Interview with Keith of Cruachan
Cruachan, a real Treat
Next year marks the 25th anniversary of the legendary folk metal band Cruachan! We were fortunate enough to have Keith Fay answer some questions about this milestone achievement, as well as talk about the new record and a few other insightful things regarding the bands longevity and what it takes to make it all work. Check it out!!
Keith, thank you for taking the time to answer some questions for us. You guys have been in the folk metal scene since 1993. Next year marks your 25th anniversary as a band and we here at Folk-Metal.nl want to say congratulations! That’s quite an accomplishment for any artist or band but even more meaningful in this scene. Do you have any special plans in the works for celebrating or honouring such a milestone achievement?
“Yes. We are planning an epic 25th anniversary show in Dublin in mid 2018. We want to have some high profile bands play the show with us but as of now have no other bands arranged. We will have former members back for that night to play some songs and join in the celebrations. Karen Gilligan, John Clohessy and Joe Farrell have all confirmed they will be there. It will be an epic party. Apart from that, we also decided to do a new metalized version of “I Am Tuan”, the very first track from our very first album “Tuatha Na Gael” and this new version is the first track on our new album “Nine Years of Blood”.”
You guys have mentioned in the past that few of your records suffered from some poor production. You`ve gone on record as saying Pagan has “terrible” production. I know that Hammerheart reissued your debut album but have you given any thought to remixing and/or rerecording these records and rereleasing them? Maybe next year as a part of some celebration?
“I would love to re-record the whole Pagan album some day but it’s unlikely to happen as I simply don’t have enough time, but you never know. The Hammerheart re-issue was just a straight re-issue of the original. I am planning to make a 25th anniversary vinyl release of Tuatha Na Gael limited to 500 copies.”
What are some of the factors that have contributed to your longevity?
“Well, I always talk about the missed opportunities that Cruachan have experienced, how other Folk Metal bands passed us by etc. but in hindsight the factors that stopped us reaching the heights of these other bands have allowed us to continue as we are doing to this day. Things like our jobs, we all have day jobs and always had. This means we could never tour to the same extent as other bands but at the same time it also means we weren’t touring to make money to live. There are so many folk-metal bands that live off their music, they need to release an album every year to pay their bills. They are quite literally “in it for the money” and I don’t mean that in a bad way at all, this is just the reality of their situation, you don’t actually make too much money in a full time folk metal band. Whereas Cruachan do not need to make any money from the band, so that stressful factor is removed. We make albums and play live because we absolutely love to do it, for us it is a real treat. There is no pressure on us to release an album every year. There is no pressure on us to tour for 6 months. I know a lot of our fans would love us to tour 6 months every year and if we had done that, we may have been the biggest folk metal band on the planet 10 years ago but probably at a huge personal cost. Bands I met on the road and toured with over the years, bands I seen starting off from nothing who are now internationally regarded folk metal bands – I have seen them change over the years. I have seen members become alcoholics. I have seen drug dependencies develop in them. I am happy to have never been affected by any of that and am able to say ….. “here’s to another 25 years!” “
You mention the Irish rock band Horslips as a major influence. What have been some of your other major influences over the years?
“In later life I’ve drawn influence from everything and anything but only in very limited amounts. Classical music is my favourite music these last few years and you can definitely hear that influence creeping in over the last few albums. I’m not saying we are going to turn into Therion overnight, Folk music is still my main area of creativity. Apart from that I try not to allow myself be influenced too much which enables me to create unique music.”
How has the folk metal scene changed in the last 25 years? What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in the scene?
“When we first started there really was not much of a scene at all to talk of. There were a few bands making this music and doing well, Skyclad being the main proponent. Apart from that things were very quiet until the Scandinavian explosion at the end of the 90’s and early 00’s.
I think we are at a stage now where the curiosity factor has gone and the music is now an accepted genre within metal but there are definitely not as many bands out there as there were, say 10 years ago. A lot of the bigger bands are still around, still have their followings and Cruachan are happy to still be there alongside them.”
What have been some of your major challenges over the last 25 years as a band and as musicians?
“I touched on this earlier, one of our biggest challenges was finding the time to tour and promote our albums. We all have jobs and families so this was always a difficulty. Cruachan has been plagued with difficulties over the years. When we delivered our “Pagan” album to Hammerheart records, I got a mail back saying they are not paying for it. The production is so poor and does not warrant the price they were being asked. We always had trouble trying to find a producer, it has always been a difficult music to produce. Anyway in hindsight I agree with Hammerheart, the production was terrible. Obviously in the end they did pay the studio, there were legal things there and no way out of it but it was a scary time. Even worse, pretty much the same thing happened on the next album “The Morrigans Call”. We signed to Black Lotus Records and they went bankrupt just as we finished recording so the studio could not be paid. I was the one being threatened with court etc by a guy here in Dublin called Paddy Dunning who owned the studio. He told us to take personal loans to cover the cost of the recording, it was another nightmare. The costs were something like 15,000 euro, probably more. Eventually AFM records came in and signed us up and covered these costs so all was well.”
You disbanded back in 1997 and then reformed 2 years later. What were the reasons for disbanding and then how and why did you get back together?
“I think it was only a year that we broke up but I can remember it well. Tuatha Na Gael, our first album, was released and many big record labels wanted to sign us. I was so young starting Cruachan, I was only a teenager so didn’t really know anything about the world of record labels and band managers. We had a manager that directed us to decline a deal with Century Media Records. After turning down a label that was at the time one of the biggest, where do you go from there? I lost interest. That lack of interested only lasted a year and I found my mojo again and got the band back together. We were not quite the same band when we reformed. “The Middle Kingdom” is a significantly different style than our first album. In truth we had our manager influencing us to be more rock focused as that will make us “huge”. It didn’t take long for me to mature a little and get rid of our manager. Since then I have managed the band exclusively.”
Nine Years of Blood
It’s not uncommon for bands in folk metal to sing in their native language. Have you ever considered writing songs and maybe even doing a full album in Gaelic?
“I think I wrote one song in Gaelic and it was never used. We do have some song titles in Gaelic. No I have no interest in writing in my native tongue, I want people to understand my lyrics and a lot of people do understand English. I’m not a fluent Gaelic speaker but know enough to manage small conversations. My 9 year old daughter however is fluent and puts me to shame!”
According to your website, you guys have a new record in the works titled Nine Years Of Blood. It’s described as the final part of the “Trilogy of Blood” and it’s as a concept album about The Nine Years War fought between Ireland and England in the late 1500’s. This sounds like a truly epic undertaking and I for one can’t wait to hear it when it comes out! How did you come up with the idea for the record?
“The Nine Years War is a pretty epic part of European history. Historians have long debated how the modern world would look today had Ireland won that war and removed English rule, would we have furthered our interests into a land invasion of England? Would Ireland have become that Imperial power? Who knows, we lost anyway but we came so damn close. England was virtually bankrupt as a nation at the end of the war and took years to recover. Anyway, we learn about this in history lessons at school. I wrote a song about the war on the “Blood on the Black Robe” album that summed up the war in a neat little lyrical package. When I started writing for the new album I wanted to write about some epic Irish medieval battles and kept going back to the nine years war so thought, why not do a concept album and write about as many battles as I want. That’s where the idea came from. Interestingly I had already written the
lyrics for “Queen of War” which is a song about The Morrigan, but as far as I am concerned – The Morrigan, The Goddess of War, would have been there throughout the Nine Years War so I felt the song was still relevant on the album.”
How are things going with the writing and recording process? How far along are you?
“It’s completely recorded and mastered and due for release in January 2018. We have no exact date as yet but expect it to be late January. It will be available on CD and vinyl as well as a limited edition “Blood Box” box set with lots of fancy shit inside. Also on iTunes and Spotify that everyone complains about but uses anyway.”
What is the song writing process like for you guys? Is it the same for each album?
“We have no clear defined structure in reality. Usually we will come up with a melody, play around with it, see if it will work with some metal backing riffs etc. If it does work we can then expand on it with other parts. Sometimes we will be rehearsing in studio, break into a jam session and end up coming up with some interesting parts that are hastily recorded onto one of our phones. Then when we are finally in a recording studio, what is recorded there is further expanded on by me on keyboard or other folk instruments or by John on violin, cello etc.”
Let`s talk a bit about some of your favourite things. Any new favourite bands or artists in 2016 or 2017 so far?
“No, not really. I think the older I am becoming the less interested I am in discovering new bands. Well, that’s not entirely true, I’ve recently discovered the beautiful music of Ludovico Einaudi but he’s not exactly new. As far as metal, it’s a strange one. I don’t seek out new bands but if I discover one and like it then that’s ok. Bands I’ve really gotten into in the last 12 months are Demolition Hammer and Three Inches of Blood, I know both are around a long time but I’ve never paid attention to them. I don’t listen to too much folk metal at all. I like the more serious folk metal bands and like to throw on some Skyforger or Manegarm now and then.”
What’s your favourite thing about touring? What’s your least favourite thing about touring?
“Favourite thing is being on stage and seeing people enjoying your music or singing along. Sometimes I see people sing along to one of our songs and I remember where I was writing those lyrics they are singing to. I also love meeting fans, I know a lot of bands try to hide from fans or
pretend to not like meeting fans but that is either bullshit or they are assholes. I love to meet Cruachan fans, it’s because of them that I am in that situation playing at some festival posing in a photo with them. I always have time for our fans and always will. Least favourite is when organisers don’t stick to agreements and you end up being treated like shit. And that can be very little things but they are things that bother me such as not arranging dinners or times to have
food is a big one, they expect you to wake in Dublin at 4 am, travel for hours and hours, arrive and then travel in a bus for hours with no consideration that we are humans and humans need food. Happily most organisers are absolutely fine and we never really have any issues on tour but we have had some unbelievable moments, check the video we did of our recent trip to Arpathian Alliance. An absolute fucking travesty, prisoners would have received better treatment!”
Do you have any favourite moments from the last 25 years that stick out in your head?
“There are so many, in fact I once considered writing a book on some of our experiences and what we have seen. Our first ever live show outside Ireland is a stand out. We played St. Petersburg, Russia in 2003 (I think). The celebrity status we had was out of this world. We were in lifestyle magazines, we had press conferences with so many journalists there but the thing that stood out during one of the press conferences was a young girl that travelled from Berlin to see that show. She was introduced to us and broke down crying with happiness when she met us. That moment has never left me, to think our music can have that effect on people is astounding, we are in reality just regular people in Ireland that have day jobs but to think that we are also touching people on the other side of the world is a feeling that you can’t really describe.”
How about some closing thoughts. Any advice or words of wisdom for up and coming bands and/or musicians?
“I am still looking for words of wisdom and advice myself haha. I really don’t know, everyone seems to be making their own albums and putting out their own stuff these days. It’s getting to the point where record labels are not really needed but I will say this, if anyone pays for or even compliments your music – you remember that! Do not forget it. That person could have bought something else or praised something else but they chose your release. Never think you are above your fans, your fans are your peers! They are your equal, never forget that!”
Anything else you’d like to say to the fans who might be reading this article?
“Thank you all so much for the support, especially those that are actually reading to this point in the interview, it’s because of you that we do this! Also – check out my YouTube channel (Cruachankeith) and see another side of me.
Let’s end things with a question that might clear up some confusion among casual fans as well as potential new fans. I’ve heard several different pronunciations of Cruachan so I’m curious to know how you guys pronounce the band name? Also, where does it come from?
“Haha, it’s pronounced Krew-A-Kon. It was the name of the ancient entrance to the Celtic Otherworld “Tír Na nÓg”, when Christianity came to Ireland they said it was the entrance to HELLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL”
There you have it folks. The legend has spoken!! Thanks again to Keith and best wishes to all the guys in Cruachan. I believe I speak for all the fans out there when I say we look forward to at least another 25 years of brilliant folk metal from these guys!