Irish band Great White Lies is comprised of jazz players, choral singers, and soulful musicians. If that’s confused you already, the Donegal/Derry based outfit say of their music,
“Sonically speaking Regina Spektor has dinner with Amy Winehouse and they all grab a cuppa with Frank Zappa on the way home. Somewhere along the way Great White Lies sound resides.”
We spoke to founding member Siobhán Shiels, and asked her to tell us what it’s all about.
EP: ’Great White Lies’ is an interesting name, what’s the thinking behind that? Who are ‘Great White Lies’ and how did you come about? Basically…what’s the story!
SS – name. We’re all aware of little white lies we tell ourselves to keep going with the everyday, be it, just one more piece of chocolate that won’t hurt, to not disclosing the exact amount you drank the night before. While pondering this I came to a realisation that they accumulate into great white lies; from our governments, our parents, ourselves, partners. Unfortunately these great white lies can form the bedrock of our society.
I believe that we barely know ourselves, never mind our family and friends. We are battening down the barrier of these deceptions everyday to uncover who we are as individuals and as a society. My music is an attempt at opening the doors of deception and baring all to the world.
We came about after I rediscovered writing original music about 2 years ago. As a teenager I wrote songs aplenty and was in an original ska band in my late teens, then I went to university and got scared by the rules and regime and lost any confidence I had in my skill as a writer. Don’t get me wrong I loved uni and I got a whole lot from my experience from a performing aspect, yet to compose I felt unconfident and stayed in my comfort zone singing my heart out and interpreting various jazz standards.
While at uni my friend and I founded a gospel choir, where I got to really stretch my arranging skills and I loved playing about with harmonies and working with a huge sound. That choir, Inishowen Gospel Choir is still going, they just celebrated their 10th anniversary where I joined them performing on 2 of my songs. It was quite something. I digress.
So once I left the choir and uni I found myself compelled to write again and I’m lucky enough to know some great mates who joined up with me to make Great White Lies happen. Neil on keys, was in uni with me and he now leads the gospel choir, Gary on drums lives up the road, Peter is a local double bass jazz player, Ruth & Sally backing vocals, kazoo, ukulele are very close friends of mine and I’m very lucky to have such a talented bunch with for me the ride.
EP: How would you describe your style?
SS: I have a love of jazz and unconventional harmonic writing but I don’t feel that it could be classified as jazz. I admire Prince, Regina Spektor, Randy Newman, Ella Fitzgerald, Acoustic Ladyland and Alt J to name a few so they could all be influencing my pop/jazz style?
EP: There’s a LOT of great music coming out of Ireland. What do you think it is about the country that makes it such a hotbed for talented musicians?
SS: There is most definitely something in this country encouraging creativity. I moved to Ireland from Manchester as a child and upon my arrival I was singing in choirs and forming a band in my mates shed within my 1st year here.
Music is everywhere, especially in Inishowen, Co. Donegal where most of the people are creative; musicians, writers, artists, photographers… the list goes on, and that’s just my friendship group.
I feel being on an island at the edge of Europe with the wild atlantic to our west, there’s a sense of isolation and separateness which encourages creative endeavours. We don’t get tons of acts, shows and shopping centres to accommodate our time so we use time differently.
Being Irish has a cultural identity, which is admired. Irish people are thinkers and creativity is huge part of their process. We deconstruct and rebuild the world from our own westerly vantage point.
EP: Any musicians we should be on the look out for right now?
SS: Yes indeed. Comrade Hat – https://comradehat.bandcamp.com, who is the pianist in our band has amazing work creating electronic ambient pop with the wittiest lyrics you’ll come across.
I’m going to keep it local, there a few bands which are just starting out who I find impressive;
and Hannah McPhillimy http://hannahmcphillimy.com,
Not Squares https://soundcloud.com/not-squares
and of course my good friends
The Henry Girls – http://www.thehenrygirls.com,
EP: Your self-titled EP has three rather different songs on it – do you feel it’s important to not limit yourself to any one particular style, and if so, why?
SS: Definitely, I detest feeling constrained and I always want to push my boundaries. Idiosyncratic could be my consistency.
I write what I feel and ponder on. I daren’t try to control it, as ‘the caress’ (what my friend calls inspiration), is a medium of exploration, and new ground is where I wanna tread.
EP: What’s your take on the current state of the music industry right now? What advice do you have for anyone wanting to get into music as a professional?
SS: The current state is in flux I believe. It can be a dichotomy as you can become a superstar overnight through YouTube (Friday song girl) or through shows like X Factor and you can also be continuously playing and writing away touring and gaining a small but devoted fan base through hard work and graft which can take years to gain.
We can easily share our music to whole world with a click, but who really listens? And of those listeners who pays to hear it? Music streaming sites like Spotify can make it very easy for me to find new music and follow new acts but are they benefitting from my listens? Does the art they created, having me singing along in the car, put food on their tables? Unfortunately not.
For me being successful is not about getting famous, it’s about creating music people love and getting paid to play it. Luckily I don’t have dreams of flash cars or huge houses so being a musician who clambers on and takes their time to get things right and develops, hopefully accruing fan base who appreciates and finds joy from the music is my goal.
Advice to someone who wants to be a professional – be realistic, love what you do and just keep developing. It can be very hard to keep plodding on but when you hear people singing along to one of your songs when playing live it’s totally worth it.
EP: If you could start all over again, what would you do differently, if anything, and why?
SS: I started writing when I was a teenager and then self doubt crept in and I stopped. I wish I could go back to that teen and tell her to stick with it. I could be a stronger writer now.
EP: Where will Great White Lies be in one year? 5 years? 10?
SS: 1 yr – our first album recorded and released and touring Ireland and UK.
5 yrs – a few albums under our belts and become much more proficient musicians. Have worked on some interesting collaborations and have toured in some interesting places.
10 yrs – piloting the International Space Station with live gigs aboard
EP: What question do you wish someone would ask you in an interview but nobody ever does?
SS: – Why do you what you do?