Three years in the making, Ailbhe Reddy’s debut album ‘Personal History’, out on Friday 2nd October 2020, is an intimate and introspective collection of songs that ruminate on the rites of passage as a young, emerging, queer artist from Dublin.
On ‘Personal History’, Ailbhe’s ability to write songs of earnest and honest self-appraisal see her autobiographically navigate through break-ups in the age of social media (‘Looking Happy’), reflect on the duality of loneliness and independence while touring (‘Time Difference’), and open up about coming out (‘Between Your Teeth’, ‘Loyal’).
Taking some time out of music to study psychotherapy for a year during the making of the record, there’s a sense of Ailbhe applying a newfound understanding and empathy to the perspectives and problems of those around her, as well vicariously analysing the complications in her life. The bracing ‘Self Improvement’ opens a dialogue on the difficulties of living with mental health, whereas other tracks more precisely dissect issues like learning to live with failure (‘Late Bloomer’) and confronting fears of commitment (‘Failing’, ‘Walk Away’).
Reflecting on the impact psychotherapy has had on her songwriting, Ailbhe says: “I spent a year studying psychotherapy before I started writing this album and I realised while recording that I had subconsciously included a lot of clinical terms in my lyrics. Words like ego, true intimacy, personal history, self improvement. The themes of understanding my fear of and need for relationships with others, my frustration with myself, my journey with self acceptance. The collection of songs I ultimately decided to put on this record are all linked to my desire as a songwriter to understand myself and those around me. Writing is about being understood, music is therapy.”
Hauling together the extraneous experiences with melodies fine-tuned over these previous years, Ailbhe finally arrived at a longlist of 18 demo recordings. Feeling confident in her work she reached out to Erland Cooper (who she had been introduced to in 2017 when writing ‘Walk Away’) and Tommy McLaughlin (producer and touring member of SOAK), both of whom greeted the tracks with warm enthusiasm; each offering their production skills and expertise. Taking-up residence in the stimulating environment of McLaughlin’s renowned Attica Audio Recording Studios in Co. Donegal, immersed in the breathtaking scenery and away from distractions of the city, the trio developed a warm rapport with a feeling of a shared vision for what would become Ailbhe’s debut album.
“I always felt like I learned something new about myself and my writing after a session with Erland which is quite rare,” says Ailbhe. “I had also loved Tommy’s work for years and it turned out they worked together a lot which resulted in me being able to work with my two dream producers on my debut record. Pretty sweet!”
A visit to the studio from McLaughlin’s SOAK bandmate James Byrne (ex-Villagers) gave opportunity for the drummer to lay down some of his accomplished rhythms too. By the end of a two week period, the ensemble had refined those 18 demos into 10 tracks of crystalline class, arriving definitively at: ‘Personal History’.
Whether it’s the Julia Jacklin-esque slacker-pop of album opener ‘Failing’, or the sixties girl-group inflections of ‘Time Difference’, the hushed heart-on-sleeve acoustica of ‘Walk Away’, the sparkling folk finesse of ‘Loyal’, or the title-track’s bruising Big Thief-style balladry, ‘Personal History’ is varied in its influences and resonant with the experience of its proponents. Masterfully embellished by a world-class studio, the songs of ‘Personal History’ are as musically expressive as the lyrics are emotive, never losing sight of where they have come from. Sharing its name with the medical term for a collection of information about a person’s health, Ailbhe Reddy’s ‘Personal History’ couldn’t be more aptly titled.
“While I was writing this album I was delving into the world of psychotherapy and attachment theory a lot…. different things that shape a person will ultimately affect their relationship with you.” she says. “Every track on the album is talking about my relationship with another person and the final track is about my relationship with myself, so the title ‘Personal History’ felt right.”
With artwork designed by Ailbhe too, ‘Personal History’ is a record not only true to its title, but true to herself. Both coming-of-age story and therapeutic analysis, it’s an album that documents a very specific chapter of Ailbhe’s story to date, yet is one that will chime with countless others. A cathartic case study for the soul, ‘Personal History’ is an album to cherish.