No less a musical authority than All Songs Considered has called Lisa Hannigan's voice "gorgeous." Elsewhere, the Irish singer's music has been described as ethereal, mesmerizing, whimsical and sublime. In 2008, after years of performing with her countryman Damien Rice, Hannigan set out on her own. Now, she's emerged from the studio with her second solo effort, Passenger — an album she and her band recorded in just one week.
"So we'll make one in an afternoon next," Hannigan jokes to Weekend Edition Sunday's Audie Cornish. Hannigan says that recording live, rather than track by track, allowed the group to give itself over to the task and not sweat the small stuff.
"It's such a natural process then," she says. "You're not thinking about getting it 'right,' which is the curse of the red light coming on. You're thinking, 'How do I do this correctly?' "
Hannigan enlisted Joe Henry, a singer-songwriter who released an acclaimed album of his own this year, to produce Passenger. She says that, even though Henry was a collaborator, she and the band thought of him more as an audience for the recording process.
"I think the way we recorded lent itself to us all really wanting to get to the essence of the song, and make Joe — sitting on the other side of the glass with his headphones on –- make him feel something," Hannigan says.
"That sort of made the record," she adds. "That we were playing to one person."
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
No less a musical authority than All Songs Considered has called Lisa Hannigan's voice gorgeous. Elsewhere, the Irish singer's music has been described as ethereal, mesmerizing, whimsical and sublime.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)
LISA HANNIGAN: (Singing) Your heart seems like a ghetto and your words, they boil away like steel...
CORNISH: In 2008, after years of performing with her countryman Damien Rice, Lisa Hannigan set out on her own. And now she has emerged from the studio with her second solo effort. It's called "Passenger." Lisa Hannigan and her band join us now in Studio 4A to play some tunes from the new album. It's so great to have you here.
HANNIGAN: Thank you.
CORNISH: I hope you don't mind me saying all those things with you, like, just a few feet away. Is that strange?
HANNIGAN: It's slightly awkward but it's fine.
CORNISH: Your voice is sublime.
HANNIGAN: Thank you.
CORNISH: I'm going to cheat and go straight to the music first and then we'll come back to the band. Let's hear the song called "Knots."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KNOTS")
HANNIGAN: (Singing) It was early in the morning, we were sitting on the stoop. There wheeled away a starling, and I thought that I would too. Oh, for all I knew, I was lost through and through, in my high heels and my old dress, with my new keys in the wrong city. I, I tie the knots to remember in my heart, so I choke and I sputter to a stop, I am a borrower and lender of the lot. I walk away asleep and chalk an outline round the scene. This shadow play of whiskey talk, a heavy denier dream. Oh let it be, I was lost in him and me, in my high heels and my old dress, with my new keys in the wrong city, in my high heels and my old dress, with my new keys in the wrong city. I tie the knots to remember in my heart, so I choke and I sputter to a stop, I am a borrower and lender of the lot. I tie the knots to remember in my heart. I tie the knots to remember in my heart, so I choke and I sputter to a stop.
CORNISH: Very nice. Lisa Hannigan, start out by introducing us to your band members.
HANNIGAN: Sure. To my left is Gum Glass on piano. Then we've got John Smith on guitar and vocals, Ross Turner on drums. To my right, is Donna Malloy playing trumpet and harmonium and Shane Fitzsimons on bass.
CORNISH: I feel like the harmonium is making the rounds. I've seen this in a couple other bands. What is this instrument and why is it so appealing?
HANNIGAN: Well, it's a traditional Indian instrument. And, for me, it was so appealing when I started out and I wasn't great at the guitar or sort of the stringy things in general, and I found that I could make a great deal of noise with very little action. And it really has such a kind of mournful sort of sound.
(SOUNDBITE OF HARMONIUM)
HANNIGAN: You know, it has a real, I think it has quite a nostalgic air to it. So, yeah, it sort of suited me when I was starting out.
CORNISH: I read that the first album you did, you did in just, like, maybe two weeks. Was there anything that you learned the first time around that you did differently with this album?
HANNIGAN: Well, this one we did in one week. So, you know, we'll make one in an afternoon next. I think for this one, the main difference really was that we recorded it live. So, we didn't - normally, with the records, you put in the drums and you put in the bass and you sort of build it up like that. Whereas we were working with this wonderful producer called Joe Henry. And we recorded all live. So, we all just sat in the room together, much as we're doing now. And I think that was the big difference because it's such a natural process then and you're not thinking about getting it right, which is the curse of the red light coming on, you know? But you're thinking, well, how do I do this correctly? And I think the way we recorded it sort of lends itself to us all really sort of wanting to create - just to get to the essence of the song really and make Joe, sitting at the other side of the glass, his headphones on, make him feel something really. And I think that the specifics of that actually made the record, you know, that we were just playing to sort of one person actually made the record.
CORNISH: Now, the CD's called "Passenger," and I gather you're a good passenger here, a musician on the road. Can we hear it?
CORNISH: So, this is Lisa Hannigan and the title track off of her new album, "Passenger."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PASSENGER")
HANNIGAN: (Singing) Walking 'round Chicago, I have smuggled you as cargo, though you are far away unknowing. By the time we get to Salt Lake, I have packed you in my suitcase, iron the creases from my own remembering. We wound our way to Texas, and I summoned rumbled hexes, and I sent them across dust and oceans. In Phoenix, Arizona, I had a notion I might phone ya, but there it lived and died a notion. And she said burn, oh why. Oh my satellite, oh my passenger. Oh my satellite, oh my passenger.
CORNISH: I thought that was beautiful. I was reading in an interview where you said that you as a teenager was crazy about opera.
HANNIGAN: I did.
CORNISH: Did you actually sing? 'Cause your voice, it seems sort of delicate and it's hard to imagine you doing operatic.
HANNIGAN: And I couldn't, you know. I sort of put on the accent of it. And, you know, I was much younger, so I didn't quite know where my voice was going. But I really loved the music and I used all of these kind of operatic heroines dying of consumption and singing this wonderful music. I sort of used to get all my teenage angst out. So, I'd be up in my black-painted bedroom weeping away. You don't know my life - that kind of thing.
CORNISH: Are you still into opera at all?
HANNIGAN: Yeah, yeah, I do. And I went to New York for a while to do some writing, and the Met had this wonderful thing where someone in their will - I should remember their name - but someone in their will left loads of tickets, so that you could queue up all day and get the best seats in the house for $10. So, I went so many times. I met lots of wonderful people in the queue as well. But, no, I still love absolutely love it.
CORNISH: I'm going to ask you to take us out on the song "Paper House." But first, I wanted to thank you guys for coming in. I very much appreciate it. It was beautiful music.
HANNIGAN: Thank you for having us.
CORNISH: Lisa Hannigan and her band. The new CD is called "Passenger." And the song we're about to hear is "Paper House."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PAPER HOUSE")
CORNISH: You can hear Lisa Hannigan's entire studio session with us, and watch a video of her performing here at NPR, by visiting NPRMusic.org. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.