Liter-Artists: An Interview with Sive
Updated: Jun 23, 2020
Sive (Sadhbh O'Sullivan) is a renowned Irish singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. She was recently dubbed "one of the most inspiring and exciting artists of our time" by Female First UK. With a truly spellbinding alt-folk style, she combines beautiful multi-layered vocals and a haunting musicality. Sive released her album 'The Roaring Girl' to critical acclaim in 2017. She's performed across Ireland, Europe and New Zealand, sharing stages with the likes of Lisa Hannigan and Christy Moore and appearing at a string of festivals including Electric Picnic, Temple Bar TradFest, Cúirt International Festival of Literature and Dublin Book Festival (with Poetry Ireland).
Hi Sive, first I would like to thank you for taking the time for this interview. Last year you released an EP with beautiful songs such as Tenlach, which is one of my favourite songs ever. What inspires you to create?
Thank you! My songs are inspired by a whole host of things really, from lived experiences to things I've read or heard to feelings I can't quite articulate in any other way. Tenlach was inspired by being torn between feelings of impatience, wanting life to move and change, and feelings of fear that were keeping me stagnant. Tenlach (or Teallach) is the Irish word for a hearth; a place that is safe and warm but also a place that you can leave and come home to.
You just released a new single 'Storybook Moon' feat. Dowry. The song is just sublime, and I love its atmosphere. Can you tell us more about the meaning of it?
That song was written during a time when I was struggling to sleep. One night I went for a walk and as I passed under some trees, I glimpsed the moon peeking through the branches. It was completely perfect in that moment – like the cover of a picture book I had as a child. In a way, it's about how little moments of beauty are available even in trying times. Working with Ena Brennan (Dowry) on the string arrangement was a dream.
Do you have a special process when you create, and does literature play a role in this process?
Literature definitely plays a big role - I would say almost as big a role as music. I always have a book (or three) on the go, and I think it always feeds into my songwriting in some way. My process involves a lot of journaling and free-writing, sifting back through pages of writing to find the right words so I can gather them and shape them into lyrics. Sometimes songs will come about when I marry these words with musical ideas, whereas at other times I might write some music first and then lyrics will arise from the mood of that. There isn't one formula I follow every time - it's a messy and unpredictable process!
Who are your favourite writers, and why?
Over the years some of my favourite fiction writers have been people like George Orwell and Aldous Huxley - writers who really made me question how the world of humans works. I used to love a good dystopian novel, but like a lot of people I don't really have the stomach for them at the moment! Some of my more recent favourite books would be Constellations by Sinéad Gleeson, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murikami and The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. I love writers who can combine beautiful language with challenging ideas, who can embed a sense of hope into difficult subjects.
What makes a book your favourite?
It really depends on the type of book, and what I'm looking for from it. With fiction or essays, it would be the qualities I mentioned before. With non-fiction books, whether they are fact-based or more philosophical or a mixture of both, it might be more based on how the writer relates to their subject matter and whether I feel like they have insights that can enrich my own way of thinking.
Music and literature are often interconnected; for example, Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016. In your opinion, is music literature?
I absolutely think it can be. But it's still important to view them as independent art forms to a certain extent - I don't think songs should be obliged to look good written down or poetry should be obliged to be singable, although both of those things can happen.
We are all living in a difficult time due to the Covid-19 crisis, but has it helped you to read more and create?
To be honest, it hasn't helped me to create at all. I was relieved when all the social media posts about great artists creating masterpieces during pandemics settled down! But it has definitely helped me to read more, and reading has been a saviour. I've gotten back into fiction which I hadn't been reading much of recently; I've particularly loved Dark Enchantment by Dorothy Macardle and Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo.
Music and literature both have psychological benefits. What do they bring to you?
The psychological benefit of music is a complicated one when you're a professional musician - while I 100% believe in the powerful benefits music can have, the water can get a bit muddied when you're actually involved in a music industry which is often not conducive to good mental health! But, all joking aside, music itself is absolutely essential for my mental wellbeing. The writing and playing of it are important outlets, but I also don't know what I would do if I couldn't listen to music, or if people stopped writing new songs for me to relate to. Literature offers so many benefits; sometimes it's escapism and sometimes it's the complete opposite, bringing the world around me into sharp focus.
What are your favourite songs at the moment?
Irish musicians have been releasing some beautiful music during lockdown, so I'll use this opportunity to point people towards a few that I've been enjoying! Naoise Roo's entire Sick Girlfriend EP, Riona Sally Hartman's Blood Moon and Havvk/Participant's collaboration on Operate are just some of my favourites.
Thank you so much for your answers. I hope to see you soon live in Galway! One last question to give us inspiration on what to read this summer - what are the books you think we all should read?
I'm looking forward to reading A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa, which will be coming out on Tramp Press in August. I also look forward to diving into Race Matters by Cornel West, who I have long admired for his relentless sense-making. If I were to recommend some of my recent favourites I'd go for Handiwork by Sara Baume, The Sea,The Sea by Iris Murdock or From Here to Eternity by Caitlin Doughty.
Sive (Sadhbh O’Sullivan) and Sharon Murphy - musicians and arts & health specialists, created Embrace Music, a brand new social enterprise. The two artists have worked both together and separately in County Kildare running community choirs and delivering music sessions to people living with dementia and other age-related illnesses. The aim of Embrace Music is to give people as many different opportunities to embrace music and other art forms as possible in their own locality, or even in their own home. Sadhbh and Sharon also released a compilation album 'Calming Covers' in aid of the Kildare Branch of Samaritans Ireland. The album features ten Kildare artists who have produced many soothing sounds in the past to record a version of a song they turn to in hard times.
Here is the link to download the album : Calming Covers on Bandcamp.
Interviewed by Sophia Hadef.