The Barcelona-Based Corkonian Musician Rebecca Houlihan Discusses Her Journey from Overcoming Stagefright to Releasing Her First Single, “Oh La La”

“For me, I’ve always been very creative. I wanted to do music. I’m finally doing it now. It’s so weird that I’ve been doing music for years and writing, and I’m like, ‘I’m only releasing music now!’, but it feels like the right time, as well,” the singer Rebecca Houlihan tells Post-Burnout on the day that she released her first headlining single as a solo artist.

Calling in from Barcelona, Spain, where she currently resides, the Cork City native tells us, “When I was younger, I always knew I was going to be a singer, but I was very nervous. When I’d sing, I’d sing in the toilets in school for the girls; I was in Regina Mundi College. And I’d sing live, and I’d be so nervous, and my knees would be shaking! I’d be terrified.

“And I got a little bit older, then. We were going out – I think I was probably 16-to-18 – and I’d be down in my friend’s house, and they’d be like, ‘Oh, sing Amy Winehouse! Just sing a song for us!’, and I’d be like, ‘Everyone needs to look at the wall!’, and they’d be like, ‘Oh, OK!’ So, it just became normal that they couldn’t look me in the eye, which is so weird now, because I’m all about performing! [Laughs]”

Rebecca’s instinctual desire to sing persisted past her nerves. She recalls when she chose Music as a subject for the Leaving Certificate. “I worked in a studio when I was 16, 17,” she says. “Oh, my God! I was so nervous! And I remember my friend came with me, and she was like, ‘How come you’re not singing like how you usually sing?’ [Laughs] And my knees were shaking! That was my first exposure.

“But, in school, I would do music, and me and one of my best friends, Judy, we were in a duet together and we’d do all the church songs in school, and I always felt really comfortable with someone else with me, and then if someone was like, ‘Can you sing on your own?’, I’d die! I would point-blank refuse.

“And I remember for the Leaving Cert then, I was helping everyone – like, I was backing everyone as a singer; singing with them in the duet – then when it came to me singing on my own, I remember my teacher, she was like, ‘Rebecca, just go up and sing your songs for the school,’ and I had sang all the songs with the rest of the girls, and I was just like, ‘No, I can’t!’ She was like, ‘Please!’ and I said, ‘No, no, no! I’ll get sick!’ I literally thought that I was going to vomit and faint.”

Photo by Gosia Blasiak
Courtesy of Jawdropper Music

After finishing school, Rebecca hopped around from place to place – performing live and building her stage confidence – before eventually settling down in Australia. “I started coming into my own then, and I really enjoyed that,” Rebecca remembers of her time down under. “I played in a lot of bands in Australia; Australia was amazing.

“I lived in Sydney, actually, for most of my time there, and the band that I was in was kind of bluesy, folky. We played a lot in the outskirts and stuff, and we did some festivals and tours. And I kind of came home then, to Ireland. I was there [Australia] for about five-and-a-half years. I came home to Ireland, and I was like, ‘OK, I’m ready now to [perform],’ and then my friends saw me perform and they were like, ‘Oh, my God! This is weird! We’re not looking at the wall anymore!’”

Rebecca stayed in Ireland for about seven years, up to the pandemic. “During COVID, actually, I was doing music and I was playing a lot in Ireland and I was doing loads of gigs,” Rebecca says. “I was in a couple of bands. I was in a seven-piece brass band and I was in a duet and a quartet, as well. All different styles of music.

“The seven-piece was cool; it was, like, a soul, funk band and motel music, and I was like, ‘Oh, I love this!’ And the other band was kind of bluesy, kind of party stuff, then the duo stuff was kind of indie, kind of rocky sort of music, and I was like, ‘Oh, I’m sick of playing Oasis!’ [Laughs]”

Whilst stuck indoors due to lockdowns, Rebecca continued with her music at home and connected with a music producer in Greece called Kevin Sunray online. “He was like, ‘Hey, I’m releasing my twelve songs. I’m looking to collaborate with different singers on each song. Would you like to audition?’,” remembers Rebecca. “And I think I sent him some tapes, and then he was like, ‘OK, cool.’”

This collaboration would eventuate into the release of the techno/house-inspired tracks “Voices” in 2021 and “Water” in 2022, featuring music by Kevin and vocals by Rebecca. After the lockdowns eased, Rebecca had the zest to travel. She and her boyfriend went to Barcelona, which is where they would settle down. “I’m living here for the last two years,” Rebecca says.

“And it’s kind of where I really started to fall into…Like, where I met like-minded musicians. And I did back home, but I was meeting musicians of a different genre, and then over here, I was like, ‘Oh, shit! There’s a big, huge R&B scene,’ which is what I love. I don’t know, the music scene, I guess, over here is a lot more varied than back home.

“It’s not that it’s not varied, it’s just that there’s a lot more places here for musicians to express themselves and you can try out different things. There’s loads of open mic nights for different genres, so no one’s stuck to one genre. You know, you can go and do jazz one night, then, another night, soul, then hip-hop, and funk. It’s amazing. So, a lot of Barcelona, I think, influenced the music that I’m making now, too.”

Rebecca has been enjoying a lot of success around the Catalonian capital with the project she found and currently fronts, BEX. “There’s a lot of expats over here, in Barcelona,” says Rebecca. “Even in my band, we’ve no Spanish members! [Laughs] So, there’s an Argentinean and a Cork drummer who I didn’t know before I came!

“It’s a different culture, obviously, because, back home, there’s a big pub scene and live music scene, but the live music is you have to be energetic, you’ve to entertain, and you have to play lively music because that’s kind of what the culture is back home. Whereas here, it was very weird for me that I could sing a slow song that I could not sing in Cork because it would kind of kill the crowd.

“But here, people sit and listen, and it’s not that they appreciate it more, it’s like a different type of music that they look for back home than here. I do find that I can try music here that I know I couldn’t try back in Cork.”

Beyond BEX, Rebecca is still working with various musicians and producers as a featured artist. Possessing a varied range of interests, Rebecca felt that she did not want to limit herself. As such, she decided to begin crafting her own music under her own name and present it as a unique endeavour from her collaborative work. “I guess the style that I’m going for as a solo artist is kind of R&B, slash old, ‘90s dance style, with a twist of me, because I think my voice is quite soulful,” says Rebecca.

This led to her first solo song, “Oh La La,” which was released towards the end of March. Admittedly excited and nervous when we spoke on its release date, Rebecca said,  “I’ve released songs with people before, and, as you said, it’s always been me collaborating on someone’s album or writing a song for someone, or with my band, BEX, so everyone is adding their own flair into the music, but I’m like, ‘This is actually my song!’, and I’m really scared about it, but I’m really proud of it. It’s like my baby!

“And it took me ages to release it, actually. I don’t know, I think a lot of artists are like this; I think it’s good and then I’ll let people listen to it, and then I stop for a while, and then I’ll come back to and I’m like, ‘Something’s missing,’ and then I’ll want to add something, then I’ll listen and I’ll be like, ‘Oh, no. Actually, that was too much.’  [Laughs]

“And Da Fabi, the producer – he’s amazing; I was working with him – and he’s so patient with me. He was like, ‘I know you just need to try stuff!’, and then he was like, ‘You know, sometimes it’s actually the thing you have at the start, the product you have is amazing, but you’re like, “Oh, this happened too quick.” It’s like you don’t trust that you can do something that quick, you know?’”

 “Oh La La” marks the first in a release pattern from Rebecca where she aims to have a single out every two to three months, so as not to inundate people with too much music but to not keep them wanting, either. Beyond that, Rebecca plans to release an EP with BEX in autumn and to keep gigging around Spain for the rest of 2024.

It’s fair to say that her days of singing in bathroom stalls to the back of people’s heads are well and truly over.

Rebecca Houlihan’s debut single, “Oh La La,” is out now on streaming platforms. You can follow Rebecca on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

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