The Lost Brothers on why new album After The Fire After The Rain is 'a celebration of being Irish'
Cult close-harmony songsmiths The Lost Brothers are about to unveil their sixth album, After The Fire After The Rain. David Roy quizzed Navan man Oisin Leech and Omagh-born Mark McCausland about making the record in New York with Bob Dylan's bassist Tony Garnier and their upcoming Irish tour...
YOU recorded the new album with Daniel Schlett at Strange Weather Studio in Brooklyn, with Tony Garnier co-producing and playing bass. How did that come about and how did the sessions go?
Mark: We'd met Tony on tour years ago in Germany and ended up hanging out with him and then keeping in touch.
Oisin: About a year ago, Tony happened to text us, saying, "There's this studio in New York called Strange Weather where they have beautiful equipment, the atmosphere is great and they record you live. If ever you want to record there let me know – and if you need a bass player, I'll come and play".
So we texted him back to say "let's do this, how about in two weeks' time?" and he said "yep". He was setting off with Dylan the week after, so we had one week when everyone was free.
Tony's bass playing was kind of driving things. When he steps through the door, everyone is on their A-game. So we were all super focused, but we also had a laugh – it was really great fun and he's the funniest guy to be around.
Our friend Howe [Gelb of Giant Sand and co-producer of 2018's Halfway Towards a Healing] flew up to work with us as well. Tony and Daniel produced, but Howe was there too, overseeing it from a distance. He hung out and played keys on a lot of the songs.
M: It was great that it all happened so naturally. We didn't force the session to happen, it kind of laid its own path in front of us and we just kind of followed it. Usually the best things kind of happen like that.
We've been lucky to find different people from different parts of the world who share our kind of vision, so it just seems like a natural thing to end up working with them.
O: Recording for The Lost Brothers has become like a trip – we've fallen into this thing where we make a recording week a whole experience, like we're on a little mission for ourselves with these songs that mean an awful lot to us.
We'd never worked in New York before. Manhattan obviously has this beautiful high energy atmosphere and Brooklyn has this beautiful calm energy, and there's all this history with great records like Bob Dylan's Freewheelin' being recorded there. So it was lovely recording in America, in this new city which gave us an even more heightened sense of these songs which we'd written at home and about home – we could really see what they were about.
Is there a particular reason that your Irish roots are so particularly evident in the lyrics and imagery of this record?
M: Two or three years ago we decided to slow down and base ourselves here. So this is probably been the longest period of time that we've actually been at home for – your surroundings kind of get into your blood and it just comes out naturally in the songs when you don't even mean it to. We didn't really plan it, it just fell out.
O: I think after being on the road for 12 years, being home has become even more special: there's certain images that are recurring like the Gortin Glen around Omagh or the Hill of Tara and the River Boyne in Meath, and that sense of place and sense of home has been instilled in the songs without us really trying.
On previous albums we definitely looked across the waters to American folk and roots, whereas this time it's somehow become this darker, noir album about growing up in Tyrone and Ireland.
We were demoing the songs in Omagh about a year ago and I asked Mark "what's this place called?" He just said, "oh, this is Six Mile Cross". I thought that was a great name for a song and so we ended up writing an instrumental.
I'm glad that this record is a celebration of home, of being Irish and northern Irish, really.
You amassed nearly 50 songs before recording the album, was it tough to whittle them down to 11 'keepers'?
M: For every album, you wanna go in with as much 'ammo' as you can. We've kind of got a self-filtering thing where we both have ideas and then get together, shoot a load of stuff at the wall and see what sticks.
Usually the ones that stick are the ones we aren't really working on: like we could be working on three songs, then take a break and end up writing something else just for a laugh – sometimes it's that one that you end up going back to. Like [opening track] Fugitive Moon, we don't even remember writing that – we were just in a daze trying to write other songs.
Then when you're trying to pick the tracks to sequence the album, it's all about the ones which go best together. There's a couple of songs that we actually love which we've kept off the album because they stood out so much. We like the albums to sound like a complete piece – and we still sequence things for vinyl, side A and side B.
O: We picked the 11 songs that told a story and gave us the strongest sense of magic or alchemy. That's good enough for us and now we just have to hope they have that same sense of connection to our audience.
Are you looking forward to the upcoming tour?
M: Definitely. We've been sneaking new songs into the set this past few months just to see how they'll go down and they've actually fitted into the set really well. When we go out on this next tour the album will be out then so people will kind of know them a wee bit better.
We've got six albums now, so we always write these set lists that are like three hours long and have to whittle them down. It's like sequencing an album, and what works one night might not work the next – every single night is different. We always write a set, but we never stick to it: you just have to be ready for whatever way the night is going.
How does it feel to be six hugely acclaimed albums into your career as a successful independent band?
M: It's something we're really proud of to look back on. We've never followed any craze or what other people have said we 'need to do'. You have to be able to stick to your own vision and I think from the first track on the first album to the last track on the new album, it still sounds like us. We've never strayed from our own sound.
O: I don’t look at our music and label it 'Americana' - it’s just a collection of songs by two Irish musicians. We are influenced by everyone from Van Morrison to Andy Irvine and, at the end of the day, we write from a place very close to home.
:: The Lost Brothers' Irish tour includes dates at Omagh's Strule Arts Centre (March 19), Ulster Sports Club Belfast (March 20) and Dublin's Vicar Street (March 21). For full dates, tickets and pre-orders of After The Fire After The Rain (released February 7) visit Thelostbrothersband.com or Mark's record shop Boneyard Records (FB.com/theboneyardrecords) on Market Street in Omagh. Oisin's Joey Procida's Folk Club night at The Lantern in Navan offers a monthly dose of poetry and music, see Tinyurl.com/joeyprocidas for details.