Heavily touted by critics but not yet quite in the mainstream of Irish music The Remedy Club have the feel of one of those bands that are about to break through and make some real noise.
Consisting of heavily harmonising, folk-loving duo Aileen Mythen and KJ McEvoy, the band have just released their third album ‘true Hand, True Heart’, recorded in Nashville alongside the legendary Grammy award winning producer Ray Kennedy.
I caught up with the pair in the midst of the global shutdown to talk it all over…
First of all, congrats on the album. Can you tell me a little bit of the story behind it?
Aileen: Nashville based producer, Ray Kennedy who had mixed a previous single and mastered our last album ‘Lovers, Legends and Lost Causes’ had chatted to us about the possibility of him producing the next album. We are both big fans of his work and first came across him through one of our all-time favourite Lucinda William’s albums ‘ Car wheels on a gravel road’, which Ray co-produced with Steve Earle and subsequently won a
We had already written a lot of the songs and raised funds through fundit.ie and knew that Ray would be the right person to produce the album.
Kj: We managed to raise enough money to record the album, although Ray gave us his special ‘living in a dumpster rate’ for broke musicians! We still had to pay for our flights to Nashville but we got there and recorded the album in seven days.
There are some great harmonies on the record. How do you construct those and decide when to use them?
Aileen: We both harmonise naturally together without thinking too much about it. When we are rehearsing a new song the harmonies kind of fit in naturally so we rarely deliberate over it too much. Sometimes we will hit a tricky or unusual harmony that we have to work out.
I guess it’s important to know when not to harmonise too, when one vocal is enough for fear of sounding like ‘The Andrew Sisters’ (who of course were
wonderful but maybe not the right direction for this genre!).
Kj: We’ve both been singing harmonies all our lives so there’s no
‘construction’ required. We generally just sing the most natural-sounding harmony and apply where necessary! Most songs generally lend themselves to harmony although we don’t overdo it. If we decide something needs a three-part harmony for example then there’s a little more construction to it but we rarely do three-part harmonies.
How was it working with Ray Kennedy?
Aileen: It was a dream for us to work with Ray. He has 5 Grammys under his belt and has worked with some of the world’s best musicians and songwriters including Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams. He has such a natural instinct for sound and recording. Personally we also get along really well and have become great friends with him and his wife, Siobhan.
Music is a very special way to connect with people and we had an
incredible week recording with him in Nashville, which we are very grateful for.
Kj: Working with Ray was about as good as it gets. He is an absolute master at what he does and is also an experienced songwriter having worked as a staff songwriter on music city row for two years. He also had a career as an artist in his own right with several album releases and tours in the late
His studio is state of the art and we could write a small book on the vintage equipment, microphones etc. he has. And don’t get me started on his collection of guitars!
We got to the studio every day at approx 10am (having loaded up on coffee at Ray’s favourite place) and usually worked till 9 or 10pm. We knew we had to get the whole thing recorded in a week so we worked hard every day, which was intense but great fun. He was easy to work with and we really hit it off with him and got the whole thing finished in seven days…no resting on the sabbath!
How did you come to have your collection of musical legends collaborating on the record with you and did you learn much from them?
Aileen: Ray had chosen the band suitable for the collection of songs and the style of playing and we had already worked with pedal steel player, David Murphy from Cork so we added his playing later.
It was a real pleasure playing with all the musicians and they were all joy to work with. They work with the ‘Nashville chord system’, which is a different way of writing out chords than we use here, which was interesting. Lex Price (Neko Case, KD Lang) played electric and double Bass, Lynn Williams (The Wallflowers) played drums, Eleonore Denig played violin and cello and the multi-talented Rory Hoffman did an incredible job on piano, harmonica and B3 organ.
Rory is like no one I have ever met. He is an outstanding musician and can play almost every instrument to the highest level and is blind, a real inspiration!
Kj: Ray has any number of the cream of Nashville musicians he can contact and it all depends on who’s available/not on tour etc. and who’s particularly suited to a certain project etc. We loved playing and interacting with these people and are proud to have them on the record.
Is there much Nashville seeping into the record In your view?
Aileen: It’s certainly not something we were ever aware of or intended. We have both been hugely influenced by Americana/ Roots music for most of our lives and would have been listening to a lot of the records Ray has worked on, so his influence is definitely audible on the album. The fact that he lives and has worked in Nashville for so long may have seeped in there somewhere as a result.
Kj: What we do has always been influenced by country, blues, folk and rock n’ roll so all those elements are there and it would be hard to say whether there’s exactly a specific ‘Nashville’ sound as such on the album, but as the home of country music I guess there’s always a little bit of Nashville in everything we do!
Aileen, Your acting suggests you’re just a creative person all round. Do the two areas feed into each other at all?
Aileen: Both acting and singing come from the same creative place, without a doubt, and certainly feed off and influence each other. I have a natural desire to tell stories and tap into feelings and emotions and try and express them through songwriting, singing and acting.
You’ve been called one of Ireland’s best kept musical secrets. I guess there’s both a compliment in there and a concern in there. Is getting your name out and about a key concern at the moment?
Aileen: Ha!! Yeah, we were flattered by that quote from Jackie Hayden in HOTPRESS. I guess you are always hopeful that people will connect with your music and that you reach audiences far and wide and hopefully not remain a ‘secret’ for too long.
It’s definitely not the same playing your songs to yourself in the sitting room (as we have all had to resort to recently). It’s also pretty incredible that we can now do a Facebook live stream and connect with people from all parts of the world without leaving the house. Although it will never replace the atmosphere of a live gig in an intimate venue.
Kj:As we are independent we’ve been doing everything ourselves promotion-wise and quite honestly there aren’t enough hours in the day; there is so much involved between trying to book gigs, advertise them, promoting the album and all that that entails, none of which brings in any income so that is always a bit of a concern if you are not reaching a wide audience.
We have recently signed to a major UK booking agent/ promoter, which will really help lighten the load and hopefully get us in front of bigger audiences. It is nice to be referred to as one of Ireland’s ‘best kept musical secrets’ though!
Do you see much feedback when you’re played on major stations like RTE?
Aileen: The support from stations like RTE means a lot and definitely helps to get the music out there and radio airtime leads to people finding out about your music and coming to the gigs. It is also lovely to get that kind of validation like ‘Album of the week’ from people in the industry who we admire.
Kj: It definitely helps to be played on a major station like RTE and to be made ‘album of the week’ on Radio 1, which we were very happy about. Radio 1, in particular, have been very supportive of us. Ireland is nonetheless a very small country so getting radio play in the UK and further afield is very important to us too. To date, we’ve had quite a bit of airtime on regional radio around the UK and BBC Northern Ireland, all of which
helps to reach potential audiences.
Touring has obviously been a key part of the band so far. Have you had any special experiences?
Aileen: We love playing live. There is something terrifying yet extremely joyful about walking out on to a new stage with a group of people and nobody knowing what the night will bring.
You want to give people a great night’s entertainment as we appreciate each person being there but you also know that each individual brings their own energy into the venue, which is what makes for a really special experience when all the elements are working and everyone is up for a great night.
We’ve been very fortunate to do some amazing gigs over the years. Most recently we had a virtual launch on Facebook live. Weirdly, I was more nervous for this than for any other ‘gig’. It was really special in the end as we had friends and people tuning in from the States, France, UK, Ireland, Australia and Canada. There was something really cool about everyone connecting from all over the world at the exact same time regardless of time zones.
Kj: There’s nothing quite like playing in front of an audience, something we’ve really been missing lately for obvious reasons…we had to cancel our Irish and UK tours which took a lot of work to set up. We love touring and playing live so we’re very eager to get back to it.
As regards special experiences, there’s been quite a few; there’s a 250 seat venue in Scarborough which is this beautiful old house that belonged to the writer and poet Edith Sitwell that we’ve sold out twice and each time was a real pleasure to play; the house itself is beautiful, the PA system and soundman are exemplary and the audience were amazing.
We played the Other Voices festival trail in Dingle and all the gigs at that were great. We were due to Play the Country to Country festival in London just as the coronavirus hit and we reckon that would have been pretty special!
Individually, before The Remedy Club, we’ve played and toured all over the place; I toured as guitarist for my sister Eleanor McEvoy and did two full band US tours, which were a lot of fun.
We also played at a festival alongside the Frames in Kiev in the Ukraine in front of 160,000 people which is something I’ll never forget! Before that I lived and played in New York city and played CBGB’s regularly and lots of other interesting places too numerous to mention. Aileen as an actress has performed in The Abbey, the Wexford Opera house and many other theatres across the land!
How are you coping with releasing a record without the opportunity to tour it?
Aileen: Initially, we were really disappointed and had a flight booked to leave for C2C Festival and play the O2, London. The festival itself wasn’t cancelled until 11pm the night before. We were also really excited about playing with a full band for our album launch at Crown Live, Wexford but obviously the global impact has been huge and everybody has been affected by this so we have to remind ourselves of the bigger picture.
We are thrilled with the reaction to the album online, in reviews and with radio stations who we have managed to be able to get the album to. I’m not going to lie though we are itching to get playing and performing in front of a live audience again.
Kj: We’re actually managing ok although it was a real shame to have to cancel our tours and our album launch, for which we had rehearsed a full band who sounded fantastic. We did a live streaming gig instead which worked out great and a lot of people tuned in and are planning another one soon. People have been very supportive online and just generally during this whole thing.
What are your plans for The Remedy Club going forward?
Aileen: We are really excited about working with Neil O’ Brien Entertainment, London and are currently putting together some dates in the UK in November (fingers crossed!). We have been writing new material and would love to do another album, next year maybe, depending on how everything goes.
Kj: We plan to get back gigging in November although no-one can be really sure of anything at the moment, but we have to plan something. Obviously, as we said earlier we want to keep broadening our audience and get the album released in territories like Germany, Holland and Norway etc and hopefully line up some gigs opening for bigger established artists. We’re also writing more material and hope to record another album.