Folk Alliance International’s 2021 Folk Unlocked Virtual Conference: Part 5 of 8 – Dani Larkin
This article is the fifth of an eight-part series covering Folk Alliance International’s 2021 Folk Unlocked Virtual Conference, dedicated to Dani Larkin and her festival performance as part of the four-artist Culture Ireland Stage showcase, a joint effort between Folk Alliance International and Culture Ireland (Irish: Cultúr Éireann). Culture Ireland is a division of the Government of Ireland’s Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media. Their mission is to promote the Irish arts worldwide.
Dani Larkin is a folk/alt-folk singer-songwriter from the border of two towns in Ireland: Armagh, and Monaghan. On the evening of Tuesday, February 23rd (CST), Larkin streamed her performance, which she’d recorded a few weeks prior specifically for Folk Unlocked, at The Workman’s Club, a live music bar in Dublin.
Singing and playing her Martin DCX1RE while accompanied by fellow artists George Sloan on percussion and Kate Squires on viola, Dani Larkin performed three songs from her upcoming debut album, Notes For A Maiden Warrior: The Mother Within, Bloodthirsty, and Love Part Three. From start to finish, Larkin’s set was characterized by powerful expressiveness, driving rhythms, and deep storytelling. Larkin would later explain to me the discrete and compelling ideas within each song of the album: The Mother Within was written for her sister, who was pregnant at the time; the central themes of Bloodthirsty, on the other hand, are the importance of wildness and coming home to oneself; lastly, Love Part Three explores kinship and navigating the unknown. Larkin’s strong melodic sensibility, too, was plain to see, particularly in the catchy-and-original opening hook of the chorus of Bloodthirsty—a serious, foreboding tune—which begins with a perfectly-placed ascending minor third.
Dani Larkin was kind enough to email me answers to some questions I’d sent her. Keep reading to see what she had to say!
Note: this interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Image courtesy of Danilarkin.com
Ben: How do you, George Sloan and Kate Squires know each other?
Dani Larkin: We have known each other in various ways since 2017, and started playing together in late 2019 while I was putting the finishing touches to the record. We have only played three live performances together, but have performed at various showcases throughout 2020/21, including Ireland Music Week, Output, and now Folk Alliance International. We’re looking forward to getting on the road as soon as possible!
Ben: I understand that you had a residency in Indonesia, during which you wrote “The Mother Within”, which you later recorded back home in Ireland. Would you mind telling me a bit more about that? How did it compare to your residency in Belfast?
Dani Larkin: I was on a residency in Indonesia, namely Java and Bali, in 2017, working with percussionist KunoKini. It was an incredible time! I was based in Depok, just outside Jakarta, developing new work and understanding how Indonesia and Ireland are connected through folklore, storytelling, and sound. KunoKini gave me an introduction to Indonesian instruments, including how they are used in new ways, adding to the tradition, which resonated deeply with me and the music I make. We toured Java, performing in Bandung at the Matasora World Music Festival, and in WeTheFest in Jakarta, as well as in various workshops with Glenn Fredly and Andre Dinuth. My favourite parts of the residency were listening to the lore and story that accompanied KunoKini’s work, being introduced to new instruments, and learning new rhythms and modes of playing. The mosquitos were the most challenging aspect! The two-hour mosquito window in the evening meant I had to stop rehearsing with the band during that time, but afterwards we could play into the night, as the outside rehearsal space was surrounded by a bamboo forest that soaked up the sound from carrying to the neighbours too loudly.
The residency in Belfast was quite different given the weather and the fact that we already had a body of work that we could tour, as well as a focus on delivering workshops to community groups alongside live performance, radio, and studio time. Since we needed less time rehearsing, we spent the majority of our time performing at festivals, including 7 Hills Blues Fest, and The Mela Ireland’s largest World Music festival, Stendhal Festival. Also, a close collaboration with The Black Box saw sell-out shows and workshops. Being based in the Oh Yeah Centre was a great opportunity for KunoKini to connect with the local industry. Performances on Getting To Know, and a prime time television slot with UTV, meant that our music was widely shared on national platforms throughout the residency. It all feels like dreams from a lifetime ago, but I’m immensely grateful for the memories and the music created and shared.
Ben: I’m aware that last year you adopted your great grandmother’s maiden name, Larkin. Would you mind elaborating on your decision to adopt that name?
Dani Larkin: Certainly! I was on a residency in the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Annaghmakerrig, a wonderful place filled with artists of all sorts, the week before Ireland went into lockdown. I had just finished recording the album and I had a feeling that I was searching for something, though I wasn’t quite sure what. After I phoned my mother and asked for the surnames of her grandparents, I came across the name Larkin, which had disappeared as a family name around 100 years ago when Elizabeth Larkin married. I then realised the thing I had been searching for was a sense of homecoming and a way to embody that homecoming as an artist to match the ethos of the album. I then asked my grandfather if I could adopt the maiden name of his mother for this next part of my musical journey. He happily agreed, and with that I had a feeling of arriving home in myself and stepping out into a new world at the same time. It’s been incredibly powerful.
Ben: Congratulations on recording your debut album, Notes For A Maiden Warrior! Did the process of creating the album teach you anything about yourself as an artist, the artistic goals you have, or the musical direction you’d like to go in?
Dani Larkin: Thank you! I learned so many things about myself and how I create. I went into the studio with a very specific idea of what kind of production and overall sound I wanted to create, but it took quite a bit of time to go from raw songs to a complete album that felt true to my style of songwriting and also as close to a live performance as possible. I wanted to create a record that was almost as though I was playing in the room when people listened, and that could be played on radio with a sense of intimacy and truth. Making Notes For A Maiden Warrior has given me a glimpse of the sound I want to create and I’m very much looking forward to making the second album from a similar yet altogether new place.
Ben: Lastly, is there anything else in particular that you’d like our readers to know about you?
Dani Larkin: Notes For A Maiden Warrior is coming out Summer 2021 in time for the Irish festival of Bealtaine. You can pre-order it now, only from my website only: http://www.danilarkin.com
Next, I will cover the performance of Irish singer-songwriter Declan O’Rourke, as part of the Culture Ireland Stage showcase. Make sure to visit Big City Folks to check it out!