What inspired you to pursue Celtic music?
When I was 12 one of my voice teachers gave me an Irish song to learn (My Lagan Love) and taught me how to sing it in the Celtic style. She had Scottish background and thought it would suit me because of my Welsh/Irish background. I loved that song and it suited my voice, so I decided to learn more like it. I was born in Wales to a Welsh dad and Irish mum, so have a strong Celtic heritage which I enjoy keeping alive.
At what age did you begin studying the harp?
When I was 14 I was asked to sing at the Adelaide concert of French singer/harpist Cecile Corbel (who I met on Myspace). She accompanied my songs with her harp and I was so inspired by the beautiful sound that I decided to learn to play myself.
Do you play or wish to play any other instrument?
I started playing the guitar when I was about 6 or 7, but wasn’t very good! So I took up piano instead. I got to about grade 4 in piano, but don’t really play now. As part of our school music lessons, we all learnt the basics of playing guitar, bass, keyboard and drums. I was also the captain of the school drum corps, playing the snare drum. Over the years I have bought a few instruments… but haven’t really mastered them yet. Some of the instruments are accordion (which I played on my last album), mandolin, ukulele, guitar, violin, bodhran, Irish whistle, Japanese flute and harmonica. I eventually want to buy a pedal harp and an electric harp.
Some of the best loved Celtic songs have been performed hundreds of times; what do you do to make them your own?
I don’t really think about it. If there is a song I really like and want to perform, I find out about what the song is about and then work out a harp accompaniment for it, and try to sing it with feeling. I don’t usually like to listen to other people’s versions, because I sing it how I feel it and don’t want to be influenced by anyone else.
Celtic vocals have a very distinctive sound, how did you learn to master it?
As I said above, one of my first singing teachers taught me basic Celtic “lilting”, and over the years I have developed my own way of singing Celtic style. People used to say I sounded a bit like certain Celtic singers that I had never heard of or listened to. I think I have a sort of classical Celtic style.
You have an extensive performance resume as well as albums under your belt. Which do you like better, performing live or coming up with sounds in the studio?
Probably performing live because I can be free with how I sing a song. I never used to enjoy being in the studio. I don’t think you can sing with as much passion as you can live. But I really enjoyed my recent work in the studio. I enjoyed working with my producer, Quentin, to get the songs how we wanted them. We had a lot of fun!
Are there any other styles you would like to pursue in the future? Or do you want to try and bring your Celtic sound to different genres?
I don’t think many people realise that I also sing serious classical music. I started classical voice when I was 9 and I am still studying classical voice at university (Bachelor of Music Performance and Pedagogy – Classical Voice). Although I love singing arias, art songs and liede, I don’t have any plans to be in operas … but you never know!
I quite enjoy performing musical theatre songs. I performed in my first show when I was 10. The show was Brigadoon and I played a child (of course) but sang in the adult chorus! I continued performing in musicals until I was 15 or 16 – when I got too busy with my solo career.
I also enjoy singing jazz, although don’t get the opportunity to do much of it at the moment. I would like to learn some jazz pieces on my harp. They would be great for working in 5 star hotels or on cruise ships!
You have taken Irish dance, so what do you think of shows like Celtic Woman & Celtic Thunder, who use a lot of choreography and lighting? Do you think the added elements enhance or detract from the musical experience?
I love watching Irish dancing. It was after seeing Riverdance, when I was 5, that I started Irish dance! I have to admit that I prefer the early Celtic Woman repertoire – and singers – to their new stuff. I think they’ve moved too far away from the traditional Celtic music that I love. I also think the choreography and lighting make their shows more Broadway than Celtic. I haven’t seen much of Celtic Thunder, but I have liked what I’ve seen.
What is your favorite song to perform?
That is much too difficult to answer! It changes depending on my mood, the event / venue and the type of audience. If the occasion calls for something soft and haunting, it would be “Black is the Colour” or “She Moved Through the Fair”. For a gentle lullaby type song probably “Cariad” or “Sora Wo Aruku” (Walking in the Air in Japanese). For a fun song probably “Cyfri’r Geifr” (Counting the Goats). A dramatic song would be “Bring Him Home” or one of the operatic arias I perform at uni.
What would you like your audience to take away from your concerts?
A bunch of my CD’s! …. Seriously, I like to think I can touch their hearts with my music. If they leave my concerts with a warm, fuzzy feeling, I’m happy. If I can make at least one person cry with my interpretations, then I know I’ve done my job properly. People often tell me they are mesmerised by my performances, that it takes them to a better place. That makes me feel really good.
What have been some of your most exciting music projects?
I have been very lucky over the last couple of years to have been invited to be part of some fantastic projects and events. Last year I was asked to sing the Welsh National Anthem at the Australia versus Wales Rugby Union test match – to a crowd of 44,000 and watched on TV by millions worldwide! That was an amazing experience and a great honour to represent my birth country. My family are very proud of that performance!
Earlier this year I made my UK and US debuts. In January I performed 3 concerts in Wales and England. It was the first time my family over there had seen me perform live, so it was very special. In March I headlined the Los Angeles St David’s Day (Welsh) Festival in Barnsdall Park on Hollywood Boulevard. That was an amazing experience. We were invited to a Hollywood VIP reception for the unveiling of Richard Burton’s star on the Walk of Fame on the day we arrived in LA. Lorin, the festival director, was introducing me to movie stars and celebrities. I don’t know if was the jetlag or the occasion, but it was all very surreal!
In June this year I received an email from French writer / composer / producer, Alan Simon, asking if I was interested in being part of his next project. He was writing a Celtic/symphonic ballet based on the legendary love story of Tristan and Yseult. Alan had been searching the internet and came across a video of me singing “Cariad” and decided I was the voice he wanted for “Yseult”. The project involves an album to be released on February 14 next year, and a World Premiere show In Nantes, France, on March 7. The show will have ballet dancers portraying Tristan & Yseult, while myself and Roberto Tiranti will be the voices. I will be going over to Nantes this November for a showcase and press conference, then back again in March for the show. I am very excited about this project and feel very lucky that Alan found me.
Can you tell us something about your latest album?
“Storybook Journey” is my 4th studio album, and definitely my best! My previous albums had quite simple accompaniments of harp or piano. I wanted this one to be a bit different so asked local producer Quentin Eyers to work on the album. He had wanted to work on an album with me and did one sample track to see if I liked his work… I loved it! So we ended up with 17 tracks, which Quentin had added extra instrumentation (playing many of the instruments himself) which enhanced my voice and harp and gave it a magical sound. All the tracks had a story to tell, and I arranged the songs in a logical order starting with the lullaby “Cariad”, then taking the listener on a journey of love, loss, prayers and dreams, and finishing with the music box style melody of “Storybook Journey”. I had my photo shoot done the fairy-tale castle style Thorngrove Manor, and the graphic designer did a fantastic job of the artwork, adding to the Storybook theme. I am very pleased with how the album turned out, and proud that it was awarded Classical Crossover UK 2012 “Album of the Year”! Downloads are available on iTunes, Amazon & CD Baby, and signed copies of the physical CD can be ordered from my website at www.siobhanowen.com.
Besides your music, what do you do for fun?
I love to draw and paint. I do mainly manga style, but like to try other styles too. I enjoy reading fantasy novels, especially Tolkien. I am fascinated by languages and have been trying to learn Japanese for a couple of years. I even went to Japan for a month last year to study the language! I like to play pool with my brothers and hang out with my uni friends.
What are your dreams for the future?
I want to carry on performing and making CDs. I want to do more overseas travel with my music. I have had offers of work on cruise ships and in a 5 star hotel in Dubai. I was too young at the time and didn’t want to miss any university. But I would like to take up offers like that in the future. I would love to be a singer in something like Cirque du Soleil or Cavalia. I would really love to have my voice in movies and animes.