Irish Singer-Songwriter Neve Cunnane Talks Debut EP ‘Tennessee Sun’, Moving To Music City, & More

Originally hailing from The Emerald Isle but now a Nashville local, Neve Cunnane is still riding the high off of her debut EP, Tennessee Sun, which dropped this past September.

From the nostalgic single and title track of the album, “Tennessee Sun,” to the rocking power-packed tune “Don’t Wanna Be,” Cunnane demonstrates her broad spectrum of life experience combined with commanding vocals and versatile instrumentation for an all-around impressive debut project. 

Cunnane recorded Tennessee Sun at The Bomb Shelter in East Nashville, the same studio famous for recording the 2012 Alabama Shakes album Boys and Girls among many other notable indie and rock-oriented albums.

While harnessing a lifelong love for music, Cunnane developed a foundation of musical knowledge and expertise at BIMM Dublin, a music college affiliated with Dublin Institute of Technology. In 2015, Cunnane made the bold decision to pack her bags and take her chances in pursuing her musical dream in Music City. Over the course of her seven years living here, the songstress has established herself at writer’s rounds and makes a living playing largely solo gigs around town.

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And most recently, she’s compiled a 5-track EP that showcases her powerful vocals, catchy songwriting, and melodic sensibility.

We got to chat with Cunnane to learn more about her trek across the pond to Music City, her new album, touring with Sheryl Crow, and more.

So growing up in Ireland, when did music first enter your life, and when did you know you wanted to pursue a life in it?

My parents have always had great taste in music, and I feel that growing up hearing the likes of Fleetwood Mac, Bruce Springsteen, The Beatles and R.E.M regularly, really got me interested in music from an early age. I think the first time I started to think about pursuing a career in music was after watching a video of KT Tunstall performing solo on the Jools Holland show. It fascinated me that she could perform on live TV with just a guitar and a loop pedal. 

Were there any local Irish artists, songwriters, or family members that maybe you looked up to or had as a mentor of sorts?

My Dad taught me to play the guitar when I was about eleven or so. His love of music is something I’ve always appreciated, and I feel he definitely passed that on to me. He can be my biggest fan and biggest critic all at the same time! 

What made you choose Nashville over other cities like NYC, LA, or maybe Austin? 

I studied Commercial Modern Music in college in Dublin, and one of my closest friends, Riah Butler, had made the move to Nashville to pursue her music dream, and she convinced me to spend a summer here with her. After a quick three months, I knew Nashville was where I was meant to be. I returned home in September, and began applying for a visa. I had never really heard much about Nashville prior to this, but once I got here, I honestly felt at home.

Was it a difficult decision to leave home and start a new life across the pond?

When I first came here, I didn’t think that almost seven years later I’d be where I am now, living four thousand miles away from home. Returning to Ireland after my first Tennessee summer, I immediately missed Nashville and knew I had to do everything I could to come back. Of course I miss home, but I know this is where I need to be, and that family and friends are only a FaceTime away. 

So you dropped your new EP, Tennessee Sun, this past September. How long had you been working on this collection of songs?

This project is something I’ve been working on for a very long time, some of these songs were written during my first few years here. The pandemic put a huge hold on production, but we finally began recording in September of 2021. 

When you went into the studio, did you have a vision of how you wanted each song to sound as far as accompanying instruments went, or did you bring in the crew and kind of let them do their thing?

I didn’t have an exact vision of sound for each song, but I knew that I wanted to release a record that sounded like a live band in studio, nothing too over-produced. I am so grateful to have worked with such incredibly talented musicians on this project.

Before we began recording, I met with my two main guys – Pete Piscitelli (bass) & Emmett Rozelle (drums) and we came up with general structures for each song. This made everything flow so well in the studio. We laid down drums, bass, rhythm guitar and vocals at the Bomb Shelter Studio in East Nashville, and then Steve Peavey (steel & mandolin), Zak Westbrook (electric guitar), Mijo Rodriguez (electric guitar) and Andy Flores (keys), worked their magic remotely.

What made you choose “Settle Down” and “Leaving” as bookends on the album, and how important was the order of the songs on the album to you?

“Settle Down” felt like the perfect opener and introduction for this album, as it’s a song about new beginnings and leaving the past behind. Also the mandolin lick that Steve plays on this song sounded like something you would hear during the opening scene of a movie, so it felt fitting to start the EP with this track. “Leaving” is an old song of mine that I wrote back in 2014 before I moved to Nashville. I would always end my live set with this song, so it seemed like the perfect end track for the album. 

The track order was something I thought about for a while. I definitely wanted to create a natural flow throughout the album, and I think I achieved that. 

Is there a song on the album that was the most difficult to write/record for one reason or another?

“Tennessee Sun” was probably the hardest song to record because it’s my homesick song. I wrote it back when I first moved to Nashville and was missing home like crazy, and it always makes me a little sentimental. Mentally, it was the most difficult, but I managed to record my vocal in one take which made it super special. 

What has been your favorite/the most rewarding part of making this album?

I think listening to different mixes has been one of my favorite parts of this project. I only knew these songs as acoustic tracks, so hearing them come to life with a full band was truly amazing. Also, working with Drew Carroll from the Bomb Shelter was a dream. He is so enjoyable to work with and he understood exactly the direction I wanted this album to take. 

If you could tour and open for any present-day artist, who would it be and why?

I’ve always been a Sheryl Crow fan, but especially in the last couple of years. It would be insanely cool to tour and open up for her! I think I could learn so much being on the road with her and her band, who she’s been playing with for years. Also, writing a song or two on tour with her wouldn’t be a bad thing either! 

What’s one or two things Ireland/your hometown does better than Nashville/the U.S.?

This is going to sound very stereotypical, but Guinness. Guinness is not good in the U.S. Haha. It just tastes so much better at home! 

What are some of your goals – whether musically or otherwise – for the rest of the year and going into 2023? 

There’s this musical high you experience when you release music, it’s almost like that feeling when you get a tattoo- you immediately want another one! As soon as Tennessee Sun came out, I began thinking of what I wanted to do next musically. I think my main focus for the rest of this year and going into 2023 is to write more songs, and then work towards another release by the end of next year.

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