TUNE IN TO
|ROCKWiRED iNTERViEWS THE KiLLDARES
PUSHiNG FORWARDI usually can't stand it when a band goes on about how they are like a family and that there is absolutely no ego involved from any of it's members. There have been moments throughout my reportage where a band goes on and on about this one-of-kind chemistry that they share that can't be duplicated, yet a month down the line the lead singer goes solo and the guitar player follows suit. What can I say? My heart has been broken by some fine bands in the past but THE KILLDARES have given me reason to no be so cynical. In fact, when vocalist/drummer TIM SMITH and fiddle player ROBERTA RAST tell me that the current line up THE KILLDARES is a "stress-free" situation, I believe them. One can hear it in the music.
TiM SMiTH AND ROBERTA RAST OF THE KiLLDARES
TALK TO ROCKWiRED
ABOUT THEiR LATEST CD 'SECRETS OF THE DAY'
WORKiNG WiTH RONAN CHRiS MURPHY
AND MiXING CELTiC SOUNDS WiTH ROCK
iNTERViEWED BY BRiAN LUSH
For the past ten years, THE KILLDARES have enchanted audiences throughout the country with their spellbinding mix of Celtic folk flourishes and driving rock rhythms. Now the band has released their sixth album 'SECRETS OF THE DAY' and the bands Celtic sensibilities are in full force on the driving 'HOLD MY HEART', the yearning DISAPPEAR, and the rocking PUSH. Punctuated by MATT WILLIS's bagpipes, RAST's fiddle playing and SMITH's MICHAEL STIPE-styled wail, "SECRETS..." is a thin slice of modern rock heaven.
ROCKWIRED spoke with TIM SMITH and ROBERTA RAST over the phone in the midst of a tour as SMITH was suffering from the flu. Here is how it went.
Despite the flu, how are the shows going?
TIM: They're going great! We've had a great year so far and we're already ramping up for 2009. We're going to take a break for the holidays and we're going to start playing again in January.
Well, SECRETS OF THE DAY is awesome!
TIM: Thank you!
The band has been together for about ten years now. What is different this time around with this album as opposed to previous releases?
TIM: I think the process in making it was different. We had more time and a bigger budget and we had really honed the songs over a longer period of time. Some of these songs had started two years prior to the album being made, so we really drew on the entire band to bring them in and truly make it a collaborative process and I think that had to do with the fact that we had a little more time to draw on all of our own individual influences. I have ROBERTA in here with me.
ROBERTA: Hi, there.
Oh hi ROBERTA! I didn't know you were there. So how have the shows been going for you?
ROBERTA: Very well. We've been finishing up this year and getting ready for next year. Our last show was at the HOUSE OF BLUES. It was indie night so we had a couple of other indie bands playing with us from Dallas and it was really fun to see all of these artists together. It's been going really good!
So ROBERTA, what are your thoughts on the finished product here?
ROBERTA: I am beyond ecstatic about this album because it was more of a relaxing process for the whole band this time. Our previous albums with this band have been like 'Okay we're going into the studio in two months! Let's start writing!' This time around, we just let it happen naturally and when we had enough songs, that was when we went into the studio. Like TIM said, we had a longer period of time to let the songs form kind of naturally.We used the same producer as the one before (RONAN CHRIS MURPHY) and that was comforting because we already knew RONAN's style of producing and we were really comfortable with what he did on the other album. Even on that one, we wanted more time with him so that was nice to go in already knowing how it was going to flow and that we had more time to craft what we wanted it to be like.
Describe working with RONAN?
TIM: This is the fifth record that the band has made and by far the most relaxing. RONAN has this uncanny ability to pull creativity from the band without it ever being pressure-building or stressful or negative. I can't explain it, but for some reason the end product is a result of this natural ability that he has and I think that is kind of rare and so for me, it was an enjoyable process. A lot of times you'll hear bands say that they don't enjoy being in the studio per se, but I enjoyed making this record and RONAN kind of becomes the sixth member of the band and really pulled everything together. At the end of the day, you wonder how that happened and a lot of that is his ability to do what he does.
How did the band begin? Lets go back to the year of the flood.
TIM: I started the band around 1997. It's been going for a while now - for eleven years. I started the band in Dallas with the idea of putting together a band of like-minded players who wanted to do something different, so I started querying members around the Irish music community. Things change. Members leave and members go and here we are eleven years later. I'm the remaining member, but the band that is currently on this record has been together for five years. It's a pretty solid line up in my opinion.
ROBERTA, at what point did you join the band?
ROBERTA: I joined six years ago and my first gig with THE KILLDARES was kind of a "dropped in grease" tour if you may. It was actually at the State Fair in Texas. It was twenty four days straight and playing seven times a day and it was intense. In five days, I had better have learned my part or else I was out of there. It was fun right off the bat. I was looking for a band to be involved with full time and I ran across THE KILLDARES and this Celtic rock sound. It didn't compute for me upon first hearing about them but when I listened to their music, I loved that it was so different. You couldn't pick another band that they sounded like. With TIM's vocals and the instrumentation and the fact that they did instrumentals and vocal numbers was something that was intriguing to me. I loved Celtic music and I always have, but I grew up in the competition arena so I hadn't really developed in that genre specifically so I was excited to sink my teeth into something new so it was the perfect little set up. It was perfect timing for me and they just happened to be looking for a fiddle player and here we are six years later and it keeps getting better and better every year. We're all very good friends and it's stress-free and it's nice to hang out.
TIM, what drove you towards this Celtic rock sound?
TIM: I've just always had an affinity for it. I'm a rocker at heart. In the eighties I listened to a lot of punk music and a lot of indie stuff but there was a lot of folk music in my family as well such as Irish, bluegrass and stuff. In my college years when I was listening to bands like THE WATERBOYS or BIG COUNTRY that had that Celtic tinge and were crossing over to a pop rock market. Stuff like that piqued my interest. Some of my Dad's record collection inspired me which consisted of a lot of progressive Celtic bands from the late sixties and early seventies like FAIRPORT CONVENTION and even a little JETHRO TULL. Things like that were spinning out in the periphery while I listened to a lot of punk rock stuff. The idea was to draw upon all of my influences because I always had a liking for that kind of Celtic stuff with a progressive edge to it. I had this goal to create a band that hadn't been done yet in my opinion, so that was my foundation.
What was your musical background ROBERTA?
ROBERTA: I grew up in this hidden little circuit of competition fiddlers and every state has their old time Fiddlers Association so I grew up in Idaho and we had the National Old Time Fiddlers Association in Idaho. It's a week long competition up there and it was a huge deal for me growing up. I have three older sisters who play in the same style and our family would travel to different competitions around the U.S. and so that is pretty much what I grew up doing. You're playing solo and you play different categories of tunes on competitions and the Texas-style was what was winning all of the competitions everywhere so that was what we were drawn to. I ended up living in Texas where they have one of the best Fiddlers Associations and I still to this day like to go to their events and their competitions. It's like a second family and great people to convene with and jam with. That was where I came from but it kind fo reached a point where I said 'Okay! now what?' What comes after this? You can't make a living at it. It's more like a hobby. I needed to find somewhere else for a musical outlet.
Talk about the other band members of THE KILLDARES and what you think each of them sort of brings to the table creatively, musically, and personality-wise.
TIM: There is MATT WILLIS on the bagpipes. Instrumentation-wise, he brings another unique bookend to the band with ROBERTA on the fiddle and him on the bagpipes. He also plays the Irish pipe and Scottish smallpipe. Visually, the bagpipe is a very captivating instrument and sonically as well. I have always believed that a person's characteristics and their personality in general are very similar to the instrument that they play. I think it's perfect that MATT plays the Highland Bagpipe because he is a very confident person and a very technical person as well, so it fits perfectly.
ROBERTA: He could talk to you for hours about tuning the bagpipe and go into every aspect of it and the history behind it all.
TIM: He actually restores bagpipes as well as a second job so to speak.
ROBERTA: And he's a STAR WARS fanatic.
TIM: I am too but I'll say that he is more obsessed about it then I am. Like ROBERTA said, we're a huge family. On guitars is BREK LANCASTER. There is a gentle nature about him that kind of goes contrary to most guitar players. He's a very giving person and is always smiling. To me, he offers a warmth and comfort onstage.
ROBERTA: Very care-free! He's the glue. Whenever people get off course he is always there to bring people back to the center. He's very light-hearted and loves THE BEATLES. He keeps us smiling a lot.
TIM: He plays a LES PAUL and I think he plays it pretty non-traditionally in comparison to most rock players. Of course there are times where he does a lot of rock stuff but he incorporates a lot of different styles into the band and it's kind of an interesting tapestry. He is the sole guitar player so he is actually having to bring in a lot of different textures within the album but even on every song on th album and that transfers into the live show. I think a lot of the movements of the song can be defined by him as part of the rhythm section which brings us to JIM DAWSON who is kind of our rock solid bass player. JIM on the contrary from BREK, falls exactly into what I would call the typical bass player, but he is rock solid rhythm keeper. Everything about our and pretty much stems from the rhythm section which is different from most of the Celtic genre so the result we're able to transcend some of those stereotypical boundaries within the style and create our own sound within the genre. JIM can also pack a trailer like nobody's business.
ROBERTA: Yeah, he takes a lot of time in packing the trailer. It's like TETRIS!
TIM: Like 3-D TETRIS! Have you ever played that? It's really hard!
Explain if it's explainable, the creative process. How do songs get written in this band?
TIM: That is one of the freedoms that I enjoy talking about that kind of happen on their own. There is really not a set agenda on how that gets done. Some of the songs were born out of an acoustic session between ROBERTA, BREK and myself. Some of them, I wrote myself. Sometimes you're able to write a song in seven minutes and it stays that way. A handful of the songs on this album were written with all five us about two years ago out of a jam session. They were recorded in a rehearsal and that is were the songs grew from. This album was truly a collaborative process.
ROBERTA: One of the songs was actually finished in the studio.
TIM: (to ROBERTA) What song was that?
TIM: Oh yeah, 'PUSH'
ROBERTA: And a couple of the instrumentals came out of a few sessions in the studio. We kind of had what we wanted in mind but we also wanted leave ourselves open to RONAN's input and to have a collaborative effort while we were in the studio and to keep things somewhat improvisational. It was fun to see these instrumentals transform in the studio and do a one-eighty. The instrumentals changed tremendously.
TIM: The writing process was just as fun as making the record because lyrically I wrote many of the songs and MATT was very instrumental in combining lyrics on a lot of songs as well. We like to think or hope that there is not much ego involved in our band so the door is wide open for other contributors and I think that kind of philosophy allows for amazing opportunities.
And TIM, I've got to ask this. How difficult is it to sing and be the drummer at the same time. That always looks hard to me.
TIM: It's hard. Now it's just not as hard to do. If I think about it, then it becomes hard. I taught myself how to do that about fifteen years ago. I was in a band in college where the duty fell to me. I don't really think of the difficulty factor. I think of more the odd visual factor because some people can't comprehend it from an audience perspective.
ROBERTA: Audiences want a front man sometimes but they don't get that this is something different that we're trying to accomplish here. When we play people will be in the audience going, where is the singer until they realize -
TIM: Then they realize that I'm front and center and downstage. I play a low-rise drum kit so I'm very visible. In industry music, people expect to see that front man standing up there with his arms wide open. It's difficult at first but within a song or two, hopefully people will catch on. It's not exactly a hurdle and we've never been really been commented on it but ROBERTA seems to believe that it's because I make it look so easy that people don't even notice it.
What tracks sort of stand out for each of you at the moment and why?
TIM: I would say, for me, I really like 'HOLD MY HEART', probably because it is one of the more special songs on the album. It is also the one that got reworked a lot in pre-production. With RONAN's expertise, It kind of brought a more emotional quality out than there had been before. There is a moment in that song where it reaches a certain apex where the fiddle and bagpipe kick in where it gets a physical reaction out of me so that song will always remain to be cool to me. I would also say that 'DISAPPEAR' is one of the more non-traditional sounds that we are used to doing. It's probably one of the biggest diversions that we've ever taken as a band. We incorporated a string session. It's also a more introspective song so it challenged my lyric writing as well. That song was a big step for me both lyrically and musically. I also like 'GLASGOW' because it incorporates a lot of electronic sampling and progressive technology combined with a traditional acoustic fiddle tune so I think there is a cool little opposites attract going on in that song and that tune is a traditional tune and is usually heard in a traditional format and not in one with sound loops and sampling all around it. I think that one holds a cool place for me right now too.
ROBERTA: My favorites are definitely 'DISAPPEAR' and 'GLASGOW' obviously because I grew up playing instrumentals as a child, but 'GLASGOW' is one of my favorite Celtic tunes so I was really excited about getting to play it on this album. With RONAN's input this is a song that we were able to do a complete one-eighty on. This piece is usually done uptempo and we were in the back room messing around with it once and I was playing it slower with BREK on guitar and RONAN stepped in to grab something to eat and he was like 'I really like that tempo! We should think about this!" Before we knew it, we took the tempo and made it slower and brought in some different effects. It was something very pretty that we actually put on the album. It wasn't fully developed until after the post production. 'DISAPPEAR' is another one that I love. I could listen to it over and over again. Usually, I don't want to go back and listen to my old stuff. If you perform it every week, then you don't go back to your own CD as much. But I love 'DISAPPEAR'. It's got a lot of meaning to it. Performing-wise I love 'SPEAK TO ME'. It always gets the audience up and dancing. That one and 'CLOSER THAN YOU KNOW'.
TIM: 'PUSH' has this hook which was built from a guitar riff that BREK had come up with. MATT is actually coupling with the harmony of that riff and when the two play together there is this symbiotic note that occurs and when they are not played together, it doesn't have the same effect. I think it is a special moment for that song. This album pushed us into areas that I had never gone before with this band. In the beginning I had questioned dropping it from the album and RONAN said that it was one of the stronger ones. And we pushed through with it.
ROBERTA: Pushed through.
TIM: Pun intended.
How long did it take to make the album?
TIM: Three weeks and about two extra weeks to mix it. Five weeks all together which is pretty amazing actually from an independent band's standpoint. So I'm very happy with what came out of it.
What would you like people to come away with after they've heard 'SECRETS OF THE DAY'?
TIM: An appreciation of what's new and different. I think there is a lot of formulaic stuff that is happening in the music business right now and I would just hope people would think 'Wow! I've never heard this before!' and that that would cause people to have a deeper appreciation for what's out there and know that there is music out there that deserves to be heard.
ROBERTA: A desire to find different styles of music out there because there is so much. I love when people come up to us and say that they forgot about everything going on in their life and world and just enjoyed the music. That to me is the best compliment.