Prepare to feel rage and anger!
Following the release of Cruachan’s new album we reached out to the band about their new release, and the information about their current works, stories about their collaborations, and side efforts followed.
Many who follow you on social media may be familiar with the backstories to some of these songs, but the Living and the Dead very much tells a story with each track. Would you break down the main themes as well as some of the events that inspired the songs for readers who don’t follow the Cruachan facebook page.
“When I first started to write the new album I had no intention to have a central theme or concept. The previous album, Nine Years of Blood, was a concept album so I was happy to get back to writing songs about what I wanted. The first song I wrote was The Queen and you can hear it’s a little different to the rest of the songs, it could almost have fit on the previous album. I then started writing songs about the peasant and working class of Ireland around the early 1700’s (The Harvest, The Changeling, The Witch) then something happened. The Mother and Baby homes report was published in Ireland. Please google that to find out more. I have always known about these homes, the Magdalin laundries, the overall horrendous behavior of the Catholic church here. There have been many books and movies about it over the years, but when this report was published, it had an effect on me and I decided to write a few songs on this subject. So, half the album is based on this but all tied together in typical Cruachan fashion, for example The Crow is clearly about the dead children at the hands of these nuns but the crow in the song in The Morrigan.The Reaper is lyrically different to all the songs on the album. I wrote this song about my dad who died in 2020. I wrote the lyrics before he died, they were written out of frustration as he was not taking care of himself. He was sick, but not so sick that he was dying. He refused to take medication or eat properly. I channelled my frustration into the song and literally called it ‘The Dying Man’. The music was completely different to what we have today. He did die in 2020, a few months into the pandemic. His funeral had only ten people, it was such a sad horrible time. A year and a few months previously my mother died and her funeral was huge, people couldn’t get in the door of the church, we had speakers put outside so people could listen. The contrast between both was like light and day and it really upset me. Almost a year later when writing the new album I started to work on this. I read the words for the first time since his death and could see the anger there but I decided to leave them exactly as they are. This is a snapshot in time of how I was feeling at that moment. One thing I did want to change was the music, I wasn’t happy with where I was going, I wanted my dad to have an epic song as his dedication so got to work on that and I think I achieved that goal. I’ve also written a song about my mother’s passing but still have not been mentally able to get to finishing it.”
Darker Events in History
There appear to be some deeper symbolism on the Living and the Dead between the opening and closing tracks, and the cover art reflects another duality. What influenced these design and structuring choices.
“We’re really happy with the cover (designed by Vagelis Petikas). The idea was to represent The Living and The Dead. Tthe living part, which is full of life symbols and a very Gaelic looking warrior woman. On the fold out full cover, you see The Dead part, an evil nun surrounded by imagery of death. The whole album reflects this cover, all songs represent the living and the dead and you will see a representation of every song somewhere in the cover art …. If you look hard enough.”
In the last decade or so more and more people are becoming interested in these darker events in history and in the pre-Christian traditions of Europe as of late, for people looking to learn about the roots of the music and the folklore is there somewhere you would point people to if they wanted to learn more about gaelic culture from the period your music draws inspiration from?
“There are so many sources of information out there to find out about anything like you mentioned. I have a large collection of historical books so for songs such as ‘The Queen’, I have everything I need for my research close to hand. Cruachan have written a lot about Celtic history and mythology, not so much on this album but it will be on future albums again. One book I recommend to read about this is called The Táin, it is an important piece of Irish literature. Lastly, for information relating to the Mother and Baby homes, I recommend people do exactly as I did, download the official report from the Irish government website and prepare to feel rage and anger!”
Cruachan Live Balladeers
Before delving into your new album, let us discuss the Cruachan Live Balladeers. This side-project which was active on social media streams and some gigs has been ongoing for a while, and one can hear a lot of the elements from that type of folk music on your new release, what is the story behind this project and how has it influenced your songwriting of late?
“When the pandemic first hit we seen a lot of bands doing live stream concerts from their rehearsal room or studios or whatever, Cruachan didn’t have anything like that kind of set up so we were trying to think of something similar we could do. We actually started with our ‘virtual pubs’ they were really popular. It was basically just us drinking on a live stream. Eventually we brought some really interesting guests on the streams (which is how some of those guest appearances happened on the new album). Anyway, I play and sing a lot of ballads so thought, well … I can do that on a live stream. Joe lived close to me so we could physically meet up and do this without breaking those movement limit rules (man remember them?). Our first balladeers live stream was a huge success, we had a paypal tip jar and …. Well we lets just say we made enough tips for many many pints of Guinness. I wouldn’t say it influenced much of the new songs as the majority of the ground work was already done but it certainly helped develop my ballad singing voice.”
The Living and the Dead involves several new musicians in the lineup as well as several guests including Vreth of Finntroll and an actor from Harry Potter, do you have any interesting stories about the various collaborators on the album and how did you decide which artists were right for each song?
“Yes there are certainly a few guests on there, probably more than I had intended but it all worked out really well and I’m so happy they all took part. Vreth was an interesting one originally Kelly Schaefer from Atheist was to sing that song. I’m a huge fan of Atheist so this was something I personally wanted but unfortunately, when we were ready for his vocal, he was just about to go on tour with Suffocation so it didn’t work out. I gave Vreth a shout and asked if he would do the job instead and he said yes, not the most exciting story haha.”
“Jon Campling is the actor that appeared in the Harry Potter films. I’m a huge Harry Potter fan and help organize the Dublin Wizard Con annual Harry Potter convention. It’s similar to a regular comic con type thing, with actors etc. Jon was one of our special guests and we became friends over the years. Recently he has picked up guitar and vocals, learning everything from scratch. I asked if he wanted to make his musical debut on a Cruachan album and he jumped at the chance. I remember telling him not to worry if the vocal is too bad, we can use autotune and EQ and lots of studio magic to make him sound good. When we got to actually record, none of that was required, he has made so much progress as a vocalist that his natural performance was perfect. We added a touch of reverb and that was it.”
I have always known about these homes, the Magdalin laundries, the overall horrendous behavior of the Catholic church here
“Stu from Venom came from one of the Cruachan virtual pubs I mentioned, he literally turned around and declared he wanted to do a solo on the next album. I wasn’t going to say no to that haha. Another guest I am personally delighted to have on there is Camillus from The Fureys. That band is an iconic Irish folk group right up there with the likes of The Dubliners I was at a concert with my girlfriend and we started chatting after the show, next thing I turned on the charm and asked if he would be interested in doing a guest spot on a heavy metal album, he agreed, I couldn’t believe it.”
What do you think of this recent trend of collaborations between individual musicians and bands, the most notorious example of this in Folk Metal was Korpiklaani with their myriad Beer Beer covers, this is something arguably more common in other genres. Do you have any insights on why this is happening more and more?
“I don’t know, I’ve seen Korpiklaani do it but have no real interest to listen to the song. I like the original Beer Beer and that’s about it. I guess it’s a fun thing to do and when you have the success that Korpiklaani have you can get away with doing silly fun things like that, I personally wouldn’t have the time and energy to do that. When I have a guest on a Cruachan album, I squeeze everything I can from them to make the song better haha.”
Keith Fay also recently collaborated with Tuatha De Danann a Brazilian band, for a track called “The Molly McGuires”, what was that process like and do you have any insights on why bands like Tuatha De Danann and Skiltron pick up on Celtic folk Metal so far from Irish shores?
“I did that song with Tuatha De Danann during the pandemic, I guess there were a lot of collaborations like that happening as we were all stuck indoors. It was a simple enough process, Bruno sent me the wav files and I used my home recording setup. My setup is simply a laptop, an interface and am ok ish quality microphone. I recorded the vocals in my living room … literally watching the kids playing out on the street as I recorded.”
“As for bands picking up on the celtic folk thing, I think that’s how Irish folk music has generally been received around the world. I believe, and I think most would agree, that Irish folk is the most popular of all the worlds folk music. There are many reasons for that and that’s probably a topic for another day but, if the music is so popular, more and more people will pick up on it and want to play it.”
How was recording influenced by the pandemic?
“Our recording was affected and delayed a lot by the pandemic but as we had so many lineup changes during this time, the pandemic actually helped us not only bring the new members up to speed but also gave us the time we needed to finish the writing and learn the songs.”
Something Old, Something New
You’ve had some line-up changes for the new album, could you introduce your new members for our readers.
“Yes we had some considerable lineup changes in recent years. Joe Farrell came in on bass at the start of 2020 when we got back from 70000 tons of metal. We had some issues with Rustam who had been on bass for a year so decided it would be best for him to depart. Joe was our drummer for almost ten years. He left the band but remained a close friend and for many years talked about the possibility of returning so, when Rustam went, I asked if he would be interested in coming back in on the bass. He was a perfect fit and it’s great to have an old member back in the band. Our drummer Mauro was moving to Sweden with his family. We tried to plan a way that he could do that and stay in the band but it wasn’t possible. Covid actually delayed his departure, so he was able to record The Hawthorn single with us but eventually he did go and we brought Tom Woodlock in on drums. The biggest worry I had was trying to find a folk musician. Audrey sent me some audition videos and literally blew me away. She is an incredible musician and I couldn’t believe she was asking to join Cruachan. She has been playing violin since she was four years old and is a music teacher. She has brought so much to Cruachan since she came onboard, all the new members have and we are excited to be touring with this lineup.”
Do you have anything else in the works?
“Recently we submitted a song for Eurovision but were unsuccessful in our bid, we’ll be releasing that song ‘The Blacksmith’ on the same day as Ireland’s semi final in a ‘look what you could have had’ kinda way … will be interesting to see what people think.”
Living and the Dead is available from Despotz Records and is streaming on Spotify, also take a look at this website’s review of the album, and mark your calendars for the Eurovision competition’s semi-finals.