Sinéad Harnett is ready. Ready to take up space. Ready to bask in the limelight. Ready to let toxic things and people go. With her sophomore studio record, Ready is Always Too Late, the LA transplant repositions her work with sharp intention to display her pain as it really is: brilliantly brutal. You say I take you for granted / You always needed control / But I shouldn’t have to lose myself / To make you whole, she plucks her heartstrings in glorious fashion with “Hard 4 Me 2 Love You.”
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The piano ballad is, perhaps, her most stunningly visceral, a performance for the ages with lyrics that cut to the bone. It’s not surprising then that it took Harnett years to finish. She began writing the sweeping pop track, set it aside for other things, and picked it back up when the time was right. “I had moved way past the breakdown of that relationship, and it got to such a better place with this family member,” she tells American Songwriter over a recent phone call. “It finished itself─maybe I was in a stronger place to do it. Before, I almost couldn’t go to it, because it was too triggering. In healing from that situation, I can then talk about the worst parts of it.”
In being totally shattered in that relationship, Harnett grew closer to understanding her worth and what true love, in whatever form it may take, really means. “I’ve learned that how we learn to love in the first place dictates the relationships that we are drawn to as adults. For me, I had to keep repeating the same patterns before I could really fix them,” she reflects. “I’ve always been someone that’s searching, and you can really hear that in my music—searching for purpose and unconditional love. I was used to maybe unavailable love and that was what I was finding in relationships and with lovers. But then also with family and friends, I’d do this thing where I always had to be in control because if they were too loving, then it was too foreign, and then I would run.
“Until you start to learn that lesson, it will keep presenting itself in different people. I find people in our lives that come in and out are just lessons in packages,” she adds. “Healthy love is harder to find but obviously you’ve got to work on a love of yourself and then that’s when our boundaries come and better love comes along.”
Harnett excavates a different kind of love-sting with “Anymore,” a collaboration with Lucky Daye. I miss the way it hurts / ‘Cause we don’t love like that anymore, the duo heaves. “A very reflective song,” the track picks thorns from the skin, which has only grown cold and numb with each passing day. Harnett explains, “I love so hard and so deep that it does hurt. There’s a part of it that’s so bitter among the sweetness. You’ve now got something that you could lose. That shit’s scary. I missed having that. You almost get to a place when something’s not working anymore, and you’re numb, and you miss the feeling even when it was bad.”
Later, with the smoldering “Obvious,” the UK native peers inward, turning over the layers of her own heart and perhaps realizing she is often the culprit herself. A loner at heart, who’s just so deep in with love, she sings across rattling percussion. “We’re not always victims,” she says. “We’re sometimes perpetrators, and I’ve been a culprit of treating something like it was more just because I needed something ─ or treating someone like a vice, which I’m not proud of. It was like that contraction of me really needing love and wanting it so much, but also me being quite an introvert at times and almost nothing ever taking away that loneliness. Often, when I’m in big groups, that’s when I feel most alone. I just don’t always relate to everyone in the group.”
Ready is Always Too Late also celebrates the act of moving on and learning when enough is enough. “Last Love,” pieced together with a shape-shifting underpinning, draws the listener into her revelatory orb. “I’d been single for maybe maybe six to eight weeks and I was like, ‘I know this is the right decision.’ I was in that kind of liberation mode where you’ve done all the crying. There are those little moments where you’re like, ‘Wow, I’m waking up alone again!’ You miss having that presence.” But the juxtaposition of new-found freedom and intense self-love wraps around her vocals, leaving her content and absolved.
Elsewhere, Harnett peppers in observational set-pieces like “Like This,” in which she epitomizes the true essence of self-love, and “Stay,” seeing her uncover “something that makes me want to push past that self-sabotage button and just go through it,” she says. “And I wrote that before I’d met anyone that made me feel like that; it was almost like a manifestation song.”
When the closing track “Distraction” finally unfolds, what the listener has witnessed is a reclamation of anguish. Harnett whips out the dust pan, discards the leftover fragments, and soldiers forward to what’s next. For now, she stops for just a moment to consider what her journey to absolute self-love has really been. “I was quite used to feeling a need and like I didn’t know where to find love from outside. Therefore, I did not have it inside either. The hardest thing is feeling worthy and not knowing how to feel and find my confidence without feeling narcissistic. Something that frightens me is anyone to think that I’m a diva or think I’m better than anyone else. I’ve always felt the opposite, and it’s taken a lot of work to realize we all deserve to be our best.”
When you consider Harnett’s complete journey, the significance of this moment punctures even deeper and harder. 10 years ago, the singer-songwriter uploaded a song called “Lights Off” on YouTube, a track she’d written to a neo-soul beat she found. “It was the first time that I did anything like that ─ where I was showing my face while also singing. I’d had a few tunes on MySpace before,” she recalls. “I actually remember following Adele and telling her how much I loved her song ‘Daydreamer’ and her replying and being like, ‘Oh my gosh, thank you so much.’ This is the way that we found out about singers back in the day. YouTube was my next step. I guess it was me being what I didn’t know was me. I always found soulful music something that just resonated with me.”
Growing up, Harnett took to the piano hours at a time, losing herself in the music. Her mother, who’d moved from Thailand when she was 20, worked overtime to pay their mortgage, so Harnett and her sister had plenty of time on their hands. “I’m not going to say the songs I was writing were good songs,” she says with a laugh. “But I started at about maybe 10 writing things down as a cathartic way to deal with what was going on growing up.”
By 16, songwriting became a serious pastime, and she began sculpting her voice. However, during her college years, studying acting at Arts University College Bournemouth, she kept her singing ambitions a secret. “I know that my mom coming from Thailand and coming from nothing wanted me to do something that was ‘stable’ was a job,” she says.
In the coming years, she took to stage performance as her creative muse until a friend encouraged her to come to his studio to write. “I was rebelling. I knew that in an ideal world I’d do something like psychology and make my mom happy. But I also knew that at 18 you’re living for yourself. You can’t live for other people. That was where I think I realized I really needed to find some confidence. The teachers would say to me, ‘You’re talented but you just don’t believe in yourself, and people who might not have as much natural talent are going to take over because they believe in themselves.’ I learned so much from it. It’s definitely a very time-consuming profession, and at the moment my first job is music, so I don’t really have that much time to dedicate to it.”
Ready is Always Too Late is a mission statement of self-worth, self-love, and self-confidence. And she has no plans of going away anytime soon. “Now, I see how much finding yourself as a person is imperative to being an artist. Everyone’s idea of success is different but a successful artist really needs to know who they are, so that they can project that into their music.”