Saint Sister, formed in November 2014, is the ongoing project of Morgan MacIntyre and Gemma Doherty. Their music draws from early Celtic harp traditions, 60s folk and electronic pop to create 'atmosfolk'.
How did you meet, and how did you decide to start Saint Sister?
Morgan- I had been working on my own music as more of a singer-songwriter, for quite a while before meeting Gemma. I had done bits and pieces of work with a few different musicians, and got a lot out of it, but I knew that I wanted to start making different kinds of music. Though at the time I wasn’t sure exactly what that would be, I knew I wanted to find a partner and Gemma came into my mind. She was singing with the orchestra, and she and her friends looked out for me when I joined up in my last year of college. I sent her a message, we met for coffee and it all went from there.
Gemma- I think we were in the same place in our heads, in that we found each other in that sweet spot between graduating from university and the start of looking for work, so we were open to ideas. Starting to write with Morgan was really refreshing and interesting for me, coming from a more classical and traditional background. Teaming up with a songwriter was a really lovely change in direction.
Where did the name- Saint Sister come from?
Morgan- My mum came up with the name ‘Oh Sister’ and we both really liked that, as we both have one sister and working so closely together makes us think of sisterhood. But there was already somebody working under that name, and so Gemma came up with the ‘Saint’ and here we are.
You have over 1.5m listeners on Spotify, performed headline shows across the UK and Ireland, as well supporting well known artists such as Will Butler and Lisa Hannigan, to name but two. Did you get a sense it could work out as well as it has right from the start?
Gemma- We had no real idea of what to expect, but from the beginning we trusted each other’s instincts.
Morgan- I had written with people before who would write lyrics and melodies and putting your own stamp on that could be difficult. Although this isn’t always the way it works, I write a lot of the lyrics and then take them to Gemma with an idea of a melody, and she will make the arrangements.
Gemma- I think it’s always evolving; sometimes a song is sparked from just one idea or one lyric, or sometimes it’s a full set of lyrics which we then work around together. Each song is its own collaborative process. We are just enjoying taking each opportunity as it presents itself.
Your music defies easy categorisation into any one genre, though due to its traditional Irish and electronic influences your sound has been coined as ‘Atmosfolk’. Was that a sound you had in mind when you started, or did it come naturally?
Gemma- I don’t think it’s ever been a conscious decision to write in a particular way or style. The harp fell quite easily into our setup, as it comes most naturally to me. Harp, keys and our two voices are the raw elements that we began working with, but from the beginning we were keen to play with a band and explore larger soundscapes.
Morgan- We both had similar influences, such as Bon Iver, but we didn’t really use anybody else’s music as a mould from which to write our own.
Your debut EP, Madrid, focuses on relationships- lovers, families and loneliness. What were your influences when writing Tin Man/Corpses?
Morgan- We don’t tend to write very happy songs. Personally, I find it hard to write lyrics that are happy because when I’m happy and with friends the last thing I want to do is shut myself away in a room and start writing about it. I want to live and enjoy those moments. When you’re on your own and you’re upset about something or thinking on something, I find it I find it easier to access that part of my brain. I suppose it’s like a certain type of therapy for me. All the songs on the Madrid EP touch on loneliness, relationships and tell a story. With Tin Man/Corpses, we wrote two songs that were really like an antithesis to each other. Dreams have had a large influence on my writing. Corpses is the story of a nightmare I had, where I dreamt that I had a really bad fight with someone, and the lingering bad energy I felt in my dream remained when I next saw them. Tin Man, on the other hand was about the sensation you have when you wake up from a really good dream, and you try to catch that feeling and hold on to it.
You recorded Madrid with Dublin-based Trout Records, before releasing Tin/Man corpses with London-based label Communion. Was that conscious decision, staying close to the heart of the music scene in Dublin?
Gemma- We were both just finishing college in Dublin when we formed the band, so it made sense to start here. Trout Records is run by a good friend and our manager, Conor Cusack, who helped us out massively at the start, even before we started working with him. We’ve done all of our recording at home in Ireland, in county Kerry with Alex Ryan.
Morgan- There’s a lovely atmosphere around music in Ireland, there are so many people putting out so many great things. Other Voices is so special, the people who run it are helping to develop so many different musical styles in Ireland.
What do you get out of performing? And what would you like your audience to take from your performances?
Morgan- I think I’m enjoying it more and more but I used to find it really difficult. I was just about used to singing in front of people, but with Saint Sister I started playing keys on stage and that threw me a bit. I would get really nervous before shows, to the point where I’d question if I could keep it up, as it isn’t good for you to have so much nervous adrenaline night after night. But touring has helped a lot and I’ve eased into it.
Gemma- After the first couple of shows on a tour you get into a rhythm of it, which makes it a lot easier. We really just want to give anybody who comes to see us an honest performance. If people take something, anything at all from our music, it’s a great thing.
Morgan- I used to find writing the easiest part, but I think everything is becoming more natural, and that as we are learning to perform better we are enjoying being in the moment more on stage and expressing ourselves better.
Do you have any plans to release an album?
Morgan- I think the natural urge for most artists is to create an album to encapsulate their work and it’s exciting working towards one but we don’t want to rush. At the moment we’re just writing as much as we can so that when the time comes we’ll have a large body of work to choose from.
Gemma- We had set aside some time for writing and recording this spring, but the opportunity arose for us to go on tour with Lisa Hannigan around Europe. We’re huge fans so this came as a very welcome surprise. When something like that comes along, you just go with the flow, and we are really enjoying doing that at the moment.
We’re busy with shows in the next few months, starting with a few headline shows in the UK and in the incredible National Concert Hall in Dublin. After that we have a some festivals around Ireland, UK, Germany France and Switzerland, but we’ll be writing and recording as much as we can among the live dates.