I have heard that you have just been in Russia and some strange, weird things happened there, isn't it?
Yeah, every time we go to Russia it seems weird things are happening. We had a weird experience on the train. We were going from Pizkov (?) to Moscow and we had a few drinks as we usually do after the show and we did not realize that we were making noise, and we were told to be quiet, we don't think we were very loud. Next thing to happen was the Russian police who stopped the train and came up to pull us off the train. So we just thought “oh, shit” (grins) Our tour manager went and explained to those guys who brought us to Russia, so we had no idea whether we were involved in the criminal underworld or what, in the end we were only pleased to say “okay” and they went…
Oh, that must have been a relief…
We were scary, it was such a hard time. The whole experience, while it had taken place, a bunch of Russian cowboys stole the locomotive, the engine of the train…
Now I am perplex…
And that was only one experience out of many. So we were stuck there for an hour waiting on a new engine to bring us back on the rails heading to Moscow.
I think you better think twice before going there again…
We have been there before, so we were used to all these strange things happening.
But were the gigs and the audience a bit well over there to compensate?
Yeah, the shows were fantastic. We had two shows cancelled which we only found out when we got there. We were really unlucky cause they were cancelled, cause again, the promoter was in jail. (laughs) We just said okay and smiled, said that's ok, that seemed the best thing to do. We also got a show in Kaliningrad cancelled cause a silly snowstorm made us wait for hours to get a plane. A plane that never came, we were stuck in this small airport for nearly twelve hours.
Unbelievable, you should write a book about it…
Yes, I know. We got really low-spirited, Karen was crying, we finished the show in Lausa, Russia, a great show and were pulled in a bus, no bedroom to sleep, staying awake for hours on the airport and again we were stuck with nowhere to sleep. But luckily after that we got a hotel the next day where they said “sorry about the crap” and we slept well in that five stars hotel.
A true experience, I hear it…
But we had some great times too, cause we played a half acoustic show on a small gig in Moscow. That was brilliant. We had really a die hard crew of fans coming over to that. Because we had a bigger show in Moscow at the end of the tour, so that night about three hundred really die hard fans came up to see it and for them it was a dream came true. For us it was a nightmare cause we never played acoustically before. The week before we went to Russia they told us “by the way, you are doing an acoustic gig”, what? No way! We spent four hours before the show trying to rehearse some songs, but it was a success and we really enjoyed it. It was obvious on stage that we got only four hours rehearsal, but I think nobody noticed we were quite unprepared, I think we got away with it.
Let's focus on the new record now ''The Morrigan's Call'. To me it seems a little bit of like a return to the black metal roots…
Instinctively, yes. When I listen to it myself now, I think, fuck, it is definitely a lot more extreme than a lot of stuff on the last two albums, but it was not an intention. We just write songs, every album gets better and better. There is a lot more heavier stuff on the new album, but as well we got the folk, which is better than ever. 'Pagan' should have been one of the best albums, but because of the production it did not work out. It may be heavier, but we also got six folk instruments playing which I don't think any other folk metal band is doing today. Maybe because we are from Ireland and surrounded by folk music, we have grown up with it. We know how to do it properly.
I mentioned that in my review indeed. What struck me too was the better production…
Yes, we worked with Gail Lebling, I don't know if you have heard of the band Gail Of God…
They are in the picture with a new album at the moment I think…
That is correct, yes. And Gail Lebling did the sound when we played live in Europe. When we were on Hammerheart he became a very good friend of ours. We just could not repeat the mistakes we have made on 'Pagan'. We had to go to a good studio and we could not take just a random producer. So I called Gail Lebling and asked him if he was interested in producing our new album and he said yes. It really makes a difference, the quality is much better. It is not perfect, there is still a lot of stuff I am not happy with, but even Gail himself said, it is so difficult to work with Cruachan. There are so many instruments and they are all fighting to be heard, occupied different frequencies when you are recording. For me it was difficult to understand, but for Gail it was a nightmare to try all these different instruments to be heard, but it is much better than 'Pagan' and probably the best production we've ever had.
Where was it recorded?
It was recorded in Sun Studios in Dublin where 'The Middle Kingdom' and 'Folk-Lore' was recorded. So we kind of went back to our roots. It is a much better set-up that they have now than in the old days.
If I read the history of the band, you obviously had a lot of bad luck with record companies…
Oh, it is a nightmare, I think you can read that in every interview. Every album has been a nightmare. You will say again, you should write a book, it'll get worse. When we left Karmageddon, we were happy to leave them. I mean, nice bunch of guys, I liked them, but we have never received a penny in royalties. We sold thousands and thousands of CDs around the world, but we did not received a penny and it was definitely not working out. We wanted a bigger label. They gave us a reduced budget to record 'Pagan', compared to 'Folk-Lore', so that was totally negative. We came in touch with Black Lotus Records and we were happy and excited. They gave us the deposit to begin the recordings of the album, so we went to the studio and recorded 'The Morrigan's Call'. When it was finished, the invoice was sent to Black Lotus from the studio, twelve thousand euro, the rest of the recording fee. Two months later they still had not heard anything from Black Lotus, they were constantly contacting them. I was all the time on the phone too and apologized and apologized and I eventually got to the stage when I personally being threatened with court, to be taken to court. I was told “You better find a lawyer, because we are taking you to court”. In the week I was told that, I got a call from Black Lotus, saying that they were closing the doors. They did not say the word “bankrupt”, but eventually it looked like they were bankrupt. Twelve thousand euro and I had to come up with it… And I had these guys of the studio hanging on the phone, ringing me up every day, telling me to take a bank credit or a loan… this kind of shit. I just had to reassure, I knew the album was strong, and I said “Look, just give me one month to find a record label”. I sent the CD around and got in touch with people I know, in the end it came down to Napalm Records and Nuclear Blast was also very interested. When we were negotiating with Nuclear Blast, I got a call from AFM, and to be honest, I did not know AFM, it is only when you start looking at the bands, you realize it is a big label. I was not rude at the phone, but my first reaction was “you think you are going to beat Nuclear Blast?” (laughs) But Nuclear Blast turned us down, they were not interested and so I went back to AFM, sent them the album 'The Morrigan's Call' and that was it. We were signed and within a week of time I signed the contract, they paid off the studio. The relief I felt was amazing. We went through more or less the same thing with 'Pagan'. When the masters arrived at Hammerheart, at Karmageddon's offices, when they heard the production quality being so poor, they basically said “look, we are not paying the bill for this album”. The same thing nearly two years ago. And the studio “we need our fucking money, what's the story!?” I don't know, we seem to be cursed.
You must have a lot of courage to keep going on in this circumstances…
Oh, I must admit, to be honest with you, I came very close to stop with it. I have a family, I got children and music has to be something positive, but they saw me worried and stressful and been taken to court. It made me think “this is just not worth it”. But then AFM came along, saved the day and that's all.
Lyrics on the album deal with the great famine in two songs, but of course that is only one facet of the Irish history. Can you tell a bit more about it?
From day one, from the days of the 'Celtica' demo and 'Tuatha Na Gael', the main concept of Cruachan was to sing about Irish mythology and Irish history. We always took the really ancient history, the Celtic times of Irish history and the Gael and stuff like that. But we have always sung some songs about our modern history as well, like 'Michael Collins' on 'Pagan' and some on 'Folk-Lore'. In 'Coffin Ships' and 'The Great Hunger' I tell about a horrible thing that happened to the western world. We were the only country in many hundreds of years in the western world that has suffered of famine. We should not have suffered of famine. In the notes on the new album there is a great quote. It says: “God sent the rays of light to Ireland, but the British sent the famine”. Because there was absolutely no need for this country to go through what we went through, nearly three million people died and replaced. We must remind we were not a sovereign state at that time, we were part of Great Britain. Eventually they should have provided us, but they did not, they just turned their backs to what happened. And it is interesting to see a lot of fans that are English… in the English school history books, there is absolutely no mention of the famine. There is a small note maybe, but nothing about what really happened, which makes sense because it is something the British are not proud of.
There are also two songs about Lord Of The Rings on the album, called 'Shelob' and 'Ungoliant'. How did you come to that?
Hehe, the spider songs. Oh, again, I have always loved Tolkien. Before we were called Cruachan, our band name was Minas Tirith. That was 1993 I think and Tolkien was not so popular as he is now. In the beginning almost all of our songs were about Tolkien, but we moved into Celtic mythology cause that was were I wanted the band to go. But I still like Tolkien and I still want to write songs about him, on every album there has been a Tolkien inspired song, so… this album has two. I like the lyrics as well. I wrote 'Shelob' as a nursery rhyme for kids. It is the most heavy track of the album. Cruachan has a lot of fans, we all know that, but there are also a lot of people who absolutely hate Cruachan, they hate the idea of mixing metal and folk music. For those people we put that track first on the album, it is the most extreme track we have done in a long time, but probably the craziest, funniest folk music as well. To convince people who don't like us. John Ryan is doing a deep death grunt in it.
What about the other John, your brother? Is he in or out the band? Most of the time he appears as guest musician…
He is just a big embarrassment for Cruachan, he is. And believe it or not, he actually toured Russia with us. Fans could not believe their eyes when seeing him on stage. Officially at the moment, he is a guest. He had to leave the band, he left, he came back, he left, he came back… he had a lot of crazy stuff going on in his life, I can't really talk about it. Unfortunately I can't. But the crazy shit that was going on in his life had stopped and it is over, he is back knocking at my door now. Who knows? You never know. He might come back. And if he does, we're not going to announce it, that is ridiculous, it should be the third time he rejoined. If he does officially come back, you will only see it on tour or on the next album when he is no longer a guest musician. (laughs)
Let us have a closer look at the special instruments now, cause I am not that familiar with it and I am quite curious… what is a mandocello?
That is a strange instrument and that is very boring and normal looking. When you hear the name… you got visions of a bowed instrument like a cello. It is actually… you have a mandolin with eight strings, played with four strings, from that you have a bouzouki, which is like a bigger version of a mandolin. And then you have a mandocello, which is like a deeper version of a mandolin, it is bigger again. The word cello came because it is a midrange sound, where the mandolin is a higher pitched sound. It looks very medieval, just like the court's jester plays. It is like a lute.
What is an aldotrube?
That is a percussion thing, I only used it once or twice. John (Clohessy – bass - Vera) gave credits for using it, I wasn't there when they put it down. It's two balls that click together, it is not a Celtic thing but modern.
And a bowed bass?
A big double bass.
What is special on an Irish harp?
You know the harp is kind of the national instrument of Ireland. The Irish harp is just a smaller version of the normal harp.
I learned about a bodhran, that is a drum with goatskin isn't it?
Where is that coming from?
It is a very ancient Celtic instrument with a woodcarving sound from nearly two thousand years ago. Warriors were playing it to march to battle. I actually played it when we were in Russia. We went to an Irish pub and there was a bunch of Russians playing traditional Irish music, so I took my bodhran and joined in with them. Amazing. Do you know the Irish band The Corrs? The bodhran that I own previously belonged to them. They gave it. That's a little fact (laughs)
Okay, the latest instrument to tell about: tin whistle.
That is a very famous and very normal Irish traditional instrument. You can pick it up in any shop over here. Basically it depends on which key it is played on. It is like a flute, there is only three holes in it. It is about twelve inches long, quite a high pitched sound, it is from the flute family.
Now let's talk about the artwork, because that is always very beautiful. I looked it up and see that John (Fay) did it again like in former times. (The cover of 'Pagan' was done by John Howe, the acclaimed Tolkien illustrator who was the concept artist on Peter Jackson's trilogy – Vera)
Even with the artwork we have had a rough time.(sighs)The original artwork that we had for the album, John spent occasionally six or seven months on it. Not constantly, but two or three days a week for a couple of hours. It was an amazing piece of art. Even now, it's been so long that I cannot remember it fully, I just remember what I felt when seeing it, like “fucking hell, wait till people see this”. And then one night he had an argument with a girlfriend and she ripped it up and spoilt it. The guys from Black Lotus at that time said “we are waiting on the artwork to start producing the album”. I had to explain “sorry, it's been destroyed”. So, John, in the space of two weeks, they gave us two weeks at Black Lotus, has done the cover you see now in his spare time as quick as he can. He knew the music and the cover suits the music. The theme of that cover obviously is the Morrigan and the crows. An alternate form of the Morrigan, but the overall theme is death, because the Morrigan was like the Goddess of War, she claimed so many lives. So we have the lilies and the dead leaf, the skull… The album is called 'The Morrigans Call' because it fits the general atmosphere of the album. The theme of death is in a lot of the songs as well.
Are there plans to go on the road to support the album?
At the moment we are just kind of blown away by how great AFM Records is. We just heard today that we are getting a Japanese release. We never had before. Every day they seem to get in touch with some amazing news. We are approached as support for Moonsorrow, but I think they are on tour for two months. Unfortunately, because we all have full time jobs and families and children. The most we can tour in a year is roughly four weeks. Most of the gigs next year will be festivals. We can do weekends. Of course we can do a small European tour, but there are no plans at all for that yet. We have Wave Gotik Treffen confirmed and Ragnarok festival in Germany as well.
Your live shows should be something special. I have heard you play in medieval costumes and so…
Oh yeah, definitely. In depends on what country we are in, but we have swords and shields and have fun, that's all we really do. We never try to be evil or fit in real heavy metal image, and that's why people enjoy our shows so much.
You can be seen as an echelon of the folk metal genre. Last years it is becoming more and more popular. How do you look at that? Are there new bands you like?
Yes, it is definitely great for us. I think Cruachan and Skyclad are the first folk metal bands. I think Skyclad are instantly regarded as being the founders of folk metal. Cruachan, I don't think we are, maybe in the years to come we will get the credit we deserve, cause there is nobody else apart from us and Skyclad who has done this type of music. And for years it was the same. During the nineties and even at the end of the nineties, there were very few bands. We had Waylander from Ireland. And one or two in Europe, but it was very rare to get a real folk metal band. Nowadays it is a bit of an explosion all over the place. We played in Switzerland last year with Eluveitie, we thought “holy fuck”, they are twenty on stage, you know, and they said we are their biggest inspiration, that's great to hear. I love Finntroll and I really like Korpiklaani. Great bands and a great genre of music. I wish it would even become more popular. Many people regarded folk metal as funny, but the roots of heavy metal come from folk music. And that is the truth. If you look at the earliest metal bands, like Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Thin Lizzy, Iron Maiden,… listen to their music, a lot of the structures in the songs, a lot of the melodies they are playing, if you replace the electric guitar with a fiddle or a flute, it is folk music. People just need to realize that. So much in heavy metal comes from folk music and folk metal should be a natural progression. Of course in every genre you have narrow-minded people as well, that is just the way it is.
It was planned that Martin Walkyier (Skyclad vocalist – Vera) should sing a song on the album 'Diarmuid And Grainne', but it did not happen…
At that time Martin's father was very ill, at that time when we booked the flight to come over, so there was no hope of him coming over. He sent many apologizes to us and we said “don't worry, you have much more important thing to worry now”. We said, definitely in the future we will do something together.
I know that 'The Wild Rover' is an Irish traditional, but are there other traditionals on the album?
Yeah and 'The Wild Rover' is the melody and the lyrics from the traditional song, but the music that we wrote for that is completely our own. With a huge folk parade at the end. It is one of the best folk tunes we have ever done. But 'The Old Woman In The Woods' is a traditional song as well. And the Irish song 'Teir Abhaile Riu' is another traditional Irish song, but we changed the music again.
Are there plans to record a live DVD or a CD?
There are no plans for anything, nothing at all. It depends on AFM. When they signed us, the album was recorded, so they took a gamble, they are going to wait and see how the album does. We are very happy with the presales, so I don't think it is going to be a problem. When we are both comfortable with each other, when they realize we are making them money, we'll discuss it with them. We'd definitely love to make a live album or a DVD, we want to have a single and a video on all the music channels, but at the moment we are just happy to be signed and released the album. If the album is selling well, there is no reason why AFM won't put more support behind us.
There are even some doom influences on the album, namely in the song 'The Great Hunger', or am I totally wrong?
No, no. The band Minas Tirith, when we are going back fourteen to sixteen years, played mostly doom, all mellow kind of stuff like that. And if you listen towards the Cruachan albums, there is always that slow kind of vibe on a few songs, but not as the classical doom on 'The Great Hunger' with the harmonies and stuff like that. That riff you actually hear in 'The Great Hunger' comes from a song we had with Minas Tirith. That guitar part is over sixteen years old. I wrote that when I was a little baby (laughs).
Are you still in contact with Shane MacGowan?
No, we are not. We have not heard from him for a long time. Although he is a great guy, the contact eventually ended. We knew him through our old band manager. When we got rid of him, we lost contact with Shane, which is a pity.
When you started making music in a band, what were your influences and main bands you liked to listen to?
When I started in music I was thirteen. In 1989 I listened to Metallica and a lot of grindcore, Bathory. My first band was called POS. It stood for “pure other shit”. We played grindcore and crazy stuff. The drummer was on the 'Tuatha Na Gael' album. Back then I used to listen to all the popular thrash metal bands, Venom as well, Slayer, Metallica. But at home there was always folk music. That is one thing I see when I go to Europe: one thing I realize is that folk music is not that popular over there as it is in Ireland. That happens when you live on an island: you think it is normal to hear folk music everywhere. Then you come somewhere else and think “Jesus, we are a bit weird over in Ireland” (laughs)