Cruachan - Interview
Sometimes you look at your favorite bands on Facebook to see what's going on with them. That's what happened to me, and I found out that the Irish band Cruachan has recorded new songs. This was a reason for me to talk to band leader Keith Fay via Skype about the upcoming album, many complications in the genesis and the Brexit. A very entertaining conversation, for whose spontaneous appointment I would like to thank you again!
Hello Keith, how are you?
Thank you for taking the time to do an interview with me. I looked at your page on FB the other day and saw that you have written a new album. Can you already tell something about it?
I've been writing for the last couple of years, but we had some changes in the band last year in the middle of the recording. And we have the pandemic and a lot of things happened to slow down the process. Understandable stuff and other bands are in the same situation because of COVID. We had maybe half the album completed and rehearsed the other half still to be written but with COVID and my full-time job and other priorities, the writing slowed down. So, we had a big line of changes in the last year and when Ireland was open and I could meet the band members, the focus was on getting a set ready so that we could play live. There was no real attention paid to new songs. And we got close together for getting the set ready and then Ireland was in the lockdown again. Since 2020 we've been finishing the songs. They're now ready and we just need to rehearse them. The album itself will be a very folky album. My intention was to do a real earthy pagan album about the Irish people in 1700. They were very Catholic and religious, but they had a lot of pagan beliefs still. The peasant class still held up the pagan tradition and pagan customs. I was writing a lot about that. When the things with the Ireland mother and baby homes came out to the world, I also wrote some songs that spoke about this, like 'The Hawthorn' single. So, I wrote some songs touching on that as well. I think the album, when it's recorded, will have very earthy, pagan, folky feeling. I mean I could say that about every Cruachan album, but it came to something special about this album and I can't wait to get it recorded.
I also read that there have been some lineup changes in the band. What happened?
At the start of last year, we had a bass player who was in the band for about a year and it just didn't work. So, he left, and we brought in Joe Farrell, our old drummer. So, he came in on bass. Mauro (Frison; M.) our drummer was already planning to move to Sweden in 2020 but the pandemic slowed that down and he was still with us in the summer to record the 'Hawthorn'-single but he was always leaving and we had no plans to do things remotely. We knew that. We could do that with a violin or maybe a bass player and just meet at the gigs, but without a drummer physically in your country, you can't rehearse. I was just an agreement that Mauro is leaving, and we have to replace him. It happened all in a good feeling, he is a good friend and we all wish him the best. In the middle of the summer when we began recording the 'Hawthorn' single, there were a few creative differences with Keiran (Ball (git.); M.) and John (Ryan; M.), the violin player. I had the impression that Keiran had done with touring and that he is probably going to leave, and he wasn't happy with certain things. And John, that really shocked me, we had some creative differences recording 'The Hawthorn' and he wanted to have his own musical project where he is the main influence. In Cruachan this never happened because it has been my band for nearly 30 years. I am always going to be the manager and I am always going to be the main guy there. So, he left to do his own things. We're still good friends and we're working on some musical project completely separate to Cruachan but that were the reasons why they all left. It was kind of strange to take it all happen in the same year and for all very different reasons. So, I put the advertises out there that Cruachan is looking for a new drummer, a second guitarist and a violin player and pretty much within two weeks I replaced everybody. I brought in Dave (David Quinn; M.) my friend from Celtachor and a great guitarist. Tom (Woodlock; M.), the drummer from Zhora, I met him a few times on tour but didn't know him really well, but I was told by a lot of people that he is a fantastic guy. And Audrey (Trainor; M.), the new violin player just e-mailed me out of the blue. She's a violin teacher here in Ireland…well, Cruachan are half folk, half metal and she looked like a hippie, folky person but she also loves metal and told me that she always wanted to do such a thing (laughs). She sent some audition recordings over playing herself violin and I thought that she is a virtuoso. I's tough when one person is new in the band, that's a lot of work to bring them up to speed but to do this with four people the same time is a fucking nightmare! But we got there, we spent months working through the pandemic to get the set ready because we know as soon as things get back to normal, we will be playing festivals and the offers will come in and we need to be ready. With the new members, we're ready to start going through the new material. The whole album is fully written, and the new members put their little marks on it but ultimately the album is there, and we need to get rehearsed. But there are no rehearsal studios open, just fuck it….
What will the lyrics of the new album be about? You talked about 'The Hawthorn' and its content and I watched the video and it's also about pagan culture and Catholicism, what else will it be about?
Well, it's not really a kind of concept to the album. As I said, it's about pagan beliefs coupled with songs about the tragedy about that what happened as a result to the Catholic Church here in Ireland. One song is called 'The Harvest'. You can imagine it in the 1700s and we've seen that stuff on TV and movies, the peasant class bring in the harvest and its celebrating that whole event. And there is a link to it as well with our instrumental called 'The Festival'. Every song starts with "The…" and then one word, like 'The Crow', 'The Witch' or 'The Children' which is again about the mother and baby home story. 'The Witch' is a really cool song about a witch, a pagan and forest witch. I can see a lot of strong feminist women really associating with this song because women were treated like shit though they weren't really witches. They weren't casting magic. They were practicing herbology and medicinal craft from the land, and that's what the song is about. I wrote the lyrics before I wrote the music for 'The Witch' and I want people to read these words because I think they are great. Okay self-praise is no praise (laughs) but I'm really proud of these lyrics. It's going to be something unique and will be the last song on the album where people put their kind of experimental stuff. It's not really linked to the rest of the album and some kind of old school heavy metal with almost Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath vibes. And I got Stu La Rage from Venom, he is going to do a guest guitar solo there and it's gonna work perfectly. It will have the same guitar tone as the rest of songs on the album and it will be as heavy as fuck. But it's not a song that you would expect to be on the album, not a really Cruachan song. But don't worry, the rest of the album will be, with blast beasts, extreme vocals, the usual.
So, this means that you don't go back into your folky times in the 00s and stay heavy or is it a step back, too?
It's similar. I mean we had a lot of success back then with The Middle Kingdom and Folk-Lore and that was a great period. A lot of people loved that period. When Karen left, as I said a million times before, we went to the heavier side and a lot of fans missed that era. I mean, it's still quite similar – a Cruachan album is a Cruachan album – but since that change of the profile it just went straight up. We're playing festivals we never dreamt of like the "Hellfest" (France; M.) or "Brutal Assault" (Czech Republic; M.) or 70.000 Tons of Metal and we never got this attention back in those days. So certainly, this album is not gonna be as extreme as Blood for the Blood God or Blood on the Black Robe, but it certainly keeps in the same style as modern Cruachan. It focuses on that folky pagan and hopefully it will sound like some music that hasn't been done. I hope it will sound as unique as it sounds in my head and in my little rehearsal things I have on my laptop. Hopefully it will transition into the finish product and it's just great to have another Cruachan album.
At Metal-Archives you are listed as a folk/BM band. How do you see that? Is it more BM or more Folk?
Folk metal. I mean we were definitely black metal on the first album and had black metal influences everywhere but listen to the last three Cruachan albums, we do every type of metal from straight-up heavy metal like Iron Maiden, thrash metal, death metal, everything. I won't define those things into Folk metal but that's what I think is great about Cruachan is the Folk metal, there's no other way to classify that. We've been called Celtic or pagan metal, but Folk metal is the right term. I mean were one of the first bands who created the genre and that is what we've prefer to be known as, as a Folk metal band.
To what extent has Corona changed the band's life? Did you want to release the album long ago?
We would have had rehearsed and recorded the album in the middle of 2020, but it was a combination of the pandemic and the line-up changes that really stopped our plans. We would have loved to have it out last year and we signed with Depotz Records in Sweden at the end of 2019. The relationship is the best we've ever had with a record label. Trollzorn, our previous label was brilliant and the freedom they gave us was fantastic, but with their distribution they were mainly focused onto Germany and Austria and if you wanted a Cruachan CD, it was purely from mail order which put a lot of people off. We're still a popular band and sell a lot of albums and stuff digitally, even on Spotify, like we have about 50000 monthly listeners, that isn't too bad. But people want physical and they want to see it in the few record shops that are still there. That experience was only happening in Germany and Austria and that did bother me because I get a lot of messages on Facebook, where people said, that they couldn't get the stuff anywhere. A lot of people have no interest in digital. When we released 'The Hawthorn', people asked about a physical single and I said that I have no plans about it. I mean it will be on the album but until then, digital is the only way it exists. So, the people look for mail order but it can be very expensive for shipping. I got complaints that the shipping costs about 20€. And I understand that they don't order the CD then, I also wouldn't pay that.
Yes, I can imagine this. I wanted to order a CD from Steel Bearing Hand on Bandcamp where the CD would cost about 8€ and shipping about 170€!!! So, I could almost make a trip to the US and catch the CD there for that money….
Haha, what the fuck…. they could deliver it to your door then.
When do you think you can record and release the album? If the infection numbers will allow it…
Well, the number of infected persons is decreasing. After Christmas we were the country with the highest rate in Europe. And this at Christmas. It was so bad. People are blown away when they see how Irish people celebrate Christmas. It's a secular holiday but the whole month of December it's ridiculous here. You see American movies and you think they do Christmas but the Irish just go crazy. We could see the numbers were increasing around the middle of December and there was a lot of pressure on the government to keep things open and allow us to have a meaningful Christmas but it really messed up the country, combined with those new variants that are much more infectious. So, after Christmas we had 8000 new cases a day and we're talking about a population of 4 ½ million. So, we had the highest number of infections only to have a happy Christmas and that's insane. I would have been the first person to complain if the government had shut down everything for Christmas but in hindsight it would have been a smart thing to do. They were caught between the rock and the hard place. Now we're really leveling off and consistently below 500 cases a day for the last week, things are getting back to normal. The vaccination roll-out is very slow due to the delivery but not to blame the medicinal staff or politics.
So, at the moment we have a 5-kilometer limit and that's what affecting the rehearsals with the band. Joe, our bass player lives in a walking distance from my house and we're getting together and we're doing the Cruachan ballads and sessions on Facebook, doing those live streams where we're doing Irish folk songs, but the rest of the band are spread throughout past that 5k. Before Christmas we were in the house rehearsing together without drums, we've only had one rehearsal with our new drummer and he's in the band for nearly nine months. As soon as that 5k limit is lifted, we will be back rehearsing and it will be full steam ahead. We still have a festival, the Cruafest (7th of August; M.), which has been rescheduled three times and that's still scheduled for August. It's probably 50:50 that it might go ahead, we really hope for that. And we're confirmed for a festival in the Ukraine in July and I hope that happens as well. The restrictions might end but we need to rehearse for at least six weeks before we get over there. So, that's the plan depending on Mother Nature allowing this to happen.
Not only Corona, but also the Brexit is upsetting a lot at the moment. What can you tell about that? Ireland is something like the bone of contention between the EU and the UK.
It's going to affect some business more than anything. Clearly it was the wrong thing to do. They suffered a lot as the commerce trade has been affected. Okay, the vaccine supply is great because they didn't have some of the bureaucracy of the EU. Fair enough, that's one item in a sea of bad ideas. All these pro-Brexit guys refer to that. But the bone of contention is definitely Ireland because we share the land-border up in the north and the Good Friday Agreement that was made in the 90s with the IRA, when they were constantly blowing away army barracks, is broken by the Brexit concerning a lot of these rules. So, it took long to establish what breaks it will be, what this trade deal will be and there is no agreement some place that covered the North and the South of Ireland that is unique to the island. And the pandemic showed the differences as well. There were different strategies. The UK were doing this, Ireland were doing that, we had a lockdown while the North was still open, travelling between each other, cheaper petrol in the North, cheaper shopping in the South. But it seems to be kind of settling down now, Ireland and the UK are probably the biggest trading partners with each other for all our history. We actually depend on each other a lot and the people are very similar. A lot of people bought from maybe Amazon UK to not pay the taxes from the EU. It's probably not that normal for a guy from France or Germany to buy things from the UK, but here in Ireland it's quite a normal thing. But now we're getting hit by the import tax and everybody is avoiding buying anything from the UK. I'm very good friends with the guys from Skyclad and they told me that it has become so much more expensive to go on tour. They need visas to play in Europe, it's gonna be such a pain in the ass, small little festivals that we would appear on together they have to go through all that visa application crap. It's gonna be as complicated to play a gig in Russia as in Germany.
One hears again and again that the IRA and other extreme movements are strengthening again because of this monkey business. Is there any sign of that?
That's never gonna happen. The IRA are absolutely gone. There are some small fractions to continue the IRA and they've been in the news once or twice but the big kind of campaign that we've seen in the mid-90s, I can't see anything like that ever happening again.
Okay, those were my questions - the last words are yours!
Check out a band called "The Catch", they've also been signed to Despotz records and they're releasing their debut single like so many Folk metal stars like Petri (Lindroos; M.) from Ensiferum is doing guest vocals, Sami (Perttula; M.) from Korpiklaani is doing accordion, Gareth (Murdock; M.) from Alestorm plays bass – so keep your eyes open for that. And it has nothing to do with me (laughs).
Thanks a lot for taking time for MetalBite!!!
Nine Years Of Blood
Blood For The Blood God
A Celtic Legacy
Blood On The Black Robe
The Morrigan's Call
The Middle Kingdom
Tuatha Na Gael
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