In 2015, Lisa Hannigan made her film debut, providing the voice for a Selkie – that is to say, a mermaid – in the Oscar-nominated Irish animation Song of the Sea. Anyone who knows her music will recognize this as an inspired bit of casting. The sea recurs constantly as an image in her work, a great unknowable that can drown us or can bring us together, as a songwriter, she has the mermaid-like ability to go to places where, strictly speaking, we shouldn’t be able to go.
Hannigan first came to light as an angel-voiced, somewhat mysterious figure singing harmonies alongside Damien Rice. They played together for seven years, but it wasn’t until the release of her solo debut Sea Sew in 2008 that the full spectrum of her abilities became apparent. A joyous kaleidoscope of love songs, laments, sea shanties and glockenspiels, with a cover hand-stitched by Lisa herself, the self-released album was a runaway success, nominated for a Choice award in Ireland and a Mercury Music Prize in the UK. The ecstatic reception gave her the confidence to explore deeper, darker emotions. Passenger, which came out in 2011, centred around the pain of leaving and the sense of apartness consequent to a life spent in constant motion. If Sea Sew bobs beautifully on the surface, you could say that Passenger explores the undercurrents of passion and heartache beneath the waves.
Since then, on top of her acting duties, she’s contributed a haunting cover of ‘Danny Boy’ to the TV series Fargo, as well as vocals for Steve Price’s scores for Gravity (which won an Oscar) and Fury.