State saw Slow Skies take the stage at Cork’s Indiependence festival last August, it was an immensely captivating performance leaving us eager to learn more about front woman Karen Sheridan. She took time to correspond with us this summer, an immensely modest person, she talks US tours, supporting St Vincent and opting for the independent route in her fascinating career to date.
Karen, how long have you been making music yourself?
I started to write songs, albeit very bad songs, when I was about 10. I was very into the Spice Girls and Ace of Base and the likes and would make my friends sing and dance in our own girl band. Then in my teenager years I started working with a producer in London after sending over a tape of me singing. I was recording other people’s songs and singing in ways that I’m wasn’t comfortable with. It was great experience, but it made me realise that I wanted to write my own music. I remember giving them a mixtape of the kind of songs I wanted to sing and write and they were like “Nah, that’s too eclectic”. It didn’t work out, thankfully, but I remember being quite disillusioned at the time and kind of going off music altogether. I would always sing around the house and write my own little melodies, but after that I just stopped altogether until I went to college and set up my own band with my two close friends.
I’d say it wasn’t until I went to college that I started to make full-length songs and perform them in places like the Ruby Sessions. I was pretty shoddy at writing songs, but I knew the only way I was going to learn about songwriting and performing was to just gig and feck it up as I went along. That I did – in fact, I’m still doing that. Then, Conal and I met while studying music in London in 2010. Slow Skies started when we both moved home in 2011 and started to work together on the EP that became Silhouettes. Working with him is so great. I feel like every year we are just getting better and better at making the songs sound the way we want them to sound. It’s kind of like the musical sides of our brains are merging together more. Conal will hate this analogy.
Can you tell us about your own set up? Live, it’s mainly bass and vocals, did you start on bass?
Well, at the moment I switch between a semi acoustic guitar and bass guitar depending on the song. I’ve only been playing the bass guitar a little over a year, so I still have a very long way to go! We needed a bassist for our live set-up and a lot of our bass parts are very simple so it’s not too hard for me starting off. Conal’s first instrument is the bass so he’s teaching me. I love it though, I’ve been playing guitar for about 3 or 4 years now and I would choose bass guitar over it any day! It’s so satisfying to play. To be honest, I can’t wait to get more in to it and get some good pedals for it. I’m trying a distortion pedal with it at the moment and it sounds great for certain parts of the songs. At the moment, I have a very simple set up but I am hoping to expand on that when we start gigging again.
Your voice is something that really draws listeners in, it’s been described as “dreamy” and “ghostly”, almost like Kate Bush or something you might hear on a My Blood Valentine record. Who are your own influences?
Oh, thank you! I certainly love Kate Bush. I started listening to her in my teens, but I don’t think I really got how great she was until recently. It’s kind of hard to say exactly who or what directly influences the music! Right now I feel really inspired by dance and movement pieces I’ve seen in the Dublin Dance Festival and horror films like The Shining and the soundtrack to the film Under the Skin, but who knows if that will influence any of our future music.
When I moved to London to study music I was really influenced by Villager’s album Becoming a Jackal. I just loved the honesty and purity in those songs. I remember being so inspired by that. I feel the same way when I listen to Angel Olsen. I love her stuff. I’m also a huge fan of Bat for Lashes. I don’t even like all of her music, but I just adore how she approaches making music and how playful she is with the sounds and moods she wants to create. Her production is ambitious and weird, especially in her first album. I think she recorded some of the vocals in the forest beside her studio and some in a fort she made out of duvets, things like that fascinate me.
In terms of vocals, I love when you can hear some flaws in someone’s voice. I think it adds so much depth and feeling to a song. I’m a massive fan of Björk in particular. Her voice is something else.
In terms of vocal performance how do you prepare for a live show?
Before every show I would try to have honey and lemon if it’s possible and I’ll always do a 5-10 minute vocal warm up. If I don’t warm up I sound like a gremlin.
I recently heard a track by REID, which you performed on, is there anyone in particular you’d like to collaborate with going forward?
Well, I have since tried to write some top line melodies for other tracks and it is not something I find very easy! I think sometimes it clicks or it doesn’t. I really loved the track Eoghan sent me and I’m really happy with how it turned out. I can’t think of anyone at the top of my head, but I’d love to work on more dance tracks or maybe do something like Julianna Barwick’s music with loads of layered vocal loops. Oh, or maybe some creepy music like Mica Levi’s soundtrack for Under the Skin but with vocals!
Your latest EP, Close, is a gorgeous listen, are you working on anything new going forward?
Yes! We are nearly finished our new EP and I am so excited about it. We have been working on it for ages now and it feels so good to be nearly done. A lot of time and effort went into it and I’m incredibly proud of it.
You’re probably tired of talking about this but you recently opened for the amazing St Vincent. How was that?
It was nerve-wrecking but so incredible to be opening a show for her. I would have been going to her gig anyway so to get the opportunity to be on the stage before her that night was insane!!
Did you two get to talk about music gear?
No, I was too shy! I did tell her that my mom thought her show was ‘great fun’ and she was like “Oh my god, your mama came? That is sooooo sweet!”
What’s your plan for the summer? Last year I caught you at Indiependence for the first time, I loved your performance. Will we see you at festivals around the country again?
We are playing at our friend Colm’s Mountain Dew festival in Cork on the 26th July but that’s about it for the moment! I’m away for a lot of the summer, but once our EP is ready to go I’m hoping to be gigging non-stop.
What about some international shows? You played NYC recently didn’t you?
Yes, we played CMJ last October. It was very cool! That was our first time playing outside of Ireland so NYC was a pretty good place to start!
Going forward, what are your hopes for Slow Skies?
Honestly, I just want us to keep getting better. I want to do more gigs and evolve as a live band with more interesting songs and arrangements. I would love to start working on an album soon, so that’s probably the next step.