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All Songs +1: How Aaron Dessner Helped Lisa Hannigan Beat Writer's Block

The cover art of <em>At Swim</em> by Lisa Hannigan.
Courtesy of the artist
The cover art of <em>At Swim</em> by Lisa Hannigan.

I've missed Lisa Hannigan. Five years ago, the Irish singer-songwriter made an unforgettably beautiful record called Passenger. She came by to play a Tiny Desk concert that year, and then we had to wait for half a decade; it was tough, because I've missed her sad, delicate songs. It turns out the five-year gap wasn't her plan.

It's easy to assume that musicians have the ability to crank out new material every few years; we think nothing of it, because that's the cycle of releasing records. The truth is, it's not that easy. For Hannigan, she was stuck trying to write new music, feeling penned in near London away from home. Then one day, she received an email from Aaron Dessner of The National. She didn't know him, though they'd had a mutual friend in Luluc, the duo from Melbourne; their common bond was a Nick Drake tribute concert years ago.

Anyway, Dessner suggested to Hannigan that they work together. In short order, the music started to flow — at first back and forth via email, and eventually in recording sessions together. The result is a lovely new album called At Swim.

On this +1 edition of All Songs Considered, I talk with Lisa Hannigan about this happenstance collaboration, the ways it unlocked her creativity, and the mechanics of making a long-distance musical relationship work.

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