Rock ’n’ reel
Gaelic Storm unites the musical threads
Thursday, January 21, 2010View full version
Gaelic Storm has proved far more buoyant than the boat where we met them.
The Celtic-fusion outfit was first heard by most Americans as the happy-go-lucky steerage band in James Cameron’s “Titanic” (1997), spinning out the jigs that helped unite Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) with Rose (Kate Winslet) among the poor immigrants in the hold of the doomed ocean liner.
The whole band went down with the ship, at least onscreen. But Gaelic Storm bobbed back up with a vengeance, capitalizing on the publicity with a self-titled debut album and going on to a career of heavy touring and seven CDs to date. The five-piece outfit reels (pardon the pun) into the Performing Arts Center of Wenatchee on Sunday.
The only Irish member of the band is singer Patrick Murphy, with other current players hailing from Canada, Colorado and elsewhere. Co-founder Steve Twigger is an expatriate Englishman who met Murphy and the other Stormers after moving to Los Angeles in 1985.
“I was living down in Santa Monica, and an Irish pub opened up on the corner of my block,” says guitarist Twigger. “I think I was there two hours after the doors opened. The paint was still wet on the walls, and Patrick was the bartender. There’s a huge English population there in Santa Monica, and a lot of the Irish lads were there as well. We bonded sort of instantly in the pub, and took it from there.”
Through a handful of personnel changes, Gaelic Storm has maintained a loyal fanbase through frequent touring, and some of its songs have gained traction as Internet memes. “The Night I Punched Russell Crowe,” from the 2008 CD “What’s the Rumpus?,” details a 1994 row between Murphy and the then-rising actor in that very Santa Monica bar, O’Brien’s. A new album, “Cabbage,” is due out this summer.
Go! Magazine: Did you have any grounding or schooling in Irish music prior to starting Gaelic Storm?
Twigger: No, I’d always played rock music, in bands, since I was 15. It was always rock music before then. I’d grown up listening to (Irish music) out and about in England, and was certainly familiar with a lot of the music, but no, I sort of fell in love with it at the pub there.
Go!: Did you have to break any old habits to play in that form more effectively?
Twigger: No. For us, back then — I think people that saw us back then would agree — it was a fairly unsophisticated kind of approach, really based on a lot of energy and enjoyment. We just set out to have a great time, and that came fairly naturally to me.
Go!: One thing about that form is that it has really recognizable roots, but it’s also very adaptable.
Twigger: Yeah, it’s infused obviously, throughout American music, from the early days of Appalachian music on down through bluegrass and country music. An argument can be made for a connection through to the blues and the Caribbean Islands, through the shipping trade and the slave trade back in those days.
Go!: When your band is putting together new music, does it come together more from solo compositions, or do you generate songs through rehearsal?
Twigger: We live in different parts of the country now. Back when, we’d get together and jam and formulate songs that way. These days it tends to be a little more solo efforts, then we’ll fly into a location, get together and bounce around ideas. We’ll try things at sound checks. So it’s sort of varied, but I’d say more solo efforts these days.
Go!: How do you think you’d characterize the songs you compose, compared with those your bandmates create?
Twigger: I tend to write more of the ballads. I’ve also written a lot of the funny kind of story-songs. But we sit down and we tell stories — that’s how the band started, way back in the pub, just from sitting around with a couple of beers and swapping stories. We’d literally go round in circles telling stories for hours upon a time. And we still do that — talk about this event or that event and the characters that we’ve met along the way. If I sit down personally to write, it’s more emotional, and if we get together, it’s more humorous.
Go!: Your songs seems to often have a viewpoint character, and that character is a fairly laid-back and contemplative person. Is that the case of the songwriter turning himself into a character?
Twigger: I’m sure it is. Coming from a little town in the middle of nowhere, England, there was really not much prospect for anything, and it did lead to a more sort of contemplative dreamlife for me. I’ve sort of fulfilled a lot of that by getting out and coming to America. Not to be too clichéd about it, but the American dream is very real in my life. I guess I do sort of reflect on that. I certainly enjoy my life, and I hope it comes out in some of the songs I write.
Go!: The first album that Gaelic Storm put out came after “Titanic,” and it was heavy on traditional songs. Did the band have to break out of being seen as a traditional jig-and-reel band after that movie?
Twigger: Yes and no. We were not forced to do that — it was probably more a case of people wanted to hear the jig-and-reel kind of bands. But instinctively, I knew that in order to have longevity, we would have to prove ourselves with our originality. I knew we had it in us, although we were a fledgling band at that point — we were three months into playing together when the “Titanic” people approached us. I knew we had to work very, very hard on our originals, and we set about doing it. As the albums progressed, we added more of our own compositions, and started to sort of crossbreed with the traditional pieces. Now here we are, just having come out of the studio having done our eighth album. We just recorded 15 more tracks. I’m very proud of the band; we have our own thing now.
Go!: Did you have to get into the water tank when you were making “Titanic?”
Twigger: No, but (then-member) Stevie Wehmeyer was actually in the drowning sequence. He was one of the floating bodies.
Go!: Did your character freeze, drown or survive?
Twigger: No, I was lost. I don’t think I ever made it out of the hold.
Go!: Do you think it’s more profitable for a band today to put out a record and tour behind it, or to stay out on tour and let the albums fall where they may?
Twigger: From our perspective, the constantly touring route has really worked. We’re not a triple-A (adult album alternative) radio band — we don’t make popular pop songs. We’re a real ground-roots kind of band, and word of mouth has been our way of spreading the message. As far as album sales, we do very, very well for what you would call a folk rock or folk pop band, with no radio play. But that’s all I think based off our touring history. ... I’ve always considered the audience to be part of the band. They’re the missing element that comes together when we get out onstage.
Go!: Going back to the pub days, were you a witness to Pat Murphy’s confrontation with Russell Crowe?
Twigger: Not that particular punch, but I was there on many occasions when Russell Crowe was there at the bar, down at O’Brien’s, playing pool in the back room. So yeah, Pat was telling that story the very next day, and I’ve heard it thousands of times by now, and eventually we just said “C’mon, Pat, we’ve gotta put this down in a song.”
Go!: So you can vouch for the circumstances, but not the event itself.
Go!: I keep hoping for an eyewitness.
Twigger: You’ll find one eventually, believe me.