Saint Sister’s sound is like nothing else on the Irish music scene at the moment, writes Ed Power.
IT HAS been a heavenly ascent for Saint Sister. Gemma Doherty and Morgan MacIntyre were strangers, more or less, when they began making music together four years ago. Now they are celebrating the release of a debut album that looks set to copperfasten their position as one of the most exciting new voices in Irish pop.
“We were both singing with the Trinity Orchestra choir and knew one other vaguely through that,” says MacIntyre. “But we were relatively unknown quantities to each other. It made it easier to start making music together. We had no friendship that we were tiptoeing around.
“There was no risk of us losing something at a personal level. It was about the music.”
A grounding in folk and traditional playing and a passion for electronic beats ensures Saint Sister sound like nobody else.
With Doherty’s harp interweaving with harmonised vocals, as grooves hum and flutter in the background, the effect is at once ethereal and primed for your playlist.
Sublime but a bit scary too, the eclectic formula has brought them quite a way. On this particular afternoon they are in Seattle, the latest leg of their first headline US tour.
“We would have been happy with anyone showing up,” says MacIntyre. “The response we have received has surprised and delighted us.”
Transporting Doherty’s enormous harp is an occasional challenge. US audiences have certainly been taken aback by the sheer heft of the instrument which, to the uninitiated, indeed looks like something out of the mead halls of Edoras.
“I do get nervous about it,” she laughs. “I keep checking the strings. But it travels pretty well, fingers crossed.”
There was a time when a band would release an album as soon as they could. Saint Sister have followed the more modern route of building an audience first, as a way of ensuring that, when they do put music out, someone will care
“For a long time we were just playing live shows,” says Doherty. “If the gigs were coming we were taking them. The focus for quite a while was getting the live thing in place. We weren’t crazy busy. But there was always enough happening that we were kept going.
“I’m glad we took our time. The live shows have definitely influenced the record and helped us figure out a few things and connect with the audience.”
Their collaboration is well named. They may have been strangers but have found in the other a true creative sibling. “We were both at that stage in our life where we were craving validation,” says MacIntyre.
“We’d just finished college and knew what we wanted to do. The problem was we didn’t know how to get there.
“I was definitely feeling a bit lost. I was trying to make music every day and feeling I wasn’t getting anywhere.
Shape of Silence was recorded in a mobile studio in Killorglin, Co Kerry. Doherty is from Derry and MacIntyre from Belfast so travelling to wildest Munster was quite a trek — creatively as much as geographically.
“It was very beautiful. The house was on a hill. You had a beautiful view into the valley,” says MacIntyre.
“There is something about the mindframe of being in an environment like that. You felt you were creating your own world and letting things breath.”
Shape of Silence is out now. Saint Sister play the Olympia in Dublin on Thursday; De Barra’s in Clonakilty, Friday; Live at St Luke’s in Cork on Saturday; Dolan’s in Limerick on Sunday