Una Healy may be best known to many people as one-fifth of girl group The Saturdays, but in recent years she’s been carving out a path for herself as a singer-songwriter.
Her debut solo album, The Waiting Game, was released back in 2017 and saw her collaborate with Nashville star Sam Palladio. She’s also duetted with Brett Young on the UK release of his hit song In Case You Didn’t Know, performed at C2C: Country to Country and last year joined the presenting team on Country Hits Radio. Now she’s back with a brand new song, Swear It All Again.
I recently spoke to Una about the single and accompanying video, how her approach to her songwriting has evolved, her work with the Irish Women in Harmony collective, her experience of making music during the pandemic and lots more.
Your new song Swear It All Again came out earlier this month – what can you tell us about that?
So yeah, it’s my new single. I’m so excited to finally get it out there. It’s a song I wrote a couple of years ago and when I wrote it first, actually we just demoed it very simply. It was myself and Rachel Furner, we co-wrote it together. So I had all the production in my head of how I wanted it to sound, but at the demo stage it was very simple – just piano and voice. Then last September actually, I met with Fred Abbott, who I’ve worked with before on my last single actually, Until You. I played him the song and he really liked it, so he worked on production with me and it became the song that I always had in my head. I’m excited to finally get it out there.
You’ve also just released a video for the song as well. How was the process of making that given the need for social distancing etc?
Yeah, the video, to be honest was the quickest video I’ve ever, ever done in my life. Because it’s obviously COVID-friendly. I was doing a photoshoot – I had two photoshoots that day, so I had one that I did for a magazine in the morning and then I needed to do some photo shots, just up to date shots for the single and everything. So the photographer, Evan Doherty, he’s never done a music video before, he’s a photographer, but he obviously has a good eye for lighting and everything like that. So I just said, “can you just film me singing?” and we put the song on in the background and just filmed me performing it after the different pictures that were taken. He did that and so the shoot went on for three hours, the photoshoot and the video. Then he obviously gave all the footage to an editor who put it all together. So it’s very simple, just a performance of the song with a couple of different looks in there. I think it’s very important now to have a visual to go with the song as well – people like to swipe along. So that’s how it happened. Very Covid-friendly but still feel it represents the song well and I really got into performing it.
It’s been four years now since your album The Waiting Game came out…
Yeah, four years since the album, yeah. But I’ve been dropping tracks since, I’ve not really stopped releasing music. But that was the first collective body of solo material that I put out.
How do you feel the way you’ve approached your music and songwriting has changed since that record?
It’s kind of the same. It’s just always evolving. I’ve been writing since I was twelve years old, so songwriting’s really important to me and it was before I was known for being in The Saturdays. I was sort of embarking on the singer-songwriter path, I had an EP called Sorry that I produced and wrote myself, and I was doing well on the songwriting front when I won a couple of national songwriting contests over here in Ireland. So that kind of gave me hope and inspiration as well that I was doing the right thing. So then I took quite a bit of a break from my own personal writing while we were in the band, because it was just so intense and I was so busy travelling and it was very difficult to get the inspiration or the time to write. I’ve had a lot more time and life experience to write about. I do tend to write a lot about my own life – never too much in a way that it can’t be adapted to anyone else’s, so a bit of storytelling like all country music. But there’s always a bit of feeling in there that I hope people can enjoy and a universal feel so that people can make it there.
I was going to say that Swear It All Again does feel very relatable – was that something you’d quite consciously wanted to do when you were writing it?
Yeah, I always think like that and I want people to go ‘oh, that’s my song’. That’s how I want to feel when I listen to music, that you can go through a time or even just that it gives you that feeling. It doesn’t have to necessarily be the lyrics, it can just be the music itself. Like I love dance music, so when I listen to dance it gives me a certain feeling. To me it doesn’t matter what the lyrics are about, it just puts me in a good mood. So I want it to bring people joy and make it their own.
I very often start with a melody in my head or an idea – it could be at any time, it could be travelling in the car or whenever. I’ll hum it into my phone and then often I’ll have a good strong idea that I have to take into the studio, and there might be another co-writer there and we’ll write the song together. Usually I get something written in half a day or so. But not every song I write is any good to be honest. I write a lot of crap – I think it’s crap anyway. And on the day you think it’s great and then you listen to it back and you’re like, ‘oh no!’ But you know when you’ve done a good song because you go away and you’re buzzing about it – you can’t stop thinking about it and it stays in your head. And this was one of those songs that I felt really excited about, from the moment that it came into my head first actually.
Do you ever get writer’s block? And if so how do you deal with that?
Yeah, I think step away from it when you feel like that. If it’s not coming naturally to you and you feel like it’s being forced you shouldn’t do it. It’s something that you should feel excited about and want to do. If I’m not feeling inspired or don’t want to write I don’t put any pressure on myself, and then when you feel the inspiration coming you can’t help yourself. And that’s the way it should be, I think. You don’t want it to be forced.
How have you found adapting to writing and performing during lockdown over the last year?
Yeah, it’s just been very disappointing and sad. You know, we’re doing the right thing by not being around each other, but I can’t share the music with an audience any more physically. I haven’t done one of those virtual gigs yet, I don’t know how I feel about that. I kind of feel like the light’s at the end of the tunnel now so I might as well wait until I can get out there again. But I’ve done quite a bit of work with other people as well during lockdown, as part of the Irish Women in Harmony. We released a single last year which did really really well and it was for Safe Ireland, a charity. It’s just more like a movement as well for women, and everybody’s so supportive of other. It’s just given a backbone for women and Irish women in music and also for standing together. We hope to do more – we’re planning a tour and some big shows as soon as we can, and some writing together.
I wanted to ask you a bit more about Irish Women in Harmony – how did you get involved in that?
Yeah, so Ruth-Anne Cunningham, she’s a singer-songwriter herself, and she approached me last March or maybe April and told me she and Erica Cody who’s another Irish singer-songwriter, they were chatting about it and came up with the idea to ask loads of different Irish female singers and do a song, a lockdown song together. She’s a producer as well and she actually produced the track herself. And all us girls performed our line and sent it in, and she put it all together. It’s amazing how it turned out actually considering none of us were in the same place at the same time. It’s just been accepted really well. It was a cover of the Cranberries song Dreams, and it was a charity single as well for Safe Ireland. We’re very proud of it, it’s done really well.
You’ve been presenting the Saturday breakfast show on Country Hits Radio for two years now. How have you found the move from music to radio?
Well I’ve done quite a bit of presenting in the past, you know, I’ve done TV work as well. But I particularly love this show because I get to play all the songs that I love. I love country music, I’m a big fan, and I get to share that. And a lot of the time with the listeners I love hearing the feedback just to see what people are up to, but also to hear how much they enjoy it and they’ve just stumbled upon it and never realised they actually liked country music until they listened to it. Because a lot of people’s perceptions are that country is old-fashioned, and then they hear it and they’re like, ‘I actually really love this’. So it’s great to hear that it’s growing all the time. And it’s a nice chance to just sit back and play great music that I really love myself, and to share that with people.
Have there been any particular standout moments or discoveries you’ve had from the show?
I mean I’m discovering new music all the time myself as well. We’re playing all the big hits, because in America it’s just so big, country music, you know, absolutely huge. There’s some great new artists out there. But there’s also some really timeless ones as well, like for me my inspiration was Sheryl Crowe. I don’t know if people would even class her as country but we do play her still, and we play some classics from the past like Garth Brooks and Dolly Parton and that kind of thing. But we also have new artists like Maren Morris, Kacey Musgraves, Luke Combs – I just love him. Brett Young, and for me Sam Palladio who was on the TV show Nashville and on my first track, and then I got to perform with Brett Young as well when he released In Case You Didn’t Know over here. So there’s been loads of great things happening off the back of the country world that I’m in at the minute, which I love and I always have, being surrounded by country music.
I wanted to ask about your shoe line as well. What led you to that and what have you most enjoyed about the process?
I just love fashion in general, and shoes – I’ve got a whole room dedicated to them…
I saw the picture on Instagram…
I’m actually doing that room up even more now. We’re about to launch the next spring/summer collection for when people can get back out there and strut their stuff in public, because we’ve all been living in lockdown loungewear I guess and there’s nothing better than dressing up and getting out. So with that opportunity as well I’ll hopefully see more people rocking the shoes. It’s something I really enjoy and it’s a lovely little side project for me. But I do love fashion, and fashion and music, they work hand in hand as well.
Is there anything you’ve learnt from your experience with presenting and designing that’s fed into how you approach your music, or vice versa?
I suppose with listening so much to country music with the radio, that helps with inspiring me for the music I guess, and I’m very up to date with the current sounds and what I like and all that. So I’m influenced all the time by things that happen in life, friends or family, my children, you know – I’m just constantly being inspired by things all the time and helping me along in the writing process. Because I do write from the heart when I make music. So it takes living life to write about it. There’s lots to write about, I feel. Always something going on.
Have you ever thought about potentially writing for other artists as well as yourself?
Definitely, yeah. Like if there was a song that I’d written that I felt wasn’t right for me, I’d be more than happy for someone else to sing it, you know. And yeah, that’s definitely another opportunity maybe that I could focus on more – just stepping away for a bit and concentrating on the writing for other people. Because when you go into a writing session you might say “we’re writing for this artist today” so you listen a lot to their music or the kind of style that will suit them. So yeah, it’s probably something I could explore a bit more, but for now I’m just working on my own stuff right now.
We’ve talked a bit about your various projects. Is there anything else you’d like to try and turn your hand to like producing or anything like that?
I definitely like to be involved in how the production of a song is going to sound. I’m always very actively involved in that anyway. So yeah, just keep doing the music. I can’t wait to get back out performing again though. That’s what I miss so much – that interaction with the audience and just getting to perform. I miss that an awful lot. I miss going to gigs as well – I want to get back out there and go to festivals and gigs and that. But I’m a very busy person anyway. My full-time main job is being a mother. I’ve got two small kids to look after, all their needs – their emotional needs and all that too. I work to provide for them as well. They’re my priority, so everything else I do is secondary to that. I’m very fortunate to do lots of things that I really enjoy. But they keep me busy anyway, I can tell you. There’s never a spare moment in the day really! [laughs]
Is there anything you’ve learnt over the last year that you’re going to apply going forward – either to your music or your other projects?
I think everyone’s just sort of had to adapt, you know, rather than learn anything. It’s a new normal for us, this situation – we’re getting more used to it but it still feels strange. Like the first one just felt bizarre, ‘what is going on here?’ [laughs]. I think now people are feeling a lot more positive. I’m feeling a lot more positivity in the air. I think people are looking forward to the future and just I guess to just look after each other. This is why we’ve had to sacrifice not seeing each other, to help protect each other as well.
What’s next on the horizon for you? You’ve mentioned missing touring – are there plans to go back out on the road at any point?
Oh yeah. As soon as I can put a tour in I will. I obviously haven’t announced any dates because we don’t know when things are going to open back up again, but as soon as we can that’ll be one of my first things on the list, to plan a tour, 100 per cent. And just to keep writing and recording. I’d love to put another album out actually, of all the songs. That’d be brilliant.
I was going to ask if you had plans for another album…
Yeah, I hope so. That’d be great. I wanna keep writing and recording loads of songs and then put them all together and put another album out. It’s about time! [laughs]
I know you’ve mentioned this in a couple of other interviews recently – obviously it’s been a while since The Saturdays and you’re all off doing your own thing, but would there ever be a reunion at any point?
I don’t know. To be honest there’s been no chats or discussions about it at all. There’s been a couple of times where I’ve said ‘oh it’d be nice to do something’ but we haven’t planned anything. I reckon in the future something’s very possible, but there’s no immediate plans.
Una Healy’s new single Swear It All Again is out now.
Catch Una on Country Hits Radio every Saturday morning from 10 AM via DAB digital radio, the Country Hits app and website, or through your smart speaker.