Central And Remote: Boa Morte
Interview with Boa Morte: Cormac Gahan and Paul Ruxton In Conversation.
Boa Morte have been making their blend of melodic, off-kilter alternative folk since 1999. During this time, two great albums have been made in the shape of their debut album ‘Soon It Will Come Time To Face The World Outside’ and ‘The Dial Waltz’. Ten years on from the release of Boa Morte’s debut album sparks of beauty and wonder continue to fly high into the night’s air. It is a fitting testament to a band’s music when the songs are shown to have stood the test of time. To celebrate the 10th anniversary, the album ‘Soon It Will Come Time To Face The World Outside’ is now made available, kindly by the band, as a free download. Seek this gem out. A musical feast awaits you.
Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry
Congratulations on the 10th Anniversary of your debut album ‘Soon It Will Come Time To Face The World Outside’. Ten years on and it remains as poignant and mesmerisingly beautiful as ever. The intimacy and directness of the Boa Morte songbook is a true testament to your songcraft and musicianship. It’s a real pleasure for me to ask you a few questions about your music, especially during this time.
Cormac: Thanks, its nice of you to say that. So far the feedback for our free download of the album has been great it has really struck a chord with people who remember the album from the first time around. We really just want more people to hear it.
As a debut album, ‘Soon It Will Come To Face The World Outside’ is a culmination of a life’s work of emotion, feeling, thoughts, music. Please tell me about the formation of Boa Morte and how you all met?
Cormac: You’re right, that first album is a chance to get all those songs out of your system that have been in gestation for many years. We all knew each other in UCC and from hanging out in a bar called the Liberty which was a hub of the Cork music scene of the time. Three of us (Cormac, Bill and Paul) knew each other for many years and we met Maurice (drummer) through contacts in various bands. All this was happening in the mid-late-1990s and Cork had a pretty vibrant music scene at the time (and still does).
As an album title, ‘Soon It Come To Face The World Outside’ must be one of the best titles for a record. Can you shed some light on this title?
Cormac: It’s a line from one of the songs (Snowbound Again) and we discussed it in some depth at the time. I remember we struggled to come up with a title. In the end we went with it because it reminded us of the Palace Brothers album title ‘There is no one what will take care of you’ a bit of a mouthful and complete with a deliberate grammatical error.
I’d love to gain an insight into the recording of ‘Soon It Will Come To Face The World Outside’?
Cormac: Well we recorded an EP in Ireland with producer Marc Carolan who’d worked with the Jubilee Allstars, the EP was called Passenger Measure Your Time. We used this to attract some indie record company interest and ended up on a label based in North Carolina called Moodfood Records. They were a label that had put out an album by Ryan Adams band Whiskeytown (Rural Free Delivery). A producer called Daniel Presley did a lot of work with Moodfood so we started working with him on the album. When he came over to Ireland we started trying to track down a local studio with analogue recording equipment, basically a two week road trip around Ireland that took us from West Cork to Dublin looking at old Studer recording decks and Neve mixing boards.We ended up recording in an old basement studio, Sun studios in Dublin. Daniel liked to record straight to tape and we recorded drums, bass and guitars live as a band overdubbing vocals and strings and other instruments later on.
What was the inspiration for your gorgeously delicate folk sound of the debut album?
Cormac: Musically we were into those early Palace Brothers albums, Red House Painters, the Triffids, Giant Sand and then Neil Young and Leonard Cohen were big influences too. Production-wise our main touchstone was Red Apple Falls by Smog. Sometimes that type of music is wrongly categorized as lo-fi but the recording quality of Red Apple Falls is pristine. Daniel had previously produced and engineered another favorite album, Spains The Blue Moods of Spain, so he knew the production values we were looking for. It was gratifying that many of the reviews identified the quality of the production on the album as a defining feature because it adds greatly to the mood of the album and it was something we worked hard to achieve.
‘Clarence White’ is the album opener and what an introduction it is. The sombre mood and beautiful electric guitar tones creates a torchlight ballad, filled with hope. Lyrics like “You give to us” and the vocal delivery is similar to that of American greats like Smog and Will Oldham.
Tell me please about ‘Clarence White’ and your memories of writing the song and recording it.
Paul: The song Clarence White is written about the legendary Byrds guitarist from the latter day line-up. He invented the spring-bender guitar which he used to great effect in their recordings. The guitar sound was a cross between an electric guitar and a lap steel, he was one of greatest guitarists of the era and died prematurely in the early 70ís after being knocked down by a drunk driver.
‘Maginot Line’ has shades of Sparklehorse and Mark Linkous. A heartwarming lament. “In this beautiful place/Would you give me shelter?” is a lyric. Who wrote this song?
Paul: Maginot Line is probably about a soldier in the first world war longing to get home in part, the rest is up to the listener’s imagination.
In terms of songwriting, is it very much a collaborative process? Or does one member have the song pretty much written beforehand?
Cormac: The songs are pretty much written by me or Paul and then we work on them as a band and they can change quite a bit during that process.Even though we only have two albums I think there is a Boa Morte sound that comes from a mixture of the playing styles in the band.
The arrangements to your songs are so touching and always resonates strongly in your albums. The strings grace songs like ‘Burn’ conjuring up the timeless feeling of early Tindersticks albums.
Discuss please the process of arranging the songs and at what stage of the music process it is done?
Cormac: It varys quite a bit. Often on my songs I feel they really need further arrangements and other instruments just like on Burn or Tonight She Said. Personally I think Pauls songs stand up really well on their own so songs like Tired Eyes and North Star emerged fully formed and really needed just backing vocals. Other songs like Maginot Line by Paul had plenty of space to fit other instruments. Diarmuid MacDiarmada (Tycho Brahe, Jimmy Cake) recorded some great clarinet lines and we then added a piano overdub where the piano just echoed the clarinet line. It wasn’t planned it just happened in the studio. For Tonight She Said the strings were arranged well in advance of the recording.
The lyrics to Boa Morte songs are sheer poetry. One of my favourites is “I will swim through the ocean of your eyes”. Who inspires you to write? What literature influences your songwriting? What songwriters?
Cormac: I’m not really a big fan of lyrics in songs in that the lyrical content is not something I particularly notice in songs, only in so much as lyrics contribute to the overall mood and sentiment. The only songwriter whose lyrics I could read in isolation would be Cohen, then other songwriters like Nick Cave write great lyrics in the context of the song. I don’t think Paul dwells on the lyrics too much either but concentrates on the overall feel of the song.
Boa Morte have been played by John Peel on his legendary, mythical radio program. That must have been some honour for the band. Can you recount what song(s) he played? Were you listening in when he played your music?
Cormac: The label that put out ‘Soon it will come..’ was Shoeshine Records a Scottish label run by Francis MacDonald (Teenage Fanclub drummer). Francis had a company doing radio PR in the UK and they managed to get us a fair bit of radio play in the UK. However I sent John Peel a proper non-promo copy of the album and I’m convinced that he picked up on this somehow! Anyway we didn’t hear it at the time, it was a friend in England who heard it. It was great to find it again recently in the Peel archive that appeared online. He played Clarence White twice and said some nice things about it.
I was introduced to your music ten years ago. I saw Boa Morte supoport David Kitt at the Everyman Theatre in Cork. What are your most memorable gigs? What are your favourite venues?
Cormac: The Lobby Bar in Cork was the best venue we played I think. Looking at the listings in the back of the Lobby Bar book brings back great memories of those gigs. Our last couple of gigs were promoting our second album in The Crane Lane, Cork which is also a great venue. It’s funny some big-ish venues have suited us such as Dolans in Limerick (supporting Teenage Fanclub) whereas other big venues have been a bit of a disaster (The Ambassador in Dublin being one). Because it’s quiet music small venues tend to work best. Of our gigs in Dublin we have fond memories of a gig in the Ballroom of Romance at the Lower Deck with Mumblin’ Deaf Ro, Dinah Brand and Settler – of course we’re all superstars now!
If you had to pick one song from either of your albums, ‘Soon It Will Come’ or ‘The Dial Waltz’, what song is your most cherished?
Cormac: Of all our songs I like Maginot Line best. I just think its a great song and nicely recorded in a way that sounds like it’s about to fall apart at any moment (and believe me that was a distinct possibility). I also really like the amount of space that exists on All This We Must Consider (from the Dial Waltz).
Do you have plans to make a third album? (I hope so).
Cormac: Yes we’ve got an albums worth of new material but the difficulty is shaping the new songs and creating arrangements. Family, kids, work slow things down a bit but we’re definitely going to do it.
Will there be a tour soon?
Cormac: I seriously doubt it. But we’ll probably do a couple of gigs early in 2013, probably Dublin and Cork.
Thanks so much for your time and for sharing your thoughts on your music. It is a fitting testament to a band’s music when the songs are shown to have stood the test of time.
For further information on Boa Morte and for links to listen to both albums please visit the following: