Reviews "Let It Break"   May 27 2011

There has always been a touch of class about Tipperary’s Gemma Hayes. From her 2002 debut, Night On My Side, to this very fine newbie, she has shown what needs to be done to ensure that melancholia is given a renewed lease of life and sense of purpose. So, yes, she rocks the ‘happy/sad’ equation with ease, but also with a level of style and quality that will always mark her out as easily one of the country’s best songwriters.

That she has never gained the kind of commercial success that is rewarded to lesser songwriters and performers is down to her self-confessed weird side. And it’s true – just when you think a song of hers will go down the middle of the road along comes an errant guiding hand on the steering wheel to drag it into the ditch. It’s quite remarkable, then, that even in the ditch the songs survive.

On Let It Break, songs such as ‘Don’t Let Them Cut Your Hair’, ‘Brittle Winter’, ‘To Be Beside You’, ‘Sorrow Be Gone’ and ‘There’s Only Love’ (to mention just five) achieve the intent of their creator by being effortlessly melodic while simultaneously being just that little bit odd. Other, far more famous songwriters have tried this but have ended up sounding false and facile and looking decidedly frazzled. Gemma Hayes does it without a hair on her head out of place – the real deal. A class act, too.

Tony Clayton-Lea writes on rock/pop culture for The Irish Times, and is chairman of the Choice Music Prize judging panel. "Let It Break"  May 30 2011

[Gemma Hayes returns with her fourth album, the result of many months of hard graft between studios in Dublin and France with long-time producer David Odlum. Freed from the shackles of major label influence and embracing the DIY approach, with Let it Break Hayes has taken the time to meticulously craft an album which sees her embrace a wealth of new styles and sounds whilst remaining loyal to her roots.

Lead single ‘Shock to my System’ is a highlight – the final product unexpectedly more up-tempo than the version that Hayes road-tested on her acoustic tours over the past year, with added strings and mandolins against a driving drumbeat. The instantly catchy ‘Keep Running’ (née ‘Tokyo’) is a certain hit, and will serve as a means to command mainstream attention in the same manner ‘Out Of Our Hands’ did for 2008’s The Hollow of the Morning. ‘Brittle Winter’ had already made its presence felt in advance of the album’s release, a demo version of the song having worked its way onto the soundtrack of American TV series Pretty Little Liars – a positive sign for when the album gets a wider international release later this year.

Ambient electronica permeates many of the tracks of Let it Break, as Hayes experiments with different sounds – most notably the pulsing beats and layered keyboards of ‘Ruin’, and the Paul Noonan-aided ‘Fire’. The inclusion of two instrumental tracks also marks new territory for Hayes. Yet she continually is at her best when embracing her melancholy side – stripped-back acoustic folk ballad ‘Sorrow Be Gone’ and poignant piano lament ‘Noise’ really allow her voice to shine in all its raw and emotive glory, and the beautiful ‘To Be Beside You’ is the standout –proof that Hayes’ heart-on-sleeve approach to songwriting is as strong as ever. Let it Break is engaging, moving, and compelling. It may have been a long time coming – but it has most definitely been worth the wait.


God Is In The TV - October 2005

"Three years on from her critically acclaimed debut album “Night On My Side” Gemma Hayes returns with the kind of polished album that thrust Source label mates Turin Brakes firmly into the mainstream. Having recruited Beck/R.E.M. drummer Joey Waronker as producer and some talented session players from L.A. as her backing band her new album definitely sounds promising on paper...."


Green Immigrant - December 2004

Green And Independent

The many miles separating us from home can make us lose touch with our roots. As far as music goes, we can easily slip into the scene Stateside, losing track of what's going on "over there." Listening to pop radio or watching MTV over here, you might get the impression that Irish music is U2, The Cranberries etc.... It isn't.

I didn't realize how much music had changed until I heard The Green Album: New Music From Ireland, Vol. I.

It's the first in a series of compilations crossing the Atlantic, compiling 13 tracks from independent musicians at home who have been rising to the forefront of the Irish, and European, music scene.

It's eclectic. Some tracks incorporating a myriad of styles fusing rock and Hip Hop; synthesizing soft instrumentals stressed with the heavy beat of Hard Rock. It's 80s New Wave weaved into contemporary rock. It's a compilation so diverse you can't really crunch it into a genre.

Some of the artists you are certain to have heard before. The Walls, a four-piece guitar band, was formed by brothers Steve and Joe Wall, formerly front-men for 90s knockout groove The Stunning, one of the more successful Irish bands with a string of hits and number one albums behind them. They have also opened for Dylan and U2.

Tracks include "The Tiny Magic Indian" by Blink, hailed as by The Irish Times, hardly an 'indy' outfit, as 'one of the best Irish records you'll hear this year.'

Such recognition and acclaim shows that bands like Blink and other oracles on The Green Album aren't just making it mainstream; they are making the mainstream. The new must eclipse the old; this looks like the future of Irish pop music.


Stylus Magazine - September 1 2003

A sense of guilt runs almost imperceptibly through this record, possibly born of Gemma Hayes’ upbringing in Ballyporeen, County Tipperary, the youngest of eight children, and the restrictive sense of right & wrong that Irish Catholicism can burn into someone. This is a record made by someone finding their feet, musically and spiritually, a record made by someone who wants to let go almost as much as she wants to hold on.

Produced by Mercury Rev’s Dave Fridmann and Gemma herself, Night On My Side swerves between melancholy acoustic country and pummelling, edge-of-chaos guitar noise. There are echoes of PJ Harvey, that other country girl who found musical salvation in the midst of rural boredom, but while Hayes may be adept with bright melodies and upfront guitar playing, she has little of Polly’s snarling, bitter fury and industrial psychosis. Beth Orton’s modern plaintive folk is perhaps closer in mood if not in sound, but the influences most clearly reverberating through Gemma Hayes’ debut album are My Bloody Valentine and the Buckley’s. Her voice, more mid-west than Dublin, is as beguiling curled around ruminative ballads like "Ran For Miles" (“today I ran for miles / just to see what I was made of”) as it is drenched, eyes closed, in feedback and distortion on "Let A Good Thing Go". Meanwhile her guitar playing switches from country-esque twangs and delicate acoustic sweeps to full-on squall. She doesn’t attempt to emulate the pedantic attention to detail of Kevin Shields, largely avoiding the dreamlike wooziness of Loveless (except maybe on "Tear In My Side"), but rather builds on the cathartic emotional impact that feedback and noise can lend to melancholic melodies.

From her sleeve notes and arrangements, Gemma obviously sees music as a spiritual and emotional force, something to be lost in and redeemed by, yet her lyrics reveal a soul sometimes at odds with itself, a girl bound by obligation and expectation as much as she craves escape and excitement. "Hanging Around" and "I Wanna Stay" show someone eager to understand and be satisfied by simpler pleasures, craving comfort as much as excitement, wishing to be happy doing the things that other people do, but that wont be enough and she knows it.

Like all country music, Night On My Side is about God and love and hurt and home. Learning the differences between instinct and impulse, starting to question received wisdom, and finding out that love can be beautiful as well as painful. “Got a boot full of dreams / and a pocket full of reasons not to stay” she sings on "My God", but as her voice quavers around the melody we’re unsure whether she’s singing “my God” or “my guy”, and so is she. Naïve and clumsy in places, this is nevertheless a beautiful, after hours record full of heart and promise.

Reviewed by: Nick Southall - Witnness 2003

Before taking Sunday's Witnness Rising Stage by storm with an array of tunes taken from her Mercury Prize nominated album 'Night on My Side', Gemma Hayes took time out to consider what the last year has brought her and to discuss her next move.

"It's my last gig for quite a long time. I'm going to go away and I'm going to start thinking about the next album. So, it's a big moment, the end of a chapter and I'm quite weepy. I've got this amazing band and they've become my friends and I have to say goodbye to them now. So, it's very full on experience."

Like all artists in a similar situation the Tipperary chanteuse is determined to avoid succumbing to the 'difficult-second-album' syndrome and finds the only way to survive is by changing her approach to making music. "I'm trying to avoid having a second album about being on the road. A lot of second albums are about just that and that's a kind of cringe factor for me. The last thing I want is to have a second album about being on the road and then have to go out on the road to promote an album about being on the road. It would be just too much. A lot of the music written before this first album was about this anticipation for something, anything to take me away from that present situation. And right now I thinking the next album will be written in third person. It could be about a girl called Joanne or a guy called Billy or someone else. I like the idea of things being abstract as hell. Songwriters are known for writing stories, but I'm into the idea of writing stuff that doesn't make any sense, throwing in names of people, so people can just make it their own." As if the tasks of writing, recording, promoting and eventually reaching audiences through a rigorous touring schedule wasn't enough, Hayes' mission to break through via the live circuit has been only compounded by her crippling fear of flying. "It's been strange. "My band have flown to gigs and I have gone ahead days beforehand. I had to go the States and just took Mogadon sleeping pills and conked myself out. I can't get my head around it. I've been to a hypno-therapist and I've tried everything, but I just freak out. I don't actually want to write about my fear of flying, but I put in a line or two that for me means something about it."

While live shows may open the hearts of many to one's music, they can also magnify any misgivings an audience might have, as Gemma discovered while touring America earlier this year. "We did a gig recently in Louisville, Kentucky and I think they were told that I was a folk acoustic artist, which I am to an extent. As a result I got a lot of old people who were well over seventy in my crowd and they constantly kept coming up to the stage saying (adopts whiny American accent) 'Maam!, can you please turn the sound down because we can't hear ourselves talk!' Both band and I kept getting quieter nd quieter and I ended up being this little sound in the corner. But, it was brilliant in a way. It was one of those moments I wished I had a camera."

The most recent of Gemma's many collaborations was with Scottish based songwriter Even Johansen who operates under the name of Magnet. Her involvement with his 'On Your Side' album was an unusual take on Bob Dylan's 'Lay lady Lay'. "That was a weird one because Dylan originally put it out around the time of the feminist movement and a lot of women kicked up about it because it basically views women as a sexual object in the song. So, I said no to it when it was originally suggested and I told them that it was just too full-on. So, we changed the lyrics. I don't know if Dylan would be very happy with us doing, but we did so that it's more of a conversation as opposed to having one person telling the other what to do. I hope we got away with it."

Colm Kelly
© WOW!


The Times, London

October 12, 2002
Fleece And Firkin, Bristol

THE IRISH singer-songwriter Gemma Hayes began 2002 as a virtual unknown, released one of the year's most critically acclaimed debut albums in May, then spent the summer as one of the youngest ever nominees for a Mercury Music Prize. She lost out to Ms. Dynamite, of course, but the attendant publicity has clearly been valuable.

Despite minimal radio play and a steadfast defiance of currently fashionable pop categories, the 24-year-old novice's Bristol show on Wednesday was packed with enthusiastic new converts.

Hushed intensity is a Hayes forte, and she managed to silence all but a few chattering voices with a spookily soft yet seismically powerful opening ballad.

Between the songs, her nervy patter betrayed a disarming mix of the coquettish and the neurotic. But it was the less-is-more grandeur of her lyrical delivery, all breathy sobs and falsetto yodels, which instantly commanded rapt attention.

Backed by a four-piece band, Hayes alternated between the woozy, warm, country-folk grace of finger-picking tunes such as I Wanna Stay and more meaty rock arrangements. Often the two styles bled into each other, as on Ran For Miles or Lucky One, both of which swelled from gentle beginnings to raucous avalanches of shuddering power chords and sugar-coated dissonance.

She also showcased her gift for wringing diverse musical and sensual textures from fairly basic instrumental ingredients. Even the slightest and most impressionistic numbers, like the funereally paced I Can't Find Love, seemed to smoulder and throb like coiled springs of unreleased tension. Despite her tender years, Hayes is already a virtuoso of the unspoken emotional payoff, the explosion which never quite detonates.

By the end of her hour-long set, Hayes had aired most of her slender back-catalogue and a mild sameness of tone was becoming evident in more nondescript tracks such as Stop The Wheel. But this is an inevitable drawback for any new artist, and one which will clearly diminish as her recorded canon deepens.

She also saved some of her finest work for the final lap of honour, which began with the brawny rhythmic clatter of Let A Good Thing Go and the muscular, honeyed growl of Hanging Around. This kind of feminised punk sound, fierce yet mellifluous, has long been a staple of US alternative rock but is rarely done well by British artists. Perhaps because of her Irish origins, Hayes seemed eminently comfortable sandwiching such ravaged noise symphonies between moments of exquisite introspection such as the fragile, waltz-time confessional 4.35 AM.

Her brand of skewed traditionalism may not be as instantly marketable as Ms. Dynamite, but Gemma Hayes is primed to explode.

Stephen Dalton


allmusicguide - Gemma Hayes

Inspired by the disparate likes of My Bloody Valentine and Joni Mitchell, Ireland's Gemma Hayes began to receive a fair amount of notice during 2001 as a rising singer/songwriter. Signed to France's hip Source label on the strength of a demo that lacked any accompanying information or photos, Hayes, who was 23 at the time of signing, soon got to work on the five-song 4:35AM EP. Not only did the EP impress critics, but Mark Linkous (Sparklehorse), Mark Eitzel, and David Gray each expressed admiration and asked her to tour with them. Following the release of the EP and some sporadic gigs, Hayes began recording her debut full-length with Dave Fridmann (Mercury Rev, the Flaming Lips, Mogwai). Night On My Side came out in the U.K. in 2002, and it was issued in the U.S. the following year.

Andy Kellman


allmusicguide - 'Night On My Side'

Night on My Side is a promising debut from Ireland's Gemma Hayes. With production help and instrumental ornamentation from David Odlum and Mercury Rev's Dave Fridmann, Hayes tackles a healthy number of musical influences. With her vocals honoring and mimicking Lisa Germano and Jane Siberry, Hayes seems to find a common ground between traditional somber folk-rock, shoegazer walls of sound, and lo-fi electronica. That she lingers too frequently in dark emotional territory serves to drag the album down, and oftentimes the guitar feedback and effects pedals seem at odds with the gloomy, somewhat bitter atmosphere Hayes creates. Comparing the mostly one-note mood of Night on My Side with the sprightly but touching music of similar nouveau shoegazers It's Jo & Danny and Yo La Tengo sees Hayes not exactly reaching their peaks. But the passion Hayes brings to her songs frequently overshadows the overstepping of her collaborators. "Hanging Around," "Let a Good Thing Go," and "Night on My Side" perhaps best showcase the conviction of Hayes in expressing her emotions in song. Even though this album isn't sparkling with innovation, one gets the sense that if Hayes stripped down her sound or found a producer more suited to her voice, her songs could peek out of the sonic storm and touch a nerve in more listeners.

— Tim DiGravina - Gemma Hayes

2003. Well into the new millennium now. Mainstream music seems more and more useless and lightweight as American ears prick up for something of substance and passion. Enter Dublin, Ireland native Gemma Hayes.

"Sometimes a melody and a chord change just break your heart and there's no words to describe that. And when you do use words it seems to make it into a square box again."

When Gemma Hayes talks about her music she shines. The hazelnut flecks in her blue eyes seem to dance with a pure passion born from almost total immersion in music's myriad possibilities. For her it's about passion, a form of escape, a source of strength, a spiritual high and an expression of those thoughts and feelings that just can't be put into words. It's about those small moments in time where everything becomes clear. Moments of understanding that we all experience.

It's these small moments that Gemma presents in her own songs. Whether through lilting acoustic calm, or through frenetic white noise tension, she manages to capture the essence of universal experience. Not the stuff of your average singer songwriter. But then again, Gemma Hayes is anything but average.

As a youth in Ireland, "The only thing I loved in life was music and I realised I had to make a choice to go with it." Gemma explains. She honed her song-writing skills playing the Dublin circuit by night. Despite audiences and critics instantly warming to her gorgeous melodies and haunting songs, she gradually grew tired of the restriction of the acoustic guitar and started to put together a band. Her vision is to combine the singer songwriter elements of her acoustic work with the layered harmonic discord of her favorite bands such as My Bloody Valentine. It's been this aim to combine the opposing forces of fragility and chaos that has remained central to her work since.

Gemma eventually signed to Source Records early in 2001. As if mirroring Gemma's career path to date, her first two EPs revelled in the extreme forces at work in her music. The debut 4:35am displayed her in a chilled acoustic setting. Songs like "Evening Sun" and the title track capturing the contemplative melancholia of the darkness before the dawn, and drawing immediate comparisons between Gemma and female songwriters like Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez.

Such comparisons however couldn't be further from the truth as the follow up EP, "Work to a Calm" proved. Here she could be found with full band exploring layered distorted harmonics. Indeed if there was an argument against her being placed in the role of the stereotyped image of the female songwriter, it comes on the stunning opener "Tear in My Side", in which she repeats the same lyrical refrain over and over, subsequently underpinning the full force of the melody. It's a mood song that paints a picture more vivid than the storyteller ever could.

The "Work to Calm" release displayed the full force of her band at work. However it is with the Gemma Hayes live experience that the finer nuances of the full band's power becomes clear. With tours of Ireland in support of David Gray and Rufus Wainwright, shows in support of Lambchop and Mercury Rev, and last year's UK and European tours with Sparklehorse and Zero 7, the band won over audiences and critics alike, providing people with a glimpse of what to expect from the debut album.

Acoustic Folk? Raucous Rock? No labels please, Gemma's style is as diverse as her imagination and tastes. The results are totally convincing and uncompromising, as refreshing as the woman herself.

Ireland and Europe have already had the pleasure, the privilege of Gemma's attention. She first wowed the Irish public by being voted "Best Female Singer" at the highly respected Hot Press Awards, and saw her album enter the Irish charts at #8. 2002 saw her debut further chart a musical growth that included countless rave reviews, transcendent live performances and the cherry on top of a coveted prestigious UK Mercury Music Prize nomination.

But that's only the first part of a story that has really just begun.

Now Astralwerks is finally releasing Night On My Side, an album that epitomizes a juxtaposition of delicate emotion and raw energy. The album has been completely reworked for the Astralwerks release, with new songs not included on any other edition, a new running order (divided into 'Night' and 'Day' sides), new artwork and a refreshed mastering that will no doubt make this the definitive version. With the release of Night On My Side the Gemma Hayes picture can be seen and heard in all of its multi-hued glory.

The term "musical journey" is supremely overused, but for once it truly applies. The album opens with the barrage of guitar texture and grit that is "Hanging Around", Gemma's voice commanding the festivities with celebratory delivery. For the next 50 minutes, all preconceived notions are dismissed as the album evolves dramatically and effortlessly from loud to soft, somehow never losing momentum and focus, even as the last strains of "Evening Sun" end the trip. Listening is believing. - "Night On My Side"

Gemma Hayes

"Hayes' stunning voice, containing just a whisper of a Marlboro-edge, shines through above all and makes these songs what they are."

In the sleeve-notes of this album is a picture of a hand-written note containing some scribbled down comments. A letter from Gemma Hayes to her listeners, it speaks of music as a "beautiful untamed beast" which can "tear you" or "revive you when you're dead inside". Powerful sentiment, you may say, but remarks such as this require backing up. Some evidence must be provided to prove that this is indeed so. Fortunately, with her debut album, this 23-year-old from Cork has set out to do just that.

Folky, bittersweet, heartfelt, wonderful, rocky, fragile, strong. Just a few adjectives that spring to mind like lambs on a hotplate upon listening to what has to be the most astonishing debut by a female singer-songwriter since Beth Orton burst onto the scene. Kind of rock, kind of folk and containing not an inordinate amount of country, this girl from the bottom bit of Ireland has some amount of talent, and the drive to express herself through it to boot.

For this is an album about love coming and going, speaking of relationships past, present and in between. Full of remorse as well as optimism, we get the full range of Hayes' experiences and qualities. Obviously heavily influenced by Americana, she transcends them all in stunningly enthralling style.

From the moment you hear her breathy vocal on the opener Day One it's love at first listen. A simple introduction, this track exhibits her folk sensibilities from the out and gives us a delectable taster of the vocal loveliness in store. This is never better than on the stand-out track Ran For Miles, glorious songsmithery showcasing a voice that you want to take up in your arms and treasure like a heart-broken lost love. On the equally gorgeous I Wanna Stay, sensuously layered half-heard harmonies, fantastically understated guitars and lightly brushed drums combine to make a tender, magically bittersweet, composition.

Hayes's voice is by far the star of this show, but she has the tunes to match. Produced by Dave (Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev) Fridmann and mixed by Mark "Spike" Stent, she also has the best of the best smoothing out and nurturing them into fully fledged classics. Tracks such as Hanging Around rock along like the soundtrack to a summer's day, all shining vocal and sunny guitars. Back Of My Hand and Over and Over recall Ryan Adams circa Heartbreaker, with the latter displaying a Nashvillian vocal and trembling acoustic guitar, making a beautiful ballad with irresistible lyrical hooks. It's the sliding guitars and perfectly paced drums that get us line and sinker. She demonstrates the vitriolic bitterness bubbling under the surface when she really lets herself go on Tear In My Side, My Bloody Valentine influences coming bursting through.

Yet she is always at her best when turning this Midas voice to more sorrowful duties. My God is pure folk, sounding as if it's been recorded on a four-track in her bedroom, all crackling emotion and restrained expression. A subtle, lamenting oboe and guitar make this a heart-breaking piece, speaking of lost-love and regrets. "I fly highest when my feet are planted on the ground", she sings, and you would have to be a fool to argue.

Lucky One (Bird of Cassadaga) is the perfect fusion of all that has gone before, building beautifully, adding slivers of sound like balancing precarious cards in a childhood game, before exploding into rocked-out guitars, distorted melody and sorrow-laden ironic vocals. At once exhilarating and thoughtful, epic and wonderful, once again Hayes' stunning voice, containing just a whisper of a Marlboro-edge, shines through above all and makes these songs what they are.

Gemma Hayes doesn't need the sonicism of Messrs Fridmann and Stent to make this a truly exceptional debut - she does that all herself. A treat from start to finish, these are songs which pull at your heart and stir-up your soul. In possession of a voice which you simply want to sweep up and take home to meet your parents, these songs play inside you, resonating and evoking her un-mapped potential.

So to return to the sleeve-notes, where Miss Hayes expresses her hope that "whoever is reading this enjoys this album for what it is or what is becomes for you".I can only say that hearing truly is believing, and enjoying is not a option, but an unavoidable result of listening to this album. As the girl says, "just make it your own, I guess", and enjoy her music for what it is: beautiful.

Sandy Nelson, 09/07/02


Graham Smith - "Night On My Side"

Since the release of her debut EP “4:35AM” last August, the lovely Miss Hayes has deservedly received a lot of attention and publicity and hopes were running high for her debut album “Night On My Side”.

Maybe it was because of the hype and the anticipation that had built up, but when I first listened to the album I couldn’t help but feel disappointed. It was nice. Had some nice lyrics. Nice singing. Overall it just seemed, well, nice. Not quite the spectacular debut that everyone was expecting.

But I had been in this situation many times before. Indeed many of my all time favorite albums had seemed quite average to me at first. And so I listened to the album regularly over the past 2 months. Unfortunately my views have not changed much. For every interesting captivating song such as “Hanging Around” and “Over & Over” there is unfortunately a track that finds myself hitting the ’next song’ button on my CD Player too many times.

Although the production by Dave Fridmann has been praised, at times I found it a bit stifling. Gemma has such a beautiful emotional voice that I can’t help but feel that some of the songs would be best if they were kept simple and to the point (perhaps she should take some hints from the latest Reindeer Section album).

And so overall this is a decent enough album. But unfortunately not quite the masterpiece everyone was expecting. Undeniably she has the voice, lyrics and songs to one day make a classic album. That talent is displayed on at least 5 of the tracks. It’s just a shame about the rest of the songs. Here’s to the next album then.

Graham Smith "Hanging Around"


The first single from Night on My Side is quite a good relection of the album as a whole - loud in parts with quieter fragments, deep textures of guitar and drums, and stunning vocals. Coupled with her capacity for writing a great melody and lyrics, it makes for a successful result, and one that is refreshingly different from the typical sound of acoustic folk that greets the listener when they stick on a singer-songwriter's record.

Live epic Stop the Wheel is disappointingly shortened from its elongated version that graces most of Gemma Hayes' live sets. However, it really should have been on the album, as it is one of Hayes' finest moments both lyrically and musically. Its inclusion here is reason enough to splash out the 5 Europounds on this release, even aside from the beautiful Dave Odlum composed instrumental that brings up the rear.


[ "4:35AM"]


4:35am has been eagarly awaited by the record-buying Irish public, after some mightily impressive live sets by Tipperary singer-songwriter Gemma Hayes. It's strange that in a country with such an abundance of male solo musicians, it has taken so long for a female of this calibre to surface. It was worth waiting for however, as this release, while still only a taster for things to come on Hayes' debut LP which is due early next year, is a worthy addition to the array of excellent Irish releases that have so far surfaced this year.

4:35am shows Hayes in a quieter light than we often seeher in at live performances, when she mixes a large sprinkling of volume into her acoustic based set. 4:25am houses a beautiful collection of heartfelt songs, and the title reflects the tone of this EP, as late night/early-morning listening is when this record really takes hold. In the quiet hours, the picturesque title track and instrumental majesty of Piano Song really take hold. Too often on EPs, there can be one or two standout tracks that steal the show, and the rest can sometimes slip away unnoticed into the b-side catagory. Not so on 4:35am though, with each song playing an important role in the collective result that greets the listener.

What's even more remarkable about this record though is that possibly two of Hayes' finest moments, in the form of Creater and Stop the Wheel, are absent, yet 4:35am stills achieves so much. It's clear that Hayes' talent doesn't run out after these 5 tracks, in fact this EP is only the beginning; a snapshot of the future for Hayes. With so many acoustic troubadours ploughing their way, one would often be forgiven for thinking enough is enough, but 4:35am shows there is always room for one more. "Work To A Calm"


Those who admired the quiet beauty of 4:35am may be in for a surprise with Work to a Calm, Hayes' final taster for her upcoming LP. Less lyrically based than its predecessor, it revolves around grinding guitars and heavy bass rather than the singer-songwriter structured sparseness of Evening Sun et al. On Work to a Calm, the music takes centre stage, beside simple verses and choruses. It gives a truer reflection of Hayes' live presence and persona, now that her sound is beefed up with the aid of Bell X1's Paul Noonan and David and Karl Odlum amongst others.

Can't find Love is a beautifully simple and honest song, that may have easily turned into a pathetic, self-pitying plea if not for Hayes' beautifully tender voice and deep-rooted sincerity. I worked myself into a calm is possibly the highlight here, containing a slight dash of almost MBV-esque noise before reaching a quieter platform where Hayes' voice has more room to breathe, and the listener can really appreciate her greatest weapon. However, her voice is equally well-suited to the more intensified landscape that dominates most of this second EP, in which the listener can take refuge.

Work to a Calm works beautifully well standing on it's own, but even better as the second part of something bigger. Coupled with 4:35am, both EPs give a more comprehensive and accurate introduction to what Hayes is trying to achieve and what direction she is heading in, and fortunately she's not driving one-way down the well-worn road of acoustic inertia. - "Night On My Side"

I had high hopes for Gemma Hayes. Her debut e.p. (‘4:35am’) was released in August of last year, and hinted at a talent that was capable to growing into something long-lasting and worthwhile. As the hype that surrounded ‘Night on My Side’ increased (witnessed by Uncut placing a track of hers on their cover cd, MTV placing the single ‘Hanging Around’ on pretty high rotation, and a clutch of magazines – music orientated and otherwise – falling over themselves to praise her), I became more and more wary of whether or not the product would live up to the hype.

And my first reaction was that it didn’t. I listened, and I listened, but apart from a couple of tracks I didn’t hear anything that stopped me dead with amazement. But try as I might, I couldn’t take it out of my CD player, I kept coming back to it. At first I couldn’t figure out why, but then I realised that it has depths of sorts, with David Odlum lending similar layers of sound to this as he did to the Frames’ ‘For the Birds’. These layers never blur each other, but have clear boundaries which complement each other beautifully, and means you focus on something different every time you listen to it. The drums in particular, often used as nothing more than a device to drive a song on, are wonderfully focused, and give the songs depth. Paul Noonan should take some credit for this alongside Odlum, and also for his effective harmonising.

The alt-country town Gemma was trying to reach with ‘4:35a.m’ is discovered with the title track here, a beautiful meditation on the end of a relationship, with a simple but affecting piano line that draws you in. It’s the simple touches like this and the horn section at the end of ‘Ran for Miles’ which reward the listener, and makes it an album worth returning to. For me both ‘Ran for Miles’ and ‘Lucky One’ (although complete opposites) are the highlights of the album, with the phrase ‘sky-scraping’ possibly invented for ‘Lucky One’.

Unfortunately on most songs Gemma’s lyrics sometimes fall short of what was hinted at in her earliest performances (but she has such a seductive voice (however Americanised) that it’s sometimes glossed over all to easily) however she should work on them if she wants longevity, many of her fans are liable to turn off in droves if she doesn’t start offering them something to mull over while listening to the amazing background sounds.

Overall the album has about two or three amazing songs, six mediocre ones, and a couple of duds. In fairness, that’s better than most albums offer, so overall I’d recommend it.

Ciaran Wrenn


RTÉ.ie  "Night On My Side"

Gemma Hayes – Night On My Side
Source – 2002 – 46 minutes

If you'd heard a record this polished in 1990 you'd have wondered what was next for our little nation: European-style bars and bands releasing their own albums? But Hayes is the product of more confident times and 'Night On My Side' sounds like the work of someone who's learned from what's gone before and what's around now – and then marked out her own territory.

Too rocky to be lumped in with singer-songwriters and too gentle to be associated with the foot-on-the-amps sisters, Hayes shifts between tempos but never loses sound of the story she's telling. While some will cherish the more guitar-driven tracks and others the strummed-out introspection, it's hard not to hear and enjoy the album as a whole.

If there's a quibble, it's that the pacing is too soothing towards the close – but maybe that's just the sign of someone who knows they can take their foot off the pedals and keep you with her. One thing's for sure: after this Hayes can call on a whole lot more than the dark hours to back her up.

Harry Guerin

Gemma Hayes is the kind of girl who breaks hearts. Be it with a glance or a song, this most talented glint in Ireland's emerald could stop a bullet train dead in its tracks. Effortlessly. The debut album's (almost) in the bag, but Gemma would rather share an intimate moment with Michael Gently and deliver a brand new song to camera. Tipperary-raised and Dublin-based, she speaks with a soft but sassy lilt but gently won't buckle that easily, oh no. The song, however, may tip his scales.

Gemma's transition into our lives will be a gradual one – an aural drip of wrenching melodies, lo-fi ballsiness and refreshingly naive observations. High-profile tour supports are an everyday occurrence – just ask Turin Brakes, Zero 7 or Sparklehorse and, to date, she has released two starkly different EPs – 4:35am and Work To A Calm. The first displayed Gemma's intimate solo leanings, the latter, her band role. "It didn't start off as a conscious decision. There is the band side of what I do and there are the more intimate songs," explains Gemma. "I just thought it would be a good idea to introduce myself to the world of music just by saying 'hello' in a very quiet way; by putting out a few little acoustic things and then gradually letting people open up to everything else that I do." Acclaim for the debut EP was broad and set the platform for a real slap-in-the-face surprise when Gemma delivered the next piece of her game plan. The press's "new lady of folk" from Tipperary dumbfounded her critics and fans alike by revealing her band attitude with an EP of electric tracks. Gemma couldn't see what the fuss was about - to her it was all part of the same picture. "They're [the EPs] really part of the same thing. Some people thought the second EP was what I had progressed to," says Gemma puzzled. "Both types of music are just as valid. Sure, one's quieter and the other's more lively, but they both represent me today."

This girl knows what she wants and how to get it. Word has it that when asked for the artwork to her debut EP, Gemma submitted a photo of her feet. She's not denying this either. "I did send them a photo of my feet but it was along with other photos too. I was just trying to say that my feet are as valid a part of my body as my face is." For another taste of is single-minded vision, take a look at who's in the production seat for her debut long player. Getting Dave Fridmann [Sparlehorse, Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev] on board had shag-all to do with record company execs. "I am a big fan of his and he'd been on my mind for quite a while," muses Gemma. "I didn't even send the demo through the record label, I just sent it out of my house." Fridmann's work on Wheat's Hope And Adams album had a profound effect on him being Gemma's first choice producer. "I love the fact that Wheat's songs are really commercial but Dave didn't make it cheesy - he pulled it back and made it sound really raw and live."

Raw and live. Now there are a couple of words. Couldn't really pick two more applicable adjectives. Gemma gave Gently an ample serving of both by offering to sing 'Pieces Of Glass' to camera – the song had only been written two days before. Armed only with an electric guitar and an old mini amp, the track is an insight into Ms Hayes' intimate world of "small but important" moments. "My songs' themes aren't about changing the world," offers Gemma. "I get inspired by small moments like hanging out with friends. If you happen to meet someone who blows you away, I like to write about them. Change is a big one too – even practical or physical things like moving house." When describing her backlog of "ideas tapes", Gemma evidently likes to keep a catalogue of these small moments that people go through. "I write ideas a lot of the time but I'm really crap at going back and changing the ideas into songs. Sometimes I just can't get back into the headspace of when I was writing it but the ideas are still there. With me it's always a feast or a famine – I go through phases of writing songs on top of each other and then I could go for months and months without writing a thing."

If Gemma's recently suffered a famine period, you'd never notice. By refusing to include any of the ten already-released EP tracks on her forthcoming album, the tentatively titled Night On My Side, the record promises to be a fresh but equally mesmerising selection of cuts. "That working title kinda sums up a lot of the recording. Some of the album was made at home and I tend to kind of do that at four or five in the morning. The album has a sort of a nice twilight feel to it."

Juggling her different styles is all part of the Gemma Hayes appeal. The acoustic gems nestle comfortably in between bursts of feedback in pained tales of love and loss. Gemma's biggest concern is that, when juxtaposed, her styles still makes sense together. "It needs to have a flow," she says. "I do wanna put in a lot of acoustic tracks as well but I don't just want to through them in. I'm forever changing my mind about things though." In fact, most of the songs don't even have confirmed titles yet. "There's a song called 'Ran For Miles' and another called 'Let A Good Thing Go' and 'Flight Of The Peregrine Falcon' - other than that, everything keeps changing."

As with anything worthy of its rock salt, this album is impossible to pigeonhole. Growing up with "a brother listening to Dio and Iron Maiden" and a "sister playing Fleetwood Mac" is bound to fuck-up or mould your musical outlook. "I really just took certain things from everything I listened to," says Gemma. "I liked different things about different music."

"Music is free, so I don't want to be classed one way or the other." Many may have said it before, but did they have that accent or those feet…

Interview: Michael Gently © 2001 Pixelsurgeon/Michael Gently - April 30 2003

Not So Mean, Not So Nice, Ireland's Gemma Hayes Rolls The Dice On U.S. Success

Bubblin' in Dublin, the singer makes a play for U.S. success this week with Night on My Side.

Gemma Hayes may be a willowy, blonde Irish girl with an acoustic guitar, but as the 25-year-old singer/songwriter assuredly demonstrates on her U.S. debut, Night on My Side, she is definitely not Ireland's answer to Jewel.

Nor is she just another wannabe pop siren strapping on a Fender for credibility. Evidenced by muscular, brooding but unabashedly lush tracks like "Hanging Around" and "Ran for Miles," Hayes — a finalist for the U.K.'s prestigious Mercury Music Prize in 2002 — shows herself defiantly descended from the gritty, rough-hewn grace of rockers like Throwing Muses, My Bloody Valentine and early Liz Phair, with a gentle dash of Laura Nyro thrown in. Not as sweet as Sarah McLachlan but not as caustic as Polly Jean Harvey, Hayes admits she's a conundrum in an industry quick to tag newcomers with a ready-made label or niche.

"At the start there was a lot of, 'Oh, she's the Irish Jewel or Dido,' " said the Tipperary-born, Dublin-bred Hayes, brushing away a wisp of ash-blonde hair from her eyes. "And then I got 'the Irish Kylie Minogue.' I don't know where that came from. I hope it was because of her bum." She shook her head and laughed. "I do find that I've had to fight that 'angst-ridden female' stereotype for the past couple of years, especially after my first EP, but it's nice to have an album out now. Because I don't need to scream anymore — just say, 'Here's my music' and let it do the talking for me."

Helping to further confuse things is Hayes' eclectic French label, Source Records, which is known for trippier, Gallic bands like Air and Phoenix than for more straightforward rock (though they do claim Brit band Turin Brakes). And then there's that American, alt-country lilt to Gemma's sonic brogue. "I've always been pulled toward American bands and songwriters — there's a certain sound that's just so free and bold," she explained.

After releasing two EPs in Ireland and the U.K., Work to a Calm and 4.35 AM, Hayes reached out to two co-producers for her debut album — her boyfriend, ex-Frames guitarist David Odlum, and Dave Fridmann (Mercury Rev, Flaming Lips). Although it was a good move musically, it put Hayes in the awkward position of having to defy her record label's wishes by turning down the help of Grammy-nominated producer Nigel Godrich (Radiohead, Beck).

"I just had Dave [Fridmann] in my head two years before I even got signed," Hayes explained. "He's not afraid to push boundaries in music, to be overly sweet or overly hard. He's just the one for me. Even the most intimate little song ... there's something daring about him."

And it's that very distinctive, Fridmann-inspired juxtaposition between Hayes' delicate, acoustic songs — like the wayward melancholy of "My God" — and the more brutal, circumambient textures evolving in whisper-to-a-roar tracks like "Let a Good Thing Go" and "Lucky One," that gives Night on My Side its niche-defying beauty and distinction.

The centerpiece of the album might well be the haunting, deep night confessional of "4.35 AM," an achingly lonely and lovely song that invites visions of Edward Hopper's painting of a deserted urban diner, "Nighthawks."

"We'd all just come from a gig and we were all squashed in a car, coming home [at 4 a.m.]," she recalled. "As we were driving into Dublin, the entire city was asleep and I started humming this melody in my head and literally wrote the bones of the song in my head. When I got home ... I got out the acoustic guitar and it was written in about 10 minutes. ... So the song was completely written in the same atmosphere, and somewhere, through all of the studios, engineers and producers, I've been able to keep that same atmosphere."

During the time that passed between last year's U.K. release of Night on My Side and its Stateside release this spring, Hayes utilized some hindsight to make a few changes.

"Putting the album out in America meant that I had a second chance to tweak little things that annoyed me," Hayes said. "There was one song off the EP called 'Work to a Calm' that I always felt should have been on the [U.K.] album, so I knocked off another song called 'Over and Over' since I'd only put it on the album for sentimental reasons. I totally changed the album in the track listing as well so it feels like a whole new album."

In a nod to vinyl releases and album sides, Hayes also divided the tracks into "daytime" and "nighttime."

"The daytime head is just full of people, places, time and what you need to get through the day," she said. "But at night, people think more and allow themselves to dream. The whole world becomes magical. And that's the time — sometimes at night — when I'm on my own."

Kara Manning - March 6 2002

Dolan's Warehouse, Limerick

One of Ireland's most encouraging musical prospects, Gemma Hayes, played her 1st ever Limerick gig in Dolan's Warehouse tonight. As someone who had yet to see her live, I was pleasantly surprised with the ease that she transformed tracks from both of her EPs to a live setting. Of course it did help that her band consisted of competent musicians, notably ex-frames guitarist David Odlum, but her voice remained remarkable throughout the gig.

Indeed the influence of Odlum showed on "I Worked Myself To A Calm", the 4th track of the night. A furious mixture of guitars and beautiful vocals, it certainly is a departure from some of her earlier, more acoustic based material, and probably one of the highlights of the night. While Hayes appears to be one of the most elegant musicians around, she also displays moments of humilty, such as when she apologies for not being used to her new guitar and not being able to quite tune it properly.

Tuned properly or not we get some nice tasters from her forthcoming album "Night on my Side", including the title track, "The Lucky One", and the 1st single, "Hanging Around". Introducing this song, she says "I hate this word...but this is the single". She returns with an encore of "Evening Sun", from her 1st EP, 4:35AM. So, after 70 minutes or so, Gemma Hayes has finished her 1st deposit into her Limerick account, and impressed an audience who didn't know much about her prior to tonight.

Introducing "I Can't Find Love", Gemma Hayes says "I'm either extremely smart or extremely stupid to write this song". From the evidence tonight, it appears she is very smart. While she has physical beauty to match any girl band, her songs don't stoop to their level of trivialising love. Expect her to follow her comrades Damien & Kittser into the Top 10 in the album charts when she releases her album in May, without having the glossy 4 page spread on VIP or appear on Children's television. Hayes, it would seem, is going to let the music do the talking.

Ciarán Ryan


Rolling Stone - August 7 2003

Gemma Hayes, 25, possesses a commanding, alluring voice, winsome good looks and lyrics that tend to the lovelorn. Somewhere, though, this Irish girl's crisp pop debut went awry: "Back of My Mind" and "Let a Good Thing Go" suffer from repetition and a lack of conviction, and "Lucky One" is undone by overbearing production. "My God" opens with insightful promise -- "My God/Hope you're on call" -- but before long, that sliver of hope disappears amid a wash of faceless acoustic music.

(RS 928, August 7, 2003)  "Night On My Side"

The Tipperary born singer is sexy, she has a superb sultry voice and on her debut...

Gemma is Ireland's answer to Kylie Minogue. The Tipperary born singer is sexy, she has a superb sultry voice and on her debut album, Night On My Side, she's got some great pop songs. However, there is a lot more to this album than throwaway pop.

The album opens with the dreamy intro "Day One" that quickly enchants you with its soothing melody but before you know it you're given a wake up call with recent single "Hanging Around". Full of juicy guitar riffs and a great chorus its a cool n' catchy pop song.

And so, after the first two tracks, you're given a clear idea of what to expect for the rest of the album. There are the softly spoken acoustic guitar songs that can transfix you with their beauty, as with "Over and Over" and "Ran For Miles" and there are the indie rock songs like "Tear in my Side" that will force your head to nod, your legs to tap and your mouth to smile. There is, of course, the exception to the rule; "Whata Day" is guitar free. In their place are various cool electronic beats and synthesised vocals that echo around your head.

Listening to Night On My Side you can tell that Hayes hasn't quite decided what works and what doesn't; she's prepared to make mistakes and to take chances which, inevitably, results in a few misses. "I Wanna Stay", for example, meanders aimlessly leaving you cold.

But Hayes has something that Kylie's never had: superb song-writing skills. Her lyrics are intelligent and often unusual, as in "My God":

'My God, hope you're on call, because I may be in danger of crashing before I get to fall. Lets cry boy while the neighbours have their backs turned. I'm having trouble believing anything you say'.

All in all an excellent debut, full to the brim with potential for even greater things next time.

Dan Tallis 2002-11-20