The band rose from the ashes of your former band Minas Tirith. That name was obviously taken from the novel 'The Lord Of The Rings' by J.R.R. Tolkien, so I'm wondering…what are your thoughts about the movie?
I thought the movie was brilliant, I've seen it a couple of times so far. There were a few changes, there were some things the director had to drop out, but then again, it was like either make the film as it was, or no film at all. My brother John went to see it and he didn't find it quite as good, he didn't like the fact that there was no sense of time. Anyone who has read the book will know it makes months for things to happen where as in the film it all seems to be happening very quickly, but I still think it's brilliant.
The current bandname sounds rather mysterious, what does it mean?
At the beginning of the band, back in 1992, we knew that we were going to sing about Celtic mythology, Irish mythology and stuff, so we wanted to have a name that kinda suited the concept of the band. The name itself is taken from a Celtic legend, but it is an actual name of the caves in a province of Ireland, of which the Pagans of the time (the Celts) believed the entrance to the other world was. When christianity came to the country and was trying to convert the Pagans to christianity, the monks said that it wasn't the entrance to the other world, but it was the entrance to Hell.
But it has nothing to do with Cromm Cruach (an ancient Celtic god)?
No, not at all, that's only a similar kind of sound.
From the start your goal with the band was to incorporate the love for Celtic music, history and fantasy with Rock/Metal music. This was something not often done before I guess?
No, that's right, not the way we do it anyway. I don't know if we directly influenced, but a lot of bands have come along since we got together. When I was getting the band together in 1992, I got into Skyclad's fourth album, and we listened to the few little folk parts on it and thought it was brilliant. I already liked an Irish band from the 70's called The Horses, who were mixing rock music with Celtic music, which was quite extreme. I wanted to go to the next extreme and mix Irish Folk music with Black and Death Metal, which we've done.
I know that another Irish band like Thin Lizzy had some traditional elements in their music (like in the songs 'Emerald' and 'Black Rose), so I assume that this band had some influence on your musical development?
Well, you could say Thin Lizzy yeah, but if you look at Heavy Metal as a whole, it's very heavily influenced by Folk music. Just listen to the first couple of Iron Maiden albums, just listen to the licks, it's all ancient stuff. And a lot of Metal bands have said in the past that there's a close kind of tie with Folk music. That's maybe the reason it works so well for us to use Folk music with Heavy Metal.
Cruachan was first active from 1992 until 1997, and in that time the band released one demo (1993), one full-length album ('Tuatha na Gael') in 1995 and a four track promo in 1997, but after that promo the band called it quits…
After 'Tuatha na Gael' came out we got a label interest from Century Media, and for us that was amazing. In those days they were such a big label, one of the biggest in the scene. But when I went to Germany to meet the CM people, and actually see the contract and what they wanted… They wanted like total ownership of the music, they wanted to build the songs to their taste, dance music was trendy at the time so they wanted to put beats over our music. They wouldn't have necessarily done that, but the fact that they had that freedom was kind of scary. I didn't want to give my music away, so we ripped that contract apart. To the band it was just like, we were striving so hard to get to the top, to the top record labels, and then you realise you can't, because that's what they offering, so what's the point. Some of us lost interest in being in the band and left, others gave the band kind of a backseat but kept on playing music. Luckily our fans who bought 'Tuatha na Gael' and who were into our music pushed us and told us to release another album, so we did.
In the period '95 – '97 the band did a lot of live shows, dressed in historically accurate Celtic dresses with war-banners, but the war banners only when the venue allowed. Could you explain that?
Well, we still do that nowadays, not so much in Ireland because the Irish crowd can be a bit buyist and, you know, it's a different scene all together…
Is there still some animosity between the clans than?
Hehehe, you could say that. The thing with the Irish crowd is that nearly everybody is an a band, so sometimes it goes like: 'Oh, here's Cruachan, and I'm jealous because they're signed to a record label blablabla..', they go with a kind of scornful attitude to our gigs. But in '95 it wasn't like that, the scene was very vibrant and we had a great time, wearing the full battle dress, have Celtic war banners on stage, swordfights and everything, but was a few small venues we play when the owner went like: 'You can't do that here, imagine somebody gets hit in the head by a sword', things like that.
Like you said, another album was put out (in 2000), and all because of the fans.
Yes. I just felt there was something lacking while not playing music, I was missing something, combined with all these mails I received, I couldn't go on, I had to play music. But mostly I did it for the fans, we never even realised we had so many fans out there.
That year you inked a deal with the Dutch label Hammerheart Records and your second full-length 'The Middle Kingdom' was released. How do you look back on that album?
I still think it's a brilliant album. I know we had some problems at the time because we were getting the band back together. It was myself, John Clohessy and John O'Fathaigh, the three main members of the original line-up when we signed to Hammerheart. We had no drummer and doubted the use of a female singer. I originally intended to play the drums myself, but I knew this guy Joe (a friend of mine for many years) who is a drummer, so we had a quick talk and he agreed to join the band. Unfortunately this was only four weeks before entering the studio, so the drums were a bit sloppy, only due to lack of experience with our material. Karen came in as a guest vocalist to sing two songs, but I realised the vocals I was doing weren't what I wanted, so we asked her to join full-time and sing the rest of the songs on the album. Musically I think it's great, it's what we were at the time, although Folk-Lore might be heavier, but also folkier as well. I'm still proud of 'The Middle Kingdom', as like I'm proud of 'Tuatha na Gael'.
How did you get in touch with Hammerheart Records anyway?
The first album was done for Nazgul Eyrie Productions, and Guido (HHR manager) was in a band called Bifrost, also on Nazgul Eyrie. We were in contact that way, we were the top sellers on that particular label and Guido knew what we've done. So when he heard were planning to get back together (he spoke with my brother John at some Irish Metal festival), he immediately offered us a deal with Hammerheart. This was a sign of great faith and trust in us because he didn't hear one single song, he hadn't any idea about how it was gonna be, but he just signed us and let us record 'The Middle Kingdom'.
That album was actually the first time I ever heard the band, and what I found most surprising was the use of traditional Irish instruments like Tin whistle, Irish Flute, Bódhran (an ancient hand-held goatskin drum), Uilleann pipes (or elbow pipes, like the traditional bag pipes, but instead of blowing, a bellows is used to pump air into the bag), Harp, Bouzouki (originally a Greek guitar, it has been adopted into Irish and Scottish music) in combination with Metal. Isn't it difficult to write songs for such a combination of styles?
I suppose if you were just playing Metal all of your life, and suddenly want to try and write a Cruachan like song, it would be hard. But the fact that I've grown up with this music, it has been a part of me for so many years, I find it very easy, it's second nature to me. I can write a Folk tune and than sit down with a guitar and write a Death Metal riff the next. I've so many bits and pieces written, I just stick them together and come up with a song.
Recently your new album Folk-Lore was released, and the first thing I noticed was that this album is produced way better than 'The Middle Kingdom'. A case of more budget?
Yes, definitely. In the end of the day money is everything. We had about two and a half weeks to record 'The Middle Kingdom'. It's the same studio by the way, and it's surprising that the two albums sound so different, but with more time to spend on 'Folk-Lore'… Having said that, we had a lot more instruments to record. The producer and engineer Dennis actually said to us that it was like recording two different bands and sticking them together, because he had so much to do. The band itself was a much tighter unit, Karen and Joe were in the band longer, we didn't have as much worries, an then sitting in the background was Shane mcGowan, a kind of overseer, the supervisor, controlling the sound of the traditional instruments.
The second thing I noticed was indeed the guest appearance from the legendary Irish singer Shane mcGowan (frontman of The Pogues). He sings on two tracks ('Spancill Hill' and 'Ride On'), but I'm curious: how did you get him to sing on your album, for the music he usually makes is quite different then Cruachan's music.
Our manager from last year is actually a great friend of Shane, he was a roadie with The Pogues in the 80's. So one night he was over at Shane's house and brought 'The Middle Kingdom' with him. Later he told us that while listening Shane almost feel of his chair, he couldn't believe what we were doing with Folk music. He was amazed, but praised us for bringing Folk music to people who probably never had heard this kind of stuff before. Straight away he wanted to get involved, and somehow help us out. So, one day the whole band went to his house one night in the summer, we had a few drinks, we spend the night talking about music, and he agreed to come on board an produce the coming album. We always wanted to release the song 'Ride On' as a single, and we managed to talk Shane into singing it with us. When we were in the studio we also managed to let him sing 'Spancill Hill', which for us was a bonus.
How was working with the man anyway? He has quite a reputation when it comes to consuming large amounts of hard liquor.
Hahaha, yeah, well, he's what I call a confident drinker. He probably died 20 years ago, but it's the drink that's keeping him kind off morbidly alive. He gets away with it for some reason.
About the album title, is there some hidden meaning behind Folk-Lore?
There's not really. 'Folk' represents the people, and 'Lore' represents the history of the people. It's what Cruachan has always sung about, the history of the Celtic people. We could have called any of our albums that title too, for we've always used the same theme. There's no hidden meaning behind it, it's just an album title.
Concerning the lyrics, is it all your imagination, or do you use also ancient influences or complete ancient songs (like the German band In Extremo does)?
No, and the likes of the ballads that we have (like 'Ride On') are traditional tunes, of which I arranged the music, but the lyrics were written by other people. My own lyrics are based on facts, Celtic mythology, historical aspects, recent Irish history and stuff like that.
In my opinion the new album musicwise is a logical follow-up for 'The Middle Kingdom', but perhaps you see this otherwise?
No, I definitely agree, again we're fine in our ground. It's been described by some people as the definitive way of mixing Metal and Folk, and we're honoured and proud when people say that. But in terms of albums it's like we get more professional and get more confident in our instruments, we do spend the time writing more elaborate songs, and there's a lot more classical music elements on 'Folk-Lore', which wasn't so evident in the past. We'll always base ourselves in Heavy Metal and in Folk Music, but after that we'd like to add everything in it whatever seems good at that time.
You were supposed to visit Holland for a gig with the Dropkick Murphy's (December last year) but that was cancelled. What happened?
I don't know if the Dropkick's played or not, but they contacted Hammerheart, looking for support bands, and they'd heard that Cruachan might be the perfect support act, but in the end because the gigs in Holland were the follow-up for an American tour, some support bands from the US had to come over, so there was no really need for us anymore. That was a shame, for we haven't had lots of opportunities to play outside of Ireland.
When can we expect to see Cruachan on tour?
We're looking at a full European tour this year. We're starting to get fairly pissed off at the moment that we've been around for nearly ten years and we never played outside Ireland, and I think our fans are starting to feel the same way. We understand the frustrations of our fans, and needless to say we're frustrated ourselves, but if all goes well, we'll play outside of Ireland this year.
And if you have your ways, with which band would you like to tour?
I'd love to play with the likes of In Extremo, or the old kind of Skyclad, when Martin Walkyer was still with 'm. But I don't have any trouble going out with a Death or Black Metal band, for it gives a lot of diversity in the show.
And what can we expect from Cruachan on stage nowadays?
It's still more of the same, we've never stopped playing live in Ireland, so we still have the whole kind of Battle atmosphere, Celtic battle dress, swords and everything like that. It gives the crowd something interesting to look at on stage, you don't just have to look at four or five guys, standing their still all the time.
Any last famous words?
Thanks to everybody who gave us their support in the past, and stay Celtic!!!