Maria Kelly is huddled in a scarf, driving through the Irish countryside to Kilkenny. The Mayo native is on a tour with Irish band Villagers after a whirlwind year. "I haven't actually seen Villagers play in years, and I'm genuinely a very big fan girl of theirs, so it was great to get to see them. Their show is so energetic," she tells me. The last time I spoke to Maria, we were both at a music festival in a small town on the west coast of Ireland. Since then, the singer-songwriter has passed several milestones. The biggest, it seems, is Kelly's move from Dublin to Berlin. "Initially I thought I'd just go write for a bit, but I quickly fell in love with the place and didn't want to go back. Dublin is an incredible scene in itself but it is very small and you kind of hit a ceiling with it sometimes, [Berlin] was a fresh environment." notes to self, her debut EP, reflects the experience of moving away from home and all things familiar in an honest, almost documentarian fashion.
The collection of songs is haunting, deep and intimate, their production rich but informal. Kelly's brand of delicate folk-pop lends itself well to introspection. Her past singles have shown incredible promise, but this more complete body of work is for what those familiar with Maria Kelly have been waiting. Music is a vehicle through which Kelly feels able to translate experience and emotion into something creative, comprehensible and relatable. "I feel like [music is] a very strong thread between me and [my feelings]," she says. In Berlin, Kelly had the time and space to come up with a concept. "I started keeping a diary of things I was doing every day, thoughts I had or little bits of wisdom I heard from other people. It became a third person, to myself 'things to remember during a time of massive change.'" That diary became notes to self. The whole piece serves as a sort of "summertime capsule" for Kelly, inextricably tied to Berlin and the experience of moving countries. Was there culture shock, I wonder? "For sure. Especially with the language thing," she says. "I don't think I anticipated that. I'm awkward enough talking to people I don't know. Really basic stuff like ordering things—that was a bit of a culture shock. But in terms of cities it isn't massively overwhelming...Berlin has space to breathe."
Kelly has a genuine quality to both her character and her music which I have always appreciated. She is self-deprecating and funny, but serious about her craft and open with her audience. As far as the creation of notes to self goes, Kelly was involved every step of the way. Her process is never the same; she prefers to take inspiration wherever it strikes. "Often I have my phone and I'm singing into it like a little creep," she laughs.
She is aware of the music industry and millennial clichés she might embody but falls prey to none of them. When asked about writing notes to self, she says "[the songs] kind of fell out of me," and quickly adds "which sounds a bit naff, but they came together so quickly." notes to self begins with "prelude," a minimalist look back on what could have been. "june" is about allowing oneself to be angry and annoyed whereas "july" is about releasing that anger and focussing on other things. It seems, as the months progress in Kelly's EP that she slips into a groove, into her home and herself.