Cover Story: Nothing Compares to Sinead

On the eve of her appearance at Lilith Fair, Sinead Lohan talks about avoiding pitfalls others have succembed to

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She's Irish, female, and a singer/songwriter with a haunting voice. Her name's Sinead, and she has very strong ideas of what she wants her music to sound like and the direction she wants to take her career.

But unlike that other Sinead, 27-year-old Sinead Lohan has no interest in politics and isn't as naive as Sinead O'Connor was at the same stage in her career. And Lohan is much more tactful.

Born and raised in Cork, Ireland (a small city with "one main street" according to Lohan), she first came to the attention of a larger public when she was just 18. After playing for only a few months in Cork, she began recording her debut album Who Do You Think I Am (Grapevine), which was released in 1995 and reached No. 8 on the Irish charts.

But Lohan was promoting a record she had outgrown. With songs that were four to six years old, Lohan's songwriting had matured beyond the songs she was performing from the album. Getting together with producer Malcolm Burn (Shawn Colvin, Patti Smith) in New Orleans to record what would be her American debut, No Mermaid (Interscope), Lohan had learned her lesson.

"I was determined for that not to happen to me when I got the chance to go to America," she says, calling from her hometown.

"(With Interscope) I was very clear about what I wanted, who I was and the way I wanted to be promoted."

Released in August of last year, No Mermaid is a mature record, widely hailed by the critics, but one that has slipped under most consumers' radar. Her label has publicly stated they are planning to stick with the album until the public takes notice, similar to the two years that Atlantic records worked with Jewel. For her part, Lohan takes a wait-and-see approach with what her label can do and appreciates the critical praise, cut with a bit of self-effacing sarcasm.

"I just think they have great taste if they say that (No Mermaid is an amazing record)," she laughs. "Being over here, being Irish, being sarcastic, being removed from the American press scene ... I get the press through the fax machine over there, and being in a different country, it's hard to relate. I think personally that I've made the record I wanted to make and musically, for me, I've made the right record. I think that it's up to a lot of promotion and opportunity and luck for me. But I've always concentrated more on the music, and that's more important to me, really."

As for what the label has told her they are going to do, she isn't quite skeptical, but she knows enough to be wary. When she sings metaphorically on the title track, "I am no fisherman's slave," she sings of taking risks and following her own path.

"I'm not as naive as I could be or I was when I was younger, in believing everything that people tell you," she says. "That's why I think now, being older and being wiser — as the cliché is — I look back and think that if I was 18 that I would believe everything that everybody was telling me. I realize how fickle the whole industry is."

The capricious nature of the business is related to the fact that most records aren't as stunning as No Mermaid. Full of subtleties, reminiscent of the Worldbeat moments and expansive production of Peter Gabriel's So, its highlights are the result of the intimate lyricism of Lohan's voice. Lohan credits producer Burn with keeping it from being just another singer/songwriter record.

"His production on it made the record more commercial than it would have been if it had just been me," she claims.

Still, the basis of the record are Lohan's songs. Whether moving through the Trip Hop waters of "Loose Ends," the up-tempo optimism of "Whatever It Takes" or the hushed beauty of "What Can Never Be," Lohan's confidence in herself and her songs comes through in her relaxed delivery and unwavering voice. With a bit of self-depreciation, Lohan claims she isn't special in what she is saying, but how she is saying it.

"What I am basically writing about is all human emotions that everybody has in common," she says. "I'm not writing about anything political or anything unique. It's just my take on it, and I think that some people can relate to it just in the way that different people say different things and you just like different styles."

But the conversation comes back to the other Sinead, a comparison that Lohan actually doesn't mind.

"I suppose that she's close to my age, so being an Irish female singer/songwriter, I think that it's probably okay that people mention her. I think she's great, so I don't mind."

Lohan does believe that her age would help her keep her balance were she to achieve the level of commercial success of O'Connor. Commenting on O'Connor's penchant for sticking her foot in her mouth when speaking her mind, she says, "I think that's probably what happens when people get so much attention when they are young."

So, if she gets on Saturday Night Live she won't be tearing up a picture of the Pope?

"No, it'll be your president actually. I've got it ready," she laughs. "No, I stick to the music because there are politicians for that kind of thing. I find that whole thing of musicians using their popularity to be some sort of political spokesperson to be embarrassing really, and immature."

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