Lucy Zirins Interview
London based singer songwriter Lucy Zirins comes from a small town called Burnley in Lancashire, with visits to Italy and France under her belt by the time she was 18 years old, Lucy began gigging solo at just 16. She picked up the guitar aged 12 after inheriting one from her late Uncle and began songwriting early.
Her first album “Chasing Clocks” debuted in 2013 to excellent reviews and airplay from national BBC Radio 2 and BBC Radio 6. Respected country magazine, Maverick said “There are not too many debut albums as promising as this” and R2 Magazine praising the album for it’s “modern folk-tinged country” sound and Lucy’s vocal delivery.
Featuring pedal steel legend BJ Cole and Richard Causon (Tom Jones, Ryan Adams) on keys, the album’s material was written and arranged by Lucy and produced by mentor and long time friend Michael Messer, who she met at the European Blues Association week, age 15, after receiving the Sam Mitchell Scholarship.
In November 2015 Lucy released “What’s in Front of Me”, a six track follow up EP to her first album “Chasing Clocks”. Featuring Lucy’s touring band “The Southern Company” including Andy Crowdy, Simon Price and Pete Billington, it features an eclectic mix of vocals, double bass, guitar, strings, keys, organ, drums and percussion.
Rock ‘n’ Reel Magazine reviewed the EP saying, “Still in her early twenties, if she can continue to write songs of this calibre, Lucy Zirins will become a major player.” in the music business.
Lucy has received a number of accolades including PRS “Class of 2010” for her promise as a young UK songwriter at just 18 years old. She was a UK Country Radio songwriter finalist in 2014 and has been nominated for the British Blues Awards in various categories both as a songwriter and artist for the past 4 years, winning in 2013.
Lucy is currently touring the UK and having already appeared in Oakworth in February, she will be returning to Yorkshire in May, June and July 2016. When not on tour she will be working in the studio on her next album.
What inspired you to take up music?
I guess there’s a number of factors which added up, I was really lucky to have parents who were into music, so I was always listening and absorbing from a young age. I always go back to listening to my Dad’s cassette tape in the car as a fundamental thing for me.
We used to take my Mum to work on her night shifts and me and my sister would be in the back of the car in our PJs singing along to Fleetwood Mac, Don Mclean, Ralph McTell, Beautiful South, The Corrs, Deacon Blue, Elvis Costello – loads of really, really good singer-songwriter crafted stuff and I guess it just seeped in.
I used to make up songs to the click of the indicator in the car and write my Mum little poems so I guess the knack for songwriting was there from a young age. School was pivotal for me too. I somehow got the lead role in my school nativity in my final year of junior school and ended up with a solo in the play.
My parents didn’t even know I could sing or was singing in it until they came to see me! I guess they kind of realised that I could do it a bit, so I never stopped. Through high school I had amazing support from my music teacher Saph who started me off playing double bass and singing in talent shows.
When my Uncle died when I was 12 though – that was the real moment of change. He was an accordion player (like my Grandfather) but was learning to play the guitar. I inherited his acoustic, took up songwriting as a coping mechanism and from then I never wanted to do anything else.
It was a real serious flip in to “this is what I want to do” and my way of taking something good from a bad situation. I feel like I get to keep a piece of him with me now through my music and hope I do him proud.
Which artist’s influence your music?
So many! Far too many to mention. I just love great songs, so influences can be anything from blues to country, folk to jazz, gospel, soul to heavy rock – all kind of seeps in! For me good music is just good music, regardless of genre.
Artist wise, Eva Cassidy is a biggie for me as I remember hearing her for the first time on the radio when I was young really vividly. There wasn’t so much of a “I want to do that or sound like that” moment, but I remember my ears pricking up and something in my head going “that’s good” more please.
I get comparisons to her a lot vocally, although I never tried to imitate her and in my head I’ll never be as good, her range and strength was astonishing! I also love Norah Jones, Carole King, Aretha Franklin, Joni Mitchell all strong female writers, arrangers and voices.
I’m a big Tom Waits, Ray LaMontagne, Ian Siegal fan too all great male storytellers. More recently I’ve got into Amos Lee, Tift Merritt and Chris Stapelton – they’re all wonderful.
What is your favorite album and why?
Carole King’s ‘Tapestry’ is my favourite record of all time, with Tom Wait’s ‘Heart of Saturday Night’ and ‘Closing Time’ coming in close second and third. Every song on ‘Tapestry’ is a killer, there’s not a bad song on the albion. The songs are so well crafted and beautifully performed in all their imperfection.
There’s a real moment in time captured on that record and a paradox of fragility and strength. For me as a female songwriter, Carole King is a huge source of inspiration. She shows me what can be achieved.
If you could duet with anyone who would it be and why?
I’d love to duet with Bonnie Raitt and get her to teach me some slide! I haven’t been playing much of it recently – I kind of fell out of love with it and wasn’t writing much using it, but I’m sure Bonnie could kick my ass back in to it. She’s a great vocalist and emotive performer so I’d love duet with her. There’s so many people I’d love to co-write with too. Carole King is an obvious one!
Out of all of the songs you have written & performed which is your favourite?
‘Goodnight’ from ‘Chasing Clocks’ was a favourite song of mine for a long time, because it feels like a really well crafted song both lyrically and musically. It has a huge emotional connection for myself.
It’s the perfect marriage of the everyman tale, with the personal, which is what all writers strive for, I guess. It’s predominantly about musicians who die too young from drink and drug abuse (27 club) but I’ve had friends go through shit from that too and so it’s kind of personal to me as well.
The song is about untimely death, so I guess in a way there’s something of me working through my Uncle’s loss. It’s really special to me and thought it sounds cruel, I love hearing people come up to me at gigs and say “it made me cry” because it means it touched them. (I do always apologise haha!)
Recently however, ‘Mercy’ from the EP has become a favourite. I remember sitting down to write and the next thing the song being there. A lot of songwriters talk about pulling from the Ether, songs being plucked from the wind and ‘Mercy’ was definitely one of those.
It’s a really personal song again, about the stresses and trials of a relationship on a day to day basis, that can become especially noticeable when you’re trying to carve a career that can be really self focused. We’re all flawed humans and I really like that when I play that song, so many people in the crowd feel connected to it.
There are so many new tracks from the next record I’ve written that I’m in love with right now though, so I guess it changes constantly and will always be that way.
When writing new material do you think it’s important to be individual?
I think it’s important to be authentic to yourself and that doesn’t always mean sounding ‘individual’. Songwriters are all sponges (there’s a quote for you!), we’re all tools of osmosis, absorbing different music, literature, art and life experiences constantly.
I think as a songwriter the best thing you can do is let it flow out of you as untamed as you can and then go back and craft and change it. There’s a Nashville saying that you don’t write a song, you rewrite it. That’s true. So sometimes I might write something and realise I’ve pulled a lyric from somewhere else, so I go back and tweak it to be more of myself.
At the end of the day there’s only so much western harmony, so many chords, scales, so we’re all borrowing from each other. The truth and the story, however, is personal and from your brain only. You paint that, even if you’re talking about someone else.
Only I have the experiences I’ve had and my voice is my own. Though musically I may derive from the things I hear, I hope it all jumbles together in a mush of vulnerability, metaphors and music to sound like me!
The music industry is difficult to break into have you ever considered going down the talent show route?
It’s not for me. Those things are great for a lot of people and if someone struggles for years and it breaks them, then fair play to them. It all depends what you want out of a career. Of course so many people have been successful because of these shows and they’re nothing new; manufactured artists are as old as time.
But I guess the thing we’ve all seen time and time again is the pop star who wins the show and in a year disappears in to tarnished obscurity, because they don’t have a foundation or a voice of their own. Or they do, but it becomes about what someone else puppets them in to business wise.
The key to success in the industry, I’ve learned lately is diversification. You have to exploit everything you do in to different areas to earn an income. So I do session work, writing, performing and I’m hoping to branch out more in to library music work too.
Then when you have your moment and it all disappears, you know you can still diversify and look after yourself, because you’ve struggled and worked for it and built a solid foundation.
The other side is of course being business savvy, a lot of artists hate it, I guess I do too in a way. Money is a real pain! But knowing what to look for in deals and the contracts is really important too, Knowledge is power. I worry for a lot of people going through talent shows that they lack this.
You have a large amount of followers & fans across social media. Is that online connection important to you & your musical development?
Definitely! I love, love, love communicating with people through social media. It’s the best, if people support your music, you want to give back and share, so that’s what I do. Personal connection is really important whether at a show or online and the buzz you get back keeps you going.
Take my good friend Chantel McGregor as well for example, she’s built her whole fanbase on her ability to connect personally with people. She’s wicked, it’s something we both strive really hard for. I guess it must be the Northern natterers in us!
You have received a number of accolades including being picked by PRS as one of their “Class of 2010” as a promising young songwriter, what is it like to be given an award by people from your industry?
It’s amazing and humbling, they aren’t something I’ve actively ever chosen to seek, they’ve just sort of happened and for that I’m really grateful. There’s no better feeling than being told by the industry or your listeners that they think you’re doing well at what you do. It keeps me striving for the next goal all the time.
What are you plans for 2016?
I’m hoping to get in to the studio by the end of the year and start working towards the new record. I’ve written and am still writing a lot of material and though I want to start cutting all the songs as soon as possible.
It’s important me and the band rehearse and play them in and we give ourselves the time we need to get the record right. Rather than spending a week in the studio, I think we’re going spread out the recording sessions a little more this time and cut more songs than we need so we have loads of choice, and we also want to play around with production more.
It’s really cool and exciting to have a band I love and who are going to help nurture and collaborate on the record with me. Their experience on the EP was immeasurable, so I can’t wait to do it all again on a bigger scale.
I’m also working towards getting my foot in the door with library music, writing for other people and doing as much session work, gigging with the band and solo work as possible. I’ve also been talking about cutting a single for Christmas time and tagging that in as part of the sessions too, so we’ll see. There’s so much I want to do, I just have to find the time!