Maria Doyle Kennedy is one of Ireland’s most underrated talents, moving seamlessly from a career in film and television (The Tudors, Orphan Black) to producing memorable albums such as 2012’s Sing. And while she may portray strong and, sometimes, fierce characters on screen, Maria is warm, engaging and irreverent when we meet for a coffee and a chat in The Gibson Hotel.
We’re here to talk about Maria Live, a new collection of performances from the 49-year-old and husband of 26 years Kieran Kennedy. The album was recorded live at several venues during the Sing tour and Maria says that while she had planned to concentrate on a follow-up once they came off the road, a series of requests from fans sent the duo in a different direction.
“We had done so much gigging since Sing came out, it sort of went to a new level for us. Always at the end of the night when people came up to buy a CD, they would say ‘Which one is the closest thing to what I’ve just heard?’. Obviously there are elements from all the albums in the show but we realised that what they really wanted was what we had just done, just me and Kieran together and his pedals with no overdubs or harmonies or anything, so we decided it was only fair to make it! It seemed like a good way to finish off this spell of gigging,” she explains.
The album will be launched with an intimate performance and homecoming of sorts at The Sugar Club this Thursday 29 May and Maria says she and Kieran were adamant that the recording would capture the spirit of their live appearances in an “authentic” way, even if that meant leaving in a few mistakes.
“I think we both feel that live albums should be live and should be a proper representation of the night, the real thing, an authentic voice. Often you hear them and you just know that people went back into the studio and overdubbed the arse out of it! We sort of feel like that’s cheating so we didn’t do that. People will hear a few clangers but I think that’s ok.”
To our ears, the clangers are few and far between and Maria Live is instead a wonderfully warm and vibrant album that plays to the Clontarf woman’s strengths, bringing smouldering vocals and on-stage banter together for a recording that stands on its own merit, rather than being a gratuitous rehash of old ground as often can be the case with such releases.
For her part, Maria says that The Most Beautiful People Are Broken is her favourite song that she has written and chooses Patti Smith’s Piss Factory and the Kate Bush/Peter Gabriel duet Don’t Give Up as the two songs she would most like to have written. She also admits that her relationship with Kieran brings a different dynamic to their work and modestly suggests that his musical ability compensates for her lack of instrumental skill.
“People say that they see something in it. I think we’ve been married a long time and playing music certainly adds a deeper connection to our relationship. I mean, music doesn’t need words, it’s a communication on a different, almost primal, level, I suppose. It does happen sometimes that we would have had a row about something and then we’d start playing on stage and we totally go into the song, then look over at each other and go ‘What was the row about?’. It’s funny. It’s a telepathic connection at this stage,” she reveals.
“The amazing thing for me from it is that… I don’t play an instrument very well, I play a little piano, enough to work out melodies when I’m trying to write songs but I don’t play anything and Kieran can play pretty much anything… so if we’re trying to write a song, I can’t describe it in terms of chords or key changes. I can’t say ‘It’s more of a B flat song’, I don’t understand what that means, it doesn’t make a sound in my head, but I can say to him ‘I think it’s like that film we saw or place we were’, we have a lifetime of shared references that we can use. I would never be able to do that with another musician.”
Walking the line between acting and music can be a difficult task and Maria has seemed to effortlessly succeed where predecessors have failed, becoming equally respected in both professionals. However, she is dismissive of the achievement and credits trailblazers like Patti Smith and painter Patrick Scott for blurring the lines between creative outlets and allowing her to proceed with her impulses without considering any such restrictions.
Interestingly, she admits that she initially struggled to find her voice and was a “late bloomer” when it comes to music.
“I couldn’t really find the songs that I wanted to write or sing until I was in my 30s, when I was already a mother and I wasn’t afraid of anything at that stage really. People who would be huge beacons of light or mentors to me would be people like Patti Smith and she just does what she feels is right for her to do. Obviously we know her as a singer, she had a lot of success with that before, but she’s also a very accomplished photographer, she’s written several books, poetry, she has installations, gigs… it’s clear that she never had a problem with that so I never thought it was a problem.”
“Patrick believed that it all came from the same well. It’s all your creativity and how you choose to use it is how you choose to use it.”
Maria can currently be seen flexing her acting chops as Mrs S in Orphan Black and delivering a theatrical tour-de-force as the solo cast member of Alan Gilsenan’s Eliza Lynch – Queen Of Paraguay. She has become well known for her portrayal of strong and powerful female characters on screen and says that she is “encouraged” by the increasing availability of such roles for older actresses, a movement that she attributes to The Sopranos’ successful attempt to “break the mould” in the 90s.
She says that such gender balance is also becoming apparent in the music industry, adding that “younger people I meet are completely in control of what they are doing. They’re aware, accomplished and see no limits as to what they can achieve”.
However, the hypersexualisation of the industry and dominant ‘sex sells’ attitude of many music managers and promoters is still clearly an issue and Maria says that she has a problem with the current portrayal of women in the media,.
“I believe passionately in equality, I am a feminist (they go hand in hand for me). In terms of talking about sexualisation, it needs to be clear what is being referenced. Nudity in and of itself is not a problem , one of my all-time heroes Siouxie Sioux was frequently photographed not wearing much, but it was very clear to me that this was a form of self-expression for her, an extension of an anarchic attitude and not a result of any pressure being put on her to appear f**kable,” she explains.
“I do have a problem with the way women are portrayed, for the most part, in the media. The vast majority of articles, comments, photographs focus on what a woman looks like and foster the impression for younger women, that that is where their real worth lies. In their appearance and, in particular, in their appearance being pleasing to men. Whatever people choose to wear is not an issue for me and I don’t subscribe to censorship but I strongly believe that what is missing is a representation of women being celebrated for what they achieve rather than how they look.”
Maria Live is out now. Maria Doyle Kennedy plays The Sugar Club on Thursday 29 May, with tickets priced at €25 available from Ticketmaster.