Jason Adams
April 11, 2003 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Gemma Hayes is a button-cute singer from Tipperary, Ireland, whose lithe arms — when they are not, as they are now, working together putting flame to ”fag” to mouth — more than adeptly handle the Telecaster that is often slung around her neck.

Because of this, there are the inevitable comparisons to PJ Harvey and Liz Phair. And rightly so. Her alternately rocking and mellow (but always pained) full-length debut, ”Night on My Side,” echoes her fem-rock forebears and adds guitar flourishes that recall, unexpectedly enough, My Bloody Valentine. Released in the U.K. in June 2002 — on the heels of her two 2001 EPs, ”4:35am” and ”Work to a Calm” — the CD met with a chorus of critical accolades despite residing somewhere just outside the range of mainstream radio’s reach. ”I think it’s an album that takes patience,” says Hayes. ”Some of the songs are easy to get into, and some of the songs are hard to get into.”

And then there’s Kylie, to whom the British press often inexplicably compares her. ”That one scares me,” Hayes says with a laugh. ”I hope they’re talking about her physical…” Her derriere? ”Yeah, actually, that I would take as a massive compliment. I’m hedging my bets it’s not that, though. But I think [the Kylie comparisons] are kind of half a joke. I’m hoping it’s half a joke, ’cause I definitely don’t get it.”

Nor should she. Because unlike Minogue, Hayes is — taut derriere or no — a damn serious musician. ”I was worried that people would try to belittle everything I did down to just ‘She’s a female on stage, and let’s just judge her on how she looks.’ I was so paranoid about that, and then I just came to this decision that I can only make my music as best I can and put it out there and then it’s just up to people to decide whether they take it seriously or not. I would love to be able to control people’s thoughts, but I can’t, and I’m not gonna get too stressed out about it.”

After all, the 25-year-old youngest child of eight could always join her keyboard-pounding dad’s band of 30 years, the Hillbillies. ”If you ever hear about me playing with my dad at a geriatric center,” she says, ”then just know that my career has ended. That’s it.”

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