Breaking: Lisa Hannigan

March 11, 2009 1:47 PM ET

Who: Lisa Hannigan, an Irish folk singer who spent seven years backing Damien Rice before she was abruptly fired. Hannigan landed an opening slot on Jason Mraz's tour last fall and launched her solo career.

Sounds Like: Hannigan's gentle, airy voice draws listeners into the quaint and cozy tunes on her debut disc, Sea Sew. "I Don't Know" incorporates strings and horns into a charming anthem for hopeless romantics everywhere while "Pistachio" finds Hannigan comparing love to a nut over delicate piano ("I always trick you when you're feeling low/When you feel like your flavor has gone the way of a pre-shelled pistachio").

Vital Stats:

• Hannigan always knew she wanted to be a singer, but almost didn't take the rock-star route. When she was 13, her mom brought home an opera compilation featuring renowned soprano Maria Callas singing "The Bell Song" from the French Opera Lakmé. "It was a crazy coloratura, a really technical song — and I could not stop listening to it," Hannigan says. Inspired, she bought as many Callas recordings as she could. "I lost myself in it for about three years, then at the end of it realized that wasn't my voice at all and I should really shut up," she laughs.

• Hannigan's distinctively soft voice was almost her downfall. "I loved taking singing lessons each week in high school, but I never got the part in the school play because I was so quiet!" she says, but adds that once she graduated and added a microphone to her performance "things changed a lot."

• The small music community in Dublin helped Hannigan find her past and present bandmates: Hannigan met Damien Rice while she was in college, and her current band is made up of both musicians who used to tour with Rice, and others who Hannigan knew from around town. Hannigan's roommate also doubles as her tour manager. "We do feel like a family on the road, like [The Sound of Music's] von Trapps — only with less harmonies and lederhosen," she jokes.

Hear It Now: Sea Sew hit stores last month, and currently resides in the top 20 albums on iTunes, and Hannigan wraps up a U.S. headlining tour next week at South by Southwest. She stopped by the studio last week to perform "Lille" acoustic in the RS offices, and you can check out that exclusive performance above.

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