Irish singer-songwriter Maria Kelly has a new track out titled ‘Small Talk’, a moving, honest, and beautifully performed folk song about social anxiety. Following up her acclaimed debut EP ‘The Things I Should’, the track is part of the singer’s AA-side single ‘Dark Places / Small Talk’, which is out on 27th April 2018 via Veta Records. It finds her at her most emotionally expressive, channeling her own experiences with mental health as well as similar stories she heard when reaching out to fans. 

We caught up with Maria Kelly to talk about coping with social anxiety and depression, her new single, and future plans.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Hello! Sure – I’m 23 & from the West of Ireland. I grew up in a pretty small town, and started playing guitar because I was massively jealous of my brother’s musical skills – I desperately wanted to play in his band (consisting of him and my two neighbours) but I was five years younger, incredibly annoying and shit at guitar.

So now I write lonesome sad-folk!

Who are some of your favorite artists currently?

I’m loving Fenne Lily – she just released her debut album and it’s a beaut. I feel like her lyrics capture moments in time in this really vulnerable, fragile way.

How did you write ‘Small Talk’?

It came about during a storm blackout in my hometown! I started paralleling feelings of social anxiety to this all-consuming storm, how it had just taken the town in its grip and we all just had to wait it out. My experiences of social anxiety have felt quite like that, all-consuming, and I thought it was an easily accessible way to explain it to someone who perhaps hadn’t experienced it before.

I love the way you express how social anxiety affects human connection – and how small talk can feel suffocating and pointless. Do you find yourself feeling like this kind of communication comes naturally to other people?

Thank you. Last year I did, for sure. I had quite a bad period where I found it incredibly difficult to communicate with anyone. I would be hyper-alert, avoiding eye contact, mind racing, unable to articulate my thoughts. It was really debilitating.

I’m thankfully in a much better place, but I do still experience moments of anxiety. I think it’s good to remind yourself that you’re seldom the odd one out in those situations. Everyone isn’t just amazingly social 100% of the time. I’ve learned that if you ask most people, they are usually focusing on themselves in social settings, and not trying to pick out faults in you.

There’s something about the symbolism of the track that reminds me of Daughter’s ‘Smother’. Was it an inspiration?

It wasn’t actually but I do love Daughter!

I read that you reached out to your Instagram followers to ask about their experiences. How did that make you feel? Is this sort of emotional openness capable of healing the loneliness that comes with small talk?

It made me feel incredibly connected, over something that I had kept to myself for a stupidly long time. I bottled a lot up when I dealing with the worst of it – and suddenly I was sharing an experience on the internet, and gettings tons of replies from total strangers. And people really poured their heart out too. I had asked for their explanations of social anxiety if they were to describe it to someone who had never dealt with it before, and the response was really overwhelming. I was getting paragraphs of the most detailed experiences. A lot of the words & phrases suggested helped me to finish the song, which is really cool.

I think the only way of healing these experiences is to share them. There’s so much power lost when you keep things to yourself – they become intangible, harder to understand and move past. Even with something like social anxiety, I find in moments of anxiousness, for me to say to the people I’m with – “hey, sorry if I’m acting strangely, I actually feel incredibly anxious right now” – it instantly grounds it in reality and I can deal with it then, rather than it being an all-consuming feeling in my head. People are usually kind and they understand.

Also you never know – bringing it up might give you both something to talk about.

Will we hear more music from you any time soon?

Yes! Small Talk is part of an AA side vinyl release, and the second single ‘Dark Places’ is out on April 20th via Veta Records. I’m really bloody proud of that one – I can’t wait for you to hear it.