Analogue Music | Aoife O'Donovan

Aoife O'Donovan

By Matt Conner

Aoife O’Donovan was ready to move on from some questions even as I asked them.

As we began to explore the ideas of external pressures or internal fears, Aoife made it clear that she's never been one to give herself over to too much reflection on such things. It's not that she's immune from the typical creative hurdles facing everyone else. It's just that she's been pushing forward for so long, even from such a young age, that she's found a healthy internal rhythm and it doesn't allow much room for anything other than the work itself.

Perhaps that's the fuel behind the fire of such an accomplished musician. From her own beautiful solo work to her Grammy win with I'm With Her (feat. Sara Watkins and Sarah Jarosz), Aoife has remained both busy and brilliant with a catalog that speaks for itself. Albums with Crooked Still that gave way to solo albums like her stunning new LP, Age of Apathy.

We recently sat down with Aoife to hear about her vast array of collaborations and the soil that gave way to her latest album.

Analogue: I want to get to Age of Apathy, but I’ve been a fan of so many projects of yours, both solo and collaborative. With all of that experience, do you have a favorite or one that’s most meaningful to you?

Aoife O’Donovan: Each of these projects and collaborations I’ve gotten to be a part of are so special to me. I think they kind of illustrate how I’ve chosen to live my life musically. I love collaborating with people. I love being a part of musical projects. Of course, I love playing my own music as well, but there’s also something about being a part of a club, a team—finding your tribe.

It’s fun to be a chameleon and change your vibe. It’s getting to do projects with Garrison and then that led on to Chris Thile when the show changed to Live From Here. That’s different than the project I did with jazz trumpeter Dave Douglas or working with an orchestral musician, as I did with Jeremy Kittel and a string quartet for Bull Frogs Croon.

Age of Apathy
Age of Apathy

Everything is so different, but through it all, there’s a common thread of a shared language—the language of music. It just continues to be so much fun. I was just with my bandmates in I’m With Her a couple of weeks ago starting to plant the seeds for some new music we’re working on together. These relationships and how they’re different all feed each other.

Analogue: Do you remember back to when you first stepped out on your own? How vulnerable did that feel to have everything under your own name?

Aoife: Well, not really. It’s hard to explain, but I feel like I just do stuff. It’s not my personality to spend time thinking about something as good or bad. I don’t dwell a lot on feeling vulnerable or how it might come across. I’ve always just done it.

I started playing music very young. I started my career at 18 or 19 with Crooked Still. When you’re that young, who cares? You just make a record or you just go play a show and if a lot of people are there or 20 people are there, you’re so psyched to play the show. I think I’ve carried that ethos into adulthood.

Obviously, I care what people think and I want them to enjoy my music and be moved by it, but at the same time, I don’t spend a lot of energy worrying about my vulnerability as an artist or performer. I just make music because it literally feeds my soul. I love it more than literally anything. The rest fades into the background.

Analogue: That’s interesting to me because the creative journey for so many people sounds much more fraught with fear and these external considerations—

Aoife: Well, there’s definitely pressure. There are writing blocks and creative blocks and that’s definitely what I was going through leading up to this. But again, I guess I don’t personally give that a lot of weight in my life. I’d never credit it for pushing me forward. That’s just not how I think about the world. It has nothing to do with music. I don’t know.

I just don’t give a lot of time to dark feelings or negativity. Yes, they can lead to maybe some sort of breakthrough or you can find the light at the end of the tunnel if you’re going through a rough patch. But for me, as someone looking for the muse, you just have to keep on doing it. It’s really up to you to find it.

Analogue: You just referenced some sort of block leading up to Age of Apathy.

Aoife: The Age of Apathy writing process starting mid-2020, so like everybody else in the world, starting in March of 2020, everything changed so dramatically that it would be impossible to not have that affect you on some level. I was really lucky to be healthy and a roof over my head and enough to eat. Even though I do have a small child, we were living in a situation where there were five adults and two kids, so we had this built-in collective to help with childcare duties.

Even with that, I felt creatively stuck. I felt pressure to create all this content or these livestreams and this little video blog. It didn’t feel good to me. With music, I love performing and I love playing for an audience and the connection between the audience and performer, but I’ve never been able to get that in the live stream. I don’t think it exists in the same way.

"I think any writer will tell you that some days you sit down and it’s really easy and some days it’s really hard to even find simple words to describe how you’re feeling."

When I left New York last September and came to Florida where I live now, there was something about the change in my location where I just started to feel song ideas coming back to me. I was able to enter into a really diligent practice of writing on a daily basis. I had a studio space I could workshop stuff in, and once I got into the rhythm of that, one thing led to another and I got to write and record a ton of music—far more than I’ve ever done before in a period of time like that. It was really fruitful.

I think any writer will tell you that some days you sit down and it’s really easy and some days it’s really hard to even find simple words to describe how you’re feeling. Once you get into the swing of it, then you want to keep going. I’ll write for five hours today and maybe it’ll all be shit but it doesn’t matter because I’m doing it.

Analogue: When you’re in the flow like you were describing earlier when the songs were coming at a faster pace than ever, are you aware of it in that time?

Aoife: Not really. And I still feel like I’m trying to be in it. I feel like I’m still working on a lot of new music. But I’ll run into somebody and they’ll say, ‘Oh, wow I saw you just released another new song!’ I'll say, ‘Yeah, I guess I did!’

I would send Joe Henry, the producer for Age of Apathy, stuff and he wrote me back on one email saying, ‘Woah, you’re really on fire!’ That was such a great compliment because it’s almost like I didn’t realize it. I was in such a good zone and I just want to follow it wherever it takes me, I guess.

VISIT: Aoife O'Donovan