Interview: Rona Mac turns inward for ‘Sense’

Rona Mac, Ben Howard, Phoebe Bridgers, Damien Rice
Rona Mac, Ben Howard, Phoebe Bridgers, Damien Rice

From the start, you will notice something about Rona Mac’s music. What it is, one can only speculate. But it is there nonetheless. Listen carefully to her latest single ‘Sense’, and you will hear it. You can’t miss it. The ineffable quality permeates the way she filters the lead guitar, fading the audio quality just enough so that it thrums with feeling–a worn-out cushion upon which Rona Mac lays her poetic lyrics. A UK native, Rona is becoming a BBC Radio regular, having had ‘Sense’ air on BBC Radio Ulster‘s The Late Show with Eve Blair and her previous records appear on BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio 6 Music, and BBC Radio 1, to name but a few. Let’s continue to get to know the Welsh songwriter:

Stream / Download: Rona Mac – ‘Sense’

What fears have you had to overcome to share such a beautifully vulnerable record with the world, if any?

What’s been amazing is how many people have messaged to say it moved them in so many ways. This makes all the apprehension of releasing it SO worth it and reminds me why I love music so much. Playing it live is another story – it feels incredibly raw and exposing and although I often put it in a set list, I rarely feel safe and held enough to play it. When I do play it, it’s still a new song and it feels really powerful and full of feeling. I don’t really see the point in making music if it’s not from the core. I don’t want to beat about the bush, avoiding heavy topics and not showing emotion, like we all do all the bladdy time. Art is one of the few spaces in life where we can look the taboo in the eyes, really fucking look and get to know those phenomena and feelings that we hide away from most of the time. It’s an indulgence. And from my experience, suicide and mental illness are what many people live with/are surrounded by all the time, and feel very alone in it. We need to make it more normal because it’s actually relatable to most people through some tangent or other in their life.

What would you like to tell listeners who are dealing with mental illness?

Hello–Ah, what can I say that’s not cliché coming through a music blog? I think, don’t let anyone tell you what’s right or wrong for you. You are your own person. You know yourself, and if something does/doesn’t feel right, then listen to that above all advice. ‘Cause CHRIST there’s a lot of conflicting advice out there from Western/Eastern/holistic medicine, not to mention the opinions and baggage from loved ones/family/media/google. Being human can be SO hard, and some people are handed SO MUCH to deal with, but there’s joy in life too. Don’t forget that – even if you can’t feel it right now. It’ll return to you in the strangest of ways and when it does… please let it in. Keep the hope.

To those not familiar with you, how would you describe your sound?

I’m a Singer-songwriter at my core, and I create music that swings between Folk, Alt-Indie, Indie-Pop and some Country and Americana influences. It’s so hard to take enough steps back to describe something that I’m so entwined with, so it’s best if you just take a listen yourself and please feel free to let me know if I’ve described it wrong.

Which three albums have influenced you the most creatively?

  1. Ben Howard – ‘I Forget Where We Were’
  2. Marika Hackman – ‘I’m Not Your Man’
  3. Bon Iver – ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’

Tell us about the key pieces of equipment that you use to define your sound?

Fender Telecaster – I’ve always been an acoustic player but my sound as ‘Rona Mac’ was deffo born when I got this guitar. And ‘BOSS RC-300’ loop pedal – I write most songs on that and figure out production ideas etc.

Is there any “non-musical” ingredient that is essential to crafting your sound?

Yes, just recording in a caravan in stormy West Wales. The weather all too often becomes the background sound to the track and although not always audible as such, I feel it sets a tone.

Studio work and music creation, or performing and interacting with a live audience, which do you prefer?

Studio Work and Music creation is my love. Performing live is the ‘work’ side of it for me. I do it because it’s an essential way to make an income and showcase your work to new audiences. But as soon as I don’t have to anymore, I’d like to limit all the gigging to just one small tour per year. Don’t get me wrong, people are lovely and there are elements of it that I enjoy, but I am a home bird. I like to stay put, and I find gigging really really stressful.

What has been your most memorable performance so far?

Actually playing at a festival in my home town. It was packed out with mostly people I know. It was super intimate and terrifying, but I felt so held and appreciated for being ‘me’ – a phenomenon I feel so lucky to have experienced. There’s something about playing to faces you’ve known all your life, ‘cause you can’t hide behind the ‘show’. My music is vulnerable, and everyone knows my story. And to have them cheer and cry and laugh and sing with me was truly beautiful. THANK YOU!

And which performance would you prefer to forget?

Pub gigs. Any pub gig. I grew up doing pub gigs as my income and vowed I would never do it again as a solo musician. Alas, there have been a few. Pub gigs aren’t spaces for vulnerable, original music. People just want to listen to covers they know, and I’d feel the same when having a drink with mates. It’s embarrassing and demoralising.

Any new or emerging artists on your radar?

Wil Owen, James Minas, Sky Barkers, Dan Bettridge.

If you could collaborate with, or perform alongside any artist, who would it be? And why?

I’m already collaborating with some of my faves! But if we’re talking famous artists, I’d absolutely love to write with Ben Howard on a track.

If you weren’t a musician what would you be?

I’m a gardener as well as a musician, but I also ponder over being a midwife one day. But I’ll always be a musician, it just might not be my main focus.

Tell us about any upcoming shows or releases you have in the pipeline.

I’m working on an album. Watch this space. 

I’m also Touring with good friend and rising star Dan Bettridge in early April – go to my website for details.

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