There’s a vibrant intensity to Kíla in person that you quickly get the sense reflects their extreme passion for what they do. It’s best summed up in the closing seconds of our interview.
“One more thing for this, before you go,” frontman Ronan O’Snodaigh says as we finish up our chat in Dublin’s Library Bar on a quiet Thursday afternoon. “If you’re going to write about us, write about what we are now. If we’re not good enough for that, we don’t deserve to be written about at all.”
Let’s touch on that particular message first. Alive Beo – Kíla’s latest release, recorded during the band’s 2016 tour – is breathless, seamlessly diverse, fresh, freewheeling, spontaneous and a great advert for their show. It’s the album of a band at the peak of their powers. They didn’t tell me to say that.
It’s hard to tell if O’Snodaigh is particularly proud of the Dublin world music act’s newest output, or simply sick of features on Kíla that largely harp back to their roots in the early 90s. The band are happy to reference their huge body of work – they’ll be doing so in their 30 year celebratory mini-festival, Féile Kíla, at the end of the year – but also feel they’ve come a long way since the days of hit 90s release Tóg É Go Bog É.
“We’ve had to relearn some of the music for touring that album, actually, because there are some people in the band who weren’t around when we wrote it,” bandmate Brian Hogan explains. “We had a time, back then, when the rehearsal studios were just full of crap. Some of it great crap, and some of it useless crap.”
“Colm [O’Snodaigh, Ronan’s brother and fellow band member] just loves trying new stuff. Lots of it. You might use it once, on one thing. It does help as a musician if you just pick something up and make a noise on it, though. It’s amazing what you learn from that.”
Colm and the band’s ‘crap’ is said to have included things like a Tibetan nose flute and Mongolian camel fiddles. For a band often loosely linked to the Irish trad scene, the band’s music veers wildly away from that traditional, incorporating those instruments into a beautiful rhythmic cacophony of vibrant sound.
The band’s influences are incredibly broad. “Anything you grab can give a different idea,” O’Snodaigh explains. “We go through phases, then we just mislay things after a while. We used to bring three big African djembe drums, two guitars each and an amp on tour. We didn’t realise at the time what an unnecessary nightmare it was, but they all contributed to the sound. We’ve isolated what’s needed for tours now. We were guilty of musical tourettes syndrome.”
“The books, the poetry, it’s all output,” Hogan adds, referencing the band’s incredibly variety of artistic creations. “You feel compelled to do it. Maybe it is tourettes.” He points at O’Snodaigh and laughs. “He goes to the toilet and an album pops out.”
“It has to be music,” O’Snodaigh explains. “If it wasn’t it would be something else. It was football for a while growing up. It could have been drugs, or gambling.” Thankfully for all of us, it wasn’t.
This article is one of my weekly music columns for the Dublin Gazette, reproduced here with permission. Note: this column is published in the Dublin Gazette several days ahead of on this website. The Gazette is a freesheet paper available across Dublin, published on a Thursday. Pick up copies at these locations.