaeilge is being used in different genres, and that people are finding it to be the expressive, poetic and beautiful language that it is. Again, like the resurgence in trad & folk music, it’s inspiring and uplifting to see more people take pride in our own language. I saw Kneecap perform in Inishbofin last summer, they were something else! (laughs)”

Just off the road from gigs in the US and Canada over the course of February, Ní Catháin and collaborators are hitting the road again, this time with a national tour to back the new record. This jaunt around the country includes a pair of Cork gigs, in Coughlan’s of Douglas Street and Levis’ village pub in Ballydehob, two modern-day outposts for forward-thinking folk. It’s the jumping-off point for the kind of interaction she relishes from a gig. “The Cork shows are the first dates of the Irish tour, and two more gorgeous, intimate venues you’d be hard pressed to find. I love both venues, and can’t wait to play them. We hope to raise the roof with the new tunes!”

Inni-K plays at Coughlan’s Live on Douglas Street on Friday April 5th, and at Levis’ of Ballydehob the following night. New album ‘The Hare and the Line’ is available now across all digital services. For more information, check out, and stay tuned to her social media presences.

Inni-K and Stephen James Smith: The Best of Both Worlds

As singer-songwriter Inni-K prepares for collaborative dates with poet Stephen James Smith, Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with both about how they came together and what to expect.

The interaction between music and forms of spoken word has been a recurring feature of live activity in Cork, with an active and vocal hip-hop scene buttressed by spoken word acts like Wasps vs. Humans that cross-check their musical frame of reference with their own words and cadence. Against this background comes the collaboration of folk singer Inni-K and poet Stephen James Smith, touring the venues of Cork county next weekend and coming together from a collaborative performance on Smith’s celebratory commission for St. Patrick’s Festival in Dublin last year. Smith explains the roots of the collaboration. “I first heard Eithne when she was playing alongside Alyanya, who ironically is part of the tour also in Levis’ Bar, about 10 years ago, and her music stayed with me since then. Her song Gui always touched me and I felt it would be a fitting prayer to end my poem for St. Patrick’s Day My Ireland. After all it is a fairly intense piece, so having Eithne’s presence helped to ease the listener out of the frenzy. The fact the it’s an Irish language song and something that I know to be dear to Eithne also added an additional layer of mean for me also.”

It’s a very specific thing, a “tour of Cork”, with four very important local venues across the county being hit. Levis’ of Ballydehob, Connolly’s of Leap, DeBarra’s of Clonakilty and the Triskel each host a show with different opening acts. Smith provides insight into the idea and assembly of the tour. “Well I can’t really take too much credit for it. It was Eithne’s idea as she was down in Cork and wanted to do some gigs. I’ll be in Kerry for the Listowel Writer’s Week for the 5 days before the tour, so it was only a short trek to buzz down. I’ve performed in all these iconic venues – apart from Levis’ – before and thought it would be fun to hit them all over four days. I guess also, where I’m at now, I need to be doing more tours like this. I’m lucky to have travelled far and wide touring 11 different countries with my poetry, which I never expected, but now I need to be a bit more focused and organising trips like this, and not be reliant on others to offer support slots or festival gigs. That why this is so exciting for me as it’s a new frontier.”

This autumn sees Smith release his debut collection of poems, after a career that has seen him cross the world. How does it feel to see your experience encapsulated in a singular tome? “I’m sh*tting myself (laughs), excuse me! But it’s the truth. It’ll also be a relief to finally get it out there and allow me to move on somewhat. I’ll have lived with some of these poems for years, and in a way the book will be a resting place for them allowing me to refocus on new challenges. I’ll be working with a choreographer for a show in 2018, I’ve other musicians and directors I’d like to work with, so while the book is a long time coming, I feel it’s cooked now and I’ve dragged my heels with it for far too long. I guess part of that is once it’s out there, there’s no turning back. Still, I don’t want to be trapped by my own inertia. At the risk of being cocky I think it’ll be a good collection and sure if folks don’t like it I can at least be proud that I was bold enough to try.”

For Eithne Ní Catháin, the artist better known as Inni-K, this collaborative tour is an opportunity to flex musical muscle and explore the interplay between the musical and speaking disciplines. Ní Catháin looks at how the tour allows her to do so. “Since my early days listening and playing in sessions, there’d be a song, a tune, a poem, a funny story; a lot of the old songs were of course poems put to music; so songs and poems go hand in hand in my world. It’s interesting for me to collaborate with an artist like Stephen. His performances of his poems can leave you floating in the whirlwind aftermath of his epic My Ireland or the sheer honest & poignant beauty of The Gardener. To follow on with music or a song inspired by the mood of the poem, or to bring the listener to somewhere else entirely is a dynamic interplay I look forward to during our shows next week. We’ll both be doing what we do, and I’m excited to see what the interaction will be – between Stephen and I, and our special guests along the way – Brían Mac Gloinn (Ye Vagabonds) & Alyanya we’ll be coming to the audiences brimful of songs, music & poems, I think there will be something for everybody.”

Most recently, Ní Catháin’s song Come With Me was used as the theme for the Cruinniú na Cásca festival. How did that come about? “I was thrilled to have my song ‘Come with Me’ blasted all over the radio & TV for the lead up of Cruinniú na Cásca. It was a great day of music & culture all over the country and I was proud to be part of it; both having my song used as the theme for the day, and also performing in Dublin castle with my band, and also in Kilruddery house later in Bray. RTÉ got in touch with me to see if they could use the song, so I of course was delighted.”

The tour goes to arguably the backbone of Cork cultural venues. Ní Catháin explains her frame of mind heading into the tour, and how performances might change to suit the idiosyncrasies of each venue. “These indeed are very lovely venues we’re going to visit next week all over Cork. My favourite kind: small enough, intimate, listening venues. My thing going into the tour is that this will just be a lovely week of doing what I love doing, singing my songs for people who’ll listen. I’m in a writing period these days, so it’s great to get out and perform from time to time too. I look forward to hearing Stephen’s poems as always, and I suppose I’ll endure his bodhrán ‘playing’ (laughs). Brían Mac Gloinn, who’ll join us in Connolly’s and Gulpd, is really one of my favourite singers around & Alyanya who’ll join us in Levis’, is an old friend and super singer-songwriter. We’ll have a ball, sure, and hope the audiences will too. There certainly will be an element of improvising as each venue & special guest will inspire. I’ll be down for a few weeks in west Cork writing and working on some songs for my new album, so this will be a total distraction!”

Inni-K and Stephen James Smith perform a series of collaborative dates next weekend: June 5th at Levis’ of Ballydehob (7pm, donations); June 6th at DeBarra’s of Clonakilty (8pm, part of Psoken Wrod open-mic); June 7th at Connolly’s of Leap (8pm, €10) and June 8th at Gulpd Cafe (8pm, €10).