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Suddenly solo

Damien Rice collaborator Lisa Hannigan builds a career of her own



When longtime employer Damien Rice bid her an abrupt adieu after seven years of devoted service, Irish singer Lisa Hannigan didn't get much of a severance package.

"I don't think there was any gold watch offered as a parting gift, either," she says with a laugh.

No, it was the coldest of kiss-offs when the temperamental folkie axed his longtime duet partner mere minutes before the curtains opened at a concert in Munich.

"We'd had blowups within the band before that, because for any group that's lived and worked together in a small space, seven years is a long time," reflects Hannigan. "So it wasn't a particularly pleasant way for it to end, but things just came to the end of a cycle, and it was time to start over for everyone involved."

The newly minted solo artist who's currently on tour backing her ATO debut, Sea Sew says the breakup turned out to have its advantages.

"I'd always wanted to make a record," says Hannigan, "so when that happened it was like, 'OK I have got to get my songs finished, I've got to get going!'"

The spotlight suits her: Hannigan's warm, hearth-ember-glowing voice heats up quirky, folk-rooted originals like "Splishy Splashy," "Venn Diagram" and the gently chugging first single "I Don't Know," in which she lists all the unknown variables of a potential relationship before blindly leaping into it. This lovably eccentric outlook extends all the way to the album cover art, a patchwork quilt of dice hand-sewn by the artist herself, "just because I liked the image of it," she says. "There's something magic about dice they're filled with possibility and adventure."

Hannigan has always viewed her world with wide-eyed wonder. Growing up in rural Ireland, she spent her spare time playing in the family flower and vegetable gardens. Her universe expanded when she attended college in Dublin, where she took up drawing, painting and even acting, launching her own company called the Cowardly Lion Theatre Group.

"But I always knew that I wanted to sing," adds Hannigan, who first accompanied Rice at Dublin's Temple Bar and subsequently joined him on his critically lauded 2002 debut album, O.

Even though she now lives in Dublin, Hannigan insists she still has the same small-town ethos.

"I still love crafts, I love making things. And one of the coolest jobs I ever had was at this fantastic vintage-clothes shop, where my job was not only to sell them, but to darn the cashmere jumpers to mend the holes. I've always loved stitching and mending, although I don't sew as much as I'd like to anymore."

When she does sew now, she's often fixing the suits of the boys in her backing band.

"I mean, somebody has to look after their stage clothes, right?" she asks.

So Hannigan isn't angry about being unceremoniously pink-slipped, even though she's never even seen Rice again.

"If that hadn't happened, I wouldn't be where I am now," she says. "I'm feeling really good about my life, and it's just a waste to be bitter. So I don't want any revenge I'd rather just hope for the best."

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