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Rose Betts explains the songwriting process behind her new song 'Irish Eyes'


This month, we're highlighting some of our favorite stories from 2023, including this interview about a song with a beautiful history behind it.

ROSE BETTS: I'm Rose Betts. I'm a singer-songwriter.


BETTS: (Singing) My mother says I have Irish eyes, Irish eyes...

I'm from London, England, area originally, but I live in LA at the moment.


BETTS: (Singing) They go ever so blue under stormy skies, but they're never so blue as when I let them cry.

That first line of that song I actually started writing about seven years ago. I have the same eyes as my mother, and I think she has the same eyes as my grandmother. So that's kind of where the line came from.


BETTS: I wouldn't say I was Irish. I would say I was English because that's where I grew up. But my mother's family are all very, very Irish, and I grew up completely around Irish culture and around my grandparents. And yeah, I think lately, I felt very connected to my Irish culture.


BETTS: (Singing) Irish eyes, Irish eyes. My mother says I have...

I never got beyond that first opening line 'cause I didn't quite know where the song wanted to go. And I - a few months ago, I was like, I remember that. I'm going to go back to that song. And suddenly...


BETTS: (Singing) My father says I have English hair, English hair...

The next line came of, like, my father says I have English hair.


BETTS: (Singing) Brown like the bark of an oak somewhere, like the bed of a lake where the hemlock grows, like the thorn in the stem of an English rose.

And I was, like, oh, that's what this song is about. It's almost like the song told me what it was about. It's, like, oh, it's about all the things that we inherit and the things that we take from our ancestors. It really interests me what everyone gets. Sometimes, the way that I sit is, like, a lot like my mum, and I do this thing with my foot that's just like my mum. And my Irish grandmother - we really, really deeply connected. And she died when I was 16, and it was the first time that I'd experienced death, and it was just horrendous. And at the same time, it made me a songwriter. But there are so many things - apparently, I sit at the piano just the same way that she does. And I just thought, that's so interesting - to think of us as this big puzzle that's made of all these different things that have got us here and how grateful I am for those things.


BETTS: (Singing) I'm a map of the world and the ones before, one foot in sea and one on shore.

When I started working in music, inevitably, people would compare my voice to Irish music, or they would say I just kind of had a Celtic vibe. And I felt very cautious about using that side of my life or my heritage as a kind of gimmick because I take it quite seriously, the culture and a lot of the pain and the darkness that goes along with being Irish and the history, especially in connection with English. And being someone who has split heritage, I think lately, I've felt able, as a songwriter, to handle the wonderful light side of Irish culture and Irish music with the darkness.


BETTS: (Singing) My sister says I've a restless soul, restless soul, restless soul. Easy to catch, but I'm hard to hold, like a song on the wind that you caught one day. I get under your skin, then I slip away.

Usually, I play piano in all my songs, but I kind of was - this is not a piano song. It weights things down. I thought, oh, this needs lightness. It needs guitar and mandolin or banjo. And now I've got my twin sister who plays Irish flute to play an Irish flute, lilting melodies. Like, everything, I felt, needed to be kind of joyous.


BETTS: Especially when it comes to, like, some of the lines. It really helps, sometimes, when you smile and sing. I feel like you can really hear that sometimes.


BETTS: (Singing) My nana says I have traveling feet.

I'm in my traveling feet phase. Yeah, I am.


BETTS: (Singing) Slippers for princesses don't fit me. But I dance to my own drum bright and bold, and my traveling feet always get me home.

Living far away from family, I've never felt particularly homesick, but it's interesting that now I'm feeling like I want to write songs with a kind of Celtic feel. And it's very - I do get nostalgic about certain things. My Irish grandparents are both passed away, and all that's left are stories. All that's left are the memories. And Ireland is a country of stories. That's how they survived everything. And to be in a room with someone Irish telling you a story is just the perfect thing ever. They can tell a story like none else. I mean, it's incredible. Even when my mum starts, it - she can describe going to the shops in a way that makes you just utterly enraptured, and I'm intrigued to see what more comes from Ireland. The more stories that come out of that place, the better because they have so much power and depth to them.


BETTS: (Singing) My mother says I have Irish eyes. They go ever so blue.

SIMON: That's singer-songwriter Rose Betts, sharing the story of her song "Irish Eyes."


BETTS: (Singing) Every step, every hope flung high. I'm a map of them all with my Irish eyes. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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