Dublin-born musician and songwriter Sorcha Richardson has written the playbook for our twenties
A music lover moves to New York City and finds her voice. A story we all have heard many times before — but rarely does that music lover find her way back to Irish shores. Sorcha Richardson has been growing a cult fanbase since 2015, and her latest album First Prize Bravery, released in November, received both critical and popular acclaim. Having spent much of her formative years in New York, Richardson returned to Ireland in 2017 and began to take stock of her story and her success back on home ground.
Before embarking on a UK tour this week, I sat down with Richardson to discuss the New York-Dublin divide, her plans for 2020 and how turning 30 has made her take stock of the twenty-something experience.
'There's little shame in being ambitious'
Richardson had always loved writing songs and coming up with music, and heading to New York's West Village to study in the New School, she let the talent find its way to the fore.
"I wrote songs all the time growing up, but I was really, really shy and quite private about it. It wasn't until I went to New York, that I started to tell people that I wrote songs and that I was a musician and that kind of thing.
"New York is such a stimulating place. Every day felt like the equivalent of a week in terms of what would happen and who I would meet and where I would go. It felt like there was an abundance of stories to tell, and life felt very new.
"I was in a space where people were doing very creative stuff and the idea that there's very little shame in being ambitious and having big dreams kind of rubbed off on me."
In a culture so different to Ireland, where, it must be said, begrudgery and anti-notions sentiment abound, New York seemed the perfect place for Sorcha to take flight as an artist. Her work gathered steam, and although a musician living in New York seems a world away from dreary Dublin life, songs like Petrol Station and Ruin Your Night seemed like they could be written about any one of our anxious twenty-two-years-old brains. How did she keep things so relatable?
"I suppose I view writing as a meditative thing, and I do it first and foremost because it feels good, and makes me feel at ease. And what I've found is that, the more specific I am about the things that have happened in my life, the more people relate to them — the details are different, but the experiences and landmark moments you have in your twenties are quite universal, and everyone has been through it."
Back to Ireland
So what could bring her back? Well, at first, a happy accident. "I only planned to come home for a couple of weeks. I left everything over there, there's a suitcase of clothing and music equipment and everything still in my friends' house. I was kind of at this place in my life where I wasn't sure if I wanted to stay in New York anymore, but when I came back, I didn't feel right in Dublin either. I found it quite hard."
It's that twenty-something feeling, isn't it? "Yeah," she laughs. "Exactly."
But a tour offer came, and a few festivals, and during this time Richardson was working on her album. "When it was all done, I made the decision to stay in Ireland for a year. And once I did that, everything became easier."
So what are the differences between Dublin and New York life?
"I actually found it easier to find the community of musicians and creative people in Dublin than I did in New York, which I know sounds mad. But New York is so big, that you can get lost in it so easily. In Dublin, once you're in the music scene, you meet everyone quickly and always run into each other.
"But I think, and anyone who has lived in two places will tell you this, that you never really stop splitting yourself between two cities. So much of my formative years were spent in both, and last time I visited New York, it actually affected me a lot more than I thought it would. All these emotions of that time in my life came flooding back."
Leaving the twenties behind
With her work being so quintessentially twenties, it seems impossible that Richardson turned 30 last year. Will the birthday impact her future music?
"I don't often think about my age these days. A few years ago, I'd get the birthday blues, because I felt this pressure for my life to look a certain way by each birthday and to reach these goals that I'd set for myself. But eventually, I stopped doing that, because it wasn't real — it was just something I'd made up.
"I'm a different person now than I was even two years ago when I wrote some of these songs. And I'm definitely a happier person that knows myself a lot better. Hopefully, the songs will change, and I'll figure out some of those growing pains, but there's still plenty that I haven't figured out."
First Prize Bravery is out now. Sorcha is one of the many women adding their voice to Imagining Ireland: Speaking Up, Singing Louder in the National Concert Hall, Dublin, on February 9. Buy tickets here.
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