GOLDMINE: Congratulations on Juniper and hello to you in Ireland, a country filled with friendly people, and such beautiful sights like the Cliffs of Moher.
LISA LAMBE: Thank you. The Wild Atlantic Way is breathtaking.
GM: My daughter Brianna studied at Queen’s University in your hometown of Belfast and I have stayed in Limerick, the home of The Cranberries. Our editor Pat Prince and I were both saddened by the loss of Dolores O’Riordan in 2018. He had just interviewed her for our Goldmine podcast series, highlighting their orchestrated compilation Something Else, my favorite album of the year, and then it was just the next month that I was writing an In Memoriam piece on her, weeks after I felt the magazine got to know Dolores. Let’s begin with a pair of songs updated on Something Else which we first heard in the mid-1990s, “When You’re Gone” and its vinyl flip side “Free to Decide.”
LL: Sure. As a teenager in Ireland it was Joni Mitchell and The Cranberries who I was listening to in my bedroom. I was so inspired by that incredible alternative rock band, who were Irish, and were from Limerick and the voice of Dolores O’Riordan. She was a stunning powerhouse, with a haunting and beautiful voice within this fantastically cool rock band. It was like the perfect combination. “When You’re Gone,” and other songs from the band, take me back to a time of being very young, listening to my older brothers and sisters singing those songs at home, word for word. With “When You’re Gone,” Dolores wrote it about her grandfather passing away, which makes it just so human. Her songwriting ability was great. I look at her lyrics and they were so intimate, taking something as delicate as losing a grandfather, which is so personal yet so universal at the same time. She was a huge beautiful force in the world who is greatly missed but her music is able to live on and speak to people. Now what I love about “Free to Decide” is that it seems to be about having your own opinion and your own way, and that’s how it is going to be, making it an empowering anthem, with a bit of edge and attitude to it as well. It is great, as we all need those songs.
Flip side: Free to Decide
A side: When You’re Gone
Top 100 debut: November 23, 1996
Peak position: No. 22
GM: Now on to your new album Juniper which starts out beautifully with “Vision in Grey” accented by mandolin playing from Anna Houston.
LL: Yes. Anna is this amazing Swiss musician who now lives in Sligo, Ireland. She plays in a band called No Crows with Steve Wickham of The Waterboys. It was beautiful to have her come and work on this project. She was great. I have sung with No Crows as well. All of the songs were written in the west of Ireland in a very beautiful part of Galway that we call Connemara on the Wild Atlantic Way on the western seaport, in a very remote and isolated area. In the strange period in the world we are now in with self isolating, for me writing is about going to a place, choosing to isolate and seeing where my mind is at with lyrics and what I want to say. So going to Connemara to write the Juniper album was an amazing experience because I was surrounded by this incredible landscape. “Vision in Grey” was inspired by a full moon over the harbor in a tiny fishing village in the west of Ireland. The full moon was shining its light onto the water like jewels and I thought about the moon being a woman who has left the sky and has come down to spread her beautiful jewels on the water and the night sky is calling her back. The moon becomes a young girl looking forward and looking back and like a vision in grey, she smiles. It is my love letter to the moon as a beautiful lantern.
GM: What a way to start the album. Your voice has been compared, sometimes, to Natalie Merchant, who I first heard singing as a member of 10,000 Maniacs. I think this is most true on the haunting “Dust and Sand,” with an enjoyable video too.
LL: Ah, thank you. I was delighted to go back to the landscape where I wrote these songs and capture something visually. “Dust and Sand” was written in isolation like being in no man’s land, a purgatory where we are in a place between being lost and being found. Now we all feel like we are set adrift and know that what was familiar is changing on a daily basis. I was trying to channel a feeling that it is okay to be lost on a bridge between what you know and what you don’t. It is my message that music can reach us all and help us.
GM: For Father’s Day last year Brianna took me to a Florence + The Machine concert in Orlando and I hear a bit of that sound in your catchy “Burning Love.”
LL: Wow. Thank you so much. I am a huge fan of Florence + The Machine. With “Burning Love,” working with Karl Odlum as a producer on the record, Karl felt that not every song needed to have the same pace or tone but lyrically, because it was all created in the same place, it will have that continuity to it. So “Burning Love” lights a bit of a fire on the album. It came very organically as well. Making the album with these wonderful musicians was such a joy. The songs were recorded at Attica Studios in the beautiful northeast of Ireland in Donegal, surrounded by nature, making these pop songs with a strong message to them.
GM: Speaking of beauty, “Someone Like You” and “North Star Rise” are among the most beautiful songs on the album.
LL: Oh, thank you so much. Being an actor as well, I fall in love with storytelling and I think that being a songwriter is about telling stories. With “North Star Rise” I wanted people to feel like it is a spiritual compass, with the North Star being that compass. A North Star can be anything in our lives, a person we love, it can be our home, it can be about what makes one comfortable or happiest. With constant change there is the message that we will be all right. With “Someone Like You” I was looking out the window and it was really wintry and cold. I was watching the fishermen coming into the harbor and I was amazed at their dedication every day. I wrote it as a love song but I was looking at nature and life outside as an inspiration. Karl assembled a wonderful collection of musicians in the studio to convey these songs.
GM: Karl and some of the musicians have worked with Glen Hansard, who I know from The Swell Season, after Brianna and my wife Donna saw the musical Once and introduced me to his wonderful music.
LL: Yeah, for sure. We have toured with Glen. Karl was with him and joined by a great legacy of musicians. It has been so lovely to be included and brought into this circle of magic. Karl has an incredible way of really seeing music, not only hearing it. We all recorded the music at the exact same time. I was in the same room as everybody else, in a circle. I was very much hearing Ruth O’Mahony-Brady play piano, keyboards and organ, Jake Curran on guitar, Dave Hingerty on drums, Anna playing cello and mandolin, Steve Wickham, who came in and added so many colors on violin on “Holding Back the Tide,” and Karl on bass, making it a very live experience.
GM: You mentioned Steve again. The first time that I heard Steve’s violin was on U2’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday” in 1983, the year that you and Brianna were born, and felt it added even more power to the song. With “Holding Back the Tide,” I think the 3/4 time for the song helps to make it feel like a rolling backdrop.
LL: Well, that’s exactly it. That is what we were hoping for, that swirl and push and pull of the ocean. Steve absorbs the music and gives it back with an incredible interpretation. I was so delighted to have him on board. He is like a firefly and just ignited the whole thing and with Steve on violin and Ruth on piano it was like they were musically dancing on the song, playing off of each other. Everyone was openhearted and clear minded to capture the lightning of the recording sessions.
GM: With the first single, “Tiny Devotions,” the bridge is so strong and the high notes you reach at the ending are emotionally powerful.
LL: Oh, thank you. “Tiny Devotions” is another beautiful song and a lovely message for me to begin the campaign of the Juniper album by releasing it as the first single. The message is for always but especially for now, to hold on and things will get better. It is a story for me and all my ancestors. I think of my grandmother and I never got to meet her as I was the youngest of ten kids growing up and my grandparents had passed away, so I often think as an actor that I want to tell stories and that it is me living and breathing, that I am Lisa from Dublin, Ireland and this is me telling my story. This album is really personal, told through the language of nature in song.
GM: The new second single, “Hunter’s Moon” has a wonderful Stevie Nicks sound.
LL: “Hunter’s Moon” is yet another love letter to Connemara. I love the night sky and the different quarters of the moon. The hunter’s moon is the full moon after the harvest moon. It is a beautiful moon toward the end of the year. I love the idea of that and its name. Again, it is an ode to the outdoors.
GM: Now on to a few recordings from you. When my best friend John and I were eleven in Ohio we first heard Canada’s Guess Who with “These Eyes,” which is still his favorite song from the band. How did you choose that song to cover?
LL: I love that song. On one of my first trips to the U.S., on a break from the tour with Celtic Woman, I sat in the Blue Elan Records office and Kirk Pasich, the president of the label, who is a fantastic man, and I were talking about old songs that we love and I was talking about Joni Mitchell and he was talking about The Guess Who and asked, “Why don’t we try this?” I was there doing a series of demos for about ten days and recorded that. What a fantastic song. It is a dangerous one to do because the original is vocally and musically so perfect. I thought it would be nice to try it as a female as well and give it a go.
GM: Another of my Ohio friends is singer-songwriter and pianist Melissa Claire. She not only told me that she feels that “Hunter’s Moon” is enchanting and peaceful, but let me know that she is also a big Celtic Woman fan. I asked her to share with me her thoughts on one of your Celtic Woman songs. She said, “’The Parting Glass’ tells a story of reminiscence and of being at peace with the past. The deep haunting music and the lilt of each individual’s voice brightens spirits of fans and puts smiles on their faces.”
LL: Wow! Thank you, Melissa. It is a song that I have known since I was a child and is one that we do at the very end of the show. Again, I think it is about the message of it, raising a glass to those left behind, who have gone before us, and absent friends, and it is kind of a blessing as well. I love singing it on the road thinking of my family from wherever I am on the planet. I take that moment and think about home. People in every household and every pub in Ireland knows this song. It is one of those songs that is in our DNA since we’re born. It is an ode to Ireland and one of the great songbook songs from here. I am so thrilled that you have reached out to me to ask me to do this. You are the first U.S. person that I have talked to about the album and I am honored. I hope that when it becomes safe for the world to travel again that I will cross paths with you and the Goldmine readers on a tour.