Aoife O’Donovan, 39, and her band I’m With Her won a Grammy for Best American Roots Song in 2020. She was also on the 2013 Grammy Award-winning album The Bok Rodeo sessions. She is co-founder of the string group Crooked Still and has performed with the National Symphony Orchestra.
What was your childhood or earliest ambition?
I had an American Girl journal. Where you had to write what you wanted to be, I put a singer or a doctor. My parents were musicians, I grew up around a lot of music, I sang all the time – I basically never fell silent! I was never really on my way to being a doctor. . .
Private school or public school? University or straight to work?
Public [state] school in Newton, Massachusetts, a lovely school, very rich in music and theater. Then the New England Conservatory of Music (NEC).
Who was or still is your mentor?
I remember Mr. Travers, my high school music teacher, saying at the eleventh hour, “I really think you should go watch the program at NEC”. It really changed the course of my life.
How physically fit are you?
I run just about every day. It brings me a lot of joy and keeps me mentally healthy.
Ambition or talent: what matters more to success?
Raw talent matters a lot in the arts, but then you have to work very hard. It is the combination of work ethic and talent.
How politically committed are you?
I wish I was more committed. As time went on, as I got older, I found that I was more viscerally affected by the political climate and I became more engaged. I try to make contributions to my community, and I try to teach my daughter to become a member of society who thinks about how we live.
What would you like to own that you do not currently own?
An electric guitar – a vintage Gibson. I just have not found the right one to bring home yet. In fact, I would love to have a music studio in my house, with keyboards, amplifiers, guitars, everything.
What is your biggest extravagance?
I love buying clothes.
In what place are you happiest?
With my family. My husband is also a musician, we travel all the time, but it does not matter where we are, as long as we are all together.
What ambitions do you still have?
To continue putting out new music that will excite and get reaction. To make conversation take place. To make tears happen. To relieve pain. Even to make people angry.
What drives you?
An innate desire to keep rocking forward: not standing still, not looking back. And I like the idea of making the people who love me proud. And to support my family. As a freelancer, it’s not a given that you’ll have a career next week or next year.
What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?
I am very proud of my participation in my community. I have reached a certain level of respect – people can rely on me to be a consistent contributor. I am reliable as a musician.
What do you find most annoying in other people?
Insecurity. I get frustrated with it.
If your 20-year-old self could see you now, what would she think?
“Wow, I can not believe she’s still doing it.” Though I thought and hoped I would do it another 20 years further.
What object did you lose that you wish you had?
On tour, I stopped at a gas station, got back to the car, put my feet back on the dashboard, and when we got to where we were going there was only one silver Birkenstock in the car. What can you do with one shoe?
What is the biggest challenge of our time?
How we deal with climate change. Coupled with the great information we have within reach. Those things together are both scary and give me a lot of hope.
Do you believe in an afterlife?
I do not. I have never.
If you had to rate your satisfaction with your life so far out of 10, what would you achieve?
Ten. Not because my life is perfect, but because it makes no sense to think about the things I am not happy with. Life is what it is.
“Age of Apathy” by Aoife O’Donovan was released on January 21 on Yep Roc Records. Her European tour lasts until February 12
Follow @FTMag on Twitter to find out more about our latest stories