An eclectic mix of styles - Are TRÚ saving folk music?

TRÚ is a trio from Northern Ireland that have something new to say about folk music. They may just save us from relentless assault of uninspiring traditional folk music that gets released each year. They describe themselves as having an “eclectic musical heritage, absorbing groove funk, Irish trad, and choral harmony to create their own soulful vibe”. Their sound is ambitious, intricate and timeless, they say. Produced by critically acclaimed jazz/hop-hop producer David Lyttle (Lyte Records), TRÚ's first single from their début album is out now and you can listen below. If their follow up album can deliver the same quality we have something to look forward to in 2018.

There have been a limited number of artists with the ability to inspire of late, with Lankum, The Living Stream, IMLE, and Rhoda Barfoot giving us something to smile about. TRÚ also fit into that mould. Members include Michael Mormecha, Zach Trouton and Dónal Kearney.

Here is their first single called 'County Down."

We spoke to Dónal about the group and their music and this is what he had to say.

“The three of us have different musical stories. Far from a traditional folk group, we’ve merged onto our current path from another place altogether.

I met Zach while we were both touring the world with vocal ensemble ANÚNA. We arranged traditional Irish songs together on tour buses and in concert hall dressing rooms. ANÚNA’s music is beautiful and the songs are inspiring. It was then that the seed was sown for some future song project.

Zach runs his own label (Swallow Song Records) and co-manages ANÚNA. His band tethers is heavily influenced by Japanese math-rock and Sci-Fi literature. Born in Massachusetts, Zach moved to Ballinderry as a child. Over the past few years, Zach and Mike have gigged lots together. I loved Mike’s work as “clownparlour” and the three of us ended up agreeing to spend a day in studio to see what might happen.

Mike is a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and sound engineer. Of Ukrainian heritage, he was born in England and moved to Lisburn as a boy. In 2004, he formed Mojo Fury with a few friends from college and became Northern Ireland’s leading alt-rock outfit, sharing stages with bands like Biffy Clyro, And So I Watch You From Afar, and Everything Everything. Mike’s critically-acclaimed début album “LoFi Life” was self-produced in Millbank Studios, his farmhouse-cum-studio in Ballinderry. It was nominated for the 2016 Northern Ireland Music Prize.

In that first session, we chose songs we like from the tradition. We discussed local folk songs, old stories, place names, instrumentation. We ate, we drank, we listened to music, we danced.

We played our first gig at Imbolc Festival in Derry and collaborated with MOBO-nominated hip-hop/jazz producer David Lyttle. We signed to Lyte Records and he produced our début single, “County Down”, written by Tommy Sands. Although primarily a jazz drummer, David’s background is steeped in folk; he played the Lambeg and bodhrán in The Lyttle Family Band through his childhood.

We’re currently working on an album. We’ve arranged local songs as a way of reinvigorating music that’s part of our identity, kind of questioning ourselves through the music. We play traditional Irish songs and we hand-pick tunes from the English and Scots repertoire. We’re also writing original material. The set-up is guitar, a stripped-back drum kit, keyboard, and flute.

I suppose what we’re trying to do with TRÚ is just to let people hear these songs. They carry amazing stories and wonderful melodies. They deserve to be sung. As musicians, it’s our role to pass the good stuff on. Our name actually has an intriguing story. “TRÚ” is a mythological trio of poet-musicians, its name derived from the old Gaelic term for a group of three people (tríar). The TRÚ was revered throughout the courts of ancient Irish kings and queens and they sang and read for tribal armies before battle, particularly in Ulster. TRÚ survived for centuries; when one third passed, another took his place, absorbing the wealth of song and poetry from the other two. Thus, the trio was never broken. It is believed the TRÚ’s power was granted to the three from another realm – some believed they came from the future. In their time, they were considered gatekeepers to the spirit world as they passed on the music through the generations.

I grew up listening to The Voice Squad, singing in an Irish language choir, and harmonising with my three brothers. This year, I recorded as a soloist for brands like World of Warcraft, Beats by Dre, and Nintendo. I traipse the trad sessions of Dublin (where I live), hoping for singers and songs to inspire me. My mother’s family has a close relationship with the language and the old songs, and my own interest has only deepened with age. My background is very different to Mike and Zach; playing GAA, singing as Gaeilge, growing up in an Irish family. For both Mike and Zach, my world is very different to their own.

Yet we understand each other through the music. I’ve been profoundly affected by the singing of groups like ANÚNA, The Young Tradition, The Voice Squad and Swan Arcade. The power of the voice is incredible. It can be so honest, so direct. Zach, Mike and I have realised that this fusion of our voices, our contrasting musical influences – our atypical story – is something worth sharing with each other. Apart, our voices are very dissimilar. When we layer our voices, we can explore a sound that’s unknown to us, fresh to our bodies. Each time we perform these old songs from the tradition, we’re discovering something new.

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