In 2020, Sinéad O’Connor spoke to MOJO’s Victoria Segal about a return to music, her memoir, Black Lives Matter and being treated like “a pariah” in the wake of tearing up a photograph of the Pope. In memory of O'Connor, who has passed away aged 56, we revisit the interview in full.
“I’d love to go to an artists’ retreat for a year and write songs,” says Sinéad O’Connor from her home in Ireland, “but I’ve got kids and cats and I haven’t got time.”
While her 2020 tour dates are postponed until next year, the singer’s currently experiencing a burst of activity triggered by her live return in 2019 - a welcome relief after the disorder that preceded it. “I had a hysterectomy in 2015 and the same year one of my children became very unwell… I became very unwell and it took me five years to recover,” she explains. “I wasn’t able to work; I was in hospital for eight months up until May last year, and when I came out I had 8000 quid in the bank and immediately got a 2000 quid gas bill. That was my catalyst for getting the fuck back to work.”
Her first single in six years, released in aid of Black Lives Matter, covers Mahalia Jackson’s Trouble Of The World. “There became this incredible movement that I found really moving with these women in the streets saying that when George Floyd called for his mother, he called all the mothers,” she explains. “It made me feel that this was the right time to release the record, because Mahalia was a very strong mothering figure and a huge figure in the civil rights movement.”
O’Connor, who converted to Islam in 2018 and took the name Shuhada Sadaqat, stresses it is not a bleak song: “It’s written that the world will become the Garden Of Eden which it was intended to be, and that to me is what the song is saying.”
She’s also working on her first album since 2014’s I’m Not Bossy, I’m The Boss with producer David Holmes, and is already planning a follow-up covers album. “We're only about five songs in so I’ve got to come up with five more,” she says of the record. “Like any reporter I work well when there’s a deadline.”
2021, meanwhile, will see the publication of Rememberings, a memoir of blog-style vignettes, written five years ago. “I’m not looking forward to having to remember everything when I read it because I’ve paid a lot of money in therapy to forget everything,” says. “I’m half-joking because if I’ve done my job properly, it’s also a very funny book.”
It began to be fashionable to treat me as if I was insane.
There was, she says, “about ten years when I couldn’t remember a bloody thing” – the period after she shredded the Pope’s photograph on Saturday Night Live in 1992 in protest against child abuse in the Catholic Church. Being treated “like a pariah”, she says, was a trauma she “very sensibly” blocked out. “It began to be fashionable to treat me as if I was insane, which at that time I wasn’t.” She shies away from the idea of vindication but believes the incident shaped her career. “If I was going to survive, I was going to have to become a great live performer.”
Yet O’Connor knows the pandemic might not stabilise before next year’s tour. “I’m doing a healthcare assistant diploma,” she says. “I want to be what you’d call a death midwife. I had a voluntary job in a programme in America called No Veterans Die Alone – which is actually going to be the title of the album I’m making – and the idea was that for soldiers who didn’t have any family around, you’d be the person companioning them when they were passing on. It’s something I feel strongly that I want to do. I hope to God I’m not a pussy. I don’t think I am.”
This article originally appeared in MOJO 324.
Picture: Alamy/Trinity Mirror/Mirrorpix