Sinéad O'Connor is an artist who speaks her mind. Throughout her uncompromising 28-year career—in which she's released nine critically acclaimed albums—the Irish musician has never been shy about sharing her opinions.
From the incident in which she infamously tore the Pope's picture in half on Saturday Night Live to candid recollections of childhood abuse or the recent disclosure of her struggles with depression and bipolar disorder, O'Connor isn't worried about letting the public into her headspace.
And, until recently, her music relied heavily on that candor.
During the course of her discography, the Grammy Award-winning performer has written songs using direct personal experience as her primary inspiration; it's been her go-to way of working out and healing the pain of the darkest moments in her life.
Yet with her 2012 release, How About I Be Me (And You Be You)?, she's become less reliant on those personal experiences.
"Some years ago," O'Connor tells CityBeat from her producer's London home and studio, "I just stopped writing from a path that was so very personal. I'm much more inclined to invent characters and act them out now. But there are always ghosts and aspects of myself in those characters.
"It's not a protective measure, or even necessarily a conscious thing," she adds. "I've just gotten all that shit off my chest."
While it's nearly impossible to imagine the 46-year-old mother of four completely abandoning the healing-the-pain game plan, she seems to be headed in that direction. O'Connor—who'll play at Belly Up Tavern on Tuesday, Nov. 26, as part of her "American Kindness Tour" [editor's note: the concert has been cancelled]—imbues recent tracks like "4th and Vine," "Old Lady" and "The Wolf is Getting Married" with a newfound optimism. She also says that her next album—due out in summer 2014 and tentatively titled The Vishnu Room—is "all romantic songs." Though, she's quick to add, "it's still funky as fuck."
That's a pretty apt description for just about everything she does, whether it's straight-ahead pop, reggae covers or songs based on the Old Testament. There's no set way in how O'Connor translates her inspirations.
"I like to describe myself as a whore for songs," she says. "I don't really care what or where they come from. I just want to sing them. And I love all styles of music. I don't know why anyone would want to stick to just one. It's always worth trying everything out, even if you fuck it up. I'm really proud of the fact that I can't quite be categorized. I like that."
O'Connor also seems to be warming to the idea of making regular live appearances in the U.S. again. After fewer than 10 concerts in North America since 2007, her current 13-date American run bodes well for a return visit when her next album drops. But regardless of where the shows are taking place, much of O'Connor's current excitement around touring can be credited to her backing musicians.
"I'm really enjoying the feeling of being in a band rather than it just being me," she says. "It's really quite fun, especially when you've got a brilliant band and you're all really good mates. You have fun on the road together and you all get off on each other's playing. That's definitely what it's all about and why I got into music."
Although O'Connor's newfound disposition has her happier and healthier than she's been in a while, it hasn't affected her penchant for sounding off. She'll likely never stop offering her two cents to oversexualized peers or making passionate statements on issues that are important to her. Fans can rest assured that they'll always get a healthy dose of unfiltered dialogue from the outspoken artist.
"Perhaps it's because I'm Irish," says O'Connor, "but we were told you can put your hand up and speak. Whether you get the shit beat out of you for it, or you're just speaking, we were led to believe that we have the right.
"I don't see myself, because of my job, as different from anyone else," she continues. "I claim the same right as my next-door neighbor to write a letter to the newspapers, or write something and submit it, or blog, or express my opinions. It's not even that I think I can do anything about anything, because I don't. And it's not because I'm an artist. It's because I'm a person."
O'Connor has always been, and will always be, unafraid to give it to you straight. She continues to strike a singular path to a musical legacy that, for better or worse, is free of censorship and calculation. And on that journey, she clearly has no regrets.
"I certainly have more songs to write," she says. "It's just that I can't in good conscience go to my bed at night, or ultimately to my grave, having sat and done fuck-all while writing them. I think, as an artist, it's OK to say what you have to say like any other person.
"Because once you stop acting like a normal person, you're just not being true to yourself."
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