Ciaran Lavery’s Plz Stay, bb, was born out of a long period of personal turmoil. It was this turmoil that forced him to write again, and the beguiling single “October”, with its dreamy electronica and soft vocals, featuring gorgeous harmonies from Liza Anne and his young niece’s voice, was the song to kick start his new album, out now.
“I came out the other side feeling quite raw and a little bit empty,” he says. “I was like a dish cloth that had been completely wrung out. I really lost my way, and I began writing as I was beginning to look at myself and figure out who the fuck that was in front of me. I kind of had a full breakdown and it felt like the start of the end, because I didn’t really know where I was going.”
The title itself, Plz Stay, bb, was a little note that Ciaran had written to himself, as a message of self care. In the light of everything that had occurred in the months leading to the recording, it became a mantra of sorts, to not only stick around in the physical sense, but also to remain present in all of the thoughts and feelings he was experiencing. By immersing himself in those feelings, they would also become the inspiration for the writing of this record.
Having grown up in Aghagallon in Northern Ireland’s County Antrim, Ciaran – who has played guitar ever since he was introduced to it by his brother in law when he was 15 – wanted to break free from the preconceptions surrounding Irish singer-songwriters, and the country’s rich history of folk music. Plz Stay, bb was a conscious decision to carve out a newly developed sound of his own by pushing himself out of his comfort zone, while retaining the distinctive warm vocals and finger-picked guitar of his previous releases that have been nominated for and won the Northern Ireland Music Prize (2016’s Let Bad In).
“People romanticise the idea that it’s Irish and then there’s a presumption that it’s going to be attached to folk music and the singer-songwriter thing,” Ciaran laments. “I’d gotten a little bit sickened with the idea that I am basically Damien Rice because I play acoustic guitar and I come from the country. It’s easy to get locked in with all of these other acts. The whole purpose of the new record was to try to break away from that, to not be pigeon holed as intensely as I have been in the past.”
It helped that his producers, Daniel Morgan Ball and Kris Platt and Matt Rutherford-Jones, weren’t fans of the singer-songwriter style, and were constantly steering him away from that approach. So, putting aside his guitar, he instead focused on those percussive elements.
“I felt like I couldn’t lift an instrument because it was just going to sound like what I’d done before and I was always afraid of falling back into that comfortable space,” he says. “I wanted all these brilliant musicians to express themselves.” Ciaran set about being more direct with his own lyrics, and cites the Ivor Novello-winning songwriter Iain Archer, with whom he worked on Sweet Decay, for encouraging him to write more simply.
To help him find his new direction, during the writing and recording process, Ciaran listened repeatedly to Thom Yorke’s electronic solo albums such as ‘The Eraser’, Mitski’s ‘Be The Cowboy’, Bjork’s 1993 album ‘Debut’, and that 90s-defining, genre-blending DIY hip-hop album by the Beastie Boys, ‘Ill Communication’.
He also flipped his former approach of song recording, handing over more control to his session musicians. In the past, he would have walked into the studio with the full skeletons of the songs intact, including the vocal melody, lyrics and guitar or piano parts, whereas this time he walked in with a cluster of lyrics and sometimes just a hand clap and nothing else.
Take the immediately captivating opening song “Count to Ten”, with its arresting beginning, and the powerfully revealing lyric “I go to therapy to stay alive” as its third line.
“That was really important for me to just say out loud because I wanted it to be a badge of honour, something that I didn’t have to shy away from,” he explains. “Going to therapy is still quite a taboo subject in Ireland and people presume that you’re not well if you’re going to therapy, whereas I felt like it put me in a stronger position. Being able to sing that line was very cathartic.”
It was therapy, too, which influenced his honest lyrics; Ciaran was actively encouraged to put everything on paper and keep a diary. But instead of writing diary entries, he wrote an album.
Ciaran counts Zane Lowe as a fan, and has collaborated with the likes of Luke Sital-Singh, Saint Sister and Rosie Carney. In 2016, he was one of 30 artists hand-selected by Willie Nelson to play at his BBQ at Luck Ranch in Texas, alongside the likes of Jenny Lewis.
With well over 100,000,000 plays on Spotify and around 30,000 followers, and rising, the plaudits keep on coming Ciaran’s way. But it’s the difference Ciaran makes to the lives of fans around the world, and creating personal connections with people inspired by his music, that he treasures the most.
Plz Stay, bb track listing
- Count To Ten
- Can I Begin Again
- Be Alone
- Thrill Is Gone
- Bella Union
- Hard To Love A Man
- Oh Fuck
- I Was Drunk When I Made The World
- Please Stay