“No one in my family was much in to music,” recalls Áine. “We had a Britney cassette in the car and my sisters and I sometimes pretended to be the Spice Girls, although there were only three of us. I was a tomboy who played sports five days a week. That was my life until I hit 16 and heard Lady Gaga doing an acoustic performance of Paparazzi on the radio, just her on piano. I’d never listened to lyrics before. I didn’t have a favourite singer. But suddenly I adored Lady Gaga and I wanted to play the piano.”
Áine got a keyboard for Christmas and taught herself to play Gaga songs from YouTube tutorials. But it was an impromptu singalong in her final year at school that proved the turning point.
“I was hanging about in the concert hall, as I always did, when one of my mates started playing Adele’s Someone Like You on the piano,” she recalls. “Lots of us were singing along, but when I began belting out the chorus, everyone stopped and stared at me. It was a real WTF? moment. Even I was like, ‘Oh my God, is that me?’ It was as if I’d woken up one morning with this voice.”
Having immersed herself in Lana Del Rey, Marina & The Diamonds and Marilyn Monroe films, Áine began writing songs, including White Piano, inspired by Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
“I had never been able to express my emotions and never been good at English at school, but I took to writing songs straight away,” she says. “I was 19 and I wasn’t happy. I longed to get my feelings out and with music it was easy.
“I’d use other people’s stories – something I’d seen in a film or on TV – to talk about myself. I became obsessed with old films because of the soundtracks, in particular the strings. I like songs to be visual, it’s why I love Lana.”
Áine played a few shows with a neighbour at a youth club – she covered Marina’s Teen Idle, a song that remains in her set today - but her first proper gig was at a local café, which put on singers every other Thursday.
“There was no stage, you just stood in the corner,” says Áine. “I was the support. I played five of my own songs at a piano that was way too high for me. I looked like the Hunchback of Notre Dame.”
She got a job in a hotel to pay for a local producer to record an EP, Paper Crown, which she posted on Soundcloud. When it was named the best unsigned EP of 2014 by a music magazine, Áine worked more shifts to fund her playing sporadic shows with a band, including a competition-winning slot at Ireland’s Electric Picnic festival. She self-released the sensual, cinematic song Black Dahlia and began picking up radio play.
In early 2016, Áine twice took the band to London, where they played Camden’s Dublin Castle and got an invite to perform at Glastonbury for no fee.
“We went for a full week and all slept in a van,” says Áine. “We were only there to do a set on the Friday in what we thought would be a tent, but turned out to be a pub. I did 13 original songs and two covers –Teen Idle and Bad & Beautiful, a mash-up of Gaga’s Bad Romance and Lana’s Young and Beautiful – and by the end there were 60 people watching, which was amazing. Afterwards, we got a message saying we’d been picked to play the backstage bit for TV.”
On the Saturday, watching Adele’s headline set, Áine kept checking her phone, waiting for a call that never came. Finally, on Sunday, she was given the slot pre Coldplay and, with just a pianist, performed a spellbinding, acoustic rendition of Black Dahlia.
Áine was widely described as an Irish Adele, although a wisecracking Lanameets-Marina would have been more accurate. What was obvious to everyone who saw her, however, was that Áine was a voice in a generation who wouldn’t require comparisons for long.
Áine saw out the year that changed her life playing her biggest ever gig, a charity show at Dublin’s 3Arena alongside Kodaline and Gavin James. She sobbed the first time she heard her songs accompanied by an orchestra because the strings sounded exactly as they always had in her head.
2017 was spent playing scores of shows and festivals and supporting Kodaline on tour. Last March, Áine put the intoxicating track Plastic online and in October released her final indie single, the slinky show-stopper Blood Diamonds, before signing with East West Records.
“It’s actually the third song I ever wrote, but I wanted it to be produced properly,” says Áine, who teamed up with the London-based musician Courage (Stormzy, Ray BLK) for the release. “I pictured this lady wearing furs and diamonds, believing she’s special, but really she’s a delusional bitch. I’m disgusted by blood diamonds. What sort of person could wear them for the sake of showing off?”
“I’m a frank writer. Whatever I’m thinking goes straight on the page. I have opinions and I express them. I’ve never bothered with love songs and I’ll never be someone with nothing to say. Oh, and expect a fair bit of swearing. I’m Irish, it’s drilled in to me.”
This year will mostly be devoted to writing and releasing new material, although Áine continues to play live and a few festivals have been booked.
She has been co-writing, but only on her own terms. “I’ve got here on my own songs,” she says. “I’m happy to have help and I won’t be a bitch, but I’ll never sing a song that isn’t me. I have to be myself.”
Her forthcoming single, Beauty Is A Lie is case in point, it’s a sassy, spectral beauty “calling out all the bullshit we see day to day on social media. We all do it. People only show an edited version of themselves, the side they think is ‘the best’, but this is the world we are living in. I hate it, but I love it at the same time”