The Once: High on Harmonies

WITH DUBLIN TRADFEST heading into town in the coming week, the chance to explore folk scenes from outside our own borders is one that looms large. Newfoundland is an unlikely hotbed, and one of their hottest properties, The Once, are one of the acts from outside our own shores that will be dropping into Dublin.

Those Newfoundland origins are at the forefront of the band’s very existence, too. “Most of the people that came before us are immigrants that came from France or Ireland to Newfoundland,” Geraldine Hollett, one of the band’s vocal trio, explains.

“They brought the music with them. In the 90s there was a ‘Celtic Revival’ and that music is definitely influenced by the Irish. We even sound like you in certain communities. When we hit Wexford, we can find people that look like us.”

Their connections, especially on most recent album ‘Time Enough’, come not just from the music, but from a haunting, minimalist approach to lyrics.

“It’s a conscious choice, especially for this album,” Hollett says of the toned-down approach. “We wanted to make an intimate album. We wanted the meaning of the words to get into your head to haunt and then to comfort.”

“Mostly they were written for anyone who has experienced love, loss, anxiety, low self worth and apathy. So, everyone. It was difficult, yes. Stripping things bare leaves us so exposed. We aren’t that comfortable running around naked these days. But we know how important it is to be real. You do really question if it’s good enough. You have to trust that if it comes from a real and honest place, it will reach those it was intended for and not be hurt by the ones it wasn’t.”

Roddy Woomble: Actively calm

Roddy Woomble has changed a great deal since the early days of Idlewild. Having watched one of the band’s final pre-hiatus shows back in May 2010, there was a real sense that the band were reaching backwards to find their heavier moments: a melancholy had descended, and the anger of the 100 Broken Windows/ Hope Is Important era seemed to be rocking on its last legs. What emerged from the wreckage is perhaps a better representation of Roddy’s true character. The man who was once a symbol of Scottish rock music now resides on a tiny Hebrides island, where he produced latest record The Impossible Song & Other Songs by drawing on the disconnected vibe and utilizing the assorted musicians who happened to pass through. The result is a distinctly folky album, downbeat and graceful, it has more in common with the likes of Laura Marling and Bob Dylan than the wrought, raw emotion of his angry earlier material.

“My influences come from all over the place these days”, Roddy tells us. “I listen to a lot of jazz and blues and music from the 60s and 70s, as well as a lot of contemporary music. Obviously living in the Inner Hebrides is going to give you a very different perspective to say living in New York. I go through phases with different writers, and that has an effect, too. I read a lot, and of course that seeps into my music. I don’t want to write protest anthems about pollution, or get involved in direct action or anything like that, but the sound really reflects where I live. The thought process behind my songs is like watching gulls swooping around in the sky.”

“The album was slowly constructed over the space of half a year”, Roddy explains, “it has a solid foundation of the same people, but then we got contributions from a handful of musicians who passed through. There are instruments that none of us can play, like saxophone. I always wanted to put saxophone on Idlewild records, but the rest of the guys didn’t go for it. It was creative in a way I’ve never tried before. Generally speaking I’ve always been in a band. Going solo is the chance to be very expressive. I’m a totally different person now. When we were young we were influenced by Black Flag, Nirvana and Fugazi, but my taste has evolved naturally, like many music fans’ tastes do. Folk records have definitely become important to me”.