Last year, Sinéad Harnett took the first break she’d ever had in her life. Touring, global travels and local shows were on hold due to COVID-19 and her schedule was all over the place. She often felt as if the days were running into one another. As the world came to a complete standstill, Harnett used quarantine to reset.
“I was happy that I couldn’t do anything,” Harnett, said during a Zoom call from London in early May. “I could just put myself first.”
She eventually leaned back into music, spending her days in solitude writing and recording her second studio album, Ready Is Always Too Late (out today), a project that focuses on the ups and downs she’s experienced in romantic partnerships in recent years.
In addition to working on her latest album, Sinéad also kept her mind balanced during quarantine by meditating regularly. She attended her first Black Lives Matter protest in London following George Floyd’s death last year. Harnett credits this march as a moment that prompted her to realize she should use her platform as an artist more wisely. “Everything is bigger than just us,” she said.
During our Zoom meeting, Harnett spent quite a few minutes expressing her candid thoughts on her purpose and activism. On activists’ entire lives being dedicated to uplifting communities and enacting change. “There’s no exhale because everything that’s wrong with the world is there the whole time,” she said. “So of course it’s exhausting.”
Sinéad’s musical journey began in North London. As a child, music provided the stability she yearned for since her parents —a Thai mother and an Irish father — were separated. She spent ample time alone when she wasn’t with her mother or her sister who had a different father which meant she was always away with the other side of her family. “My mom was very traditional Thai, which means don’t talk back to me,” she said. “It was strict.”
At about seven years old her family was given a piano that led her down a path of releasing her inner conflicts and angst. Writing and singing became her way of escaping her world where she often felt she was living to please her mother.
Big voices were a part of her life. Sinéad’s mother would often play vocal powerhouses like Tina Turner throughout the singer’s childhood. Harnett eventually found her way to acts like Destiny’s Child, Aaliyah, TLC, and Amy Winehouse. “She is a lyrical genius to me, I would love to be able to write like that,” she said, speaking about Winehouse. “Soul artists have always just spoken to me, [they’re who] I’ve always connected and resonated with.”
By the time she entered Arts University College Bournemouth she began participating in talent shows. Since she spent her earlier years feeling lonely, music was her company. She was once in a band with her friends and has distinct memories of performing on campus and recording music in grungy studios. The reception she received from friends and listeners as she explored her soul-inspired sound gave her the confidence to make music her full-time career.
“[My friends] didn’t know that I was such a fan of music because I was so scared to share that. When I got on the stage, I knew I was nervous and I had doubts and worries, but I knew that this was my way of proving myself,” Harnett said. “Learning how to project my voice loudly took a while because I always felt like “Is this wrong?” because I know that [my mother] would want me to do something else. I got there in the end, and now I’m just like, you can’t shut me up.”
On her debut album, 2019’s Lessons In Love, Harnett shares her thoughts on boundaries, betrayal, a partner’s insecurities, loneliness, and heartbreak. She also addresses the happier, fleeting emotions that often come with love on this compilation. In addition to the songwriting, her voice, a soft alto wafts effortlessly over airy beats. “Him Too” is an example of the emotionally packed songwriting that has become synonymous with Sinéad’s music. On this melancholy track she shares what it feels like to break up a couple to find love; her empathy for a heartbroken woman is the central theme on the cut. While “If You Let Me” is a song that she admits she wrote following years of feeling a lack of confidence in her writing abilities.
In a way Ready Is Always Too Late is a reintroduction of sorts. On Her latest album, the songwriting ethers into dark parts of her past, but she delves into those depths to share how far she’s come on her journey of self-love. Harnett’s vulnerable lyrics paired with her downtempo sound capture this air of rebirth mainly since many of her tracks are confessional ballads.
During our conversation, Harnett admits her new LP has a “bit more of a self-assured tone.” She adds the album was heavily influenced by a partnership where her feelings weren’t being reciprocated. “I always need a catalyst, something that’s causing me distress, or something that’s moved me in a great way,” she said.
“‘Stay,’ a song that packs a stunning chorus and a reflective tone, is about finally meeting someone who gives a person a reason to stay, and not self-sabotaging. “Anymore” is a collaboration with singer Lucky Daye; the duo share a series of emotional moments marked by a tinge of sadness. The cut, which was recorded during the pandemic was a dream for Harnett who has admired Daye’s voice and songwriting for other artists in recent years from afar. “Seeing his journey absolutely propel and evolve, and then getting to sing with him, this is just a dream to me,” she said. “The imagery that he brought to the song was so special.”
As we approach the end of our conversation, Sinéad reflects on the message she feels is present on her latest album. Ready Is Always Too Late is about not waiting until you’re ready to embrace your full glory to love yourself. “Just do it. Stop waiting ‘til you’re ready,” she adds. “I am excited to see what fans think of the new self-assured tone, and to get to perform it.”
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