INTERVIEW: A.J. ROACH AND NUALA KENNEDY At a glance, American bluegrass musician A.J. Roach and Irish folk singer Nuala Kennedy might seem an odd pairing. A.J. is a rough and ready singer-songwriter, born and raised in the deep hollows of mountainous Scott County, Virginia; Nuala is a delicate traditional singer and flautist from the East Coast of Ireland. Yet together they create a mesmerising performance unlike any other. These consummate yet quirky musicians normally tour separately, but this month they are reuniting in Scotland for a few rare shows incorporating their own material in addition to songs they’ve penned together. They visit the Tolbooth on Friday 28th October. We caught up with the pair ahead of the show to talk about touring, house concerts and their unique relationship… How did you come to discover that your individual musical styles complemented each other?Nuala: We met when we were both invited to take part in BURNSONG 2009 in Dumfries and Galloway. We sang together in concert as part of that event, and found we liked the blend of our contrasting voices, and that we had a similar approach to music. It was, in fact, very easy to work together.  What is you favourite song to perform together?Easter and Edina. It’s the first song we wrote together. Where do you draw your inspiration from, and who are your main musical influences?Nuala: My inspiration lies very much in the people I meet and the places I visit. I have spent a lot of time discussing music and playing music with my friend Cathal McConnell (of the Boys of the Lough), who has taught me several traditional songs from his repertoire. Oliver Schroer, who sadly passed away in 2008 with Leukaemia, was a great friend and a huge influence on me. We recorded an album of original music together in 2008, which is being released by the Canadian Label Borealis Records in January 2011 at Celtic Connections.  A. J.: When I was a teenager, I loved all the usual suspects like Leonard Cohen and John Prine. I still love those guys and think that what they’re doing now is just as relevant as it ever was. I love Doc Boggs, The Carter Family and Randy Newman, and I can’t get enough pre-Berlin Bowie, Jacques Brel and Bruce Springsteen. I’m crazy for Springsteen. My biggest influence as a writer – certainly over the past five or six years – has been Jack Hardy who was a great friend and mentor. The record I’m listening to most right now is Matt Bauer’s The Jessamine County Book Of The Living. A.J. - you are part of the house concert movement whereby musicians play in living rooms and back gardens and wherever else people want to accommodate them. What’s the appeal of this kind of gig? House concerts are a pretty widespread and well-known phenomenon in America, especially in the folk and singer-songwriter communities. The kind of music that many of us make can be quite subtle, and our performances are often nuanced by the listeners and their surroundings. That doesn’t really work in a loud bar or club type environment. House concerts more easily afford what I think music is about: an intimate connection between the performer and the listener. A.J., you say on your website you’ve travelled over one million miles to play music for people - wow! You must really enjoy touring? What are your favourite places to visit? I love what I do! It has given me the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people and travel all over. As for my favourite places, I tend to favour the experience over the place. Some highlights for me over the past few years include sitting in the belfry of the westerkirk in Amsterdam as the carillon player banged out one of my songs on the big bells and it rang across the whole city, driving the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton with Nuala, kayaking amongst the porpoises and harbor seals in Monterey, meeting and chatting with John Prine in San Francisco, and having lunch with Tom T. Hall at his house outside Nashville. Why did you choose Stirling Tolbooth as your main Scottish date together?Nuala: I love playing at the Tolbooth. It’s a very lovely venue and the crowds are always fun to play for. I was there a few years ago, and really enjoyed the concert. The Tolbooth has a fantastic reputation in the UK for supporting new music. While AJ describes Nuala on his website as “beautiful” and “talented”, he has been described as “hobo poet troubadour”. Is this fair?! A.J.: From an engraving in the Casey Jones Museum: “A hobo works and wanders. A tramp dreams and wanders. A bum drinks and wanders.” The word ‘hobo’ didn’t always have the same connotation as is does now. We’re trying to take it back. The term - as far as I know - entered widespread use during the economic depression of the 1930s when thousands of men left their families to go and find work on the road. They would travel from place to place (often by hopping trains), eking out a living and sending money back home. My friend Nels Andrews and I decided that this was not unlike what we do as travelling troubadours. Woody Guthrie was a hobo. Bob Dylan pretended to be one. Hoboism and folk music have long-standing ties, and I would say that the differences between hobos, poets and troubadours aren’t as great as one might think.    What’s been the highlight of your career(s) so far?Nuala: I just finished recording a new album with my band and I’m very proud of what we accomplished with that record. Apart from that, probably my favourite highlight, if it could be called that, is the connection I have developed over the years with the people and music of Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. A.J.: Last August, I performed at a house concert in Scoraig with my good friends Ian Thomas Parks and Nels Andrews. The three of us with instruments in tow took a van to Ullapool, then boarded a small boat, then rode on a flatbed trailer being pulled by a farm tractor over a mountain for the better part of an hour and a half. We played for maybe 30 or 40 people, and it was one of my favourite gigs ever. If you were to create your perfect playlist, what would be on it?  Nuala:  Will Oldham (Bonnie Prince Billy) - I Don’t Belong To Anyone  Euros Childs - 1000 Pictures Of You  FOUND - Machine Age Dancing  Cathal McConnell - The Banks of Strathdon  Dietrich Buxtehude - Sonate No. 4 Op. 1 en si bemol majeur     A.J.:  Bruce Springsteen - The New Timer  David Bowie - Andy Warhol  Elam Blackman - The Murder Rides Again  Jack Hardy - Andale  John Prine - The Great Compromise To find out more about A.J. Roach and Nuala Kennedy, visit www.roachmusic.com and www.nualakennedy.com. To buy tickets to their Tolbooth performance visit www.stirling.gov.uk/tolbooth or call Box Office on 01786 27 4000.  At a glance, American bluegrass musician A.J. Roach and Irish folk singer Nuala Kennedy might seem an odd pairing. A.J. is a rough and ready singer-songwriter, born and raised in the deep hollows of mountainous Scott County, Virginia; Nuala is a delicate traditional singer and flautist from the East Coast of Ireland. Yet together they create a mesmerising performance unlike any other. These consummate yet quirky musicians normally tour separately, but this month they are reuniting in Scotland for a few rare shows incorporating their own material in addition to songs they’ve penned together. They visit the Tolbooth on Friday 28th October. We caught up with the pair ahead of the show to talk about touring, house concerts and their unique relationship…

How did you come to discover that your individual musical styles complemented each other?
Nuala: We met when we were both invited to take part in BURNSONG 2009 in Dumfries and Galloway. We sang together in concert as part of that event, and found we liked the blend of our contrasting voices, and that we had a similar approach to music. It was, in fact, very easy to work together.

What is you favourite song to perform together?
Easter and Edina. It’s the first song we wrote together.

Where do you draw your inspiration from, and who are your main musical influences?
Nuala: My inspiration lies very much in the people I meet and the places I visit. I have spent a lot of time discussing music and playing music with my friend Cathal McConnell (of the Boys of the Lough), who has taught me several traditional songs from his repertoire. Oliver Schroer, who sadly passed away in 2008 with Leukaemia, was a great friend and a huge influence on me. We recorded an album of original music together in 2008, which is being released by the Canadian Label Borealis Records in January 2011 at Celtic Connections.

A. J.: When I was a teenager, I loved all the usual suspects like Leonard Cohen and John Prine. I still love those guys and think that what they’re doing now is just as relevant as it ever was. I love Doc Boggs, The Carter Family and Randy Newman, and I can’t get enough pre-Berlin Bowie, Jacques Brel and Bruce Springsteen. I’m crazy for Springsteen. My biggest influence as a writer – certainly over the past five or six years – has been Jack Hardy who was a great friend and mentor. The record I’m listening to most right now is Matt Bauer’s The Jessamine County Book Of The Living.

A.J. – you are part of the house concert movement whereby musicians play in living rooms and back gardens and wherever else people want to accommodate them. What’s the appeal of this kind of gig?
House concerts are a pretty widespread and well-known phenomenon in America, especially in the folk and singer-songwriter communities. The kind of music that many of us make can be quite subtle, and our performances are often nuanced by the listeners and their surroundings. That doesn’t really work in a loud bar or club type environment. House concerts more easily afford what I think music is about: an intimate connection between the performer and the listener.

A.J., you say on your website you’ve travelled over one million miles to play music for people – wow! You must really enjoy touring? What are your favourite places to visit?
I love what I do! It has given me the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people and travel all over. As for my favourite places, I tend to favour the experience over the place. Some highlights for me over the past few years include sitting in the belfry of the westerkirk in Amsterdam as the carillon player banged out one of my songs on the big bells and it rang across the whole city, driving the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton with Nuala, kayaking amongst the porpoises and harbor seals in Monterey, meeting and chatting with John Prine in San Francisco, and having lunch with Tom T. Hall at his house outside Nashville.

Why did you choose Stirling Tolbooth as your main Scottish date together?
Nuala: I love playing at the Tolbooth. It’s a very lovely venue and the crowds are always fun to play for. I was there a few years ago, and really enjoyed the concert. The Tolbooth has a fantastic reputation in the UK for supporting new music.

While AJ describes Nuala on his website as “beautiful” and “talented”, he has been described as “hobo poet troubadour”. Is this fair?!
A.J.: From an engraving in the Casey Jones Museum: “A hobo works and wanders. A tramp dreams and wanders. A bum drinks and wanders.” The word ‘hobo’ didn’t always have the same connotation as is does now. We’re trying to take it back. The term – as far as I know – entered widespread use during the economic depression of the 1930s when thousands of men left their families to go and find work on the road. They would travel from place to place (often by hopping trains), eking out a living and sending money back home. My friend Nels Andrews and I decided that this was not unlike what we do as travelling troubadours. Woody Guthrie was a hobo. Bob Dylan pretended to be one. Hoboism and folk music have long-standing ties, and I would say that the differences between hobos, poets and troubadours aren’t as great as one might think.

What’s been the highlight of your career(s) so far?
Nuala: I just finished recording a new album with my band and I’m very proud of what we accomplished with that record. Apart from that, probably my favourite highlight, if it could be called that, is the connection I have developed over the years with the people and music of Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia.

A.J.: Last August, I performed at a house concert in Scoraig with my good friends Ian Thomas Parks and Nels Andrews. The three of us with instruments in tow took a van to Ullapool, then boarded a small boat, then rode on a flatbed trailer being pulled by a farm tractor over a mountain for the better part of an hour and a half. We played for maybe 30 or 40 people, and it was one of my favourite gigs ever.

If you were to create your perfect playlist, what would be on it?

  Nuala:
  Will Oldham (Bonnie Prince Billy) – I Don’t Belong To Anyone
  Euros Childs – 1000 Pictures Of You
  FOUND – Machine Age Dancing
  Cathal McConnell – The Banks of Strathdon

  Dietrich Buxtehude – Sonate No. 4 Op. 1 en si bemol majeur

   A.J.:
  Bruce Springsteen – The New Timer
  David Bowie – Andy Warhol
  Elam Blackman – The Murder Rides Again
  Jack Hardy – Andale
  John Prine – The Great Compromise

To find out more about A.J. Roach and Nuala Kennedy, visit www.roachmusic.com and www.nualakennedy.com. To buy tickets to their Tolbooth performance visit www.stirling.gov.uk/tolbooth or call Box Office on 01786 27 4000.

Interview by Hannah Currie

First published on www.tolbooth.tumblr.com, 21 October 2011.

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