Aoife O'Donovan's name, with its cluster of vowels, can seem a shibboleth for fans of contemporary American folk. It's really not so hard: EE-fah. It's Irish. She was raised stateside, but spent her childhood summers in her father's home country.
More noteworthy than her name are her skills as a vocalist and songwriter. After O'Donovan's years with the deep-roots foursome Crooked Still, her debut solo LP, 2013's Fossils, delivered an elegant, evenhanded collection of songs, driven by drums and lifted by graceful pedal steel. It's ruled, though, by O'Donovan's voice, which smolders even as it soothes.
Since the release of Fossils, O'Donovan has worked with the new music string quartet Brooklyn Rider, as well as the Goat Rodeo Sessions, a collective featuring Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer, Chris Thile and Stuart Duncan. The INDY caught up with O'Donovan about home, hobbies and her efforts to make Aoife a household name in the states.
It's getting better. When I was a kid, I used to hate having a strange name. I was really bummed out by the fact that my name was spelled so differently than it was pronounced, but it's a different language. I've spent enough time in Ireland to feel woeful that my name is so common. Even Aoife O'Donovan, I know several people named Aoife O'Donovan, which is probably hard to believe in America. I'm trying to change that and make it a household name. Who knows? Arnold Schwarzenegger did it.
That's been a huge part of what I've done throughout my career. It started when I started the band Crooked Still with Corey DiMario, Gregory Liszt and Rushad Eggleston in 2001. That gave me the taste of collaboration, the taste of coming up with an arrangement with four people and really making decisions together and not having any one driver of the bus.
Since Crooked Still has been on the back burner and I've been more of a solo artist, it's been really fun to do different kinds of collaborations. So many great musicians across genres that I'm lucky to play with: The collaborations I'm most excited about coming up are a new project with Sara Watkins and Sarah Jarosz. We're going on tour in 2015, the I'm With Her tour. I did a project with Dave Douglas, a great jazz musician, recorded the Goat Rodeo Sessions, toured with that. I've done a bunch of cool stuff with Garrison Keillor and A Prairie Home Companion. This past December, my last New York City show of the year, was at Carnegie Hall singing with Brooklyn Rider.
Fossils was the title of my record that came out in 2013. A lot of people were confused by that title: "Are these old songs, or are you a fossil?" One reviewer wrote this horrible thing. It was a concert review, and they criticized the audience. They were like, "The audience seemed like fossils," because they had an old crowd, which I thought was mean.
I'm actually working on a follow-up to Fossils right now. It's not going to be called Fossils 2, because it's not a Disney movie. But it's really exciting. My first record, a lot of those tunes, had been not sitting around, but existed. I'd been playing them live for a while, though of course a bunch of them were new for the record. But it's been really fun to have to write a whole batch of songs at once. It's really different from the Fossils-making process.
I first moved to Brooklyn in 2004, and I was in a little apartment in Park Slope and wasn't really playing that much at that point. I had a babysitting job. I was doing odd things around town. It was right around the time that Crooked Still started touring a lot. I moved back to Boston in 2005 and stayed there for four years. I moved back to Brooklyn in 2009.
I feel pretty settled there. It's a really great community of people. I love being home. When I'm home, my main hobbies are running and biking, being outside—I love being outside, I think it comes from years of spending six hours a day in the van. And then I love to bake. It's the best of both worlds, because it does feel like a place to be really domestic and home, but it's also the big city of New York where you can leave your house and do a million different things within five blocks.
If I had to use one word to describe my music, maybe that would be it? That's pretty much where I live. Definitely some other artists that I love are more squarely Americana. Lucinda Williams. Would you call Ryan Adams Americana? It's a descriptive term, evocative. It makes me think of people sitting on a porch, drinking Budweiser.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Name brand."