Pina

Songwriters have often travelled far and wide in search of inspiration. But the crazy journey undertaken by Austrian singer, songsmith and musician Pina Kollars is unusual by anyone's standards. Raised in Vienna, she studied classical guitar at the city's Conservatorium and could easily have chosen a career as a full-time classical instrumentalist or music teacher.

But Pina opted for a dramatic change of scenery. Armed with just her guitar and a few songs – and accompanied by her then-husband and their baby daughter – Pina moved from the Austrian capital to pastoral West Cork, in Ireland.

The culture shock, even for a woman who was ‘looking for something different,’ was enormous. Having given up the monumental Viennese skyline for rolling Irish hills and a windswept coast, Pina at first struggled to come to terms with her new-found isolation: unwilling to sing her intimate songs in the noisy local pubs, she was also unable to tour on account of the area’s poor transport links.

‘It took a long time to get used to the rural mentality,’ she says. ‘When I first arrived in Ireland, there were so many sheep that I thought the locals must spend their lives knitting. But it’s not quite like that. People come to County Cork with their dreams. There are painters and sculptors living there – and eventually I found a way to fit in.’

 

Pina now finds solace in her splendid isolation. Sheltered from the vagaries of fashion, she has looked inwards rather than outwards for inspiration. With her stormy personal life acting as 'the motor that drives my songwriting', she has developed a distinctive style.

Raised by her extended family in Austria – her mother was just 16 when she was born – Pina began writing songs in her teens. Her influences then, as now, included David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, The Rolling Stones and Cat Stevens. The names are legendary, of course, but the young singer wasted no time in putting her own, highly individual stamp on their legacy.

Making a living from music in Austria was difficult. Financially stifled by a law which demanded compulsory health insurance for artists, Pina and her then-husband Helmut, an illustrator of children’s books, moved to Ireland in 1997.

Inspired by her new environment, Pina’s songwriting blossomed and she was soon showcasing her talent for representatives of the London music business. With her small daughter often by her side on these flying visits, she quickly built herself a formidable reputation among London’s talent spotters. “A ball that had been standing still for an eternity suddenly began moving, and a lot of interest was coming in,” she says. Her burgeoning creativity was further rewarded with a British tour supporting Ani di Franco and a beautiful duet with Afro Celt Sound System’s Iarla O Lionaird on the band’s album, Volume 3: Further In Time.

So impressed were Real World with Pina’s contribution to the song, ‘Go On Through’, that they offered her the opportunity to cut her own album, Quick Look, for the label. By the time she was making the record, however, Pina was facing up to the aftermath of a painful divorce from Helmut, a separation that she went on to examine in heartbreaking detail on the album.

With Guess You Got It, she moved on. Happy in a new relationship with guitarist and drummer Andy Hogg, she adopts a more optimistic outlook:

‘Sometimes you have to go through a lot of crap to appreciate the goodness around you and the people who love you. Then, when the moment comes, you have to grab it.’

For Pina, a unique singer finally fulfilling her potential, that moment has finally arrived.

Words by Adrian Thrills

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