Crippling self doubt led singer/songwriter, Lynda Cullen, to develop a drink problem. The Wexford native, who is launching her second album in Cork and Dublin, believes that most artists suffer from low self esteem. She drank before, during and after gigs, until she admitted to herself that she was an alcoholic and sought help.
Based in the Black Forest region of Germany where she teaches English to pay the bills and travels with her alternative folk music, Cullen says that excessive drinking is a real problem in the music industry, and the arts as a whole, because creators are generally very sensitive people.
“In Ireland, it’s that bit harder as drink is ingrained in our culture and is part of the stereotype of the Irish musician.”
But Cullen is pleased to report that attitudes are changing in Ireland.
More and more people are opening up. It’s the only way to break the stigma of mental health and addiction issues.
Cullen gave up drinking six and a half years ago. She hit rock bottom a number of times but doesn’t want to elaborate on that. “I really thought it was the end. I didn’t think I’d be able to perform or socialise or travel without drink. For the first year, I thought ‘how is this going to work?’ I allowed it to define me. But I didn’t want to be an alcoholic who plays music. I wanted to be a musician who also has an alcohol problem.”
At the start of her sobriety, Cullen experienced a lot of shame. “But now, I feel extremely empowered and happy. I had got to the point where I knew I couldn’t go on. I finally picked up the phone to my twin sister. It was the best phone call I ever made.” Cullen went for treatment for her addiction in Wexford.
Aged almost forty, Cullen says that a Cork musician whom she gigged with, was also a great help. “Fintan Lucy told me that the gigs with me were too difficult and that he wanted to take a step back. I was really angry with him but with time, I realised he was a friend who was honest with me. He said that while everyone else would stand around and cheer me on at parties, he did not want to watch the knife of addiction going any further.”
Today, Cullen is a changed woman.
Nothing makes me happier than singing. When I’m singing and expressing myself, I feel like I’m in control and better than I’ve ever felt.
Cullen’s lyrics deal with “thoughts and fears and the daily things that happen”. She studied philosophy at the Milltown Institute in Dublin, looking for answers to the big questions. It took her a while to realise that “it’s the simple description of things and feelings that have a far wider appeal to people without the need for heavy convoluted lyrics about the meaning of life.”
The musician’s first real experience of performing was in South Korea where she was teaching
English. She met Hahn Dae Soo while taking part in a singsong at a bar in Seoul. He asked Cullen to sing on his tenth album. “What I didn’t know at the time is that he happens to be the Bob Dylan of South Korea.”
During the recording of that album, Cullen met a bunch of musicians who asked her to form a band. They released an album in 2005.
In 2006, Cullen returned to Ireland and did the music management and sound course at Colaiste Stiofáin Naofa in Cork. “The most important thing I learned from the teachers there was how to remain true to myself and deal with others with integrity in this sometimes savage music business.”
Her new album, Smoke Without a Fire, was recorded in North Carolina with musicians, The Cardinals. Cullen is now an assured performer who has found her voice in more ways than one.