Ye Vagabonds: Not All Who Wander Are Lost

The brothers MacGloinn and their cohorts have finally unveiled their debut long-player. Ahead of Ye Vagabonds’ Live at St. Luke’s excursion this month, Mike McGrath-Bryan talk to Diarmuid MacGloinn about recording, releasing and touring.

Carlow outfit Ye Vagabonds have been something of a hot commodity in recent years, bringing a hint of Americana, specifically Appalachian singing and sixties reverie, to the contemporary Irish folk picture. Having gigged extensively and done the festival circuit around the country, the band went a step further and built a visual body of work for its music in association with This Ain’t No Disco videographer Myles O’Reilly, which has gone the extra mile in building the band’s momentum. With their eponymously-titled debut album finally released digitally and via mail order last month, Diarmuid MacGloinn, one-half of the brothers behind the band, talks about his feelings heading into its launch gigs. “There was a three-month gap right before the album was released when we could do nothing more with the album other than release it, and that was the most nerve-wracking time of the whole process. Now though, we’re feeling good about it and letting it slowly make its own way into the world. It’s pretty much impossible to have an objective listener’s ear with it though, we’ve been living with this album for about a year now and have thought about everything that’s gone into it an awful lot.”

The album is a self-release, via your the band’s newly-formed Inglenook Records imprint. With a label formally given to the record-distribution side of the Ye Vagabonds operation, MacGloinn talks about the process of getting set up for digital distribution, handling physical copies in a disparate indie record-shop environment, and plans for other artists on the label. “We’ve wanted to set up a label for a long time to release our own albums as well as our friends’ music, so when the mastering engineer asked us what the label was we came up with Inglenook there and then. Digital distribution is relatively simple these days, it just goes through an online distributor like Record Union or CD Baby, and at the moment we’re posting physical copies worldwide to anyone who orders them through Bandcamp and directly distributing to independent record shops in Ireland. We do actually have plans to release a few more artists on the label too. The first is Alain McFadden, one of our band. Alain and Brían recorded an EP in the summer together with Nick Rayner, the engineer we worked with on the album, and we’re really excited to show it to people. We’d also like to release Anna-Mieke’s music, and maybe a few others.”

The last month or so has brought a raft of critical praise for the band, in addition to well-received launch gigs for the album. MacGloinn is grateful, but chooses to keep external factors out of mind for the sake of the band’s creative and operational headspace. “It’s been great to get a lot of positive feedback on it so far. In general, we don’t read critics’ reviews unless our friends and manager read them and send them to us, but the ones we have read have been really good. It can be really difficult to read critical reviews of our music though, especially when the record has been released already. Even if a review is good, there could be one line or comparison that touches on an insecurity or doubt we might have had before, so we prefer to just not read them. The response from fans has been great, and really encouraging, so we’re delighted with that.”

Friday the 13th last month saw the record launch happen live over two nights in Dublin, and the following night in a special hometown gig in Carlow, where the band first garnered their chops and began assembling their own compositions before heading to Dublin to throw themselves into the business of their craft. For MacGloinn, these live engagements represented different milestones. “The album launches in the Cobblestone (pub) were really special nights for us, with two packed rooms in our community pub around the corner from where we’ve lived for five years or so in Dublin. There were a lot of people there who are very important to us, and those two nights were two of our favourite gigs we’ve played. The Carlow gig was a bit emotional for us. There were a bunch of people there who have watched us take our first steps as musicians, and been there the whole way through our teens until we left Carlow. There was also a very important gap there that night, since a good friend of ours isn’t there anymore, and it was tough to be reminded of that again.”

Folk of many strains is having a field day as of present, with a level of press exposure and live activity not seen since the boom-years explosion in easily-accessible singer-songwriters. MacGloinn, as a fan first and foremost, names some of his favourite contemporaries, and why Irish folk is stronger than ever. “There are so many amazing Irish folk artists around these days. Lankum have been cutting an incredible path for themselves for the past few years which has drawn a lot of attention to the folk scene here. Their music identifies a feeling that a lot of people can relate to in Ireland, but might not have expressed that way before. Lisa O’Neill is a big inspiration to us too. She does something very unique with songs, a shape that I wouldn’t have imagined before, and an honesty I hadn’t heard before either. Branwen Kavanagh of Twin Headed Wolf and Oiseau Oiseau has been writing and performing incredible music and art for a few years now too, and I’d love to see her music released at some stage soon. Then there are people like Anna-Mieke, Rue, Alain Mc Fadden and Sean Fitzgerald who are all making really interesting and transportive music.”

The band hits Live at St. Luke’s on November 24th, a favourite venue of theirs. Indeed, the ex-cathedral’s cavernous interior seems perfectly suited to their ambitions while providing a certain initimacy that behooves any good folk session. “St. Luke’s has the best acoustics of any venue in Ireland that we’ve played in, so for harmony-rich music and this album it’s probably the most suited place to hear us in the country. Our music is more or less made for that room. Out of all the gigs we have lined up for the rest of this year, that’s the one we’re most excited about. It’s also the biggest venue we’ve ever played a headline show in. We’ll be joined by a very talented song writer and singer from Dundalk called David Keenan, who’s been making big waves on his own this past year, and we’re delighted to have him opening for us on the night. We don’t know when we’ll be back in Cork again, so we’re going to give it everything we can on the 24th.”

Ambition is a word that suits the band and their approach to music. It’s no surprise, then, that the band are already on their next steps, creatively. But before any of the high faluting, they’ve got a journey to undergo in pursuit of authenticity for their new music. “It might sound like we’re getting ahead of ourselves, but we’re recording another album. We have a bunch of traditional songs that we want to record in Irish and English, mostly songs of the Ulster song tradition from Arranmore Island in particular, where our mother’s side of the family come from. We’re going to spend a bunch of time in Arranmore preparing the finer details of the songs, and we’ll be recording them all live over a few days just after the St Luke’s gig. It’s likely that we’ll try out a bunch of these songs in St Luke’s on the 24th too. That should be ready to release in the late spring time next year.”

Valerie June: Everything In Time

Ahead of a pair of Cork dates, songwriter Valerie June speaks with Mike McGrath-Bryan about Ireland, writing, and being Bob Dylan’s favourite.

Memphis-born singer/guitarist Valerie June’s star has been in the ascendant for the last few years now, as tireless, globe-crossing touring has worked alongside a consistently growing media profile at home. It’s paying off for the Americana-loving multi-instrumentalist: second album The Order of Time has just released, and has been greeted very warmly by critics and audiences. In a honeyed Southern accent that rings over a long-distance phone line, Valerie is quick to convey humility in response to how things have escalated. “Oh, I’m getting a chance now, ‘cause I’m off the road for about a week. It’s really great to catch up with everything, y’know, after the shows, and being able to speak with the fans. So far it’s been really awesome, the album’s been out for about four months, we have a lot more touring and a lot more things coming up in the coming months, and I’m looking forward to it.”

The Order of Time’s critical reception has seen a massive spike in media and gig-goer interest in Valerie and band’s melting pot of country, folk and bluegrass influences. But its creation and production were far from the wiles of industry machinations, or the music-press hype machine. “Well, it was recorded in about four studios, the bulk of it was done in Guildford Sound, in Vermont. We did that because most of the musicians on it live in New York. And everybody’s got children and wives and husbands and families, so it’s better rather than pull people away, that we bring all the families and we all go to the middle of nowhere and we make a record. Kinda like the dream way to make a record. And for all the rest of the things, like horns and background vocals, we came into the cities and used different studios in New York, some in Oregon, some in Tennessee. That was kind of a fun process, locking ourselves in the studio for weeks and weeks, and having fun in the snow!”

No less an authority than Bob Dylan has named Valerie as his favourite current artist, a ringing endorsement from one of the founding fathers of the modern folk oeuvre. It’s a reality that is still to sink in on one of his lifelong admirers. “I’m still in shock (chuckles). I love it, I’m like ‘oh, my god, he’s the god of songwriting’. For me, the songwriting is the most fun part of what I do, I love it the most, more than performing. That’s the way I started, was writing songs, so maybe that’s the one that I’m closest to. So to hear him say that’s he’s been listening to my songs, and to be such a fan of his and his songwriting, it was like ‘wow’.”

Valerie’s trips back to Europe in the past few months have met with a massive response, and this upcoming jaunt is in fact her third European trip of 2017. When asked about the differences between continental and UK/Irish audiences, she wastes no time in discussing her Irish experiences. “Well, I really feel like Irish audiences are interested in a song’s story. They’re not just waiting on the hook, they’re interested in the whole story. Like, I really love Luke Kelly, and the way Luke Kelly could tell a story in a song, and some of his songs were really long. Most people in the modern day, information moves faster, it’s just a fast world we live in. Listening to a full song, rather than something that’s gonna be two minutes, and give you a great hook; it’s a big deal to me as a songwriter that (Irish crowds) do that, and they sing along. So I enjoy that, and I look forward to coming back.”

Aside from finding like creative minds around the gig venues of Ireland, Valerie’s enthusiasm for the country is evident as she explores her relationship with the country after several prior touring engagements. “I feel like Ireland is kindred to the South, in the way that we speak and the way that we write, y’know. So, I always felt at home there. I loved Britain, I loved Europe, spent a lot of time in those areas, but when I go to Ireland, something about it feels like ‘oh, I’m going home’.”

While on the go around the US, Valerie has racked up a number of high-profile television appearances, the likes of Austin City Limits, The Tonight Show, etc. With pressures like playing to camera and time when broadcasting live, one imagines the pressure is on. “TV studios are always super-cold, because they’re always piping air-conditioning in. So, I’m always freezing, but it’s not bad. Kinda the same as performing just one song for a crowd, or opening for someone. When you’re opening a show, you don’t get to play a full show, or get that high of showing the crowd exactly everything about yourself, but you can create that introduction to what you do, so I look at it like that. But when I do get to perform a show, then I tell stories, and tell ‘em things about my life, things about my plants, or having woke up on the wrong side of the bed. I like you to get to know me when I do a show.”

Valerie visited the White House at the invitation of former First Lady Michelle Obama, as part of the latter’s ongoing work to forward the causes of arts and cultural development. in particular. As a beneficiary of that graft and as someone that works with the Kennedy Centre to continue that growth, she recounts quite the experience. “Well, there was a long line of people waiting to get in that day, and a lot of security, very heavy, so I did all that, and finally I got in. I didn’t think I would get to meet her. I got the invitation to go, but I didn’t think she’d come and meet each of us, and talk to us and give us hugs, and spend time with us, but she actually did. She was the sweetest ever.”

Part of Valerie’s next European swing includes two Cork dates – one in the intimate rural surrounds of Connolly’s of Leap, and the other in the hidden Northside gem that is Live at St. Luke’s. “I haven’t heard much of either of them. I’m interested to get there, because it’s gonna be perfect for my solo show. I do spend time in Clonakilty pretty regularly, though, I’ve been to DeBarra’s tonnes of times, so I do love that part of Ireland, and I like just being on the coast, going there, so I’m gonna get there a few days early, go to the coast, and enjoy life when I’m out there.”

Valerie June plays a pair of Cork shows next month: on Friday July 14th, she heads out under the hammers to Connolly’s of Leap, and on Saturday 15th, she plays Live at St. Luke’s. Check venues’ websites and social media for tickets and show info.

Ye Vagabonds: On a Journey

Ahead of dates in Coughlan’s and DeBarra’s later this month, Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with Diarmuid Glynn of Ye Vagabonds about tours, a new album and online video.

There’s a lot to be said for slow and steady progression. Brian and Diarmuid Glynn are Ye Vagabonds, a pair of brothers from Carlow, currently resident in Dublin, where their weekly session in Walsh’s pub in Stoneybatter saw them become a fixture of the capital’s folk community. Their current successes are heavily tied in to the rise of online music video and hard touring, but all of this is the latest chapter in a lifelong journey.

Starting off as kids playing music around Carlow, the lads had their creative upbringing around some of the classics of the rock canon before transitioning to their current influences, as Diarmuid recalls. “Around the time we started playing music together, Brían’s late teens, my early 20s, our personal tastes were starting to come in line with what had been around us all our lives. We made the transition from 1970s rock, to 1960s folk and trad. From Led Zeppelin to Sweeneys Men and The Incredible String Band.”

Like countless other young musicians before them, they quickly encountered the cultural limitations for original music in small-town Ireland, slogging away on booking and promotions in Carlow town, before moving to Dublin and finding a more cogent scene. “We tried in our years in Carlow to push the scene as much as we could. Running open mics, and mini festivals, and gigs. There were two great venues, Caffe Formenti, since closed, and Club D’art, recently reopened. When we started playing in Dublin, we brought folks that we met there down to those venues. After we moved up to the Pale, it took a while before we met the crowd that we would consider to be our ‘scene’. All our mates (laughs). Then, we did what we had done in Carlow, and started a weekly session. That was three years ago and we feel rightly nestled in the heart of it now.”

While finding their bearings, the duo happened across videographer and director Myles O’Reilly, famed for his work under the banner of Arbutus Yarns, and most recently with the newly-rebooted This Ain’t No Disco. Taking to the brothers, he proceeded to film a series of videos with them, which has made the difference, says Diarmuid. “Ourselves and Myles clicked right away. It was Body and Soul three years ago when we met at Arbutus Yarns area. We sang a few songs, had some deep meaningfuls and by sunrise we were the best of friends. His videos are easily the most important output we’ve made. We hang out regularly now and he’s still hugely encouraging. He’s like a big brother in many ways. We love Myles.”

Not the least of career bumps the brothers Glynn have received was a chance meeting with Frames frontman Glen Hansard, who took an immediate shine to the pair and took them on tour with him in late 2015. The experience has proven to be invaluable. “Glen Hansard is a lovable and generous rogue. Festivals have never been our favourite gigs to play, but they’re great for meeting people and that was one of the more fortunate meetings. It was Electric Picnic 2015. Glen had seen Myles’ videos, and so after shaking our hands and saying hello he asked us to jump up on stage with him. He thinks with his gut. The next thing it’s October, we’re on a flashy tour bus travelling through Europe, and Glen is regaling us with stories and teaching us the best way to fold shirts and coats. There was any amount of mischief on that tour, and we’ll never forget it as our first experience of that kind. Pure magic.”

Amid all of the bustle and business, the band found time to put down their debut extended-player, a slick, layered work that betrays a quick-and-dirty recording process. “Rose and Briar happened all in a flash in the run up to the Glen Hansard tour. That flash illuminated a single moment in time like a snap-shot. It was mostly recorded in a day, on borrowed equipment in our living room by our friend Chris Barry. We recorded the songs we happened to be singing at the time, including some very newly written material. Diarmuid’s cover artwork was intended as a rough sketch. Part of Chris’ payment consisted of a guitar amp, a flat cap and several packets of biscuits. We’re glad that it was captured as such.”

Heading back to the promotion and booking grind at a more committed tilt as of recent, the pair have begun a new curated folk night at Connolly’s of Leap, Little Wheel Spin. Diarmuid explores the concept. “Little Wheel Spin is our new baby for 2017. It involves the cyclic nature of stories and songs and our place in the ongoing revolution. Once a month we bring together two or three acts we feel will inspire and compliment one another and have a night of songs, tunes and the occasional long winded story about a donkey. Eventually we hope to involve more collaboration among artists and possibly a raffle. Watch this space.”

With such a busy schedule, it’s not a surprise that the band’s debut album has been put on the long finger while things get figured out. “The eventful year we had in 2016 meant there was little time to sit and focus on how we wanted things to sound. We decided to take time this winter to find a nice rehearsal space and work on a live performance of the album we want to create. Recording the album will be a matter of capturing that live performance. If all goes to plan we’ll be doing that somewhere in West Cork this spring.”

So what now for the boys, heading into the new year? “This coming year of the rooster we intend to rise up with the dawns first rosy light and crack on with our album and our ongoing projects. After that a global domination tour in which we overturn the Trump presidency and Brexit and the Neo-Nazi alt-right and restore truth and common sense to the human race.. apart from that we’ll be in the corner of the pub singing songs.”

Ye Vagabonds play Coughlan’s on Thursday January 19th, and DeBarra’s of Clonakilty on Friday January 20th.