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Cubs: Perpetual Light EP

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“And I remember particularly when I was going to bed at night, she very seriously offered me my choice of a hot water bottle or a cat…And I chose the cat.”

—Sylvia Plath

Words & Illustration: Craig Carry


The latest offering from Galway’s beloved psych-folk artists Cubs, the ten-track “Perpetual Light” EP (the thirtieth release by Rusted Rail), opens with the voice recording of Sylvia Plath taken from a radio interview, unearthed in 2010 from a new CD issued by The British Library, featuring little-heard recordings of Plath. The recording offers the perfect prelude to the magnificent “Gulliver”, where Plath’s poem – taken from her “Ariel” collection – provides the lyrics for Cecilia Danell to set music to. The resultant track typifies the quiet, dusty and beautifully understated ethos of the band where a beautiful spirit of freedom and enchantment are forever evoked by the collective’s output. “Perpetual Light” is the long-awaited follow-up to the beautiful “Willowfield” E.P. – also issued by Galway-based independent label Rusted Rail – and proved to be one of those wonderful hidden gems of the year. The fact that it did not prove to elevate the status of Cubs to more household names did not matter in the slightest. For any listener who come across the musical output of Cubs will soon realize this special band exist in a parallel world to that of commercialism and success.

One of the main departures on this occasion, is the elevation of Cecilia Danell as songwriter – and singer – more frequently than on the previous “Willowfield” set. For anyone who came across such compositions as the Danell-sung “When Skies Split Open” from the “Willowfield” EP will realize what a special voice it is. In a similar manner to Hidden Highways’ Carol Anne McGowan, a voice so special is worth far more than any amount of studio tinkering or overdub manipulation, as a voice so unique can provide such an impressive arrange of emotion, mood and tones. In fact, Danell is also a well-known artist and it is her artwork which adorns the sleeve (a still from her Super8 film called “You Had Another Skin”, which documented derelict places in rural Sweden).

Once the wonderful Danell/Plath “Gulliver” finishes, we hear Cubs member James Rider – almost in a carefree fashion – state: “Let’s play a song”, after which the instrumental title-track is played out (Rider on bouzouki and Keith Wallace on bead drum), a song born from spontaneity which forms a wonderfully hazy and dreamy atmosphere, culminating in the sound recording of the ebb and flow of waves. The piece forms a fitting bridge to the gorgeous folk lament “Hummingbird/McAlindens Lament”, sung by both Danell and Aaron Hurley. An eerie sense of suspense is also suspended in the song: “There is a car / over the hill / you will go far / just not far enough” which brings to mind the wonderful paintings by Irish painter Martin Gale (Gale’s “At The Landing”, perhaps) where nothing is quite as it seems. The sparsity and texture of the song would make it a perfect accompaniment to a Shane Meadows film (like the Smog, Calexico, M Ward and Gravenhurst aided “Dead Man’s Shoes”, for instance) or, indeed, the films by Ben Wheatley. The overlaying of a fuzzy and distorted sound recording brings to mind such artists as Musette and The Real Tuesday Weld and serves to create the feel of a campfire-lit setting on a starry night.

The sense of suspense is turned up a notch or two in “Stonewalker” where a voice recording – sourced from a mid-90’s sci-fi/supernatural TV show – forms the intro to the song: “I’m mostly scared of the woods…I see a lot of weird stuff…” the strange voice states, creating a “Twin Peaks”-like feel to proceedings. “The First Day of Winter” is arguably the EP’s standout track, a treasure of a song by Cecilia Danell recalling such folk luminaries as Karen Dalton or Vashti Bunyan. Lyrically, the song is also immense and showcases the true talents of Danell:

“And as the wind sweeps east outside
I take up watch by the fireside
And I make shapes on the windowglass
By rubbing fingers through the frost
Dream that we walk in glistening grass
Wherever moonlight takes us.”

(—Cecilia Danell, “The First Day of Winter”)

Lyrically, the song draws from nature and the changing seasons which provides the perfect subject for the meandering melodica intro (recalling Tindersticks’ wonderful film score for “35 Shots Of Rum” by french film-maker Claire Denis) and a lovingly arranged song (a hand drum kicks in at the halfway point to a wonderfully understated yet powerful effect). Both the vocal delivery and sense of rhythm is reminiscent of the late great Elliott Smith, as the song builds – layer by layer – to its nocturnal, windswept close. The DIY ethos and tactile interlude provided by “The Blessing Of Rest” (similarly played to the short interludes on Calexico’s 1997 debut “Spoke”) brings us to “White Owl”, another song on the EP written, sung and played by Cecilia Danell. There is a wonderfully hushed and dreamlike quality to Danell’s vocals here, echoing the ethereal vocals of Grouper’s Liz Harris. “Don’t let the quietness fool you” sings Danell, as the song feels as though it is a traditional lament handed down by generation to generation from some bygone era and distant past.

The next two tracks, “Shadowbrook” and “From The Wilderness”, are both short instrumental pieces. The former features a voice recording sourced from a 1970’s documentary TV show about the paranormal, hosted by Leonard Nimoy, while the latter (under a minute in length) features the sounds of a storm gathering pace and the sounds of church bells, a recurring motif across the collection. The EP closer is yet another gorgeous folk song written by Danell, “Taken To The Bed”, again reinforcing the recurring imagery of nighttime and sleep. The song itself recalls to mind the poetic and environment-informed subject matter of Colleen’s latest album “The Weighing Of The Heart” where much inspiration is drawn from the immediate surroundings. Imagery of reeds, pines, a jetty, storms and rainbows create a stunningly vibrant and deeply evocative song. The song’s outro again can’t resist the addition of a field recording, although here the recording is pitched perfectly, creating the perfect finale to a stunning EP:

“Ghosts are the surviving emotional memories of people who have died tragically and cannot leave the spot of their passing. They keep reliving their final moments over and over again like a phonograph needle stuck in the final groove. You see, ghosts are aware that they are dead.”

(—sourced from a 1970’s documentary TV show about the paranormal, hosted by Leonard Nimoy)

“It’s a frequent surprise” Danell and Hurley sing on “Hummingbird/McAlindens Lament”, and, like the beautifully mysterious and charming songbook of Cubs, the listener can similarly expect to be frequently enthralled and surprised.


“Perpetual Light” EP is out now on Rusted Rail. For our previous extensive interview with Cubs, please click here.



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August 15, 2013 at 12:15 pm

Central And Remote: Cubs

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“Well, the thing is, what we’ve done, we’ve picked up the spreads of a tradition and we’ve not got really, other than a few old recordings, we haven’t got anything else to go on.”

Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry

The above quote is a spoken word recording taken from the Cubs song ‘Impressions Of Chloe/Hidden Valley’ and for me it distills the essence of Cubs’ awe-inspiring music. This supergroup of Irish musicians are rooted in the folk tradition and take it further, pushing the sonic envelope, creating new horizons of sublime beauty. Free folk for the 21st Century, where the tradition of folk music is intertwined with the fabric of cinematic soundscapes and beguiling field recordings. Cubs is truly a wonderful and precious thing. Their latest release ‘Willowfield’ (Rusted Rail, 2012) and ‘The Whispering Woods’ (Rusted Rail/DeadSlackString 2010) are quite simply the best independent releases from Ireland for years and years. Listening to Cubs’ music allows escapism of the truest kind. The warm textures, sonic wonder, spontaneous sparks and divine melodies fuse together, creating Cubs’ wholly unique folk sound. Planxty, Bert Jansch, Anne Briggs, John Fahey, Mark Kozelek can be heard, dotted across a landscape of cinematic wonder and psych delight. One listen to Cubs and the listener instantly becomes transfixed. Hearing is believing! On a bright summer morning, I first heard Cubs’ music, drifting loudly from the Plugd recordstore speakers, and into the air and streets outside. A discovery was made when I picked up Cubs’ releases on that morning. Since then, Cubs have been on my devoted playlists of sounds, for both the drifting hours of early morning and the stillness of late night.

I have been very fortunate to interview the members of Cubs, co-ordinated by Keith Wallace (Cubs/Loner Deluxe/Rusted Rail) where the core Cubs members of Keith Wallace (producer, audio-capturer, alchemist), Aaron Hurley (vocals, guitars), James Rider (guitars), Eddie Keenan (bouzouki, vocals) and Cecilia Danell (vocals) very kindly shared their thoughts and feelings on the music of Cubs.

Congratulations on your latest Willowfield E.P. It’s as great as its predecessor, the cinematic folk masterpiece of ‘Whispering Woods’. I love how Cubs’ music is steeped in tradition (psych folk) and yet also rooted in experimentation (ambient/field recordings). What is the band’s creative process in achieving this compelling sound? Also, which member(s) are responsible for the more traditional form and for the more experimental sounds?

Keith Wallace: The bulk of Cubs recordings are borne from improvisation. As a recording project whose members are split across the country (and sometimes the globe) it all depends on who is in the room at the time in front of the recording equipment. Initial recordings in the mid-naughties usually featured at least two and sometimes three folks recording live to a digital 8track in a windswept conservatory on the west bank of Galway city, sometimes under the influence of not-so-fine wine or the occasional fancy craft beer. These recordings made up the bulk of the ‘Stonewater’ EP (Rusted Rail, 2007) and were the basis of some tracks that surfaced on ‘The Whispering Woods’ album (Rusted Rail/DeadSlackString, 2011), though by then the recording process and our gear in general had evolved. As their recordist I developed a more mobile recording unit where I could collect overdubs (overCubs?) from folks while visiting them on my travels or alternately that they could record at home themselves and then send onto me via the miracles of modern technology. Also it would have been around this time that field recordings and samples started to appear on Cubs songs, seeping out from my own project, Loner Deluxe. Its 21st century folk music I guess.
Aaron Hurley: I think it’s been there from the start. The group started as James playing mainly acoustic guitar or bouzouki and myself playing guitar or mandolin through effects pedals. It was generally the two of us improvising and then layers being added later. Tracks like ‘The Whispering Woods’, ‘Stonewater’ or ‘Lanterning’ (off the ‘Stonewater’ EP) came about that way. The spoken word samples are something which Keith sources as well as the ‘found sounds’.
James Rider: Initially Cubs was a very organic band, with most tracks starting with some group song-writing and then being reworked and shaped by Keith. Recently this has been harder to work like this as we’ve all been living in different parts of the UK/Ireland.
At the minute, the basic tracks are laid down by either Aaron, James or more recently Eddie. Keith will then work on shaping and editing the tracks in a homebrew sonic manipulator style. Max from tinyEPICS then chips in with some video action, which is very much part of what we do. The process has been very much shaped by our geographical dislocation. For me there’s a great challenge in this, as the creation process becomes slower and also is great to hear how the other musicians in the band interpret your songs.
Keith: In terms of who would be responsible for the more traditional sounds, James Rider is an excellent finger-picking guitarist (and has been known to wheeze away on an accordion from time to time) and is adept at many string things, the most intriguing being a hybrid instrument he owns that’s over a hundred years old and is some kinda cross between a banjo and a mandolin so we call it the Banjolin. So With James, Aaron Hurley and I being the founder members of Cubs, from the beginning it was James who provided the folk backbone for the recordings. Dave Colohan from Agitated Radio Pilot and United Bible Studies played on the first EP and on ‘The Whispering Woods’, adding his wistful contributions on mandocello, tin whistle, and wordless vocalising along with the occasional accordion wheeze. Just this year Eddie Keenan was recruited from The Driftwood Manor and he’s knocked some mighty catchy riffs out of his bouzouki for the ‘Willowfield’ EP (Rusted Rail, 2012) so that bulks up the traditional element in the band too. It’s usually Aaron from Phantom Dog Beneath The Moon adding some shoegazey/cosmic fx-heavy guitar and mandolin to the proceedings, and I sometimes also add some psychedelicates to the songs too, running things backwards, transforming found sounds into tone-beds, or weaving in samples and field recordings, and even recently adding some bodhran thumps to bring things full circle back to the folk!
Aaron: I believe most of those who have made contributions to Cubs come at it from a love of folk but also experimentalism. The sound as I said already was there from the start. So initially James brought the folk and I brought the effects, but everyone has both in their other groups/projects.
James: I think we all have a nice balance of experimental and folk influences, there’s a huge part of the music where we love to work with folk roots, but love to take it a bunch further.

As Cubs are a group who consist of a supergroup of Irish musicians, featuring members of Phantom Dog Beneath The Moon, United Bible Studies, C Joynes, Plinth, Agitated Radio Pilot, and Yawning Chasm amongst others; an obvious question is: Why, how and when did Cubs come to light?
Keith: Well as I’ve mentioned above, James and Aaron started having informal folk jams with me at the controls of the 8track in late 2005 under the light of the winter moon and the Atlantean breeze driving the rain against the conservatory windows in a place called Stonewater (this was when James and Aaron lived in Galway, they are now in Belfast and Cork respectively). So its grown from there to take in a bunch of collaborators.
Aaron: Cubs came about because myself and James were living in Galway and were looking to play music with other people. Keith was there to capture the recordings from the start and then to try and make sense of them for a release. For the first lot of sessions David Colohan (Agitated Radio Pilot, Raising Holy Sparks) was involved a lot at that time. He had been coming to Galway to record songs for his ‘World Winding Down’ record. I think one of the sessions was meant to be for Agitated Radio Pilot but descended into something for Cubs. Others were invited to overdub and make new tunes, some of them from England, like Michael Tanner from Plinth and Chris Joynes. It seemed like a normal thing to do.
James: A supergroup of Irish musicians is one way to look at it! I certainly wouldn’t even consider myself a musician!!! Cubs started as a splinter group of United Bible Studies, operating out of Galway, a Connaught UBS so to speak! This was a time when Aaron, Keith and I were all living in the city, around 2005. We would have jammed my house in Dominick street, generally Aaron and I playing, with Keith recording and editing the pieces. A bunch of the guys from UBS would have dropped in on those recordings too. There was a room in the house that was an extended, high ceilinged conservatory, and at night you could look up through the glass into the stars. I feel this space led to the wide-eyed expansiveness that’s on a few of the records. I think the band gave us an opportunity to create a distinctive sense of music coming out of Galway, and the west of Ireland.

How did the band meet? I find intriguing listening to Cubs how there seems to be this telepathy that strongly exists within the group, a strong musical chemistry where spontaneity’s sparks are forever burning brightly.
Aaron: Well, I’ve known Keith since I was in first year at college and we knew James through people in United Bible Studies (the band, not some prayer group). It happened around 2005/06 that the three of us were living in Galway. I think the chemistry comes about from the fact that no one is trying to outdo anybody, there is a search and an expression of that moment. There is a freedom in the music because it’s not about proving something, it’s about existing in the music and just letting it happen. Some of the best recordings are the ones I can’t remember. Even with an overdub, there’s the sense of a joining in, a response to the others way of communicating.
James: I think we all met many lifetimes ago, and this led to our telepathy! Keith and Aaron have known each other for years, and I was a blow in from Northern Ireland. I think the first time we all met together was at an Agitated Radio Pilot gig in An Taibhdhearc in Galway around 2002! That’s the core of the band, everyone else who has been involved is part of the wide circle of musicians, or artists we know.
Cecilia Danell: My own involvement with Cubs started only recently. I loved ‘The Whispering Woods’ album when it came out and when I was asked to contribute vocals and lyrics on some tracks for the new EP I jumped at the chance.
Eddie Keenan: For me, it was very organic in that Keith asked whether I might contribute some ideas towards the new release and I happened to be recording some of my own stuff with him at the time. I put down some ideas and said, basically, if they fit, they fit and not to worry about it regardless. They did, happily.
Keith: It’s the usual story – friends who came together to make music and found they were pretty copacetic collaborators! The strong musical chemistry is something I was witness to as I was setting up the microphones and checking instrument levels for the first Cubs session on that dark winter night in 2005: Aaron and James didn’t know the ‘tape’ was rolling but I’m glad it was as they instantly composed an arresting tune which left me speechless, until I was able to regain composure and offer to put out an EP by them! This was the moment Cubs were formed and you can hear this first ever elemental recording by them on the ‘Stonewater’ EP, the song is called ‘Jimjam’ and it also exists in a slightly different mix on ‘The Whispering Woods’ this time entitled ‘Stonewater’. The sparks you speak of were burning brightly that night alright!
For each musician of the group, for example when Keith is composing songs for Loner Deluxe and/or Cubs, does the artist know from the outset which group/project this sonic path is intended for?
Keith: Things seem to find their own place. These days it’s usually quite specific, with folks writing/composing/improvising a tune with Cubs in mind and then it doing the Chinese Whispers recording method as its gets passed around/added to. There exists a Cubs ‘sound’ and we know it when we hear it but its hard to explain – its back to that telepathy thing again!
Aaron: With Cubs, I don’t play the writers role, which still exists even for an improvised piece. The rhythm or melody part is normally played by James and now also more recently Eddie. For those guitar lines that I did contribute (e.g. Lunar Electrification Programme, When Skies Split Open), they were improvised during a Cubs session or with Cubs in mind.

What are the difficulties the band face? I believe members are based in locations across the country (Cork, Galway, Belfast). Do Cubs all meet up in one place to create/record the material? Or is it spread across different places and times?
Aaron: That’s tricky alright but we intend to keep making music as a group. The ‘Willowfield’ EP came about by recording in Belfast, Galway and Cork. It was done completely different to the previous releases as there was no meeting up. I didn’t see James at all during this time. Keith went up to Belfast and recorded James playing a guitar and that was the spark that started the EP. By the time I recorded my parts, I had listened to the tracks several times which is completely the opposite to the previous recordings. There doesn’t have to be a definitive way to record and so circumstance and geography dictate.
James: The biggest difficulties are the logistics. The recording process has involved Keith being a modern-day Alan Lomax, bringing recording gear up to Belfast to record my guitar tracks, then shaping them later.

Explain the (healthy) situation Cubs find themselves in where there’s an array of such talented artists and musicians who have an array of projects happening all at once, when they come together to work on new material?
James: Keith has been the main alchemist of all this over the past few releases. He’s been the one most responsible for shaping the tracks created by myself and Aaron.

What does each member bring to the table?
Keith: Hopefully some nice ale!
Aaron: James is an absolutely brilliant guitar player. He underestimates himself. Keith is great at putting a collection of songs together, editing is extremely important in a group like this. Eddie is a skinny folk wizard, it’s great that he’s come into Cubs now. He has a wonderful ear for detail. Cecilia’s voice is just brilliant, very natural. Everyone who has contributed to Cubs like Paul O’Reilly lend something of themselves to Cubs.
James: Aaron brings the angular brain, the way he thinks is amazing, refracting musical ideas through a really inventive prism. He also brings the amazing, unique voice of his.
Keith is the sonic brewer, shaping the songs and adding some cinematic flourishes…he’s been the main driving force of the band over the last while – hooking up with Max from tinyEPICS, and Eddie from The Driftwood Manor. I bring some scratchy guitar playing and some banjo/mandolin tomfoolery!

I love the field recordings and spoken word samples in particular that are featured so prominently on each of Cubs’ releases. “It don’t matter any more. I want to make peace. I want to sit with him, look up at the stars like we used to, so long ago.” This is a beguiling spoken word piece that begins ‘Willowfield’. Which comes first – the piece of music itself or the specific field recording? Which shapes the song?
Aaron: The music comes first and Keith adds the field recordings. I think the field recordings probably alter the arc of the song, bring a new perspective.
Keith: That’s a sample from a great David Lynch film called ‘The Straight Story’, but don’t tell him we used it! The music always comes first and then when I’m mixing the song I fly in some samples or field recordings, but the music always suggests what could work well over it as a spoken word excerpt or sound effect. Actually, that sample did shape the video by tinyEPICS: when Max Webb was making the video for that title track from the ‘Willowfield’ release, he took that sample and based the whole story of the video on it. It was the third video in a trilogy that he made for Cubs which have all featured little creatures in bizarre situations! You can view all the videos at
My favourite song on the new E.P is ‘Lowering Of Ropes’. I love what Cecilia Danell adds to this and several songs on ‘Willowfield’. Her vocals are amazing and when combined with the likes of Aaron Hurley (‘Hollycroft’), such harrowing beauty is created. Tell me about the addition of Cecilia’s input on this latest Cubs release and the mark it makes on the record itself.
Keith: It’s good to have a new voice in Cubs, and Cecilia has a great one.
Aaron: Her voice and expression add a new colour to the music that wasn’t there before. It’s a bright sparky voice but a beautifully expressive one. On ‘Hollycroft’, I had the notion of a male and female voice. I wanted someone else to do the male one but mine stayed on anyhow, I felt another tone might be right for that tune but I like the way the voices sound together.
Eddie: Cecilia’s voice is one of my favourite aspects of the EP and she really adds a new layer to the Cubs’ sound. Absolutely beautiful stuff.
Cecilia: Thank you! I was given these tracks when they were nearly finished, and was asked if I could come up with some lyrics or vocal harmonies that I wanted to add to them. At the time I was just going away to do a residency at a place called The Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Co. Monaghan (I otherwise work as a visual artist) and I brought the songs with me to see if I could come up with something while I was there. I remember sitting in the large, rather amazing art studio and listening to the tracks and the lyrics for the verse on ‘Lowering of Ropes’ came to me very quickly, it could be interpreted as a bit sinister I suppose, I was playing with a reversal of roles where the female becomes the perpetrator. The song stayed in my head as I walked around the bordering woods and lake, as it fitted very well with the scenery and slightly otherworldly feel of the place. On ‘Hollycroft’ I really liked Aaron’s vocals and wanted to add something quite subtle, to complement his voice without interfering too much with what was already there, which I think worked.

Another favourite song on ‘Willowfield’ is ‘When Skies Split Open’. It’s that drifting acoustic guitar melody of Aaron Hurley amidst Cecilia Danell’s vocals. How did this song come about?
Aaron: I found the guitar part recorded on my machine, when trying to make space for the other Cubs tracks. It was labelled something like ‘cubs8’ so clearly intended for Cubs but I don’t remember recording it, only that it was done in my attic when living in Sheffield. I had assumed it was to be an instrumental piece but am very glad Cecilia came up with that haunting vocal. The fireworks which can be heard on the track were recorded in Sheffield by Keith around the time of Guy Fawkes night, by hanging a microphone out of the window of the same attic were the guitar was recorded.
Keith: I stuck my microphone out the window one rainy night to record the hiss and fizz of cars driving through puddles on Dominick Street and I layered this under Aaron’s guitar part which I also ran backward in places, a favourite trick of mine. I also added some cymbal splashes for punctuation and extra mood/colour and when she got back from Monaghan, Cecilia added her vocals. When Aaron mentioned that this song’s guitar part was recorded in Sheffield I remembered us recording some fireworks with a microphone out his attic window when I visited him there around Halloween, so these have made their way onto that song too, adding extra percussion.
Cecilia: The lyrics for ‘When Skies Split Open’ were written in Galway after the residency. I decided to keep them simple and minimal, since I wanted to stay true to the feel of previous Cubs recordings, but yet get the emotion across. My vocals for all three tracks were recorded in Keith’s bedroom on the same evening, with this one being the last one out of the three. I like the idea of double-tracking, a technique Keith uses a lot but which I had never tried before. I had to come up with on-the-spot harmonies, which was fun! Keith put the finishing touches to the song by adding fireworks and percussion effects.

What are the changes you think between 2011’s ‘Whispering Woods’ and 2012’s ‘Willowfield’?
Aaron: Well, ‘Willowfield’ is all done by overdubbing, where ‘The Whispering Woods’ typically had some of the players in the room at the same time. Eddie Keenan and Cecilia made their Cubs debut on ‘Willowfield’. To me ‘The Whispering Woods’ has more dense moments and ‘Willowfield’ has more sparse moments and also has no tracks over three minutes.
Keith: Well for one thing the recording of ‘Willowfield’ took only a couple of months as opposed to half a decade for ‘The Whispering Woods’! I think the core Cubs now have greater focus and with the forthcoming round of live performances more new music will be recorded in a quicker timeframe. It feels like more of a band now as opposed to a collective or a recording ‘project’. It does to me anyway!

Going back to 2011’s ‘The Whispering Woods’ for a moment, this was my first introduction to your music. Albert and Plugd were responsible! What was the recording process for the album?
Keith: Long and drawn out. Fits and starts. Shorts bursts of activity followed by long silences. Not to mention some malfunctioning equipment which shut down the mixing of the album for nearly a year. It all worked out in the end!
Aaron: It was pieced together from a number of sessions and had a lot of contributors in any number of places. The genesis of the thing was from recordings made in Galway in James’s apartment.

The instrumental ‘Fortis Green’ has such a gorgeous melody. It’s the first melody you hear as you awake to start a new day. Who composed this piece? Did you ever envisage vocals to be added to the mix? Or in fact for any of Cubs’ instrumentals?
James: The process of creating with Cubs has always been one of not being too possessive of a song or a melody. To give the guys an idea and hear how they interpret it, is one of the joys of being in the band. It can be a logistical challenge but creatively it’s still organic and spontaneous. ‘Fortis Green’ was recorded in Belfast.
Keith: James and Dave recorded ‘Fortis Green’ in Belfast in, I think, 2008. it’s a really mellow little ramble of a tune, a real backwoods progression. I guess vocals are something we can concentrate more on now that there are more singers in the band: Aaron, Cecilia, Eddie and Paul O’Reilly all have great voices.

My highlight must be the spellbinding ‘Lunar Electrification Program’. Please tell me how this came about? Where did that field recording come from?! It’s a true cinematic delight.
Aaron: I found a twelve string guitar in my brother’s apartment and had asked Kevin Flanagan to come around to play some music just for fun while my brother was away. Keith heard about this and turned up to record it. In my memory he was wearing a ninja mask. The twelve string was in a strange tuning so I improvised a few picked chords and Kevin played some wonky electric guitar. Later on, Aaron Coyne (Yawning Chasm) overdubbed some tenor guitar and this takes over as the melody part for the second half of the song, after the field recording. I have no idea where the field recording came from. I often don’t like to know, they’re like sentences from the ether to me then.
Keith: That song was improvised a few winters ago in an apartment in Galway during a big freeze that had hit the west, Aaron found a 12-string guitar under a bed and, having never played one before, he decided now was the time to do so, while a Cubs associate called Kevin Flanagan picked out some notes on electric guitar, with me recording the two ensuing takes on one of those handheld digital recorders and keeping the kettle going to keep ourselves warm. I then bolted the two takes together, adding some words from Buzz Aldrin to conceal the ‘join’ between the two takes. A few months later I visited Aaron Coyne’s dwelling place and he put down the tenor guitar part that emerges in the second half of the song. The main vocal sample on the second part is from a radio interview with the late UFO enthusiast Frank E. Stranges, a man with a very suitable surname as I’m sure you’ll agree, having heard him speak about his meeting with an alien! The use of samples lends a cinematic/narrative quality on some of the otherwise wordless Cubs songs, so I try to find fitting spoken word passages to add some storytelling to the music.
Aaron: I think the word ‘cinematic’ is apt for Cubs. From my perspective, I often think of images and colours when listening to music. For overdubs or even in an improvised setting where the effects can be altered, a sound lends itself to certain visual ideas or vice versa.

The wide use of instrumentation, from tin whistle, bouzouki, guitars to mandolin, melodica, percussion, banjo makes Cubs music so compelling. What instrument(s) did you first start to learn?
Aaron: The guitar and it’s probably the only one I can still actually play. On some of the Cubs recordings, it might be the first time I’ve played a particular instrument, albeit a stringed one. When it’s improvised, it doesn’t matter so much. I think having different colours is important to keep the listener interested. But it’s also because sometimes the melody guitar/bouzouki part might suggest something else.
James: Most of the band are pretty much used to playing on stringed instruments, guitar bouzouki etc. most of the time we’ll play whatever comes handy, or what we think might make a song more interesting or inventive. The core for what we do is to try not to be too constrained musically…

What was your earliest musical influences?
Keith: In terms of Cubs I reckon that November 18th 1993 was a turning point in terms of musical influence. Nirvana’s Unplugged performance was recorded that night and they replaced feedback and distortion with texture and mood via two instruments that woulda been alien to our teenage ears at that stage – cello and accordion. it’s a pivotal performance in shifting the ears of grunge kids towards the possibilities of folky/acoustic approaches and instrumentation. And it made Leadbelly cool too.
Aaron: For me, it would have been American Indie Rock: Nirvana, REM, Red House Painters, American Music Club, Throwing Muses but also shoegazey bands like My Bloody Valentine and The Cocteau Twins. My love of folk like a lot of people started with Nick Drake. But early on, Kristin Hersh and Nirvana Unplugged opened me up to acoustic music way before picking up an Anne Briggs or a Planxty record.
James: For me it was Pearl Jam and grunge. In fact you might be able to hear a Mother Love Bone melody on an early Cubs track!
What are your favourite bands and artists that are making music today?
Keith: Cubs.
Aaron: I had to think about this one as I get confused as to who is still making music these days and who isn’t. My favourite artists that I’ve heard music by which is recent are probably A Winged Victory for the Sullen, PJ Harvey, Tara Jane O’Neill, Sun Kil Moon. A lot of the time I’m listening to music released a while ago but might only have discovered recently. There’s a lot of great Irish underground music as well. Without mentioning bands of people who’ve played with Cubs, there’s Peter Delaney, Katie Kim, Woven Skull and Burrows (I love their ‘In Winter’ album).
Cecilia: My favourite musicians would be Kate Bush and Stina Nordenstam. I also listen to a lot of shoegaze/dreampop from the likes of Mazzy Star, My Bloody Valentine, and the Cocteau Twins. I’m big into 70’s stuff, ranging from Pink Floyd and Neil Young to folk and krautrock. Swedish progressive rocker Bo Hansson is someone I keep telling people to check out, he made this great album inspired by Lord of The Rings, I was delighted when I found it on vinyl in a record fair recently!
James: I’m a huge folk fan and have a massive interest in Nic Jones, Richard Thompson and Martin Simpson. I also love a bunch of urban R’n’B stuff at the minute – Drake, R Kelly and L’il Kim are all pretty amazing. There are some musicians who I have had the honour of playing with in Cubs and UBS that would also really stand out – Richard Moult, Michael Tanner of Plinth and the A Lords, Peter Delaney – and Dave Colohan of Agitated Radio Pilot/Raising Holy Sparks fame. Phantom Dog Beneath The Moon and Loner Deluxe are pretty decent too!

Do you guys have any time off?!
Aaron: Not much, we’re often trying to hold down jobs as well.
Keith: Time off is usually time spent working on music, recording, planning gigs, making posters, and also working on fine music videos with our brothers in arms tinyEPICS. Everyone in the Cubs group is in other bands and has other creative projects on the go so it all kinda fuses together.
James: As most of us do real jobs as well as Cubs and the variety of other musical things we do not really. It’s hard for us to create time to even catch up with each other!

Tell me about Rusted Rail, please, its origin and its philosophy.
Keith: For an in-depth interview about the label see here –

I love the special artwork that grace the sleeves of Cubs’ releases. Who is responsible?
Keith: The aesthetics of the releases are very important to me and so I like them to be housed well. I set up the shot for the cover image of the ‘Willowfield’ EP and Cecilia shot it on my bedroom floor. The cover documents the sad end of Aaron’s acoustic guitar which perished during a recording session on Friday the 13th of April! I found the cover image for the ‘The Whispering Woods’, I can’t tell you where from(!) and I also snapped the cover photo of the ‘Stonewater’ EP, which is an old stone outside the building of the same name where the EP was recorded.
You’ve told me Keith that Cubs will embark on a tour this November. What will the live set-up consist of?
Keith: Currently its gaining momentum as we hope to have a line up consisting of James Rider, Aaron Hurley, Eddie Keenan, Cecilia Danell and me.

Thanks very much for your time. Congratulations again on the amazing music. Words can’t do it justice. Really looking forward to the Cubs tour later in the year. All the best with everything, and thank you for the music. Of course, thank you for doing this interview for me.

Aaron: Thank you, that’s so kind I don’t know what to say in response.
Keith: Thanks for your in-depth interest in Cubs!

‘The Whispering Woods’ and ‘Willowfield’ are out now on Rusted Rail.

Cubs will tour Ireland in November. Dates to be announced shortly.

Written by admin

October 12, 2012 at 8:40 pm