Getting Skerryvore to answer some questions was always going to be a challenge as the band have once again been travelling the world and when our feature went up, were just ending their biggest US tour before immediately heading out for some big European dates. They finally managed to sit still for long enough to give us a little insight into their hectic lives. The audiences along with enthusiasm is growing everywhere they play and the strength of Chasing The Sun, with its big sound and upbeat outlook, makes it easy to understand why.
They are just starting a few Scottish dates before heading back out to Denmark and Germany and then back into the UK in November, with dates even further afield in the pipeline. If you get the chance to see them it should not be missed, so grab it with both hands when you can (dates at end of interview below).
Where has the latest touring taken you and what have been the highlights?
Martin: Our recent tours have taken us to the USA, Denmark, Switzerland and Germany. The highlight of any touring is of course the shows themselves but there are obviously a few stand out moments in any tour. The larger festivals are great fun to play at because of the level of production and size of crowds, especially in the USA.
Dublin Irish festival is a huge event and it was followed soon after by Milwaukee Irish fest. They draw crowds over the weekend in excess of 100,000 so being a part of that is really exciting. In Europe the Tønder Festival in Denmark is a really special event because the focus is purely on the music. The caliber of artist you get to see and have a beer with backstage can be really humbling and the spontaneous sessions in the artist bar are legendary.
How do audiences compare in Europe and America? Is the home crowd still the best? Where is the audience growing fastest?
Martin: There is nothing better than playing to a home crowd of course, those are the guys who give us the opportunity to do these other shows abroad and have been loyal to us since the start. Doing the home tour is always special and will always be in our calendar.
I think the main difference between the American crowd and the European crowds would be the level of enthusiasm for different aspects. It seems the American crowd like the power of the show itself and the scale of the event. In terms of atmosphere and production, it’s a big part of the set up here. In Europe the feeling is you can take more risks musically as the audience are more music lovers and discerning record buyers as opposed to festival goers having a great weekend. Both are great in their own way though.
What are the biggest / most interesting gigs you have done?
Fraser: A lot of our bigger gigs tend to be in places like Germany and Switzerland. We’ve done various festivals to 10,000+ people. The atmosphere is incredible although I think most of us still think it’s more nerve racking playing to 100 people rather than 10,000. We’ve also done massive gigs in Spain, they’re a bit unusual because we normally don’t start playing till 1 or 2am! They’re crazy.
Some of the most interesting again have to be in Europe. Highland games where everyone is dressed like characters from lord of the rings, prosthetic ears the lot!
Tell me how your music has changed since the breakthrough in 2011. What fuels any changes you have made? What defines the Skerryvore sound?
Fraser: The self-titled album Skerryvore in 2010 was a big step in creating the sound that is Skerryvore now. Many of the tracks were self-written or a collaboration by the band. This album announced the new sound of Skerryvore. Since then Alan has joined full time on keys, which has added another dimension to the sound and arrangements. We have always found it difficult to categorize the Skerryvore sound when asked, as there is so many different musical influences’ in the band. We have tried to create our own unique sound, which hopefully shows in this album again.
A question for Alec – Where do you take your songwriting inspirations from? It strikes me that there is a strongly upbeat thread, even when questions are asked. Is there a theme through this album?
Alec: The inspiration can really come from anywhere and you never know who or what will inspire you. That’s part of the excitement of writing songs. I’d say that generally speaking I write songs when I feel in an upbeat mood myself. I like my songs to have a positive outlook and hope that they can make the listener take something positive from the song. I wouldn’t say there’s an actual theme to Chasing The Sun exactly – It’s not a concept album or anything. The album title really reflects our desire for summer to arrive so that we can go on our largest tours and showcase the music we’ve been working at all year.
Tell me about the recording. How do the arrangements come about? Is Alan officially (or unofficially) the seventh member of the band?
Alec: The arrangements come about in different ways depending on whether it’s an instrumental or a song. If I’ve written a song then I’ll usually come to the rest of the band with a full version of how a verse, chorus and middle 8 runs together. Then as a band we decide who’s going to add what to the arrangement and how we’re going to structure the song in terms of sections. If it’s an instrumental then quite often someone will arrive at rehearsals with the basic melody and then we’ll repeatedly run the melody to give people a chance to A) learn the tune and B) come up with chords and other hooks to accompany the melody. Quite often the composer of the tune will have ideas in their heads of what they imagined other band members might play.
Alan started as the producer for Skerryvore’s self-titled album and his role at that point included being involved in the arrangements in the studio as well as playing keys on the album. We asked him to join us on stage for the album launch and he’s been with us as a touring member of the band ever since. His input to arrangement of the music is now twofold – as a band member and as a producer.
Why was Blown Away recorded differently? Tell me about producer Chris Kess.
Daniel: We met Chris while in the USA in 2013. He had recently moved to Chicago after 10 years of working with The Dave Matthews Band in Virginia and was looking for new projects to work on. He attended our show at Martyr’s Chicago and then contacted us to express an interest in working with the band. The aim was to work on a track that was specifically focused on the US market and sound – a region that Skerryvore continue to develop in with out longest tour to date in August. Where we have already made steps within the Celtic/Irish market, we hope the work with Chris will open further markets and opportunities.
I’d like to know more about your initial meeting and what drew the original quartet together. What is the music scene like on Tiree and how has the festival impacted on the local scene?
Daniel: The original 4 came together as a result of Fraser’s family visiting Tiree annually in the summer. Fraser and family were in the local pub (Scarinish Hotel) where Daniel & Martin were playing and someone suggested Fraser joined in on drum (yes, just one drum in those days!). The following summer, Alec (who was at school with Fraser) also came to Tiree and joined in for a few tunes. Our first actual ‘tour’ was of the highlands & islands and was arranged by fellow Tiree band Skipinnish who had already become very successful on that circuit.
The early summers on Tiree are very special memories and were the inspiration for Daniel starting TMF some 6 years later. Our first album launch in July 2005 in particular was a very special weekend as the support we received from the island community and visitors to the island was incredible.
Where have the other members come from? You seem to have remained fairly solid, except for a couple of changes in the bass department.
Daniel: We have a good mixture of Scots with Skerryvore:
Daniel & Martin – Tiree
Alec & Fraser – Livingston
Craig – Ayr
Alan – Stewarton
Jodie – Aberdeenshire
Where many trad/folk bands tend to have band members that are involved in multiple bands, we have always been keen to keep the identity of Skerryvore solid. We feel it brings a much more personal side to the band that followers can relate with and also makes it easier to manage the schedule! Jodie, Alec, Fraser and Craig all studied music together at Strathclyde University so that is where the connections started for the band growing from 4 to 6. We were introduced to Alan through Fraser who had worked with him in a previous band (Lexxi).
What are the plans for the year ahead? What are you most looking forward to? Will there be a wider UK tour?
Daniel: The album tour will see shows in Scotland, England, Denmark, Germany, UAE and possibly Mumbai, India! All details at www.skerryvore.com
Interview by: Simon Holland
For Can You Hear Us? the band asked fans to share what they love about Scotland. This was the result:
03 – Three Villages Hall, Arrochar
04 – Reid Hall, Forfar
11 – Falkirk Town Hall, Falkirk
16 – The Ironworls, Inverness
17 – The Lemon Tree, Aberdeen
18 – Strathy Village Hall, Strathy
21 – Baltoppen LIVE, Ballerup, Denmark
22 – Industrien, Aarup, Fyn, Denmark
23 – Halkær Kro, Nibe, Denmark
24 – Kultur- & ErhvervsCenter Jammerbugt, Åbybro, Denmark
25 – Røgen Forsamlingshus, Sporup, Denmark
26 – Hagges Musik Pub, Tønder, Denmark
01 – Irsiche Tage, Jena, Germany
08 – Fürstenfeldbruck, Germany
21 – Theatre Severn, Shrewsbury
22 – The Bell Hotel, Driffield
23 – Victoria Hall, Settle
24 – Forest Folk, North Boarhunt, Nr Wickham
28 – Rothes Halls, Glenrothes
29 – Dravel Music Festival, Darvel
Ticket Links and Full details here: www.skerryvore.com