Quick Look

Pina

Released 20 May 2002

  1. I Loved The Way
  2. On A Day Like Today
  3. The Flight
  4. Cold Storm
  5. Josephine
  6. Bring Me A Biscuit
  7. The Lady
  8. The Tower
  9. Debt Song
  10. I See The Blue

Liner notes

It’s a long way from the classical music heartlands of Vienna to Ardgroom, County Cork, as Pina Kollars well knows. The Austrian singer/songwriter is reminded of the fact each time she stands at her kitchen window, her dark-eyed gaze taking in the rolling green hills of Ireland’s South West coast and the wild, windswept seascape beyond. After four years as an ex-pat she has grown used to the incessant rain and inclement weather of the region; she says she finds lyrical inspiration in its remoteness. But then contentment has only ever been a song away for Pina, whose unique perspective and intimate, conversational style is all the more remarkable for her phenomenal voice. Feline and powerful, heartfelt and hypnotic, it is wielded like an instrument. As her debut album, Quick Look, testifies, it’s a voice which inevitably stops listeners dead in their tracks.

Signing to Real World has been a Godsend, says Pina, in a Viennese accent tinged with an Irish lilt. For although music has always been her life blood, it wasn’t long ago that she had reluctantly toyed with the idea of giving up performing all together, having grown weary of striving for recognition in her birthplace while lesser talents were being snapped up in bulk elsewhere. Ironically, it was the Austrian Government’s rather cavalier attitude to creatives which first sent her abroad. Pina and her then husband, Helmut, an illustrator of children’s books and the father of her four-year-old daughter, Luise, had found themselves financially adrift following a law which demanded compulsory health insurance for artists. Unable to save and with no professional break in sight, they packed up and moved to Ireland.

There, slowly, things started to come together. A veteran of music contests (“Most of my equipment I’ve won”); Pina played at the Heineken Green Festival and landed herself an amplifier. (She plays a mean Fender Stratocaster as well as a K Yairi acoustic). The manager of the Cranberries was sufficiently impressed to sit down with Pina for a good three hours and phone every musical contact he had on her behalf. Contacts led to other contacts, including manager Steve Baker, and soon Pina found herself supporting the singular American chanteuse Ani di Franco in Glasgow, Manchester and London. (She had already supported the likes of Randy Crawford, June Tabor and the Oyster Band back home). Arguably her biggest break came last October, in the form of redoubtable Real World outfit the Afro Celt Sound System.

“They had co-written a song with Heather Nova,” Pina says. “I sang it and they loved it.” Her duet with Iarla Ó Lionáird, the achingly beautiful Go On Through, was duly featured on the ACSS album, Further In Time. “Then (Afro Celts supremo) Simon Emmerson told me that Peter Gabriel said it was his favourite song on the record. He asked him who that voice belonged to.”

Photo credit: Drew Jarrett

Pina was 16 when she found it. Up until then she had concentrated on developing her skills as a classical guitarist, studying the medium at the Vienna Conservatorium and, later, teaching it to make ends meet. (She briefly studied law, and then medicine at university, before being pulled back to music again). But when she started writing her own songs, her reference points were contemporary ones – the Doors, U2, David Bowie, Edie Brickell and the Rolling Stones among them – but her voice, of course, was like no other. “It was always the songs, rather than the artists, which made the biggest impression on me,” she says now. “And I’ve never been sentimental with my own material, which is probably why I’ve lost so much of my early stuff. I just see each song as a brick towards the next.”

Pina’s unusual upbringing has always provided fodder for her finely crafted, literate vignettes. “My mother met my father when she was 13, and she was 16 when she had me. Because she was still going to school, I was brought up by my grandparents and mother and uncles and aunts. It gave my life a bigger dimension; I was like the sixth child and was spoilt rotten. My grandfather had a big belly and a quiff like Elvis, worked in a fairground and was very eccentric, but he made me strong. He only ever wanted me to do music and supported me the whole way through.” The track ‘Josephine’ on Quick Look, she adds, is dedicated to him. “He died a few years ago,” she says with a nostalgic sigh. “Just before he passed away I sang an old war song ‘Lilli Marlene’ into his ear, and he smiled.”

First hand experience is intrinsic to Pina’s songwriting, which goes some way towards explaining her unaffected, self-contained style. It has been said that Pina seems to be singing to herself, although each listener might also argue that she is singing to them and them alone. “I need to have lived something myself to be able to sing it to an audience or a person,” she says. “And I have to really love and stand behind the lyrics.” Written over the last two years, the ten songs on Quick Look traverse such themes as heartbreak, motherhood, debt, love, loss, life and, er, heartbreak. Pina, it seems, doesn’t just wear her heart on her sleeve. She lays it, bleeding, on the table. The pain of the split with her ex-husband is palpable. “I was unable to accept it for about one and a half years,” she admits. “I was fighting to keep my family together.”

So, naturally enough, she wrote about it. In no uncertain terms. But forget folk’s maudlin wallowings; the details of Pina’s break up are fired by a bittersweet fury that gives each track an alternative, adrenaline-fuelled edge. The album’s opener, ‘I Loved The Way’ (a hit if ever there was one), nigh on shakes her ex by the scruff of his neck; ‘Cold Storm’, which demands that he take a good hard look at his own faults, is pure Patti Smith does Jumping Jack Flash. Pina performed each song to Helmut before recording the album. Rather than either of them reaching for the carving knife, they are now, she insists, good friends. “It’s happened only recently,” she says, beaming. “There’s still a lot of anger on both sides but it’s hidden. It only comes out now and then.”

When it does, you can be sure that Pina will write a song about it. These days, however, she is sharing her life and her Ardgroom home with her new love, a lanky drummer and guitarist named Andy Hogg. “I fit in his armpit,” she grins. The two met when Pina sang at a club called McCarthy’s, up the road in Castletownbere; Hogg’s not inconsiderable musical talents can also be heard on Quick Look.

“I love living in Ireland,” says Pina. “I appreciate the openness and calmness of people here. I love being in a place where people are so excited about music. I’ve tried doing other things, but nothing else interests me. And now I know,” she adds fiercely, “that I’m going to keep on doing music until I’m old and grey.”

Words by Jane Cornwell

Listen

Reviews

  • 'Quick Look' showcases a huge talent, which should be investigated immediately. Billboard (USA)
  • Magnificent debut by Austrian-born, Irish-based singer-songwriter Uncut (UK)
  • Kollars' gritty feline vocals harken back to folk legend Melanie, while her tuneful material smartly juggles alt rock, gothic folk and "psychedelic almost country" Philadelphia Daily News (USA)
  • CD of the Week ★★★★ Irish Sunday Tribune
  • Quick Look is an album bursting with energy and ideas Hot Press (Ireland)
  • A genuine treasure, an example of an outsider bringing new passion to old British forms. The Daily Mirror (UK)

Further Listening

  • Guess You Got It

    Pina

    Released 05 July 2005

  • Redemption’s Son

    Joseph Arthur

    Released 10 June 2002

    Joseph Arthur’s third album is a consistently inspired, occasionally frazzled, and often startlingly beautiful album. It's the kind of record with which you can build a slow, sustainable love affair. Its rich textures, vulnerability, and acute, poetic lyrics are guaranteed to slacken jaws and raise goose bumps.

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