Hermitage Green vocalist Dan Murphy speaks with Mike McGrath-Bryan about Townlands Carnival, following up their debut album, life on a major label, and more.
The run-up to this year’s Townlands Carnival is another in a long series of winding turns for Limerick-based folk-rock outfit Hermitage Green. Formed in the earlier part of the decade, the five-piece have been on a slow, but steady upward curve that’s taken in festivals, European touring and time with Sony Ireland among other milestones. But to vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Dan Murphy, it’ll always be just something that emerged from a jam among buddies. “The way we came together was natural, as friends do. We all had jobs or college at the time, but we all loved music. It was literally as spontaneous as ‘let’s get together tonight and have a jam in the Curragower, which is myself and Justin’s older brother’s bar in Limerick. We used to just sit in the back room and jam. The five of us that turned up – Dermot, our bodhrán player, joined us a little bit later – we just used to do that, for a couple of months, and that developed into going out into the front of the bar, where people could hear us. For us, that was a huge step (laughs).”
In the intervening six years, the band has set about establishing themselves as a draw for fans of contemporary folk around the country and further afield, but despite some recent downtime to record their next extended-player, the band are no more tired for looking back at the road they’ve travelled. “It’s a strange industry to find yourself involved with, to be honest, the music industry. Strange industry. Constantly changing. Sometimes it changes for the better, sometimes it changes for the worse, and it gets harder for bands to make a living. We’re very privileged to be able to do that between five of us from touring, do gigs, and have punters come in and pay money to see us play music. We’re very bloody lucky to be doing this at this stage, but that’s where our heads are at. We have to pinch ourselves and remind ourselves that this came from something as humble as the back of a bar in Limerick.”
The band signed to Sony in 2015, and released debut album Save Your Soul via the major label. Coming along at a time when hooky, accessible acoustic music was becoming as vogueish as it is presently was a blessing for the band, but also presented challenges in terms of the mould with which artists of this ilk are presented. “To be specific about Sony, they were really good to us, for the most part they were hands-off the creative process, they weren’t too pushy. There’s the stereotype of the evil record company coming in and forcing you into a mould. They gave some direction and said their bit, and then left us to it. That was nice, because you do hear horror stories.” On the difference between independence and major-label engagement, Murphy observes the wider picture, and the future of the music business. “It’s certainly not essential anymore, given the power of the Internet. It has its drawbacks in that people don’t go out and buy CDs anymore, but if you can put something together that will engage people, whether it’s an album or your live stuff, it’s really easy to get your music out to the masses and build on it. All we’ve ever done is work hard and keep traction on our social media, which is really a way to get your art out there.”
With the record out for over a year, and with the follow-up now in the can, Murphy is quick to address his goals for the new record when discussing how he feels about the band’s debut. “We’ve just finished recording what’s going to be our next E.P., we’re releasing five tracks in October. The energy around the E.P. was a response to what we didn’t like about Save Your Soul. There were lots of things we liked about it. But there were some things about it that didn’t represent us the way we would have liked to. It was five years in the making and we were a band that, up to that point, had never had any luck getting on radio, etc., and you hear a band that was frustrated with that. We started writing our songs to be three-and-a-half minutes, we were chasing that, which is a bad way to make art. It’s too contrived, and it’s not very natural. It shows in parts of the album that people didn’t really like, that didn’t really resonate with people. It becomes formulaic, and we definitely learned from that. Don’t try too hard, make music you love, that represents you and your identity as a band.”
Any band is the sum of its parts, and Murphy’s journey has been eclectic, going from being a teenage metaller to travelling to Kolkata, India to study the local traditional music of the area. A radio-friendly folk combo sits awkwardly among all of this, but for Murphy, the band has been a labour of love. “I’m very proud of everything we’ve done. I’m still learning, all the time. Particularly songwriting, I was never a natural songwriter. I was late taking up music, didn’t do it ’til I was fourteen or fifteen. Now, I’m not an amazing musician by any means, but if you give me an instrument, I’ll pick it up relatively easily. But songwriting was always something I found really challenging. Hermitage Green has really forced me to step up to that and hone that craft. We’ve all done that together and become stronger writers. In terms of my journey as a musician, Hermitage Green has been the chapter where I’ve had to kick my own ass with songwriting and go, ‘come on, no excuses, stop procrastinating, sit down and write, express yourself'”.
Hermitage Green play the mainstage of Townlands Carnival in a few weeks, and Murphy has a few picks of his own for the weekend. “We were down there two years ago. It was brilliant, just such a cool little… micro-festival that pops up in rural Cork. It’s grown a lot the last two years, but it really has this bespoke feel, campfires everywhere and wigwams. One of those things where you almost hope people won’t find out about it so it’ll stay the way it is. It’s still at that level where they’re still left-of-centre but they’re progressing nicely. The lineup is awesome. Our own Limerick brethren, the Rubberbandits, are on (Saturday night), I’ve got mates coming from the UK, they’re in a band called Slamboree. As well as domestic acts, there’s a lot of cool international stuff coming in too. We’re watching our calendar and hoping we have the nights around it off, so we can stay and party.”
After the festival grind, Murphy’s got his thoughts firmly set on returning to the grindstone of the record release cycle. “We’re doing a couple of mixing sessions in London (this week), to hopefully get the E.P. boxed off. There’ll be a single coming out in the next six weeks, with a full E.P. coming out in October. I should let Cork people know, we have a big announcement for a gig coming very soon. We’re playing the Olympia in Dublin on the 22nd of September, and we’re going to the U.S.! We’ve got a U.S. tour in August, and some other stuff we can’t talk about at the minute (laughs).”
Hermitage Green play Townlands Carnival on Saturday July 22nd, appearing on the Main Stage at 8pm.