Introducing Interview: Saint Sister

With their first show being supporting Arcade Fire’s Will Butler, and having already received acclaim from the likes of Huw Stephens and Clash Magazine, electro-folk duo Saint Sister have been fast making a name for themselves.

Having formed in 2014, Morgan MacIntyre and Gemma Doherty create emotion-strewn, dreamy offerings filled with sweeping harp melodies and captivating vocals.

Having just released their enchanting new single ‘Tin Man’, we caught up with the duo to find out more…

Hi there, can you tell us a little bit about Saint Sister?
Morgan: We first started getting to know each other the summer after we finished university. I had been writing and performing as a singer-songwriter in Dublin and started thinking about what it would be like to be in a band. I was seeking a creative partnership and knowing that Gemma played the harp and had a beautiful voice, I asked her for coffee one day. Within the first half hour we were already thinking up possible band names and we’ve pretty much spent every day together since.

Your last EP Madrid received acclaim from the likes of  Huw Stephens and Clash magazine – can you give us an idea of its main themes? What inspired the title – do you have a particular fondness for the Spanish city?
M: The title of the EP comes from the single, ‘Madrid’. It was written about a friend who moved there a year or two ago. Neither of us have actually been to Madrid, perhaps therein lies the attraction. Madrid has become symbolic of a dream-like, euphoric space for us and one which is always just out of reach. That theme of loneliness and isolation within the arena of a relationship continues throughout the rest of the EP.

You manage to create a unique sound, fusing together traditional folk with electro pop – what/who are some of your main musical influences?
Gemma: I grew up playing a lot of Irish traditional and folk music, which has had an inherent influence on my writing. I’ve drawn a lot from early minimalist music, and some of the rhythms draw from 90s hip-hop and R&B. It’s a mixed bag! We listened to a lot of James Vincent McMorrow and James Blake around the time we started making music together.
M: Growing up I fell in love with good old fashioned song writing. The first song I was really taken with was ‘Crazy’ sang by Patsy Cline. I remember discovering the song and then listening to it on repeat when I was five. I was trying to learn the lyrics so I could sing it to myself. Then came the Everly Brothers, Johnny Cash, Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen.

I’ve heard that your new single ‘Tin Man’ is partly inspired by John Donne’s poem ‘The Sun Rising’ – can you tell us a bit more about the ideas behind the track?
M: I love the opening words in ‘The Sun Rising’: “Busy old fool, unruly sun”. He’s scolding the sun for disrupting him and his lover in bed, for dictating the pace of life despite the love he feels which cannot be moved or altered by the coming and going of the day. ‘Tin Man’ was inspired by that overarching theme. It’s about the lovely feeling that stays with you all day after you’ve had a good dream about someone the night before. It’s about feeling the weight of that person despite their absence and despite the world’s preoccupation with carrying on.

You first show was supporting Arcade Fire’s Will Butler – that must have been pretty exciting?!
G: It was pretty surreal alright. We’d played three gigs around Ireland in the run up to that show, supporting friends of ours, Spies. We were were offered to support Will Butler in Dublin a few days later, which was pretty mad so early on. In hindsight we weren’t ready for it in the slightest, but it was an amazing experience. He’s an incredible performer.

And what can we normally expect from a live Saint Sister set?
G: We do a lot of gigs as a two-piece, but play with drums and bass as often as we can. The two-piece set is a bit more intimate; stripped back versions of our songs, with the two vocals and harp at the core. I use a loop pedal and other effects on the harp, which allows us to play with different textures, and make use of the percussive soundbox. Morgan triggers various samples on a pad and plays keys/synth. Playing with the band is more fun, as we can achieve a much fuller sound. It’s great to be able to interchange between both.

Have you both always wanted to be musicians?
M: I’ve always wanted to write songs. It’s something I did when I was a wee kid to pass the time on long car journeys with my family. I think I’ll always be writing songs, whether I can make a living out of it or not.
G: I’ve been playing since I was around five years old, it’s always been at the heart of what I do. I was never quite sure what form it would take, or whether or not I’d be able to make a living from it, but it’s always been there.

If you could work with any musician – past or present – who would it be and why?
G: It would have to be Justin Vernon… Or Steve Reich!
M: Joni Mitchell always. She’s my Queen.

Can you describe your sound in three words?
Folk, Dream, Spacey.

And what can we expect from Saint Sister over the next few months?
G: At the moment we’re on tour with Mutual Benefit, supporting them across the UK. We have one really nice gig left before the end of 2016, which has yet to be announced, and then we’re going to take some time to get stuck into working on new music. We’ve had a really busy year of touring which we’re so grateful for, but the thing that excites us at the minute is getting our debut album together.

Huge thanks to Saint Sister for answering our questions!


Photo Credit: Aodhagán O’Flaherty

Mari Lane

Mari Lane

Editor, London. Likes: Kathleen Hanna, 6Music, live music in the sunshine. Dislikes: Sexism, pineapples, the misuse of apostrophes.