State Facesstate.ie names its artists to look out for in the 12 months flowing from January each year, and accompanied by original photoshoots from our team of photographers.
A solo project (for the moment), Ena Brennan has certainly made the most of her time in Dublin since arriving from Belgium – playing with the likes of Tandem Felix, Bad Sea, Paddy Hanna and Spudgun before launching her own musical undertaking.
During my childhood I listened to a lot of classical music selected by my mother who was herself a music teacher in my primary and secondary school in Brussels. I sang in my mother’s choir at a young age and tagged along to many of her pedagogical summer courses linked to the Dalcroze, Orff and Kodály methodologies, all very much focused on group singing, aural training, and movement-based learning. I’m very lucky to have had the chance to be exposed to all of that at such a young age, and it has definitely made a massive contribution to the development of my musical ability. I discovered pop, rock and punk music through my childhood friends, but didn’t really delve too deeply into other genres of music until I moved to Ireland. My influences have come from all over the place in the last decade; Julianna Barwick’s ambient vocal textures, Arthur Russell’s marriage of cello and electronics, Melanie De Biasio’s smooth bewitching storytelling, and Angel Olsen’s intimate Americana testimonies.
My mother placed a violin in my hand as soon as I was old enough to hold something and hopefully not drop it, although I have no doubt that my very first violin suffered a fair few bumps and bruises. I have great appreciation for how patient my mother and other parents must have been during those early years when the violin doesn’t sound particularly pleasant. I didn’t always enjoy practising but persevered and completed my ABRSM exams before moving to Ireland, and it has been my main instrument ever since. I joined Trinity Orchestra on day one of college and performed in string quartets with bands whenever the opportunity arose.
My first encounter was with the classical scene since that was the type of music I was playing at the time, and as the years have gone by I have seen other corners, genre by genre. Having said that though, something that I have observed is the immense genre crossover with Irish artists. You take a short trip over to the UK and everyone is a radio-friendly singer-songwriter aiming to be the next James Morrison or Ed Sheeran, whereas here very few bands sound the same, which is brilliant! Everyone also collaborates and plays in each other’s bands which I love – a cross-pollination of talent and influence. The only unfortunate thing is that the diversity isn’t being nurtured from the top. There are so many independent labels, artists, collectives and publications who support each other and are doing great things for the arts in Ireland, but that’s not really being represented in our prime-time media. It’s very much a DIY music scene.
They have helped lead me to my sound in some ways but most of the time I’m approached to add what I already do to someone else’s music. When I join them on stage there may be a few particular lines that we’ve worked out in rehearsal, but in general, I improvise. I love improvising, and I’m glad people seem to like when I do it too. You learn to pick your moments and play in a style that suits what everyone else is doing on stage. I have a tremendous amount of fun with Spudgun as their set involves a journey through loads of genres; the violin taking on different roles with each shift; sometimes lyrical and lush, sometimes gritty and dissonant, and sometimes wailing and pure terrifying. It’s great fun. Having said all that, Dowry isn’t just Éna on looped violin; I sing and play guitar and bass. I’m limited by how much I can do with just the violin, to keep myself interested, let alone anyone else, and the songs I’ve wanted to write have needed something else. I need the other instruments to hand. Writing with violin and bass, and such contrasting pitch ranges has been great fun, and that’s all due to Bad Sea. I originally sang only backing vocals and played the violin with Ciara and Alan, but they asked me if I’d consider learning the bass to fill out a rhythm section with drummer extraordinaire (and recent Dowry recruit) Conall O Maolan. I thought it would be fun so I did, and now I incorporate bass into my own music.
This year has been brilliant. I got to play Another Love Story, Sounds From A Safe Harbour and Electric Picnic which were definitely 2017 highlights. I made a long list of all the gigs I have been lucky to be a part of, as Dowry or otherwise, and the total number was in the 70s. That’s more than one gig per week. Madness. I haven’t put any releases out into the world yet but a handful of people have been very good to me and booked me throughout the year, based on nothing but some rough demos and my live show. One best moment is hard to pin down, but if I can cheat a little, the best moment(s) have been when someone comes up to me after a gig with a friendly smile and tells me that they have never heard anything like my music before. For the most part of 2017, I have acquired my next gig from my last gig. It’s incredibly encouraging during these early stages to know that what I’m doing is different, unique, and ultimately enjoyed. I get a lot of joy out of writing and performing music so that’s enough to make Dowry worthwhile for me but it’s the support from others (in whatever form that may take) that allows me to do what I love in a venue instead of in my living room.