This Is How We Fly – An Interview With Caomhín O’Raghallaigh

‘It’s not three musicians and a dancer, it’s four musicians and one of them happens to be playing feet’ – This Is How We Fly‘s Caomhín O’Raghallaigh speaks to Ian Maleney ahead of their album launch this Friday.

This Is How We Fly are something of a supergroup, though they’d never say it themselves. Combining the talents of two of Ireland’s most progressive young musicians with two counterparts from Sweden, the band take traditional folk ideas and ease them into the 21st century with no little grace. Caomhín O’Raghallaigh plays the fiddle, Sean Mac Erlaine plays woodwinds and electronics, Nic Gareiss dances and Petter Berndalen plays the drums. Together they twist folk melodies into free jazz improvisation, electronic manipulation and constantly shifting rhythmic patterns.

O’Raghallaigh was in the middle of a run of sold-out shows with Gareiss at the Fringe when we spoke. 

I was watching the video Myles O’Reilly shot of you guys in Stockholm and in it you were talking to Petter about how you guys had originally met through Myspace. Is that true?
Yeah, when Myspace was around, I remember finding so many people making interesting music on it. Stockholm in particular seemed to have a lot of music coming out of it that was interesting. I was definitely drawn to that and maybe some Canadian music as well, but definitely Stockholm for me, I saw some interesting stuff. And particularly Petter, I kind of thought this is such a different approach to percussion. I decided I should go over. I got Arts Council funding, the travel and training award, to go over for ten days and hang out. Just hang out and meet up with musicians there, see what the story was, see how they’re thinking, see where some of that’s come from. I visited the university there, met some of the teachers and just kind of talked through the ideas behind how they teach. I met Petter, we played a bit, he kind of showed me how he approaches percussion. That was all just because I saw his stuff on Myspace. It was great for all that but I guess it died a death. 

It’s very different now and nothing has really replaced it. Facebook isn’t the same at all.
Yeah, definitely. It doesn’t feel like a community of musicians or something like that, which it did sort of feel like with Myspace. 

So did you record the album in Sweden then?
We did, we went over. Petter has a studio there that him and a bunch of friends kind of share this space. He’s gas, he spends a lot of money on kit and he does always buy the absolute best of the best. He’s got a very high standard. But he also went to some shops and borrowed mics that were like three or four thousand euros each and they just kind of lent them to him. I guess they lent them to him because he’s the kind of guy who would spend a lot of money on a mic. He may have bought them since for all I know! It was really nice. It’s a small studio space, we engineered it all ourselves, Petter did the recording. It was just really nice to hang out there. 

Were you looking to capture the same kind of energy as a live show or were you going for something different with the record?
I think we’re probably looking for something different. I think they’re two different things. Obviously, a lot of the material is the same but definitely some of the higher energy stuff you’d put on stage doesn’t necessarily translate to an interesting track on record. So a few of those kind of things didn’t make it onto the record. The record is maybe more understated in parts. I guess we’re treating it as something of a different thing but of course much of it is the same music all right.

I was wondering if the loss of the visual element that Nic’s dancing provides would be a bit of a hurdle to overcome? Was that something you were conscious of?
It’s a funny one because I guess we were initially thinking that was a major thing and should we not make a CD? Should we make a DVD or an app or something with the visual content? I guess we kind of toyed with that for a while and ultimately decided it wasn’t really a good idea. Also we’ve been very clear from the start and very keen that it is four musicians and Nic is a musician. I think that’s one of the things that he really enjoys about this, it’s complete equality. It’s not three musicians and a dancer, it’s four musicians and one of them happens to be playing feet. I think there’s something good about just accepting that and musically it’s of sufficient interest without the visual. Yeah, it’s a huge thing to lose if you’ve seen us live but I don’t think you miss it on the record. A record is a record and it’s music, music as you’d listen to it. I guess again it’s a different thing and if we’re making a record, that’s what we’re making. I don’t feel like its a big hole in the experience but it was definitely something we grappled with.

I was thinking about Meredith Monk just in relation to that movement on stage, it’s not something you see too often. Is movement important to the band as a whole?
I guess we probably all have other projects where movement is a big element. Even this Mice Will Play at the Fringe. And I’ve worked with Liv O’Donoghue who is a contemporary dancer and I find all of that is really interesting in terms of movement. But I guess in terms of our band, it’s not something we particularly address or talk through or talk about. So I guess each of us move in our own way but it’s not something…

I was reading some discussion about the band on forums before this and one thing that seems to come up is people expecting something more traditional, from you particularly. Is that barrier between traditional audiences and newer music difficult to break through?
I guess not but I guess where you get comments like that is where expectations are wrong. So if you can somehow manage peoples’ expectation, and you try to do that in your writing about what to expect from a gig or from a band. So if somebody goes to listen to me in that band I think it should be fairly clear that it’s not going to be a traditional gig. I think that’s clear from what we write about ourselves and how gigs are presented. If you’re making various different kinds of music that are aimed at different audiences, you do need to attempt to manage expectations but of course sometimes people don’t read what it says on the tin. They’re expecting one thing and they get another and of course they’re going to be disappointed or whatever. You do your best to flag it for what it is or to label it as best you can. At the same time, I don’t think you should be going around putting warnings on things. I guess, what do they expect?

Clean, honest fiddle” was the quote I believe.
And I do that in other bands. I guess some people demand that that’s all you do, that you don’t do anything else. I mean, they can demand that if they wish but, it’s not going to happen. 

You’ve got a lot of different threads joining together in this band, all coming from slightly different backgrounds. Have you learnt a lot from each other in the course of the band so far?
We’re all learning a lot from each other and we’re all open to learning. We’ve probably all got strengths in different areas and definitely the Swedish, just different ways of thinking, the same with Sean and Nic. I’m also aware that we’ve only begun to really write together, so I’m kind of excited to write more as a group. Now I’ve written a few things, and Sean’s written a few things, with Nic and I really love that where you start with a blank page and co-write a new thing, you really see how peoples’ minds work I think. 

Is there a balance between writing and improvising in your material?
Yeah, definitely. We’re trying to leave some sections completely open or open with some guidelines. Again, I think we’ll probably aim for more improv in the future or more sections of pieces to be improvised. That’s Sean’s background and Petter’s really comfortable. Myself and Nic are comfortable within our own limits or maybe a little outside them. There’s great spontaneity in our relationship in terms of working with traditional material but definitely in the future I think more freedom and improvisation in the group would be great. 

Is that learning, that pushing of limits, something that just happens or do you talk about it and discuss new things with each other? Is it explicit?
Yeah, it’s explicit. We delve into stuff and get, at times, really specific in detail in terms of learning new stuff or explaining ideas or things like that. Petter as well, is extremely specific, or can be. He’s really the master of detail. 

The kind of man you want recording your album then I guess. What are you plans for after the album comes out then? Are you going to tour it much?
We’ve written in a whole load of potential dates. Music Network have been hugely supportive in helping us tour in Ireland so we’ve kind of talked to them about various dates in 2014 and we’ve some 2015 dates written in as well. I guess Ireland and Europe is the main focus for now and hopefully anyway the States. There’s a couple of things there we’re trying to make work at the same time. I guess long term, we’re really keen to continue to make music together as well. It’s definitely a really nice vibe in the band and it’s definitely something we really enjoy a lot and are keen to make it a long-term band I guess. 

And do you think about the kind of audiences you’d like to be playing to or is that something best left up to fate?
We do think about it. I guess nice rooms is something that is important, nice listening spaces and we’d definitely be aiming to grow our audiences. Intimate gigs are definitely great but trying to grow the listenership and play bigger gigs but not so big that you lose that personal connection.

This Is How We Fly launch their debut album at Dublin’s Button Factory this Friday, September 27th. The Facebook event page for that can be found here

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