Wallis Bird: Home is Where the Heart Is

Enniscorthy singer-songwriter Wallis Bird has undertaken a great journey along the Continent in recent years. Ahead of her next swing of Irish gigs, including headlining Ballincollig Winter Music Festival, Mike McGrath-Bryan hears about the road, the process and the future.

As the noughties wore on, music was shedding its skin, emerging from an almost unrecognisable place compared to today. The tail end of the CD boom spurred the major labels on to fuel a series of almost completely artificial hype trains on both sides of the pond (as most vividly discussed in Vice’s recent expose on NME Magazine’s editorial workings circa 2002) and over here, the singer-songwriter bubble was aided in part by the might of established music media. Amid all this sat Wallis Bird, a folk singer from Co. Wexford with a most unusual playing style, necessitated by a childhood accident that saw the citóg play a right-handed guitar upside-down. Signing with Island in 2006, Bird rode a wave of success with debut album ‘Spoons’ that saw her traverse the continent in support of such disparate artists as Gabrielle and Billy Bragg, before 2008 follow-up ‘New Boots’ brought along a full touring itinerary including Montreux Jazz and Pukkelpop festivals. From there, Bird struck out on her own as an independent artist, encountering great success both at home and in Germany, where she now resides.

The topic of the comforts of home, whether here or in Berlin, has been at the forefront of her work in recent years. 2016 album ‘Home’, released on digital and vinyl formats, has been the focus of Bird’s touring throughout 2017 after its release the previous year, and already, she has carved a very definite place for the LP in her own headspace as a creator and as a person. “I am getting closer to this record as time is passing. The more I play the songs, the more insight they give me. I know that sounds vain, but I intentionally wrote this album to honour the best time of my life, and to return to it when life is less good, and use it as a springboard to feel better and work better.”

Art is often the product of its surroundings, and in the process of creating a work to fortify her own mental health, Bird constructed a working and living environment conducive to creativity, and the process unfolded almost despite itself before her over the following 24 months. “(I woke up) every day with a smile on my face, knowing that all I (had) to do today is write music! I was given 2 years with very little distraction to write and record this record, so I pumped gratitude and positivity into everything because of that chance. I worked with the environment, the season, weather, resources, lust, spontaneity, and (on a constant basis). I decided there should never be anger or boredom in the making, because there’s too much to learn. For example, I’d work a month in light, then in darkness, then intensely on instrument development, switch to lyrics for when that got samey, then focus on recording technique, then focus on something else, constantly move to the other song, take a week off, spend time with friends, go swimming. Keep instruments all around me, all over the house, have the studio ready to record in minimal effort, play play play, press record, maybe take a walk, daydream, take a day off freshen up, keep going. It was all about discipline and freedom of mind. I treated it like a masters’ thesis.” After that experience, and changing the pace of her life and processes, Bird is happy to confirm she is building on that foundation for her next long-player. “Having a great time so far. I’ll be immersed all this year, thankfully.”

Bird’s touring itinerary, once out and about, could be generously described as unforgiving. She’s been touring ‘Home’ fairly hard over the last year, including dates across Europe, Asia and Australia. But when asked to compare the globe-trotting experience to playing Ireland, there isn’t even a comparison to be made. “Nothing like a home gig. It’s the familiar vibe, the family, the friends, everything about being home. It’s wilder than anywhere, and I imagine a lot of that is because of the excitement I have coming home.”

As touched on earlier, Bird is far more in control of her music compared to the height of the singer-songwriter thing here in Ireland. Her management seems absolutely devoted to her, she’s self-releasing records, etc. Bird is keen to divulge how it all gets along. “It’s about mutual respect within your team. I’m not an island, there is no way I would want to do this on my own. Working independently means thinking long-term, and that means life-changing decisions, and a team you have to put your hand into the fire for. You have to love your environment, and nurture that, as you would your wife. And it’s not work, it’s fucking art and soul and culture – it’s important. Show your backbone. What do you represent? Do the people who represent you make you proud, and can you trust them with your life to hide a body for you, and you do the same for them? You have to be real with each other and be able to talk as openly and as respectfully as possible. In our case we don’t fight, we talk. And have fun! Don’t just make it all about the work. In my case we started out as a team, and I now consider them brothers and sisters, and that’s not a cliché. We love who we work with, we aim to be craft- and longevity-driven, and work with people with a genuine love for the bigger picture of true art for art’s sake, so with that as our base, we can’t go wrong. It’s all about the people. Are they nice? Do you work harmoniously? Now look forward and work together.”

One necessary evil of being an independent musician today are streaming services. Spotify and the like have attracted plenty of derision for anaemic royalty rates and changing the attention span of younger and more casual listeners, but for Bird, the knowledge from who’s listening and where via the platforms is indispensable. “My music and my biography is available at all times all over the world, a dream I didn’t even have in 2000! The stats are important, and certainly help in many decisions like choosing what to play at a TV appearance, who to reach out to on social media to tell them that we’re coming to their town, all of this works hand in hand. Using your knowledge in a positive manner is all in your interest.”

Bird’s January swing back through Ireland takes in a headlining slot on the first night of Winter Music Festival on January 25th, to kick off the festival’s ninth annual event. Supporting will be Canadian folk wunderkind Kaia Kater. She’s done her reccy on the gig and is enthusiastic. “I’m just looking forward to being immersed in what seems like a one of a kind, inspiring, natural and fun vibe. We’re delighted to be invited!” With a new album on the slow boil, and touring winding down in the early part of the year to facilitate same, it seems like business is picking up. “I think this will be a pretty serious year for me. I think there will be big decisions this year. Think it’s gonna be an important year for me, I feel it.”

Wallis Bird plays the White Horse in Ballincollig for the venue’s Winter Music Festival on January 25th. Support from Kaia Kater, kickoff at 8.30pm, tickets €25 from box office and whitehorse.ie.

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.”

Séamus Fogarty: “A Bit More Logical”

Having long transcended his Co. Mayo beginnings to become a somewhat-fancied folk proposition, Séamus Fogarty has seemingly quietly arrived in 2017, touring comprehensively and overcoming the obstacles of life as an independent musician in the current climate. Sophomore full-length ‘The Curious Hand’ is done, dusted and went out the gap last month. On the eve of a clutch of Irish tour dates, Fogarty explains the writing process, and the differences this time around. “My first album came together faster – I was living in Limerick in a wooden shack and didn’t have much else to do but work on music on my own, so it was very much a solo affair, lots of late nights etc. For this album, I had a bunch of tunes that I’d been wrestling with on my own for a long time but I just couldn’t nail them – so I got Leo (Abrahams, producer) involved, we got a studio and tackled some of those older songs with renewed vigour. Actually writing, I was a bit more logical about how I went about finishing lyrics, etc. And I still relied heavily on my little store of funny noises and speech recordings, etc. in the production phase.”

UK indie institution Domino are behind the album’s release, whose muscle and established status as kingmakers has helped Fogarty immensely almost by association, while he’s effusive about their willingness to work together. “I think releasing my first album on Fence Records probably helped, there’s always been a connection between the two labels. I uploaded a few tracks on to a top-secret soundcloud page and they eventually made their way to the guys at Domino, and they were into it. They’ve been incredible to deal with.” As mentioned earlier, producer Leo Abrahams (Brian Eno, Wild Beasts) was brought in to help bring matters together. He proved to be a far looser hand than anticipated, knowing when to hold back and how to push forward. “Great, the man knows how to make an album. He was great in the studio and then we worked together on the mix, very much a team effort – I’d do a rough mix, adding bits and pieces, and then Leo would take it from there.”

The album was launched with a gig in London’s Old Queen’s Head recently, ahead of the upcoming run of dates. Despite the usual trepidations about big events, Fogarty and the band are happy with how the night was received. “The Old Queen’s Head show was amazing… I was really nervous, and then my drummer Aram mentioned how great it was to be celebrating all the hard work, and that made me feel much better, it really felt like a celebration. So many people I hadn’t seen for so long, and lots of people I didn’t know too, which is always good”, he smiles. The video for single ‘Van Gogh’s Ear’ is a rumination on commuting and ear infections, made with the vision of director James Hankins. What was the process of coming up with and realising the concept? “The process involved us asking James what was going to happen in the video, him telling me that I’d be walking around in a naked suit with a fake set of balls visiting the dentist, me saying that I wasn’t sure about that etc. But I love James and I’m so happy with what he did for the song.”

Working with a label like Domino does mean a lot of press and all of the attendant attention – Fogarty is admirably rather pragmatic about the release and how it’s been received. “The first album got some press too, although not as much, so that part of things wasn’t so new, but I put so much work into this album, I’m really delighted that people seem to be in to it.” With a clutch of Irish dates in early November as part of a UK/IE swing in support of the album, Fogarty is buoyant, but measured, in his pre-tour thoughts. “I can’t wait… the live show is such a joy to be part of. It’s not me and a banjo, as I’ve read in some quarters, but it’s a full band with electronics etc., and some incredible dancing. Everyone should come.”

Séamus Fogarty is on tour this week and next, see dates and ticket links below. ‘The Curious Hand’ is available now physically and via digital platforms on Domino Records.

Katie Kim: “Who Knows What I’m Capable Of?”

Ahead of appearing at Cork Jazz this weekend with the Altered Hours, Katie Kim talks reverb, records and the future with Mike McGrath-Bryan.

An elusive sight on gigging bills, Waterford singer-songwriter Katie Kim carries perhaps more of a mystique for being so, weaving stark imagery and toll-taking catharsis around moody arrangements centred on Kim’s moody but quietly strong tones. Last year’s ‘Salt’ album has had time to settle after the usual whirl of activity around a launch, and after a long development period, she’s had time to consider the album. “Well, the record has been finished for a few years now. And some of the tracks, like for example ‘Day Is Coming’, were written a long time ago. Almost eight years ago. So I’ve had a lot of time with ‘Salt’. For me, a record is a body of work I live with for however long it takes me to finish, to the point where I can listen to it without picking and prodding at elements.

Until I’m happy with it. Then it’s released, and really at that point, I prefer to move on. Maybe that plays quite a bit into why I like to keep live shows to a minimum. I can’t imagine playing the same set list, or having to listen to myself night after night, year after year, I just don’t think I’d have it in me. But I suppose I’ve never tried either so… who knows what I’m capable of!”

The creative process behind the record was a sea-change for an experienced solo composer and performer, but the difference is palpable across ‘Salt’ from earlier work, opening Kim’s voice up to much broader sonic vistas. “I recorded ‘Salt’ in Guerrilla Studios, a studio run by John Murphy (Lankum/Jimmy Cake/September Girls/Woven Skull). Sonically, it was a partnership with him, where before I recorded mainly alone or at home. He’s been with Katie Kim since the beginning in some form or another, and he brought it to quite a dark place. I mean, we had to trim a lot off the endings of many songs where he went deeper and deeper into great big guttural soundscapes, because we wouldn’t be able to fit them on the vinyl otherwise. I recorded my vocals at home where I felt most comfortable, and would then take them to him, and we would record and mix everything else there. Sometimes throwing absolutely everything at it, to then strip it all back again in some cases. But recording it with him helped. He’s so easy to work with, and normally my albums aren’t a hugely collaborative process.”

The album was nominated for a Choice Prize, in a year when nine out of ten albums nominated were (nominally) independent releases. And while criticisms can be levied on music awards, incentivisation, etc., there’s no denying it placed Kim and ‘Salt’ on a wider stage, from RTÉ television and radio, to a short-lived push for the album’s CD press via Golden Discs. “Well, there’s a cash prize that I’m sure helps musicians a lot! That’s one element but I can’t get too philosophical about it, because I just think it’s nice for some musicians to have a light shone on them, if only for a moment. I can’t speak on anyone else’s behalf, but the nomination came, for me, at a time when it was nice to get the nod. I was feeling extremely low creatively after the album came out, and it helped alleviate that, secretly.”

Katie plays with the Altered Hours and Spacemen 3‘s Will Carruthers on Sunday at St. Luke’s in Cork, a venue she’s no stranger to. It’s a big night overall, and the buzz heading into it has been significant. “The venue is breathtaking. The sheer amount of reverb has to be heard to be believed, so I’m quite pleased to be back. Reverb is my closest pal, so St. Luke’s will be a highlight for me, and of course, I’m a huge Altered Hours fan, too. I became a bit drained from live shows I had been going to a few years ago, and an Altered Hours show I was at in Mayo just woke me the fuck up.

And ‘Laser Guided Melodies’ is an album I hold very dear to my heart, so meeting Will Carruthers will be something!” A Galway gig in the Roisín Dubh November 12th has also just been announced, via local collective FEAST. What’s the plan after? “Recording again. I don’t know yet what form the new songs will take, but I’m writing and figuring a few things out, so I’ll have to wait and see.”

Lankum: On the Cusp of the Unknown

This is the unedited version of the Lankum interview from the October edition of Village Magazine. The print edit is available to read here.

The last couple of years have been busy for Dublin folk miscreants Lankum, to say the very least. Emerging from their roots in the city’s underground, the one-time performance-art have completed a transformation into arguably the country’s foremost folk performer-curators, casting traditional gems and original compositions in a mix of folk, traditional and a variety of modern alternative idioms from drone to Krautrock. It’s seen them go from putting down their first “proper” long-player in a bunker under the city, to playing the Royal Albert Hall for the BBC Folk Awards and signing with iconic indie label Rough Trade for new album ‘Between the Earth and Sky’. It appears as though the band are on the cusp of wider success, but for vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Daragh Lynch, it’s just the next step. “The last couple of years have been crazy, alright, from playing on Jools Holland, or in the Paris Philharmonic and Royal Albert Hall, playing on national TV in Ireland, and making friends with the likes of Christy Moore and Martin Carthy, having meetings with the heads of Rough Trade, it’s all seemed like a long series of bizarre moments where we keep turning to each other and whispering, “what in the living fuck is going on?” I’m not sure we really feel like we’re on the cusp of something “bigger”, as such, more that we’re on the cusp of the unknown, with a new album, a new record label, a new name and no idea how the next year is going to pan out. Not that that’s anything bad! It brings a certain level of excitement in its own way.”

Perhaps the biggest milestone, not just for the band, but regard the address of social issues among the Irish musical community in recent times, has been changing their name from ‘Lynched’ to ‘Lankum’. A decision taken to express solidarity with marginalised peoples in the current social & political climate, the new moniker was inspired by Traveller song ‘False Lankum’, and according to multi-instrumentalist Ian Lynch, was a call a few years in the making. “This was something that we had been discussing amongst ourselves for a good year or two, before we made the announcement in October last year. I have to say that apart from one or two comments online, most people have been supportive of the change. I know that some promoters were worried about people not recognising the new name and subsequent slumps in ticket sales, but we seem to have gotten over that stage now, and are still doing well in that regard. It definitely seems to me that we made the right decision and we still stick by it, one-hundred percent. I think now more than ever we’re seeing an alarming normalisation of right-wing ideas across the western world – it’s definitely not a time to be sitting on the fence as it were.” The band’s socially-conscious attitude has always been a pillar of the band’s compositions and selections, and for Daragh, the family name had to come second to the current state of play. “It was a very tough one alright, and it was pretty obvious to most people that the name, which had very innocently been chosen a decade and a half ago, was becoming progressively more problematic, especially as our reach began to expand outside Ireland and the UK, at the exact same time as the current rise of far right ideologies in the US and Europe.”

Signing to London-based Rough Trade also represents another step forward for the band, with Geoff Travis’ legendary label currently standing at the forefront of UK folk. With creative autonomy ensured by the label’s independent status and historical weight, the band took it upon themselves to rise to the occasion, according to vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Radie Peat. “I think on a psychological level knowing that the album would come out on Rough Trade gave us a slightly sharper focus. The stakes felt higher, when we released the last album we didn’t even think we would sell five hundred copies, so this was a very different undertaking.” For Ian, the retention of creative freedom was a caveat of the band’s involvement with any label, wary of the exploitation that continues in the industry’s upper reaches in the post-CD age. “From what I’ve heard read and experienced personally, Rough Trade are one of the only labels around that we would even consider working with. They have consistently been supportive of what we do, and any decisions that they have made have been through consultations with us. Geoff Travis is a legend, and if he is into what you’re doing as a band he will support you all the way. Playing the kind of music we do, not everyone outside of the folk scene ‘gets it’, so it’s great to be dealing with someone who does. Compare this to the nightmare world of 360 deals, labels taking merch and tour money off bands, major labels who tell you that they completely get what you’re doing musically, and then ask you would you consider penning a song for the Irish Team in the World Cup, and you can see why the decision was an easy one.”

‘Between the Earth and Sky’ presents a wider sonic palate than debut long-player ‘Cold Old Fire’ from the beginning, but equally as important as production and composition are the band’s selections of traditional compositions. A number of live favourites of the band make the cut this time, not the least of them rebel-song standby ‘Sergeant William Bailey’ and protest anthem ‘Peat Bog Soldiers’, written and first performed by prisoners of concentration camps in World War II. Ian outlines the process, pros and cons of such curation. “To be honest, the four of us are constantly researching, learning, and singing traditional songs. There is no shortage of really great songs, obscure or otherwise and its something that we’ve always been into. We’re always bringing new songs to the table and we’ve arranged and worked on at least as many as we’ve recorded. For one reason or another we have a huge backlog of stuff that we’ve either arranged and become a bit jaded with after practicing them everyday for months, of songs that we just forgot about. The upside is that when we come to picking new songs for live gigs or for a recorded we have plenty to choose from.” Adds Daragh on the topic: “These things generally have their own internal creative rhythm, so if something really leaps out then we can have the bulk of an arrangement quite quickly, though this doesn’t guarantee that we’ll use it, and we have a bunch of pieces that haven’t seen the light of day.”

From its first note, the tone of the new album is different from its predecessor: album opener ‘What Will We Do When We Have No Money?’ invests Peat’s scintillating take on the old Traveller song with a thick, monotone drone; ‘Sergeant William Bailey’ is pockmarked with military snare and brass, and original composition ‘The Granite Gaze’ features the Philip Glass-like squeezebox parts that the band’s social media teased a while back. Daragh expands on the fullness of sound that accompanies the new platter. “From the start we decided we wanted the new album to sound similar to ‘Cold Old Fire’ but definitely with a bigger, more ‘lush’ kind of sound, with a wider and more expansive and immersive low end, so there’s definitely a bit more drone involved. We definitely spent more time on that when mixing, doing all sorts of mad things like quadrupling drone tracks, putting two of them back through analogue compressors and pushing them out to the far pans, or gradually building up multiple low end drones across a track so that if you listen to it on headphones it nearly sounds like you’re being submerged. It was a lot of fun! We’re all very into different types of music, from Pink Floyd and Brian Eno, to The Jimmy Cake, various Black Metal bands, Autechre, Neu! and so on, as well as traditional music and song. So it’s probably more a case of us incorporating all of those influences into some kind of bizarre, bastard mutant music child.”

‘Cold Old Fire’, the eponymous single of their first long-player, follows the band around: placing the Irish tradition of lament and focusing it on the Ireland of austerity and neoliberalism, it struck a chord with various audiences. ‘Déanta in Eireann’ and ‘The Granite Gaze’, the new record’s pair of originals, act as natural follow-ons, the former follows off from the warm humour in the familiarity of bemoaning the state of things, while the latter looks very soberly at the human cost of austerity and the lost decade. Composer Ian discusses following up on one of their career works. “It definitely depends on the song. With ‘Déanta in Éireann’, I sat down and composed the song in one long go. I had originally intended to write a modern day emigration song – which is what it is – but I definitely didn’t think it would take eight verses for me to get it all out of my system. I sang it around a good number of singing sessions around the country and it always seemed to go down well – I would often have elderly men and women come up to me afterwards to tell me that they really liked it and they understood that you have to use harsh language to describe harsh situations, so that was its baptism in a way. We were talking about arranging it for the band for a long time but could never come up with anything satisfactory. We tried again when we were recording the album and were really happy with how it came out, so it was a keeper.” Meanwhile, ‘The Granite Gaze’ was a more collaborative effort, tackling the realities of post-austerity difficulty and alienation, according to Daragh. “It looks a lot more at some very dark and disturbing elements of Ireland’s recent history, and the very real impact that we still feel from that today. When we sat down to work out the lyrics, we were sure that we didn’t want to spell it out too obviously though, and that it would be a far more effective song if we alluded to things and used phrases that might have more than one meaning, and that this would serve to create more of a general feeling and mood than a straight up commentary. I have to say that I’m pretty happy with the job we did and hope that we can do a lot more of it!”

The next step for the four-piece is to head back to the UK to plug the new album, ahead of the usual extended promotional campaign. At this stage of the game, with the brothers Lynch in particular knocking around in different iterations for over twenty years, the lads have the touring regime down to a fine art, according to Ian. “Well, we’ve been heading off on so many of these tours over the last few years. At first it seemed like hard work coordinating everything, but we’ve done it so much that now we know exactly what everyone should be doing – we’re a well-oiled machine! We now know that the day is too busy to organise to meet your friends in a city, that you’re not going to get to stroll around most places that you play, that someone has to get the merch set up as soon as you get in somewhere, that someone has to organize the itinerary, that you should bring an mp3 player with loads of podcasts and audiobooks, et cetera. All obvious stuff, but you only get good at it through experience. I really look forward to heading off on these tours now. You don’t have any time to relax really, but its all geared towards doing what you love, you get to sing songs and play music with your best friends as well as meet great people every night and the best thing is you’re not taking orders from anyone. It’s better than tarring the road, as they say!”

‘Between the Earth and Sky’ releases on CD, vinyl and digital formats via Rough Trade on October 27th. For more, check out lankumdublin.com, and @lankumdublin.

Hermitage Green: “We’re Very Bloody Lucky to Be Doing This”

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.

Brushy One-String: “I’m An All-Purpose Person When It Comes to Music”

In the lead-up to his upcoming appearance at Townlands Carnival festival in Macroom, YouTube star Brushy One-String talks to Mike McGrath-Bryan about his life, his music, and how a chance encounter brought him his fortune.

The story of Brushy One-String’s ascent to musical notoriety wouldn’t go amiss in the canon of the great musical underdogs: the orphan child of musicians, including famed reggae vocalist Freddie McKay, Andrew Chin’s own journey of musical self-discovery led him down several creative cul-de-sacs, but while dealing with illiteracy and other external issues, developed a keenly-honed balance of reggae fundamentals, soulful vocals and wider musical reference points. The one thing he needed was a hook, something that would mark him out in an island with a surfeit of musical talent. Then it came to him in a dream. “I got a vision one night that I should play a one-string guitar. When I went to tell my family, they were all laughing, but my uncle’s girlfriend said ‘Oh, dreams do come true. Take your guitar out and play with one string’. So I took my guitar out, and I began to practice, and I became the perfect one-string guy. Practice makes perfect.”

Melding the reggae archetypes with bluesy grit, and the aforementioned winks in the direction of soul and American roots music, the persona of Brushy One-String emerged from Chin’s eclectic explorations, espousing a journeyman blues painted large in broad musical strokes. A wider palate of sounds and stories had always spoken to Chin growing up. “I love reggae, I love blues music, R’n’B, love songs. I love the stories they told. If the beat is up to my tastes, I’ll be interested. I’m an all-purpose person when it comes to music.”

This approach was informed by the breadth and depth of music with which Chin was surrounded growing up: his family’s prominence in music locally aside, instruments, records and other points of reference were all around him as he grew up. “I started when was a teenager, I loved the drums. My grandma, she had a church, and I had to play the drums, like every Sunday. After that, I played drums professionally, standard drums, conga drums, tambourine. Now I play all my percussion with my one-string guitar (laughs).”

The big break Brushy received came from a chance encounter with documentary film-maker Luciano Blotta. Blotta had come to Jamaica to film Rise Up, a piece following the fortunes of three young artists over the course of five years, in rural recording studios across the island. As the documentary process was winding down, Blotta happened across Brushy outside a studio, and was compelled to film a performance of his song Chicken in the Corn. Initially tacked on to the end of the documentary, the clip itself became a YouTube hit, documenting his oddball, percussive play. Said success led Blotta to track Brushy down again and seek to represent him to a wider audience. “That was really magic. I was in Mandeville at the time, I’d just spent five years in England. I was in studio and I’d seen this white guy with a big camera, y’know, was videoing everybody. And I was so broke, I really did want the money. I walked over and I was like, ‘’Ey! White guy! I’ll sing you a song. I took out my guitar and I played him Chicken in the Corn. That was the first time I met him. I forgot all about it, then I heard he’d come back to Jamaica for this documentary he was making. I’d see him in the street, but I didn’t recognise him. He was looking for me, because he wanted me to play something else again. I didn’t recognise him, so I approached him with the same approach as the first time. ‘‘Ey white guy, what’s up, I want to make some money.’ He was like ‘you don’t remember me? I recorded Chicken in the Corn. I’m going to put it up on YouTube, I need you to sign these papers, etc, etc.’ I couldn’t read properly, so I just signed the contract, and thought nothing of it. He called me up three weeks later, and said ‘you’ve got 30,000 views, we should do something about this’. I was like, ‘WHAT?’. We did the first album from there.”

A life-changing experience like this was bound to impact on his career, and so it went that Brushy put down that first album with Blotta’s help, bolstered by a wide reach to a larger audience courtesy of YouTube. The question must surely have hung over Brushy’s head of how this change would affect his career, but found his message was perfectly suited to bring writ large. “It was a difficult change for me, because I was gone for five years. When I got back, I didn’t know what to do for an audience to know that I’m here. I tried (a few things) and went on Jamaican TV, than Luciano called (and the video went viral). Everyone was like ‘this guy is different! A one-string guitar!’ It got wild. The song itself, Chicken in the Corn, isn’t a generation thing, it’s for old and for young, talking about good people and bad people, ups and downs, in a fun way, y’know? It’s reality, you try and do the things you love and people will try and take you down, try to stop you. It’s easy to explain to anyone, and everyone can relate.”

Brushy takes on another EU tour this summer for the festival grind, including a stop at Townlands Carnival, happening next month in Macroom. With a couple of years of worldwide touring under his belt, he’s enjoying the road and looking forward to the event, some pre-gig jitters aside. “I’m nervous every so often, but I always try and that creativity to get the confidence to go out, start and finish.” It’s the last hurdle ahead of the next chapter in his ongoing story, with new material on the way and the challenge of maintaining longevity ahead. “Right now I’m working on a song as we are speaking. I’m working on the next album. I want the next album to have a full sound, and to be able to take that and put it on the road.”

Brushy One-String plays Townlands Carnival, from July 21st-23rd in Rusheen Farm, Macroom. For more info and tickets, check townlandscarnival.com.