Talkin' Trad : Interview with Liz Carroll ( Last date of Irish tour tonight 1st June, Co. Clare )

Liz Carroll concludes her Irish tour tonight 1st June 2014 in Cultúrlann Sweeney, Kilkee, Co. Clare.  Here is an interview we did earlier in the year :: Traditional music in the age of the internet is coming under a lot of scrutiny.  The web is filled with comment and analysis on the state of the industry, the death of the album format, the over commercialisation of the music, traditional over contemporary and a whole plethora of other issues.  The reality of musical life can sometimes get lost in this background noise of comment and analysis. 2013 produced dozens of albums that were simply outstanding.  Yes there were some crossover albums with some contemporary twists but in the main these were very few.

It’s refreshing therefore to hear some simple and straightforward answers from Liz Carroll in response to a point we put to her about the possible need for people to reconnect with the music. “Whether we play in our local pub, in our kitchen, or on stage - we all love this music, right?  No reassessing or reconnecting to the heart of the music is really necessary.  We're essentially all on the same page after all.”

 

In a constantly changing industry Liz Carroll has remained a steady rock of inspiration for many. She had just released On The Offbeat her first solo album in 11 years,  and she took time out to answer some questions for us.  The album features a number of collaborators including Trevor Hutchinson, Catriona McKay, Natalie Hass, Sean Óg Graham and producer Seamus Egan.  We ask how such an illustrious group of individuals came together.  Like a lot of projects it wasn’t planned in this way.  It actually started as a different project entirely and not what you would expect.  These musicians came together for an Irish version of Peter and the Wolf.

“I've always liked Peter and the Wolf and thought it would be nice to have a version set in Ireland to Irish tunes” Liz says.  “After writing tunes for the characters - the duck, the wolf, the huntsman, the cat, the bird - I asked Seamus Egan to join me as the producer for the project.  Long story short, I didn't get permission from the Prokofiev estate to be able to change the setting or change the story or change the music.  How sad!  With the studio booked and musicians booked as well, I asked Seamus first if he minded changing gears and producing a solo record instead of Peter and the Wolf.  He was most encouraging.  And the musicians we asked were all into supporting a solo recording.  So there you go!”

There is always a fascination with the studio process and a teaser video (included below) shows Liz and her fellow musicians happy at work.  We asked how easy it is to capture an honest representation of the music in a studio environment.  “Is it possible to achieve a lively interaction of musicians?” she says.  “You do achieve that feeding off each other and interaction that is so necessary to make the magic happen.”

Liz says that she doesn’t think there's a happier place than a recording studio. “In many ways you do know what you want to do, and you're well prepared before you go into a studio. There is always a great chance for a creative spark to happen when you're surrounded by other musicians and I always want those musicians to feel like they've had a great experience and that they've gotten a chance to shine.  I feel that happens when you're open to their input - if you leave spaces.  But I've always found musicians to be incredibly generous, so they want you to shine, too”.

She goes on to say that there are time constraints because time is money in a studio.  “You try to relax,” she says.  “You focus on the long view - that the music will live on, and if you have to sacrifice financially to make it happen, you do that”. 

This is the first time that Liz has self-produced and not recorded for a label and she describes it as “quite an eye opener”.  “Looking back, I really do appreciate the support for things like studio costs, airfares, hotel rooms that a label gives you; but I'm happy that finally, after all these years, I actually own a recording!”

Listening to her new album there seems to be a progression in her music.  Tracks like Tinsel and The Ten Acre Waltz are beautifully constructed but simpler tunes.  Liz herself feels that she has gone towards simpler melodies as time has gone by.  Some of her earlier tunes were, she feels, way too complicated, brought about by a youthful enthusiasm to find bowing and fingering challenges. A lack of new music also contributed to this. “Back in the day,” she says “there weren't that many recordings coming out each month, and I was starved for new tunes (as were my contemporaries - Jimmy Keane, Marty Fahey, Johnny Harling - who also composed lots of tunes).”

"There is always a great chance for a creative spark to happen when you're surrounded by other musicians and I always want those musicians to feel like they've had a great experience"

 

Saying the tunes are simpler does not really cover the scale of her compositions and the manner in which she pushes her own music. “I'd like to think I've stretched some boundaries (who doesn't like to think that?).  I love hearing new tunes and new music and all of my listening influences my tune writing, so if that makes some of these tunes from the last few years sound a bit contemporary, then so be it.”

It’s a known fact that musicians are never happy with their finished work and they would always want to go back for one more tweak or remix.  Rather than concentrate on what she is not happy with, we ask which tunes turned out better than she expected?

“I'm very happy with the album and there are many great moments I can point to” she says.  “I love the opening to Barbra Streisand's Trip to Saginaw.  I meant for Win and Natalie to play that riff but they felt the fiddle opening was right unaccompanied; I'm very glad they pushed for that.  On the E-B-E Reel, Natalie joining me for the melody and then Win taking it at the key switch, along with Natalie chopping on the second parts - love that.  Sean Og's lovely guitar opening for "Jerome Lacey's," Catriona McKay's arrangement for the opening of The Fruit and the Snoot.  Seamus Egan thought I should twin-fiddle on Fish On - I'm very glad that happened.  Trevor makes ever track.  Keith Murphy's guitar at the end of the second part of "Go Ahead, Back Up" - magic.  Chico Huff's entrance on the jig on that same track - I loved that.  I am very happy with the slow pieces on the album; I can feel really vulnerable on these types of tunes when I'm playing long notes and not doing that much.  But I feel that's what those tunes want, so the musical decisions by all the people I just mentioned make those tracks - "Tinsel," "Never Far Away," and "The Ten Acre Waltz."

We revert to our opening point regarding Liz’s thoughts on the present state of the trad industry.  She more than many is best placed to give an honest opinion on the many artists that are recording everything from pure traditional to some of the more contemporary experimentation.

“I have all the time in the world for musicians inventing and reinventing themselves and the music they produce.  Be bold, I say, as life's short!  If you enjoy being critical then by all means go there.  But just as I know I'm hopeful that people like what I do, I think every musician wishes for understanding and for acceptance.  Irish traditional music is here to stay.”

 

On The Offbeat can be purchased at www.lizcarroll.com or on iTunes

You can also read our album review

 

 

 

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Comment by Tom Morley on April 4, 2014 at 19:40

I'd like to say thanks to Tony for this great interview with Liz. I had planned to get her new CD anyway, but this blog inspired me to order it as soon as I read it! It arrived recently and I am enjoying every track. Knowing the story behind Liz's plans for the Peter & the Wolf project made me appreciate the tunes on the disc 'The Wolf/The Duck' even more than I might have otherwise. I do believe the Prokofiev estate made a great error in refusing to let Liz do her version of the entire work, especially if those two wonderful compositions were representative of the whole!! Thanks, Liz, for 'On the Off Beat', yet another great album full of your great compositions.

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