Polly Barrett: “I thought the songwriting part of my life was over”

by James Hendicott
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Closely connected to nature, and with an almost zen-like feel to it, Cork native Polly Barrett’s long-awaited new album ‘Sapling Be’ is a return that had a difficult journey in its route to being.

The result combines her deeply organic style of composition with heaps of emotion, a spacey rural vibe that couldn’t have been written in the city, and a true sense of treading her own unique path.

“I went through a period of about six years where I didn’t write anything,” Barrett tells us. “I wanted to, and I tried really hard for the first few years. Eventually I thought that part of my life was over, and I even enrolled in an online course to get a certificate in another area completely, changing paths. It was the longest and hardest period of writer’s block I’d ever had.”

“It was at the same time as I had my son, and that big life change definitely contributed to it. The whole creative industry feels unreliable for family life, so there’s a pressure. I started writing again during Covid, finishing a first song after that long period in 2020, which actually came really easily in the end. That was such a great feeling, and the reaction it got online gave me the boost I needed to keep going.”

From there, Barrett’s road to an album that comes years after she made a very different mark on the music scene was an easier one, and one that also saw her reinvent herself.

“It felt amazing when it all came back, and it made me a lot braver and more experimental,” she says. “I wasn’t really interested in treading the same path, so I’ve been more daring and tried a few new things. It’s been a totally different experience; I feel like I’ve been so immersed in this album, and made so many more conscious choices about it. This is a sound that I’ve very consciously created.”

“I’ve always been very close to nature and felt quite a spiritual person, but it’s only in the last few years that it’s manifested in a very real way in my life,” she continues. “One of those ways was through forest bathing, as well as the process of becoming a parent and seeing the world through the eyes of your child. It all has a profound effect.”

“All my nature references come from West Cork. It has that wildness, and parts of it feel like they haven’t been touched in so long. I feel a real sense of connection with the countryside and the wildlife, like you’re privy to something special and magical, and I think that comes through in most of my songs.”

Playing in the way she does now, combining instrumentation like bodhrán, tongue drum, whistle and guitar with a sublime and distinctive vocal, has also seen Barrett’s stage set up change.

“Live, I use a loop pedal and three different instruments, plus my vocal, which feels quite different to what came earlier in my career,” she says. “I just want to create what I’m creating as honestly as I can, I’m not trying to write a hit or become Ed Sheeran or anything like that. So I don’t really think about other people and their take on it until quite late on.”

“This time around, I wrote the music and then thought ‘who’s going to like this’, rather than trying to write something that someone else would like. I think that’s worked well for me.”

‘Sapling Be’ by Polly Barrett is out now.

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