Being Niamh

By Conor Brummell

Niamh Regan has reached heights that every musician starting their career dreams to achieve. The 26-year-old singer songwriter from Kilreekil in East Galway released her debut album Hemet in September 2020.

It was critically acclaimed, receiving nominations on both the ‘Album of the Year’ at the RTÉ Choice Music Prize and RTÉ Radio 1 Folk Awards, something Niamh says she did not expect at all.

“I think I was fearful when releasing the album – I had low expectations because I hadn’t a huge fanbase. This was me testing the waters and seeing if anyone actually cared about my music.

“The support I’ve received off the back of album reviews has been great. I was afraid that people might not have given their platforms to someone who was so fresh on the scene, or that the reviews would have been bad, and I might not have bounced back from that. But people have really gotten behind Irish artists during the pandemic and I definitely benefitted from that warmth and support,” she says.

Photo: Bríd O’Donovan

The name of the album, Hemet, comes from the small town in California, where her husband is from originally and a lot of the songs were composed there, including Hallelujah Game and Two Seagulls.

“I wanted to tip a hat to the small desert town that was a turning point in my life, from when I met my husband to just living there. It also acts as a conversation starter because people almost always ask what Hemet means,” she laughs.

The album has roots in bluegrass and indie-folk, which Regan says is a real ‘hot-pot’. She speaks honestly about it, stating that she wanted the album to be an introduction to her work, and how she would be perceived by her listeners.

“A debut album is almost your calling card. You do not want to put all your eggs in one basket and say solidly that you have one genre. I focused on song-writing rather than themes and I’m glad of that because I haven’t pidgeon-holed myself for the next album,” she explains.

“[The album] discusses various themes from grief and loss, to love and just the realisation that this is what growing up is like. I didn’t pluck these themes from thin air – I used my own life as a springboard for the songs, but that said, not everything is the gospel truth either.”

“I really believe that good song-writing and exaggeration is like seasoning – the salt and pepper of how much of your personal life you’re going to put into it. That is something I am learning about when writing new songs, and it’s interesting because I had never thought about it before.”

One of the personal experiences Niamh talks about is the passing of her mother two years ago. “I kind of regret opening the door and telling people about it, but at the time it felt very right. I wanted to show my respect and love,” she continues.

“I’ve connected with a lot of people because I was open about it, but I am terrified that it’s become a sort of Pop Idol sob story, because that’s not what I was ever aiming for. The album is a mixture of a lot of experiences – a long distance relationship, marriage, losing your mam and then just growing up and realising that you’re just not that important in the grand scheme of things,” she says.

“If you are involved with any sort of art and it’s not going your way, you can get bitter. A sense of indulgence can make you unhappy, and that is what really informed this album. It was my chance
to ground myself and take a step back to have a look around me and see what really mattered.”

Niamh has learned a lot over the years, and she’s hoping to bring that life experience on tour later this year, which kicks off at the Róisín Dubh, Galway in November.

“We’re heading with the full band on a headline tour. We’ve played many of these venues as a support act, but we’ll have a full slot now which feels like such a success,” she adds.

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