Julie Feeney's sell-out shows on both sides of the Atlantic have received rave reviews whether solo, with ensemble, with choirs or with full orchestra and she composes, arranges and orchestrates all of her own music. Her 3 albums have been widely critically acclaimed internationally, receiving numerous awards and she has created a whole host of stunning music videos to accompany them. Her opera ‘BIRD’ goes into full production in 2016. Sharp witted, unpretentious and fiercely passionate, Julie Feeney is a genuine artist and a hugely enjoyable performer. Spring 2015 sees her perform in Amsterdam and New York and she premieres in Dublin her brand new one woman show which will run for 10 nights.
Her third album Clocks went straight to No. 1 in the Independent Irish Album Charts on its Irish release. It was voted ‘Best Album' in The Irish Times ‘Album of the Year' as voted by The Irish Times readers and it was also shortlisted for the Choice Music Prize. Julie is winner of the Choice Music Prize for ‘Irish Album of the Year' for her self-produced debut album 13 songs on which she played most of the instruments herself. Her second album pages was shortlisted for the Irish Album Of The Year prize and featured in '101 Irish Albums You Must Hear Before You Die' by Liberties Press.
Composed at Ballynahinch Castle and the Lough Inagh Valley Cottages in Galway, Clocks was recorded at Kylemore Abbey Gothic Church, and the Number One album she released in Ireland with an avant-garde approach by scoring her music for ten different choirs in ten different towns over ten different nights in a row. The album was crowd-funded by fans on Fundit.ie and is the most successful crowd-funded project yet on Fundit.
In her live shows she combines her “mesmerizing stage presence and eccentric pop genius” (Hot Press) with her unquestionably original sound; and her innovative, avant-garde approach, while rooted in classical music, straddles both the pop and theatrical worlds. For her recent sell-out 10 show run in New York City, the New York Times said of Julie, “…intricate, articulate…draws on sources across centuries…Ms. Feeney's songs don't shout. They tease, ponder, reminisce, philosophize and invent parables, and she sings them in a plush, changeable mezzo-soprano that usually holds a kindly twinkle”. The New York Times concluded, “…a brainy adventurous songwriter lives within the flamboyant theatricality…with songs that set character studies and philosophical musings in elaborate musical confections, often with long, internally rhymed lines… Theatrical on the shell, intricate at the core”.
Julie famously was invited to headline at an Oscar party hosted by J.J. Abrams’ Santa Monica production company Bad Robot in LA.. With the audience in the palm of her hand, her performance enthralled Steven Spielberg, who filmed her performance on his personal iphone. Colin Farrell was also immersed.
Her first composed opera ‘BIRD’ goes into full production in 2016 after a sell-out concert performance version at Galway Arts Festival. Composer, singer, orchestrator, songwriter and producer, Julie is a true artist with immense vision.
Hailed by The Washington Post as “The Emerald Isle's Original,” Feeney's music is widely broadcast on TV and radio and her sold-out performance at Ireland's premier concert venue, The National Concert Hall received a 10-minute standing ovation. The Observer (U.K.) gushed that Feeney's debut album, '13 songs,' was “the blossoming of a major talent,” adding that “Feeney towers over her contemporaries.” The NY Times has also called her music “charming, urbane and dreamy” and The Guardian (UK) simply said “the world will listen.” The Village Voice in New York described her music as “blending the pop ambitions of Gaga with Elvis Costellian wordplay”. She has performed many other sold out shows in America, Canada, Ireland, England, France, Italy, Germany and Holland solo; with her own ensemble or with numerous orchestras for which she orchestrated and composed for. Julie puts on a stunning show that combining her songs with elements of theatre and performance art, often wearing head-pieces.
Over nine years ago, it was a genuine case of “Julie who?”
Back in the mid-Noughties, Galway’s Julie Feeney was positioned very much on the outer fringes of the Irish music scene. In fact, despite her background as someone with so many strings to her bow she could have been mistaken for an orchestra of harps, she was virtually anonymous, a position that, ironically, stood to her advantage.
Her 2005 debut album, 13 Songs, arrived out of a place that people often feared to tread, yet this curve-ball of a record went on to win the inaugural Choice Music Prize in 2006. Its success took her completely by surprise. “I’d no idea what would happen,” Julie recalls. “I finished making the record, and then I put the CD into envelopes and posted them off to people.”
13 Songs, though, sent Julie travelling on a path that she has yet to step off from. Almost four years later, she released the lowercase follow-up album, pages. Once again, it beckoned the listener into a world that wasn’t visited by the usual stock-in-trade formats. If 13 Songswas little more than a loose collection of wonderful, non-formulaic tunes, then pages proved more cohesive, with Julie reviewing her creative stimuli and branching out into what could safely be termed orchestrated pop music.
Yet there was something else about pages that triggered the right responses from the listener: its inherent spirit of generosity. Created in the calm of the renowned artists retreat at Annamakerrig, Co Monaghan, the warmth and joy of pages married Julie’s instinctive creativity with her notions of wanting to, as she says, “comfort people, to give them something. I certainly didn’t want the record to be indulgent, or for anyone to feel as if they were left out from the experience.” She constructed a subtly complex masterpiece in her second album pages, a genre-spanning symphony. After composing the entire album, Julie recorded the album in one six-hour session by conducting an orchestra of clarinets, flutes, oboes, bassoons, trombones, French horns, trumpets, strings, sticks, harp and percussion from the Irish Chamber Orchestra, and subsequently singing over what she had conducted. A true perfectionist in the vein of Bobby McFerrin, Julie’s supreme talent in composition and arrangement is matched only by her gorgeous, soaring voice. The pages album artwork that she designed herself incorporated her unique hand-stitched ‘pages' dress sculpted from the actual pages of the album's orchestral score; and a tree house which she had painted in specific colours reflecting the tone of the album. Her video for ‘Impossibly Beautiful' features 18 different head dresses designed by Piers Atkinson, and is one of 3 videos she made for pages.
And so, three years later, to Julie’s new album, Clocks. If pages is, effectively and efficiently, a pop album using an orchestra with the songs, then Clocks is something else altogether.
“pages took on a whole other life of its own,” says Julie, remarking that the success of the live shows, particularly in New York earlier this year, came as a pleasant shock to her, “but through all of that I was letting things develop in my head. I always let songs come to me, in that once they arrive I feel they want to be here.”
As these early thoughts filtered through, it became clear to Julie that a loose theme was emerging – one of close family, generations past, the value of personal roots, all of which are referenced on Clocks. “I’m not into the notion of a concept album – you’d have to contrive something, which is not really what I’m into – but I knew I wanted to write songs and make a record about some amazing people in my family tree.”
When Julie wasn't wowing audiences and critics in America (“Ms. Feeney's songs don't shout,” wrote New York Times Chief Pop Music critic, Jon Pareles, following her sold-out run of ten nights at the Irish Arts Center. “They tease, ponder, reminisce, philosophize and invent parables”), she was visiting her family in Galway, asking questions about the Feeney and Murphy elders, both present and departed. It was, she says, a profound experience to hear stories of those she only knew through meandering family conversations, vivid hearsay and monochrome images.
“You think that your own life is busy and complex, but these people that lived before me felt exactly the same emotions – heartbreak and loss don’t change – whilst living in a less hectic time period. History tells us they had a much harder time – more simple, perhaps, but certainly harder. Once that clicked with me, I felt like I was sitting on time in history – a history very much based in Galway.”
To root herself and her thoughts even further – as well as wanting to experience an authentic sense of location – Julie undertook songwriting spells in Ballynahinch Castle and Lough Inagh Cottages, and recorded all the album’s vocals (over eight nights in the freezing Irish winter of 2012) at the inspirational Kylemore Abbey Gothic Church. She sensed, she says, “as if I was being minded by my ancestors… I felt very comfortable in places, not scared. And it was a natural, often intense connection with these people…”
The songs on Clocks range from Dear John (“that’s about my grandfather and grandmother, and how they would wait for a moonlit night to go cycling on the road”), Julia (“about my grandmother, as if sung by my grandfather, who once said that he had nothing to sing about after his wife passed on”) and Galway Boy (“about tricky men and staunch women”), while musically it’s a perfect blend of radio-friendly, intelligent pop music and effortlessly smart curve-ball melodies that reference both the traditional (If I Lose You Tonight) and the contemporary (Moment Out Of The Blue, Happy Ever After).
As a whole, says Julie, the mood, feel, sound and creative sensibilities of Clocks hints at her rockier debut album rather than its chamber-pop follow-up. “It has a new direction for me. It’s much more vibey and far more assured. It’s fair to say that I’m going out on a limb a little bit, creatively.”
Not that Julie is overly concerned about what people may say about that. “My job as an artist is to create something that is true, to grow and develop – and the music has to reflect that.”
Onwards and upwards, then, while at the same time not necessarily providing what people might expect? “I could easily make another album like pages,” says Julie, quite reasonably, “but, really, what’s the point?”