Claudia Schwab: A World of Sound

Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with violinist/vocalist Claudia Schwab ahead of Clonakilty and UCC dates this month.

Austrian-born, Indian-influenced and Sligo-resident, violinist/vocalist Claudia Schwab draws from a wide range of reference points in her music, a folky, world-travelled whirl of sounds and cultures. Second album Attic Morning, releasing this month, brings Schwab’s sonic concoctions on the road, including two dates in Cork, on the 16th in Debarra’s of Clonakilty, and in a free, midday gig at the Aula Maxima in UCC, as part of the university’s FUAIM performance series.

Schwab gets into the influences, travels and circumstances that informed her musical upbringing and development. “In my childhood, I was very much surrounded by classical and orchestral music. My mum is a violin teacher at our local music school and my dad also plays the violin. They actually met in a youth orchestra! (laughs) Me and most of my brothers and sisters would have gotten our first violin lessons at home off my mother and we all learned several different instruments at the music school. We were part of kids’ string ensembles, youth orchestras, the adult orchestra, ensembles, choirs… I also remember being dragged to a seemingly endless amount of classical concerts. As long as I can remember though, I was always interested in all kinds of music: at home, my brother Wolli and me would listen to Beatles records, turn off the vocals and sing our own lyrics to the songs. He was also into punk rock and the band Flogging Molly, which was one of the first bands to introduce me to Irish music. I remember borrowing my sister’s Riverdance CD, which I listened to up and down for a good few years… As a teenager, I became interested in jazz and improvisation, hip hop dancing and Balkan music. I was very lucky to study with my violin teacher Berni Schmutz, who also ran an ensemble, Joey’s Ba-Rock Ensemble, where I had my first go at improvising. One of my piano teachers was also a hip hop dancer, and my singing teacher ran oll sorts of cool projects involving singing gospels and more modern stuff as well… When I came to Ireland at the age of 19, I only played trad for a few years and got really into it. It wasn’t until I went to college at UCC that other things came back to me. A new big influence was Indian Classical Music: just before I started my BA at UCC, I took a 3 month trip to India, where I got lessons in North Indian Classical violin. At the time it was just something “local” to do on my travels – little did I know how much impact it would have on all of my music. I think it’s just a natural thing: all these different things are in my head and fingers and they just come out!”

The album itself sprung from spontaneity, and a hunger to get ideas out from the ether and onto tape. Borne from touring and the grind that goes with it, elements of collaboration and sound-art are evident throughout. “We started recording the album on a rainy day during an Ireland tour with my trio, featuring Stefan Hedborg and Marti Tärn. The three of us had been touring together since the launch of my first album. Through our gigs, a new repertoire had formed, and the songs moved more and more away from their original solo arrangements, to a more integrated band sound. We went into the studio and just recorded all the new material we had been playing together. And that’s how it started: it wasn’t really a set decision that we’d go in to make a new album, rather to just see how we got on. It was pretty clear to me though, when we left the studio, that we pretty much had just recorded a whole new CD! I got a few guest musicians in later on who added to our recordings, such as accordionist/clog dancer and singer Hannah James, who has since joined our band, and Lisa Hoerzer, an old friend of mine from home who graced some of the tracks with her beautiful harp playing. There’s a sound collage in there that I started working on when I was a student at UCC: actually – the call of the Evening Echo man can be heard in it! I was collecting sounds around Cork at the time and thought that it would be really nice to have his call in there, as it forms such a distinctive part of the Cork sound.”

DeBarra’s in Clonakilty plays host to the first of her two Cork-county dates, traditionally a great pilgrimage to the West Cork town for musicians local, national and international. Schwab’s memories of the venue are fond, and she’s anticipating her own upcoming sojourn. “Well, everyone knows that West Cork is where the craic is and just always worth a visit, isn’t it? (laughs) I remember my first time at DeBarra’s years ago. I was there with my friends Donal Gunne and Pearse Feeney who performed at the Clonakilty Guitar Festival with their duo Túcán. I think I was only meant to stay for a day, and ended up staying for three days… it’ll be my first time playing there and I feel very honoured. Absolutely class venue!”

She’ll be playing UCC as part of the touring proceedings the following day, in the storied Aula Maxima, of all rooms, for a lunchtime concert. It’ll be an event wraught with memories for the artist. “As a former UCC student, I’ve been in the Aula Maxima many a time, mostly listening to lunch time concerts, the UCC FUAIM Series, sometimes playing there as well. In fact, I think it was actually in this very hall I first played one of my own compositions in front of a public audience! The Aula Maxima is a stunning venue with amazing acoustics. I’m looking forward to this gig and to revisiting my old college days a lot. It’s been a bit over three years since I graduated, and it’s really important to me to stay in touch with UCC. My lecturers were incredibly supportive throughout my years there, and they still are.”

For more info on the upcoming dates and more appearances, check out claudiaschwab.com.

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