Born on August 11, 1977, in Ballyporeen, Tipperary, Ireland. Addresses: Record company--Virgin Record, 150 5th Ave., New York, NY 10010, phone: (212) 786-8200, website: http://www.virginrecords.com. Website--Gemma Hayes Official Website: http://www.gemmahayes.com.
In 2002, with the release of Night on My Side, Gemma Hayes quickly established herself as an important new voice on the singer-songwriter scene. Nominated for the Mercury Prize, the 25-year-old Irish singer quickly found herself opening for the Counting Crows and songwriter David Gray. A busy life on the road, however, wore the young singer down, leaving her depressed and uninterested in music for two years. Slowly, she began rebuilding her career in 2005, re-emerging with The Roads Don't Love You. "It's all come together nicely for the girl who announced to her parents at 19 years old that she was dropping out of university to play guitar in smoky pubs," wrote Dee O'Connell in the London Observer.
Hayes was born on August 11, 1977, in Ballyporeen, Tipperary, Ireland, one of eight children. Her father played keyboards in a local band and she expanded her musical tastes by listening to the various sounds that drifted from her siblings' rooms. "You'd have Davey Spillaine coming from one room, Fleetwood Mac from another and AC/DC from another," she told Martin James at Irish Music Central, "and it would all just meet as a huge mush." Ballyporeen is a small, isolated village of 500 with "no place to go," she told James. To alleviate her boredom, Hayes spent her time playing piano. As boring as she found her hometown, however, she would find the boarding school in County Limerick even more oppressive, and she buried herself in her music as a form of escape.
At Dublin College Hayes roomed with another girl who owned a guitar. Soon Hayes started missing classes to learn the instrument, and she eventually told her parents she was dropping out of college to pursue a career in music. "It was the same feeling I guess people must have when they go home and tell their parents that they're pregnant," she told O'Connell. While her parents were unhappy, her father nonetheless gave her the money to buy a good guitar. For the next few years she supported herself by working part-time in a launderette in Dublin, a job that allowed her to play the folk circuit at night. Although Hayes quickly gained attention, she waited for two years before signing a contract. "They wanted pop songs and used to talk about changing my image," she told O'Connell. "I used to think, 'These are my songs. If you don't like what I do, I'll eat the lovely dinner you've just bought me, but then you can go home."
In 2001 Hayes released 4:35 a.m., an EP featuring acoustic versions of her songs, similar in vein to her live performances. She followed with a second EP in 2001, Work to a Calm, recordings that found her replacing her quiet folk backing with a full band.
In 2001 Hayes also signed with Source, a French label noted for its dance music. Working with producer Dave Fridmann in Buffalo, New York, Hayes would take 18 months to record her first album. "I've worked really hard at this and I love the way it sounds," she told Mick Heaney in the London Sunday Times, "even though I don't know whether people will embrace it or not. I just love what I do." And critics liked the album. "There's an innocence that's like slow dancing at twilight that sets Night On My Side apart from all the rest," wrote MacKenzie Wilson at All Music Guide. Night on My Side was also nominated for the prestigious Mercury Music Prize, although it would lose to Ms. Dynamite's A Little Deeper. "I'm totally blown away by [the nomination]," Hayes told Jeff Magill in the Belfast News Letter, "but you have to put it into perspective. It's not a competition because you can't make art into a competition."
Despite the accolades that poured in following the album's release, Hayes reacted negatively to being called a singer-songwriter, or to being compared to her contemporaries. "People need to go, okay, she's a singer-songwriter, let's put her into this or that bracket," she told Heaney. "The waif-like girl, she's got something to say, blah blah blah." The comparisons, she believed, offered little help in accurately describing her music.
The success of Night on My Side, however, had positive consequences for Hayes. She soon graduated from playing pubs in Dublin to performing before audiences worldwide. She would even learn that actor Pierce Brosnan was a fan. "He came backstage and robbed some cigarettes off me," she quipped to Alison Stokes in the South Wales Echo. "I thought he should have been able to afford his own." Brosnan also asked her to sing a song for the movie Evelyn, in which he was currently starring. But Hayes found herself overwhelmed by her commitments. "To be honest," she told Maeve Quigley in the London Sunday Mirror, "I wasn't prepared for the amount of work it was going to involve. ... Why didn't they tell me that I would get very run down if I didn't look after myself?"
In 2005 Hayes released The Roads Don't Love You, an album reflecting on her experiences as a performer. "Sometimes when you come off the road," she told Nick Kelly in Billboard, "you get the blues." Critical reception, however, was lukewarm, compared to the positive response to Night Is on My Side. "The Roads Don't Love You is not as musically adventurous as its predecessor," noted Alexia Loundras in the London Independent, "but it was not intended to be. With its glistening production and streamlined feel, Hayes wanted to draw attention to the emotional exorcism in her lyrics."
It took Hayes three years to complete the album. Following the tour to support her first album, she suffered from writer's block. "Once I'd put the guitar down after touring that first record," she told Loundras, "I didn't want to pick it up again, not at all." She tried to write new material, but disliked the results. Finally, she brought herself out of the doldrums by imagining herself returning to her old job at the launderette. "It made me realize," she told Loundras, "that music is the only thing that gives me pleasure. I just couldn't imagine a life without it."
by Ronnie D. Lankford Jr
Gemma Hayes's Career
Performed as a singer in Dublin; recorded two EPs, 4:35 a.m. and Work to a Calm, 2001; signed with Source Records and issued Night on My Side, 2002; released The Roads Don't Love You, 2005.
- Selected discography
- 4:35 a.m. (EP), Source, 2001.
- Work to a Calm (EP), Source, 2001.
- Night on My Side Source, 2002.
- The Roads Don't Love You Source, 2005.
- Billboard, November 19, 2005, p. 37.
- Independent (London, England), February 3, 2006.
- News Letter (Belfast, Northern Ireland), September 6, 2002, p. 28.
- Observer (London, England), June 2, 2002, p. 24.
- South Wales Echo, January 25, 2003, p. 14.
- Sunday Mirror (London, England), April 20, 2003, p. 21.
- Sunday Times (London, England), July 1, 2001, p. 16; June 2, 2002, p. 10.
- "Gemma Hayes," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com/ (February 10, 2006).
- "Gemma Hayes," Irish Music Central, http://www.irishmusiccentral.com/gemmahayes/biography.html (February 10, 2006).