More than three years after the release of 'Blood For The Blood God', I am happy to have our next opportunity for an interview with you, this time on behalf of 'Nine Years Of Blood'. How are you doing?
I'm great Vera, in a really good place in my life, so can't complain.
What happened with you and with the band in those three years? Was there a further increase of playing gigs? Which countries did you visit and can you tell a bit more about special gigs or events you really liked?
We did a lot, it's safe to say that the last seven or more years have been the most successful period for Cruachan. Maybe this had a lot to do with moving to a record label that appreciates us or that we have improved our music in these last years, who knows, either way we are very happy. We actually sell less physical albums these days, but that is normal for every band, digitally we have excelled and so many people that never would have heard of us, are hearing us through iTunes, Spotify etc. I wish physical media was as popular as when we first started, but unfortunately it is not and everyone needs to accept that and adapt, which we have done. Don't get me wrong, we still sell a fuck load of physical CDs and vinyl and if combined with digital album sales, we are selling three times as much as we did when we were on Hammerheart Records so it's all good. Yes there had been a huge increase in live performances. We always find it hard to juggle work, family and playing live but somehow we are doing ok. We said before we are not going to tour anymore as it has too much impact in our personal lives, a lot of time away from family. I hate to talk about money .... But I will. We would probably receive the same amount of money touring for one week as we would playing a big festival, so you can see why we are starting to prefer playing festivals. BUT.... You make these agreements and the receive a phone call 'hey, want to go on a tour with Manegarm and Ereb Altor' and everything I just said goes out the window haha. We visited lots of countries for festivals but the stand out, show stopping moment was last year when we played 70000 tons of metal. Man, what a crazy experience that whole cruise was. We had such a good time. It's funny that after all these years a show can come along and make you think 'this is why we do what we do' haha.... The bizarre situation of starting a Cruachan show at exactly the same time Anthrax start their show.... And we still packed the place out then sang karaoke with Joey Belladonna afterwards, just so insane.
What are the memories on the tour with Manegarm and Ereb Altor?
So many great moments, we had already toured with Ereb Altor, so for us it was meeting old friends for a party. We had crossed paths over the years with Manegarm (and we shared a signing session on board 70000 tons, it's as if this tour was pre-ordained) so to tour with them and get to know them was awesome, they are one of the few folk metal bands that I personally listen to. Anyway, some of the best memories are the drunk sing alongs in the bus after the shows. Vlad the tour manager, would play the most random mix of songs and we would rock out to them all. There was also a hilarious moment in Sweden, we entered the dressing room and I immediately spotted two Christmas tree costumes... I knew they would be on me and John Ryan at some point. I heard Manegarm sound checking and thought, fuck it, Manegarm need some heavy metal Christmas trees rocking out to their sound check. I also have memories of getting pissed off with everyone drinking, so one of the days I decided not to drink a drop and give my body a break and had an early night. That's not a very interesting story but I have seen bands start out on their journey and end up as total alcoholics, very famous bands, very famous folk metal bands. My life and my family are too important to ever allow that happen to me. Anyway, I made a video diary of a lot of the tour, it's on my YouTube channel so go check that out.
'Nine Years Of Blood' is the final and third part of the 'Blood' trilogy. How do you see the album in comparison with its two predecessors?
Musically we pulled out all the stops on this album. We wanted to create an album with no guest musicians, everything you hear is played by or sang by Cruachan. We also wanted to show our creative musical ability, we have a lot of classical music influence on this album as well as every type of metal there is, from thrash metal to black metal, you'll hear it all on the new album. I think we achieved our goals and for me this is the best work of our career. Even vocally I have tried more styles than ever before. I sing in four distinct different styles – clean, hard melodic style, harsh screams and, for the first time, I have created a choir of Keith's. I recorded some parts many, many times in different octaves and harmonies to create a choir vocal style which worked out really well.
Lyrically it is about the great historic war between England and Ireland, from 1593 to 1603. Can you tell a bit more about this historical war, important for both countries and even other countries in Europe?
When I wrote the lyrics for the song 'The Nine Year War' on 'Blood On The Black Robe' I had started researching the war and reading a lot about it to help compose the song. The subject stuck with me for some time after that, as it really is fascinating. I have a lot of friends in the UK (I support Birmingham City FC) and none of them knew this period in history, it is not taught in school, despite England being the eventual victors. It is probably hard to believe that Ireland had a superior and technically more advanced army than England at this time. England had the numbers but relied on outdated military hardware and strategies. Ireland, under Hugh O'Neill, employed the more advanced usage of the rifle as the main weapon during the conflict. England eventually adapted and modelled their army on Ireland. Despite that, Ireland still had the upper hand for most of the war. It wasn't until the disaster of the 'Siege Of Kinsale', that saw our allies, Spain, land in the wrong part of the country. They were there to give a numerical advantage but ended up costing Ireland the war as they were besieged by England forcing Hugh O'Neill came to their aid. England was near bankrupt after this war, despite having fought for one hundred years in Holland. There was such a fear of another uprising that Queen Elizabeth pardoned Hugh O'Neill rather than execute him. This whole period is fascinating, considering what happened to Ireland after this. I wanted to tell this story and show that Ireland was never a nation that gave up. We fought just as well, if not better than, our enemies. Not many people know this period of history despite the importance of what happened. Historians still debate to this day what would have happened had Ireland won the war - what would the world be like today? After the war, Ireland declined as the country submitted to the full extent of English rule and oppression, culminating in the potato famine of 1845. The fall from grace that Ireland underwent after the Nine Years War was catastrophic, if Ireland had won there would have been a possibility to push into mainland England. The most likely outcome would have seen Ireland as a successful independent nation in the 1600's.
Can you tell a bit more about Hugh O'Neill? How is the man seen in Ireland these days?
Hugh O'Neill was born into the powerful O'Neill family of Ulster, in 1568 he took his grandfather's title of earl of Tyrone. By initially cooperating with the government of Queen Elizabeth I, he established his base of power, and in 1593 he replaced Turlough Luineach O'Neill as chieftain of the O'Neills. But his dominance in Ulster led to a deterioration in his relations with the crown which led to the nine years war. After the war, O'Neill was allowed to keep most of his lands, but the chieftain found that he could not bear the loss of his former independence and prestige, I guess there was a feeling of humiliation, that he failed Ireland? In September 1607 Tyrone, with Rory O'Donnell, earl of Tyrconnell, and their followers, embarked on a ship bound for Spain. The vessel was blown off course and landed in Normandy. From there they made their way to Rome, where they were acclaimed by Pope Paul V. This "flight of the earls" signalled the end of Gaelic Ireland. O'Neill is remembered in Ireland and we learn about him in school, but he is overshadowed in popular culture by the more recent freedom fighters that did actually win against England. Michael Collins, Padraig Pearse etc are more regarded, this is also due to events they were involved in happening in recent history in comparison with Hugh O'Neill.
Although the trilogy marks a (applauded by me and many) return to harsher music, yet I think that 'Nine Years Of Blood' is not only based upon harshness, yet more diverse. How do you see that?
I completely agree. There is definitely a lot of aggression in our music, especially so if it is a part where I am screaming, but we have some very beautiful classical sounding passages. We have soundscapes created with strings and piano that are, in my opinion, breath taking and on a par with some of the greatest contemporary classical composers today. I have drawn influence from the likes of Ludovico Einaudi and I believe, with no ego, that some of the softer moments on this album are on a par with what these composers do. I know I will have some people sneer at me for saying that, but I do believe it, if the people out there can listen past the heavy guitars (and of course there are parts where there are no heavy guitars, we compose the pieces that way to make the softer moments shine), if you can listen to these pieces for what they are, you will see what I mean.
How do you look back at the writing process of this album? Was it easier with a concept or on the contrary?
The writing process was pretty much the same as always, I create most of the melodies although in the last few years Kieran and John Ryan are also composing. We take these melodies to the rehearsal room and try expand on them. Add some backing parts and try structure them into a song. As for the album being a concept album, I did find it quite restrictive and a little challenging, up to this point I have been used to writing whatever I wanted, but with this album I had to follow a path. I had written the song 'Queen Of War' before the decision was made to create a concept album, luckily that song is about The Morrigan, the Celtic Goddess of War, so I had no problem keeping that song as I believe it fits right into the story and ties all our albums together in a roundabout way.
John Fay left Cruachan again. How come? What were the reasons for his departure?
There are many reasons for what happened but the basic reason is that we didn't get along. There was always fighting and arguments between us. I don't want to go into the detail of what we were fighting about but I will say that I am, and always have been passionate about Cruachan, and always will be. I have put my heart and soul into the band, I have invested financially into the band, and will do everything to defend Cruachan and make Cruachan as great as I possibly can.
Did you work with Michael Richards again? What about the recordings this time?
Yes we did, it's our third time working with Michael. There are still things on the album that we are not happy with, things I hear now and say to myself 'How the fuck did that get onto the album', I hear mistimes, background noise that leaked onto microphones and is now on the album forever. These are mostly small things that people may never notice but, even with these issues that have happened on previous album too, the positive points about working at Trackmix far outweigh these small negatives. Michael is a METAL producer who also works with a lot of acoustic bands, so he knows exactly how to work with us. A lot of folk metal bands have to sacrifice their heavy electric guitars, so the folk instruments can be heard on their albums, Michael has a balance whereby we can maintain our heaviness while not cancelling out the frequencies of violins or tin-whistles. He also owns some of the best guitars and amplifiers for metal, so we get to use them when recording which is an absolute dream!
Please tell us a little bit about the exhibit of you at the Irish Rock 'n' roll museum in Dublin?
They got in touch with my a few years ago saying they constantly have people visit the museum and ask: where is the Cruachan stuff, so they wanted to fix that. I donated the keyboard that I used to compose the first four Cruachan albums as well as the school copy book that I used to write out some of my first lyrics. There are also posters in there of various shows in far off places around the world. I felt very proud of this as we constantly complain about our country not really appreciating what we have achieved as a band, so any type of recognition is something for us to be proud of.
On the first of March Ireland was in lockdown for a huge snow storm. Not only that. You experienced hallucinating things in your town Tallaght. What happened exactly and how is normal life going on after one month?
Wow that was a crazy time. We had some freak blizzards due to a polar air front meeting a lot of moisture coming in from the Atlantic. It was really exciting if I'm honest, although the intensity of the snow did get a little worrying. Ireland does not experience snow on the levels that the likes of Scandinavia would experience, so we are not prepared for it when it does happen. There were shortages of food in the shops in the lead up to the storm, actually no, that's not true, there was shortages of bread. It became a national joke amongst the Irish that bread kept selling out. There was a crisis meeting by the government over the course of the four days of the snow and we would love and ask where is the representative from the bakers association haha. But things did turn really nasty where I live. As there was so much snow, criminals seen an opportunity, knowing that the local police will have difficulty responding to any crimes committed. The first thing that happened was looting, a local Lidl super market was broken into and videos appeared on social media of people looting. This escalated later that night when the criminals stole an excavator from a local building site and destroyed the entire super market and stole the safe. They were all caught red handed. The army helped the police reach the scene. The guys thought they would never be caught. There were also other shop break ins. Some of the worst things I witnessed was the local thugs setting fire to peoples cars. The snow got so bad that people could not drive through it and had no choice but to abandon their cars, these scumbags came along the next day and burned them.
Did they catch and trial any bad guys?
Yes, they caught most of them. A lot of kids had shared videos of themselves looting on social media, so it was easy for the police to identify them. The main bad guys, the ones that destroyed the Lidl, were all caught and are awaiting trial at the moment. In all my life I have never witnessed looting in Ireland, that's the type of thing you see on the news in the UK or USA, never here.
The artwork is done by Daniel Durbeck. Can you tell a bit more about this artist, his works and the symbolism of the cover art?
Daniel had worked on some promo art for us in the past, so we decided to work with him on the cover. We had a lot of ideas for the cover, there was a lot of back and forth between myself and Daniel. I sent Daniel lyrics, the theme of the album, some ideas and some advice and he went to work. The first album cover he drafted is hilarious, it has a gigantic St. George's cross in the sky. It looks like the cover of a UK skinhead band. My jaw dropped when I received it. Daniel explained the concept, the cross is in the sky, representing the storm clouds of English rule. I told him that would work if we were an English band singing about the war but for an Irish band it just had to go, it was really funny at the time. I then made some sketches of my idea to have the Morrigan looking out over the battlefield. You can see the red hand of Ulster on the Celtic cross, today that represents the protestant section of Ulster, back then it was the symbol of Hugh O Neills Irish forces.
Are you still into video games or did any new hobbies got a hold on you in recent years?
I am still hugely into video games and even run my own YouTube channel, so everybody please go and subscribe right now to 'cruachankeith' on YouTube. One new hobby that has come from nowhere is acting. My girlfriend, Rachel Lally, is an actor and drama teacher and is now directing her first play at The Moat theatre in Naas, Co. Kildare. Originally she asked if I would help with the music but somehow I now have a big part in her production of 'Pullman Car Hiawatha'. I have to say I am really enjoying the whole experience and the feedback I have received from seasoned actors has been amazing, so I will definitely keep this up. Although, I have been on stage for twenty five years already so did have a little head start.
We have a lyric video for 'Queen Of War', but are there any plans for proper music video(s)?
Yes, we are in the process of creating a video for ‘The Battle Of The Yellow Ford’. We will work with Dave Swift from the Irish Claoimh re-enactment and military history society in Ireland. They have historically accurate uniforms for both the Irish and English soldiers from that period. It will be impossible to try re-create the battle with our limited budget, but we are planning to showcase some English scouts being tracked by Irish soldiers in the lead up to the battle. I wonder who will win? Dave and myself will play the Irish soldiers, Kieran and Mauro will be the English.
Is there once again one song on the album with a link to Tolkien?
No, as the album is a concept album I gave the Tolkien stuff a break for the moment.
Congratulations! Cruachan has been around for 25 years in 2018! What are your memories on how it once started?
Thank you. I can still remember being a teenager and working with my dad during the summer holidays, aged fifteen and telling him what I was planning to do. I had already been the vocalist in Crypt and started my own band called Minas Tirith but wanted to do more. Actually, an even older memory is being in Crypt with guys much older than me and listening to Nocturnus 'The Key', I was so impressed that someone was trying something different in death metal and I mentioned it to the guys, they just laughed. I always wanted to try new things. I got deeply into Irish music and culture so naturally, with my own band, I make the rules and that's where Cruachan came from. I was fifteen when I composed the music on 'Tuatha Na Gael', a kid haha.
You will play a celebration gig with your brothers in folk Skyclad and Waylander. Wow the three bands that made me aware of folk metal! Any thoughts on that?
We are so excited about this. We wanted to do something special to mark our twenty five years, so what better way to do this than get the three bands responsible for the creation of folk metal together on one stage. I have always been a fan of Skyclad and recently have been lucky enough to count them as good friends. We played together and hung out in Spain last year, they are definitely enjoying a resurgence after almost disappearing completely a few years ago. While there we kept saying we should tour together or gig together so when I started planning who to have with us for our twenty fifth, it was an easy decision. We are also planning a lot of things for the show. We have re-enactment groups ready to do battle on stage, we are bringing back a load of old members including Karen Gilligan to sing some of the old favourites. It is going to be an epic party in Dublin that night so everyone should come over. We've already seen on the Facebook that people are travelling from the USA, Australia, Israel, all over Europe just for this show. That is very humbling.
What are the plans on touring or playing gigs so far, except for that important celebration?
We have some interesting shows for 2018. We've already completed the Scandinavian tour which has been awesome. We have a five date tour of Brazil in the summer which will be some party, we have a lot of crazy fans there who never get to see us so, needless to say, we are super excited about that. As for festivals we have some really cool ones – we are back at Brutal Assault in Prague, one of our favourite festivals. We also travel to Belarus for Nash Grunwald and Latvia for Lobens Open Air. Later we have Malpaga in Italy, Motocultor in France, Ragnarok Spektakel in Switzerland and Kaltenbach in Austria.
Do you already have any ideas about what's next after the trilogy or is it really too early to talk about that?
I think we will continue with the epic style presented on the new album so expect more classical music influences while still remaining Cruachan with lots of folk and metal. I will be happy to return to the normal individual themes for the songs, I'll have to play catch up on my Tolkien stuff too.
Why a version of the traditional Irish song 'Back Home In Derry'?
'Back home In Derry' was written by Bobby Sands who was a member of the IRA and died on hunger strike. The song is about the penal transportation of Irishmen in the 19th century to Van Diemen's Land (modern day Tasmania). We all think it is a really strong and beautiful song, it is very folky but this is not happy drinking song folk music – it is very thoughtful, evocative and sad. The reality of the song is, it does not fit into the overall concept and was originally to be a bonus track. Then we thought about it and made a choice that, in fact, it does fit. We now think of it as a type of epilogue – hundreds of years have passed since the nine years war, we have not given up our fight for freedom and are still fighting, eventually winning our freedom in the early 1900's.
If there is anything you'd like to add, please feel free to do it here...
Thanks as always Vera it is a pleasure for us to talk to you. Everyone should go and check my YouTube channel out and help my become a YouTube millionaire haha