Séan (fiddle) and Trevor (bass) of Lúnasa generously agreed to answer of few of our questions before their lively concert at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center on November 7, 2012, which was thoroughly delightful. These gentlemen are very kind and full of character, and inspiring to be around.
~Paul Edwards and Kasie Talbot
Paul: I went to your Web Site and I went, "Oh my God! Bothy Band!"
Seán: Oh my God! Yeah, fiddle, flute, and pipes was really one of the reasons when we were setting up the band that I was particularly very interested in because when I learned my fiddle from the beginning, I very much learned from flute [and whistle] players like Matt Molloy and Paddy Keenan, and when they were both with the Bothy Band, [they had a certain] rhythm and drive, [which is] a certain type of energy that is very particular to that combination. I was very intrigued by that and wanted to be part of something like that, so when we were setting up the band (myself and Trevor) and we were thinking about what direction to go, of course there was an accordion type of direction we could've taken and we decided to go down the fiddle, flute, pipes route, so that was a definite conscious decision, so that would've been influenced by the Bothy Band and here we are.
Paul: Yeah! In spades! I'm trying to remember, was it 2004 you were here?
Seán: I think it was two years ago, was it?
Paul: No that was the last time, but [you started coming here] much earlier.
Trevor: We've been coming here since way back, probably 2000 I'd say.
Paul: You were actually, I think, almost the first group that I ever heard when I came here and was just getting into the Celtic Society.
Seán: We've been coming a good while. One of the first tours we did we were in the Northwest, up around Vancouver and Seattle, and then we got signed to Green Linnet, and then I suppose the whole thing opened up to us here in the States so it's always been a great pleasure really. In the early days we could've been in the West Coast today, East Coast tomorrow, Florida the day after, but now we're a bit more focused in the whole thing and we're able to stay in one particular area and tour that.
Kasie: I was wondering how you ended up recording the Redwood album here in California?
Trevor: Well, we had some time off in the middle of a tour and our agent had a ranch outside of Sebastopol and we were trying to figure out what to do with a bunch of days off, so he suggested that we camp out at the ranch and there's a few huts out there. We stayed there and we decided to put some new material together and when we came back, what was it the fall we toured? I can't remember. It was a long time ago.
Seán: I think it was some gigs maybe had been cancelled or some tour dates and we had time time off and he had a studio close to his ranch that he suggested.
Trevor: Yeah, there were a couple of studios up there so we rehearsed there for a while and then I think we came back at a later date and went into the studio up there. We just wanted to go somewhere different and do a recording that was a little bit more live, compared with how we had been recording which is much more of a layered, painstaking process that we were getting a bit tired of really, so we thought it would be interesting to go into a really nice room and play together and try and get more of a vibe going. We've sort of explored every possible way of recording and we've made all the mistakes and hopefully learned a bit in the process, so that's really why.
Kasie: I found a Youtube video of you playing Dr. Gilbert's Reel and I love the psychedellic part...
Trevor: Oh yeah? The spacey bass?
Seán: He's a psychedellic type guy!
Trevor: The acid bass.
[Trevor and Seán laughing]
Kasie: ...and I'm wondering if you're going to do any more of that reverb stuff.
Trevor: Yeah I'll probably do a little bit. Well I'm still doing the same thing.
Seán: We're looking at doing something along that line again.
Trevor: Yeah, we'll come up with something different in the future but we'll be doing that one tonight, but it might be slightly different than the recording.
Seán: That goes back to an album called, Otherworld.
Paul: Number two.
Seán: Yeah, that was our first [Green Linnet] release.
Trevor: It was over ten years ago since we started messing around with that. I think there are about twenty basses on that track all layered on top of the other, but live [the effect is done with electronics].
Seán: Trevor has to pretend there are twenty of them on the stage.
Paul: The power of boxes now.
Trevor: Exactly yeah, cheating.
Paul: By the way, talking about that do you know KT Tunstall? She's so amazing!
Trevor: Yeah, she does a lot of that sort of groovy stuff. Yeah she's brilliant.
Paul: She is amazing. So my question is a little bit like Kasie's. Aibreann?
Seán: Now that's... February, March, April... Go on, ask me about it, because I'm not sure which track that is.
Paul: It's track four.
Seán: Yeah, on the first album.
Paul: Yeah on Lúnasa and oh I love that one and so my question is, do you have any other tunes where you're going to play three whistles again?
Trevor: Oh yeah, we've done that a few times since.
Seán: Yeah, just the Pierre [Bensusan] piece (The Last Pint) I think. Yeah, we do that tonight as well I hope.
Paul: I know, I heard it. I heard you guys rehearsing and I went, "Oh yes!"
Seán: We have just recorded that with RTÉ which is the National Broadcaster Orchestra in Ireland. We've had our music taken by an orchestrator, about ten Lúnasa pieces and that was one of them, so we just re-recorded that with the orchestra in Dublin. Trevor has it on his computer and he's about to get stuck into it tonight and try and salvage...[See video of it here if you advance to time 8:30.]
Trevor: I just started listening to it today actually. We just have a few days before it comes out.
Seán: So Aibreann, it could be Aibreann again.
Kasie: How do you describe each member, how they add to the band?
Seán: That's a good question. I don't think when we were thinking about the band originally, if [any of us said], 'I want to bring this to the band,' but definitely the part I suppose you'd call the frontline players, the melody players, we've come from a traditional background whereas we're used to playing the melody and the rhythm for dancers and that type of thing in sessions, and then you have the two lads on guitar and bass which I suppose, they're hooked into the rhythm and the compliment side of things, but I don't know how you'd say how everybody brings something. I mean, you're looking for somebody that's very sympathetic to what everybody else does. You don't want five individuals on a stage trying to force their own thing—go down their own path.
Trevor: Nor do you want five people who are completely similar either. I think it's because whatever everyone has merges in a positive way.
Seán: Yeah. And you try and get the best...
Trevor: Somebody might have an extrovert sort of quality to their personality and their playing...
Paul: Who would that be!? I'm wondering who you're talking about here. [Paul laughing]
Trevor: I have no idea who that would be. I meant somebody else might be really steady and the two things together can work. You know, bands are all about chemisty, they're not necessarily about everybody being brilliant or whatever. The most interesting bands are ones that just had good chemisty you know, rather than necessarily virtuosity, although it doesn't do any harm either but it can kind of get in the way I think.
Seán: I agree.
Paul: So, kind of going back to that—just reading through your history and reading that Michael McGoldrick was on that first record and stuff like that and what another brilliant flute and whistle and pipes player and all the stuff that's been going on I'm going, you know, what a wonderful fabric.
Seán: Yeah we've had a great time over the years making many great albums and exploring and playing great music and great venues. That was a very exciting time when the whole thing was coming together at the start and we were trying to get things done and it was very exciting, but I suppose if we were to do it in retrospective it would be all planned out very differently wouldn't it?
Trevor: Hmmm, well the whole thing was pretty spur of the moment, just trying to nail [things down] in some way that could move you forward really. It's kind of interesting when you're in the middle of those kind of situations, you don't necessarily really know what's going on—it's just all happening around you and slowly it will coagulate into something that is solid and can sustain itself.
Paul: Yeah, well, going on ten [albums], and more.
Trevor: Oh yeah. Fifteen.
Seán: No sixteen now.
Paul: No sixteen, that's right.
Trevor: Yeah sixteen actually this month.
Paul: Wow. So I think we have time for two more [questions].
Kasie: I heard a rumour your next CD was going to have singers?
Trevor: The next one is the orchestral one, which will be out in the Spring, and after that, who knows. It is something that we have thought about.
Paul: Oh, so you haven't been able to capture Karan Casey, huh?
[Paul knocking on the wooden furniture]
Trevor: No but it could well happen so that's quite likely to be.
[Kevin knocks on the door from outside the room, then he opens the door.]
Paul: Oh it must be Kevin.
Kevin: Ten minute call!
Seán: We're nearly finished Kev, so just this last question and then we're going to tune up.
Paul: Yeah I was just asking, well gee, are you going to have singers and I was going, ah you didn't capture Karan Kasey after all that at the Celtic Connections [claim], "we finally have a female singer in the band," as I recall.
Seán: No, we were always going to play our tunes and whatever the band thinks but that happens...
Paul: Yeah that was beautiful.
Seán: Did you like that?
Paul: Well the whole concert was just awesome.
Seán: Yeah it came across very well, so we're all really happy with that.
Paul: So one more question I think then I think we've got to let these guys get on. Are any of you teaching, students or anything?
Seán: We do all teach going forwards. We've all taught at different parts at different...
Trevor: I don't really.
Kevin: Well I suppose myself and Cillian do most of the teaching. We do a lot of camps over here as well and I actually just met two of the students that I teach here, Owen Meehan and couple of others that have come out. I have a lot [of students] in the States and I teach via Skype throughout the year so I keep in touch with them, so there'd be four full weeks that I'd teach. Cillian does two here in the States and I do four, so there's a month of US teaching each year, and then I teach in the University of Limerick as well. There's an Irish music program there. I love teaching, I really, really enjoy it and I've just done an On-line music academy. It's a twelve lesson [program]. It's called the On-line Irish Music Academy Web site and you can subscribe and if you sign up to the flute class you get access to every other class as well so you can tap into the fiddle players tunes, you can tap into concertina or whatever stuff. It's an interesting development, like the whole On-line stuff now is huge.
Paul: Cool. Wow, thank you guys very much.