The Glasshouse Interviews: Ye Vagabonds
Ahead of Ye Vagabonds’ Sage Two performance in 2020 we caught up with Brían Mac Gloinn of the band on music, literature, art and favourite holiday destinations.
What was the first record you bought?
It’s hard to know what this was actually. I bought a lot of albums as a teenager. I used to save up some busking money every month and then spend a day in Dublin spending it all on CDs and pizza slices. The most memorable one was a Bert Jansch compilation CD I bought when I was about 12 or 13 on one of those trips. That blew my mind and more or less set up my musical transition from Led Zeppelin to Sweeney’s Men.
Where in the world would you like to play that you have not already?
Japan would be a mad place to go. We’ve heard plenty stories from other musicians about it and it sounds mental (in a good way). Alain, our third Vagabond, has been wanting to go play a gig in Japan during Sumo season for years, so if any Japanese promoters out there happen to read this, mark us down for one of those tours please.
Who was the first band/artist you ever saw perform live?
We went to a fair few gigs as kids, community organised traditional music things, so I can’t remember exactly who that would have been. The most formative was Noel Hill, Tony Linnane and Alec Finn in the Carlow Folk Club when I was about 14 or so, and I didn’t even realise at the time how massive an effect it had on me. It was the first time in my life that I was that excited by music, and from then on I held onto that feeling. It was in a tiny room in the upstairs of a pub in Carlow, totally acoustic with about 60 people almost touching knees with the musicians. That trio made a legendary album together that I only discovered a few years ago, and it’s one of the albums I listen to most now. Alec Finn ended up being a bit of a musical hero of mine. I was lucky enough to spend an unbelievably good day with him in July 2018, only a few months before he died. I think of him often.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Having nothing to do except having long, slow meals, outdoors, maybe by the sea or a body of water. Holidays for me mostly consist of one slow extended picnic running into another, maybe with a tune or a bit of fishing in between.
Who are your favourite writers?
At the moment, Kevin Barry is my favourite author, but I’ve read an awful lot of John Steinbeck too and he’s always been a favourite of mine. Both of those are very real, detailed writers. Richard Dawson is one of my favourite song-writers for the same reason. I love Flann O Brien and Kurt Vonnegut too. They’re hilarious. Kurt Vonnegut wrote a letter to a bunch of high school students detailing a writing exercise for them to do, and I re-read that and do it every so often. If you haven’t read it before, look up “Kurt Vonnegut letter to Xavier high school” now and give it a go.
Who are your favourite painters?
Our dear friend Conor Campbell is definitely first on my list. Conor painted both of our album covers, as well as a bunch of others for Junior Brother, Sam Clague and Alfi. His paintings are made up of tiny, intricate psychedelic textures a lot of the time, and he uses all kinds of material on his paintings to create the effect he’s looking for. Glitter, tipp-ex, markers, nail varnish – it doesn’t matter, they’re all fair game. With both of our albums we gave Conor all of our demos and sketches while we were making them so that he could paint in a way that would be informed by the music.
If you could collaborate with any other artists, living or dead, who would you choose?
Alexis Zoumbas, the Greek fiddle player – he’s incredible. I’d love to do something with a nice electronic artist some time, like Jon Hopkins or Christian Loffler. Those two were probably the first electronic artists that I actually understood a bit. It’s such a world away from the music I make, I suppose. Also, I’d love to collaborate with Cormac Begley some time. He’s a buddy of ours and I’m sure that might happen some day.
What are you listening to at the moment?
Recently, I’ve been listening a lot to Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou, the Ethiopian piano player, and also to a fiddle playing family from North Galway/Mayo called The Raineys. I’ve been listening a lot to Lankum’s new album too of course. It’s an amazing thing. When I’m at home I spend a day a week in library of the Irish Traditional Music Archive in Dublin listening through old recordings, and I’ve found myself listening a lot to a singer named Thomas Moran as was as to Paddy Cronin’s early recordings. I could go off in any direction in ITMA though, there’s more than a lifetime’s listening in there.
Where’s your favourite place to go on holiday?
I rarely go on holiday, but far out on the west coast of Ireland suits me fairly well. My parents, my eldest sister and her family live up on Arranmore Island in Donegal, where Mam and her side of the family are from, so that’s where I end up going whenever I have time off. I had an amazing time camping on the Beara Peninsula in West Cork last summer too. I like to be outside, camping or cycling, with a bit of music and good food.
Best advice you can give to emerging talent?
My least favourite line to hear immediately after a gig from a stranger is “You know what you should do…” so I’m very wary of giving anyone advice unless they ask for it. There are lots of things I wish I’d known when I was starting out, but so much of playing, recording, touring and releasing music comes down to personal experience, needs and taste so it’s hard to say. You’ve just got to do it a lot to find out for yourself I think. We’ve learned from our mistakes, and we’ve made plenty of them. One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was from Glen Hansard, and I have it written on the inside of a lot of my notebooks: “Be an honest craftsman and work hard. The music will follow in admiration”. I just try and do everything to a high standard, and not to let that ever slide if I’m able. That applies to everything that represents you as an artist. It also helps if you say yes to good opportunities. That tends to create a positive flow of more opportunities, I’ve found. To be basic about it: make noises that you find weird and satisfying, learn to pack all your stuff into a usable means of transport and go!