We have been following this mystical, ambient Irish band, Nocturnes, since Dublin’s Hard Working Class Heroes Festival last year, only we discovered (sadly too late) that they were playing a different venue altogether! Considered “our favourite Irish record of the year” by RTÉ Culture, for us, their recent album has been on repeat since HWCH and the intrigue of their back catalogue of songs and the magic behind them, recently got the better of us, so we caught up for chat. Get to know the band ahead of their headlining slot at the Workman’s, Dublin (Nov 16th) where we discuss their coinage of a new musical genre: Electronic Chamber Music, the magic of songwriting and the ethereal, otherworldliness of Ireland.
The first thing that struck me was that were born in Sligo, Pearse, where we tend to connect the legend that is W.B Yeats to (even though he was born in Dublin) – how much would you say his legacy is firmly ingrained in the people and the place?
Sligo has a pride about Yeats and his poetry. But I think that it’s a loose sort of a feeling. Maybe his poems come to mind for Sligonians when they’re in a particular place.
‘I went out to the hazel wood, Because a fire was in my head’. That kind of thing.
There’s the Yeats Building in the town, a statue, paintings and quotations and the annual festival. In that way Yeats is ingrained in present day Sligo.
At any points (if any) has Yeats ever had an influence upon your life and work?
I read lots of Yeats at college. I like going out to Lisadell House and imagining a young Yeats swaning about. But in truth he hasn’t really inspired my writing. Maybe the idea of Yeats has; all that ghostliness and otherworldliness.
Maybe the idea of Yeats as this eloquent ethereal character has inspired me. Not the reality of Yeats. Which is quite a Yeatsian idea in itself.
Ireland is connected to so many literary and musical ‘greats’ so much inspiration can be drawn from the historic, poetic and wildly romantic land alone. But I was reading that it was during your time spent in France and Montreal that you became ‘hooked on songwriting’ – what drew you towards this aspect of writing?
Essentially singing a melody is what got me ‘hooked on songwriting’. It’s quite simple really and not an intellectual thing at all. I love to sing. I love putting shape on thoughts and words. Too often in my life I say the wrong thing or say things in the wrong way. I think lots of us are like that. With a lyric you get a little while to frame things in the way you want.
You can lean on melody and harmony, draw connections between things. It’s a lovely art form, songwriting. There’s a sort of magic in it.
Though my songs are generally inspired by a specific feeling or sometimes a specific event, that’s often only the catalyst. They end up somewhere else. I used to think that was vague or pointless. But a song’s not a thing you measure. It’s just a song. An insubstantial thing. But it can be very meaningful.
You spent a great deal of time away from home, living and working within various bands and as a solo artist in France, Canada, Norway and England – what is the project you are most proud of and why?
Maybe Idiot Songs, my collaboration with Justin Grounds. I think that was a great record; artful, rich, poetic, lots of compelling use of instrumentation, it had depth. It was contemporary and as good as anything released in 2013. But I am proud of all the records I’ve released.
I’m really keen to know more about is this concept album – Idiot Songs – inspired by/based on the Russian novelist, Fyodor Dostoevsky’s: The Idiot – can you describe the process, it’s outcome and resulting new musical genre you coined: electronic chamber music?
Good question. Well, Justin and I had done some shows together and we always ended up talking about different novels or thinkers we both loved. He recommended reading ‘Idiot Songs’. So, I did and then I wrote the first song for it, ‘Nastasya’s Tears’. It’s such a good book. About an innocent and awkward character called Prince Myshkin. He’s the kind of character who points out the simple truths in society, the kind of person people fear in a strange way. Me and Justin loved this and just kept writing songs about different situations from ‘The Idiot’. The process was really cool. We were using Dropbox to exchange files. It’s an excellent way to collaborate. You get to hone in on your own little approach without being influenced by someone else in the room. We just passed files back and forth. We did some studio recording. Justin is a very fine violin player and is interested in chamber music and as we had some electronic beats in there we called it ‘electronic chamber songs’.
How have you evolved into the band you are in today, Nocturnes, and how different is today’s live set-up?
Different from Idiot Songs? Hmm. Well Idiot Songs is a pretty visceral experience. But I hope Nocturnes is moving too. I really enjoy playing live. Music is transient. The song comes and then it disappears. It’s gone and the moment can never be recaptured. I love that. In Nocturnes I have some musicians I love playing with me who get what I want to create. Or maybe who want to create the same thing as me, would be a less egotistical way of saying that. I’m lucky to have lots of incredible collaborators: Justin, Billy Donohue, Christophe Capewell, Enda Roche, Sweeney Lee, Christian Volkmann. The live set up can vary but at its core its myself, Enda and Billy.
You have talked about Nocturnes’ latest album drawing a lot upon childhood through to parenthood experiences – can you tell us more about this collection?
I wrote a lot of it after the birth of my daughter. I guess that’s a wide open time, a time of growth. Many, many emotions. So, some of the tracks deal a little in that. Like ‘Whale Song’ is about parenting in some way but it’s also about wanting to be strong for someone else, to be noble. And it’s about this strange little life cycle we have.
Your brother, Kevin McGloughlin who’s a Videographer/Filmmaker on the rise in Ireland has worked with you on several videos now – how was this process, perhaps you can talk about this latest release: ‘Humans’?
Kevin is a wonderful filmmaker. The attention he pays to his work is so impressive. He is the real deal, as artists go. He’s true to his vision. Not too many people have that. So it’s cool when we work together. The process is interesting. I sometimes have a few ideas and Kevin warps them. Often too he’ll already have an idea he wants to work on regardless of the song.
The latest release ‘Humans’ was quite straight forward. It was just a live take of a song we were rehearsing. Looks great and gives a little bit of the character of Nocturnes. Kevin and another of my brothers, Eoin shot it.
How are your live shows going? You have a headline show at The Workmans next month which is pretty exciting! Would you say the live show is a really important factor in giving the band its identity?
Ha! I think we are really good live. And I love playing live. It takes a good while to get the hang of a live show. It’s a funny thing.
I would say that the live show helps to give us our identity, yeah. One of my friends says when you see us we look like we should be in a band together which I find quite funny. Hairy weirdos.
And lastly, what Irish music are you enjoying at the moment – have you seen any good gigs recently, any artists that we ought to check out?
I like lots of Irish acts. We did a show at Nighthawks recently with Little Green Cars and they were just phenomenal. Their third album is going to be great. I like the new Fionn Regan record. I actually think our opening acts in The Workman’s are going to do great stuff over the next few years. Arch Motors and Aural Air are quite new to the scene but both have something special.
Nocturnes play The Workman’s Club, Dublin on November 16th with support from Aural Air and Arch Motors.