Hermitage Green Interview – Irish Band of the Week
Dublin Concerts got to speak to Barry Murphy from Hermitage Green about touring Oz, their transformative year since their first EP and how they developed their sound to produce their debut live album. They are our Irish Band of the Week.
The boys have been described as any number of genres by different music critics and magazines, but they themselves still feel like they can be pigeon-holed as one genre. They’ve been described as a kind of folk revival which Barry attributes to having started off playing a lot of trad and folk covers before they developed their own sound. ‘More and more these days bands are moving cross-genre’ and Hermitage Green’s mix of sounds comes from the band’s eclectic music tastes. ‘The songs we play now sound different to when we started playing them years ago-our sound has developed a lot as we got older.’ The band’s mixed musical tastes make it difficult to stick to a particular sound-they influence each other by going to gigs and sharing their tastes, although there are a few bands they commonly like they don’t have any one sound they aspire to acquire, they just want to challenge themselves and improve their personal abilities and style.
Despite releasing their debut four-track EP just over a year ago, it hasn’t felt like a skyrocket to fame. ‘Time ticks slower when you’re in the middle of it’. Having spent the last year playing gigs with just those four debut tracks it has been overwhelming to sell out on that alone, and to be able to tour on it has been an incredible ride. They attribute part of their success to the Irish connection-Irish ex pats living in London, America and Australia have helped them to fill up gigs all over the world and they’ve been delighted to play every nook and cranny of their home country too.
It seems like an incredible year to have gone through, but the band really took off at an ideal time in the boys’ lives, most of them having just finished degrees they went into music as a full time job. Barry says that though obviously what they do is different, when they aren’t touring life hasn’t really changed as hugely as you might expect. They’re still living at home in Limerick, so life before Hermitage Green doesn’t really seem so far away! The biggest change has been being able to play bigger venues with bigger crowds. Playing such an enormous number of gigs in such a short time has been a huge learning curve, but they’re delighted to finally have the album put together so they can actually play and make more music.
Despite all this success, when I asked about the feeling of their EP getting to number one in the iTunes charts, Barry admits it was a huge surprise for them. They had done it all themselves and hadn’t even printed copies for shops so when someone sent them a picture of the stats and they were up there with the likes of P!nk and Mundy they couldn’t believe it. It was incredible for them to see their name up there with the likes of well-known artists when theirs was only an EP.
The band have just returned from an enormous amount of touring including gigs in the Middle East and Australia and Dublin Concerts got to hear some of the highlights. It took Barry a few moments to even articulate something of the incredible experience they had over there. They had organised all the flights themselves and spent the tour blagging their way into venues and using the Irish connection to find a couch to sleep on between gigs! For Barry the highlight had to be Australia day playing Sydney Harbour to such an enormous crowd. Though the following day they had to go straight to Perth where several hundred people were queuing outside, unable to get tickets. They did an impromptu acoustic gig on the street for the fans and the venue obligingly provided drinks vouchers. This was one of the experiences that really wowed them and they were delighted to be able to really connect with the fans. Dublinconcerts were let in on one of the funnier stories of the trip when Barry recounted how they almost left his brother Dan (who plays guitar, dobro, banjo, harmonica and didgeridoo in the band) behind on the way to Perth. He had stayed out after playing Sydney Harbour so he was essentially coming from the pub to the airport. They called him and he said he would meet them at the airport but when they were boarding he was nowhere in sight. It wasn’t until they landed in Perth without him that they found out he had arrived at the airport before them and had fallen asleep behind a pillar not ten feet from where they were boarding the plane wondering where he was! He made it to Perth to join the lads after taking a later flight.
The band actually wrote a lot of their new album while on tour, sitting in pubs or crashing in people’s spare bedrooms or living rooms so for them the music is very nostalgic and brings back a lot of great memories.
When asked how it felt to come from our tiny island to find themselves in far flung places with enormous crowds, Barry thought that the enigmatic nature of the Irish gave them an edge-we draw a crowd. They also used social media like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to promote their gigs (something they recommend to any emerging bands). Touring is one of the best things about being in a band and they’re hoping that next year there will be even more locals at the gigs after them laying the seeds with this year’s gigs.
One of the things that set the Hermitage Green boys apart is the vast array of instruments they play, and Dublinconcerts wanted to know how they balance all of these elements when they’re writing a song. ‘It is challenging’ Barry tells us-they’ve changed the music a lot over time and they play the songs differently to when they started-especially the percussive line. When they’re writing new music they have to make decisions on which instruments sound best together, who’ll lead vocals and what harmonies they want if they want to harmonise, whether they want to go with acoustic or electric guitar of the banjo-there’s a lot to figure out and sometimes they just have to play a song different ways with different instruments until they find the perfect balance. It’s not the traditional band set-up in terms of roles (guitarist, drummer, bassist vocals etc.) so maybe that’s why they had to take more time putting the album together.
The band’s first album comes out on November 22nd and they’ve chosen to use live recordings from Whelan’s rather than do a studio album. ‘It was a last minute decision really’, explains Barry, ‘we thought sorting out a studio would only slow down getting the album together.’ They wanted to make the album so they could get touring with it ASAP and get to play some new songs at the gigs. They did a live reproduction of their four EP tracks and realised they could do the whole album that way and have it out before Christmas and ready to tour soon after. They also feel that they are very much a performance band and that the studio EP didn’t really capture their sound as well as they’d liked. They actually only expected to make a 5track album but after meeting Joe Chester (the album’s producer) in October and with his help organising the Whelan’s recording gigs and the weeks of rehearsal, the album is a mix of a handful of reworked tracks from their EP and 8 new songs. Fans can expect the concert experience in their pocket, complete with audience reactions, described as ‘Hermitage Green with all the trimmings, nerves, mistakes and craic’. Which Barry says is exactly how they wanted it to sound, ‘It’s come together so much better than we expected’.
With so many bands emerging on the Irish music scene, the lads have done incredibly well. ‘The calibre of Irish musicians is astounding’ says Barry, ‘especially in trad’. The boys come from the burgeoning music scene in Limerick, but the band don’t compare themselves, even with bands like The Script and The Coronas flying the flag for Irish musicians they aren’t sure if they have the same mainstream appeal. But, ‘It’s not about world domination for us’ says Barry, ‘it’s just about playing’. For them it was brilliant when they were just playing a local pub but being able to make a living from it makes it all the more fantastic.
While we had Barry, we asked him to tell us a little about his favourite song to play with the band (which gives a sneaky snapshot of what’s coming on the album). He answered almost immediately with ‘Gibson’ – a fictional song (written by Darragh) where the titular character is a thief whose five friends break him out of prison to find some gold. It takes a dark turn though when Gibson kills his friends for the gold and has to live with the guilt of what he has done. It’s a bit deep and a bit dark and laden with hidden meaning and Barry ‘just loves playing it and getting lost in the music.’
Hermitage Green’s album ‘Hermitage Green – Live at Whelan’s’ is released November 22nd.
Interview by Kat Clinch