Interview with Martin Hayes and Iarla Ó Lionáird of The Gloaming
by Paul O’Connor
POC: A lot must have happened during your ‘creative retreat’ together in Grouse Lodge earlier in the year.
MH: The instrumentation was agreed, the melodies were there, the general sketch of the arrangements was there, but they were very much sketches. There’s a lot of on-the-spot decisions being made live. There are stretches where Caoimhín and myself are going ‘what’ll it be tonight I wonder?’ And there’s definitely big chunks for Tom to produce something different every night. We’re enjoying that — there’s a kind of formation process going on live, where we are leaving plenty of freedom for each other.
IÓL: We prepared material together in Grouse Lodge, but to see Tom in full flight on stage is a very different experience.
POC: Thomas is obviously an important factor in the sound you’re producing.
IOL: He’s very powerful and he’s very surprising and potent. He’s a great believer in the moment because he can be. When you have those kinds of abilities and such a command of your instrument, you can believe in the moment and you can wait for it to come.
MH: We hadn’t actually heard him open up until the Concert Hall. He didn’t open up those improv sections at all as much in rehearsals. We didn’t know what to expect really but we had made the space for him and then on stage he just tore into it. Tom brings something of the music of our time to this band, not just jazz or classical, but what’s happening in contemporary music. He’s got a familiarity with the now and with the people who are making that music. To bring him in is to bring that contemporary approach into contact with a more traditional sound. It’s not that we’re not familiar with it ourselves. We were open to that connection already, but the nice thing about Thomas, and the unique thing, is that he was already familiar with the musical tradition we were coming from.
POC: There is certainly something new in the music, I found, a charge and energy that will surprise people. There’s even a trance element that comes out in some of the sequences.
MH: That current idea of the repetitive groove and that gradual building up of a rhythm — that happens with us, for sure. I’ve always thought that it was an intrinsic part of our music anyway, a somewhat under-explored part of it — that powerful repetition that one hears in contemporary dance music. We used to be almost shy about it as a culture, seeing it as an indication of its weakness, but when you view that circularity in a positive way and explore what it can achieve, it can be very powerful.
POC: Was it difficult for you to achieve in any way?
MH: I’ve had inclinations in that direction for a long, long time, and I’ve been very interested in all kinds of other forms of music, and though I’ve been working within the fiddle-guitar for a while, which has its freedom as well as its limitations, with the colouration that comes from all the different directions here a lot of new possibilities opened up.
IOL: People know me for stretching the boundaries a bit, but the fact is a lot what you heard in the National Concert Hall, from my perspective, the songs certainly, was worked out in Grouse Lodge, and represented new territory for me, absolutely brand new territory. Much of it was due to happenstance — I might have chosen a certain song or lyric from a poem just there and then; but also much of it was due to the people in the room, and I would go back to Thomas again, in terms of a kind of co-writer for me in my exploits with the songs: his harmonic sense, his comfort going into new pathways, which is what you do when you write songs. It brought me into terrain I’ve never been in before, and I found it very exciting, working up those songs, and I love singing them and that was as much to do with him and the band as it has to do with me. So I was stretched quite a bit.
POC: But it worked out somehow.
MH: We ‘played’. We really just went at it in Grouse Lodge, for fun. It wasn’t at all calculated. We were all just pouring ideas out all the time. And it was great that we recorded all of them as they were flying out. A great way of working and playing started to emerge, something that everyone could contribute to. And as well as that a collective sound began to emerge. I never really had that experience before.
POC: A sound and a band?
MH: It’s not a band in the usual sense because of our individual careers, but it is a band in the sense of a group of people coming together and developing a specific sound above and beyond what any of us have individually. It’s also a sound that couldn’t happen without all the particular people involved being part of it. On a personal level, there are no tensions between us, there are no ego battles, because everyone gets to be themselves and gets complete freedom to express themselves fully.
IOL: It is a band in the sense that we make a sound that is all our own. We like to have moments of coherence, but I think there’s a lot of transition in the music, we can change and shift, and we’re not afraid of that uncertainty. There’s also room in the band for quite a lot of abstraction, and potential for a kind of fast-track to get an emotional charge from the music. In a sense, there’s no ‘outside’ for us. I think we’ll be producing a lot of new sounds and emotions as we go on. And we’re excited about it.
Published on 5 January 2012