In 2018, legendary folk metal band Cruachan, will be celebrating their 25th anniversary. They will also be releasing a new studio album “Nine Years of Blood,” as well. I caught up with Keith Fay to talk a bit about this upcoming milestone, the new album, and what its like being one of the founding fathers of an entire genre of music, that helped pave the way for so many more bands.
When I was a kid, I saved my allowance to buy a Clancy Brothers album, and a Black Flag album. I remember the record shop owner laughing and telling me that was an interesting combination. Shortly after I discovered The Pogues, and my world pretty much changed at that point. Growing up, were you a fan of traditional Irish and folk music? If so, was it something you had to keep secret, because for me it was just drawing a target on myself for bullies.
Growing up no, not really. Folk music was something that my dad listened to and wasn’t considered cool. In Ireland, unlike most other countries, we had no folk music revival that made folk music cool. There was no revival because folk music never died out. It was and is always present. It was on tv, radio everywhere as a kid so I didn’t think it was cool at all. It was when I was in my very early teens and started developing my huge interest in Irish history and mythology that I started to appreciate folk music a lot.
So many ancient tunes and songs that existed for hundreds of years, that were connected to the history I am reading about, were still being played in pubs and clubs across the country. I thought that was fascinating and it really stoked my interest and I’ve never looked back since.
Did you ever listen to any other fusion styles of music, before discovering Skyclad?
I’m not sure, probably not. When I got into metal at aged 12, I listened to nothing else. It had to be metal, actually it had to be extreme metal. Death metal was the big thing in the late 80’s and black metal was only starting out, that’s all I really listened to in my formative musical years.
Soon you’re going be celebrating the bands 25th anniversary, a big congratulations for that! As one of the founding fathers of folk metal, did you ever imagine that the band would have this much of an impact and influence, and that the genre would explode in popularity in the way that it has?
I had no idea. I was a kid when I started the band. I wrote all the songs, music and lyrics, on Tuatha Na Gael aged 15. I was aware that what I was doing had never been done before. Sure Skyclad were there, Bathory too, but no one had ever taken the folk music combination and ran with it as the main musical output of their band. I always say it took the mind of a 15 year old kid to think that would work.
As for the popularity, that was a surprise and in reality the popularity of folk metal pretty much passed Cruachan by. We fell by the way side a little when bands like Eluvietie, Korpiklaani etc exploded on the scene but we are still here, still making music and if anything we are enjoying our own little renaissance over the last few years while folk metal itself is starting to decline in popularity. The last 4 years have been the most successful for Cruachan.
Are there any younger bands that you follow that you think are being innovative and doing good work these days?
No. I’ve become very cynical in my old age and don’t follow the metal scene in the way I used to when I was younger. I listen mostly to classical music these days so am not too bothered to check out new bands. Occasionally I’ll stumble upon new bands or bands I wasn’t aware of such Carach Angren, loving their stuff at the moment.
What’s the songwriting process for you like? Specifically the instrumentation aspect of it. Do you come up with a rock/metal based idea and later “folk it up” with traditional instruments, or does it all start as folk metal sound in your head?
We have no clear defined structure in reality. Usually we will come up with a melody, play around with it, see if it will work with some metal backing rifss etc. If it does work we can then flesh it out with other parts. Sometimes we will be rehearsing in studio, break into a jam session and end up coming up with some interesting parts that are hastily recorded onto one of our phones. Then when we are finally in a recording studio, what we record there is further expanded on by me on keyboard or other folk instruments or by John on violin, cello etc.
Do you think there are challenges when it comes to combining folk instruments with a classic metal heavy rock backdrop? I hope I don’t misquote you here, but I think you once made a great point when you said you could take an Iron Maiden song, and just replace the guitar with a fiddle. Do you find it to be that simple?
Yes it can be an absolute nightmare and sacrifices need to be made. We can’t have the heaviest, deepest guitar sound in the world as it affects the frequency that certain folk instruments are played at. We need to use a guitar sound that is of course heavy but also defined enough that when folk instruments are played over the guitar, they can be heard.
It’s not as simple as increasing the volume of a flute for example, it’s all down to frequencies and EQ, boring fucking shit. That quote was referencing the fact that a lot of Iron Maiden melodies are folk melodies. If there was a violin playing along with the guitar it would sound folk meta.
How do you go about creating balance in your arrangements?
We don’t even think about creating balance, we just do what sounds good. I think a lot of our songs are very unbalanced, one song will be folk heavy, another song will probably have no folk parts at all. We always do what we want and stick to no rules. On the new album you will hear loads of different styles of metal, never mind folk, we’ve always been like that. Sometimes people say in reviews we don’t know what we want to be, maybe that’s the case, we like all metal so play all metal. We of course lean heavily on the black metal side.
You’ve been teasing fans with some details about the next album album Nine Years Of Blood. Can you give us a quick run down on what we know so far, and maybe any sort of new information you can tell us?
Well it’s a concept album so right from that start I found that challenging as it means I am limited in the lyrics I can write but I think I did a good job. The lyrics are still fun to read, still sound like a metal albums lyrics (swords and battles, doesn’t get any more metal right?) but are still telling the story of a really important part of world history that people may not know about.
I mean, if Ireland won that war, the world as we know it would be a very different place (everyone would be drunk). Musically, as I said above, we have a lot of differing metal styles on here – Death, Black, Thrash, Heavy Metal – and of course lots of folk music. We’ve also brought in a very strong classical music element as well. We’ve always had a classical vibe in our work but this album shows it off a lot.
We don’t use orchestras but John Ryan has layered a lot of violin, cello and double bass to create some huge sounding motifs. Vocally it is the same but even with my vocals I sing in three distinct styles – Clean, Hetfield style metal, and black metal rasps.
Actually there is a fourth style on this, a choir! I wanted a choir for some parts but was let down by some people so ended up layering my own voice, harmonizing with myself and making my own choir of 50 Keith Fays, I think it worked really well. Let’s see what the fans think. Can the world handle 50 Keith Fays?
Nine Years Of Blood Teaser
The more Keiths the more metal I say! I know you guys are going to be playing some shows in France and Sweden, have you made any new plans for touring in 2018?
We are trying to avoid touring and stick more to festivals or one off shows, it’s too much work and hassle for us to tour with our jobs and family lives etc. Having said that, if the offer is right for us, we’ll take it which is why we signed up to a tour of Scandinavia in early 2018 with Manegarm and Ereb Altor.
We’ve agreed a few festivals so far for 2018 such as Kaltenbach Open Air in Austria plus others we can’t mention yet. Hopefully there will be more. We will be playing a 25th celebration show in Dublin in 2018 with a lot of former members such as Karen Gilligan, John Clohessy etc. that’s going to be fun.
As a fellow geek and collector, I’d like to talk about your gaming channel. You put out great content such as un-boxings, lets plays, and your pickup series, which I love. With such a large collection, how do you keep everything organized, for filling in those missing titles? I know if I didn’t have my spreadsheets, I’d never know that I’d have six copies of Lord of the Rings for GameCube.
Haha. I’m loving the youtube channel. It’s very early days but it’s really helped me appreciate my collection. I’ve been collecting video games for years and yes, I do lose track of what I have all the time but hey, that’s all part of the fun. I intend do document it all one day but fuck me that sounds like an awful job haha.
Speaking of Nintendo, are you glad to see them make such a massive come back the Switch, and never ending stream of amazing titles?
Nintendo are amazing and never fail with their games. They make some questionable decisions with hardware though so it’s great to see that they got things right with the switch and to see the publishers actually supporting them and getting their big games out on switch. Having said that, it’s nintendo’s own franchises that are their strength and that people love so much.
Thank you so much for taking time out to chat with us,we greatly appreciate it! Is there anything else you’d like to tell the fans?
Thanks for reading and thanks for supporting Cruachan for all these years.