Iarla O'Lionaird

CELT IN A TWIST – INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT

 
 
Iarla O'Lionaird
 
 

IARLA O’LIONAIRD

‘Invisible Fields’
(Real World)
 
The essential element in personal magnetism is a consuming sincerity -- an overwhelming
faith in the importance of the work one has to do.
Bruce Barton (1886 - 1967) US author, advertising executive
 
 
Celt In A Twist: The gift of a singing voice, for my money, is one of this life’s most precious. But,
when you possess a voice that can touch souls, the gift becomes almost a responsibility. For ten
years, Iarla O’Lionaird’s voice has lent its soul to the music of the Afro Celt Sound System. His
latest solo project, called Invisible Fields, taps into an even more ethereal energy. Iarla’s on the
line to tell us more. Hello, Iarla. Where have I reached you?

Iarla O’Lionaird: You’re calling me at home. I live in Kilkenny. South Kilkenny at that; a very rural
and wooded area of the country. Some of you may have seen the movie ‘Circle Of Friends’ which
was shot over here.

CIAT: Congratulations on the album, Iarla. It has a soundtrack/cinematic feel. Is that residual from
the I Could Read The Sky album?

Iarla: Not really. They’re very different projects, very different albums. To me they sound very
different. I suppose I tend toward the cinematic in terms of the soundscape … the size of the
image of the sound. I like slow music. I’m not really interested in fast music. And, for this album, I
situated it in a soundscape that was vaster. I seem to be going in that direction.

CIAT: Speaking of vast soundscapes, the production is sublime. Tell us about Kieren Lynch and
your home studio and all that good stuff?

Iarla: Well, first, I’m extremely pleased that you think so highly of the production because we did it
all in this room I’m sitting in right now. We did it in my house over the period of a year. We weren’t
working for seven months I suppose. So, Kieren Lynch was very dedicated. If you like, I spent all
the money on him … keeping him here. Obviously I had to buy instruments and things but I spent
a lot of the resources for this album on working with Kieren very closely, providing him with ideas
and bits of music which we processed further and just worked on hard in a very detailed way over
a long period of time. I suppose, from that point of view, it gave the album a sound which would
be impossible to replicate because of the unique set of circumstances under which it was made.

CIAT: Well, the rest are all just tools, right? I mean, people are your best resource.

Iarla: Yah, I agree. The tools everybody uses now are pretty much the same. If you can identify a
style or a posture in a production you’re taking on. From very early on, we really wanted to create
a musical language for the record which wouldn’t use anything that’s been used before for
traditional Irish music. I would avoid any clichés by way of treatment or instrumentation. I even
recall being somewhat strict with my guest musicians when they came to visit me. That would be
to say, “Look, leave whatever ‘isms’ you have outside the door. I don’t want them. I want you to
create something completely new for yourself.” And, it really paid off. Of course, it really depends
on who you’re talking to, doesn’t it?

CIAT: Is this album a continuing reflection of your new approach to the Sean Nos style of Gaelic
singing or have your innovations created a whole nother genre like Sean Nua, maybe?

Iarla: (laughs) Or maybe Sean John! I don’t know. Look. I don’t think about it that way. You know,
people looking in on another artist’s work … it’s normal for them to ascribe motivation to what you
do. That’s very interesting and it’s something for me to think about but it doesn’t propel me in
terms of the decisions I make. At the end of the day, I want to make music in a way I like listening
to it. I want to produce my own work in terms of the productions I enjoy listening to. I also tend to
want to avoid boring myself too much. And, also, I don’t like having to do anything twice. I try to
find new ways of expressing my singing. I’m very interested in the contemporary tools we use to
make and shape sounds. I’m very interested in what’s going on in today’s ambient music and, I
suppose, very left field productions.

CIAT: You’ve got your Celt In A Twist and we have Iarla O’Lionaird on the line to talk about his
latest transcendent work called Invisible Fields available on the Real World label. Is there a
cohesive vision that ties all these seemingly related elements together, like the album title, the
cover graphic which looks like some kind of field image photography and the cosmic kind of
nature of these songs?

Iarla: Well, I suppose there is. I wouldn’t like to classify my music as New Age in any way,
because it isn’t, really. The sound of the record is more left field than that. It’s more earthy, I think
you’ll agree. Yet, there are tracks which are quite literally ‘out of this world’. There’s even one
song called ‘Aurora’ which uses the sounds of electro-magnetic activity in the magnetosphere. I
won’t tell you how I got it (laughs). The most cohesive thing about the record at the end of the
day is the voice. And, I have to thank Kevin Killen who mixed the record for me in New York for
his contribution. You know, we had everything done more or less but the voice wasn’t properly
situated within the tracks. When I arrived in New York to mix, he just basically just everything off
and started with the voice. So, I think the voice is the central plank. But, having said that, I spent
a lot of time gestating these tracks and the singing may have been the last thing I did on some of
them. And, that of course is a very peculiar and maybe dangerous strategy. But, I always know if
there’s something worth singing which is going to come out and I trust and I wait for it.
CIAT: Iarla, you’ve given ten years to the Afro Celts. Will that relationship continue?

Iarla: I don’t think it will, from my point of view. We did five albums with Real World and I think our
term with them is over. And, also, I feel that I really want to do a very different kind of music from
what the Afro Celts make and I think this album is clearing the way. The kind of music that is on
this album is the kind of music I like to make. It is ve5ry difficult and challenging to work in a
group or a consortium where you share out creative responsibilities. It gives rise to amazing
things but it’s also extremely taxing. It is simpler by far, although personally more onerous to
create your own kind of thing.

CIAT: We started this set with a kind of lullaby I guess called The Day That You Were Born and
we’re going out on the incredibly cosmic, Aurora. Can you set up this piece and tell us a bit about
the poet Sean O’Riordain?

Iarla: When I was growing up there was this poet that everyone was always talking about. He
came from my village and his name was Sean o’Riordain. He became one of the eminent poets in
the Irish language and he died in ’71 but his poem Ni Ceadmhach Neamhshuim translates
roughly to ‘Is Not Allowed To Ignore’. He talks about things we shouldn’t ignore. His concerns are
very human but they ‘re also very cosmic and they’re also forward looking in terms of this planet
and the way we should live. The original inspiration for the track came from an installation I was
doing called Auroral Synapse here in Kilkenny for an arts festival. And, that’s where I kind of
assembled the ideas and the pieces. That’s why the thing sounds quite weird and out there but,
it’s nothing people will hear everyday I suppose!

Iarla o’Lionaird was interviewed April 25th 2006 by Celt In A Twist producer,