- 27 Feb 13
Ciaran Dwyer of alt. folk act Knoxville Morning talks road trips, German record deals and the burgeoning Newbridge music scene with Maeve Heslin...
One of the names you may have noticed continually cropping up on ‘Ones To Watch’ lists all across the land of late is Knoxville Morning.
The brainchild of Newbridge man Ciaran Dwyer, the folky, Americana-tinged project came about following what sounds like a very fun roadtrip across the States with some workmates a few years back. Having returned home, Dwyer put pen to paper, and enlisted the help of some friends to put together an album he thought would be for their ears only. However, as it tends to do, fate duly came a-knocking…
“The whole idea was to make the album just for us,” Dwyer explains. “The songs are very in-jokey. Before we left I thought, 'It’ll be great to have a proper holiday; do some sightseeing.' It actually turned out to be a complete mad one!”
He continues, “I had this little guitar in the back of the van on the trip – much to everyone’s displeasure! After being out somewhere the night before, we’d have lots of little stories, which I’d then make into a song. It’s only when you come home from these things, you realise you have something. Looking back though, it was lovely – it became a real brotherhood.”
The process of recording, mixing and mastering the tracks into the album we see today took a couple of years, and Dwyer enlisted his former fellow Band On An Island members, as well as some other muso friends to assist him on the project.
“I don’t really find the solo acoustic thing very appealing”, he says. “Once the songs start coming together, you begin to hear other things – I love brass, especially trumpets, and thought I’d like to get a little band together.”
Another musician who’s been both a huge support and inspiration to Dwyer during the arduous album-making process is his good friend Stefan Murphy, aka Dublin singer The Mighty Stef.
“We went to college together. When I met Stef back in 2003, I’d never made music before. I started playing guitar, and going to his gigs. He’s incredible. I’m so into songwriters and lyricists, and I reckon he can’t be beaten. He’s been really supportive too, I’ve always looked up to him.”
The Stef influence can be heard in Knoxville Morning’s heartfelt, honest and often hilarious lyrics. Who else has fed into Dwyer’s heart-on-sleeve songwriting style?
“I remember years ago at the Gaeltacht, when I first got into hip hop”, he laughs. “I started really listening to lyrics – especially Eminem. When that first album came out, I completely lost my shit! I couldn’t believe it – it was the first time I’d heard someone make something so interesting out of words. From that, I went on to listen to a lot of folk music. Christy Moore is from Newbridge obviously, and I remember hearing and loving a lot of his early, simple stuff.
“The song that changed everything for me though was Damien Dempsey’s ‘Jealousy’”, he continues. “That allowed me to never feel weird about being 100% honest. I listened to it and thought, ‘You can write like this!’ It’s so blunt. I really appreciated that honesty.”
Though folk pop has made a bit of a comeback recently with the likes of Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers storming the charts, Dwyer prefers his lyrics to have more bite.
“I don’t really have too much interest in any of that,” he proffers. “There’s no edge to it. I like a bit of bejaysus in my music! The sense of humour thing is really important to me – I get bored of bands who write songs about nettles and forests! Because I never thought I was writing an album to be put out through a label, or end up in the likes of Hot Press, it felt completely fine to write like that.”
However, it wasn’t long before a label came calling, and it was in fact Stef who brought about the signing.
“Stef passed the album on to his German label Tonetoaster’s head guy, Michael,” Dwyer explains. “Michael liked Band On An Island; the folkier stuff. And he really liked Knoxville Morning – he got straight onto me and said he’d love to put it out. Within two hours the deal was done! He’ll put the album out in Germany in March, and has booked us in for tours too.”
All very exciting, but is it nerve-racking to suddenly be thrust into the spotlight?
“I’ll be honest”, he laughs, “I totally bricked it! The label thing is mad – all of a sudden, I have a bit of responsibility to these guys. I have 10 gigs booked for April. I’m a bit scared about it – I tell people that though and they laugh! They don’t see me as a nervous person. Once I get out there though, I think I’ll be grand.”
Regardless of what happens, it sounds like he’ll always have the support of – from the sounds of it – the entire population of his hometown, Newbridge.
“The people are so close at home, there’s a great local scene. All the bands from Newbridge are so supportive of each other, ‘cos we’ve such a great friendship. We all go to each others’ gigs. It’s funny that people are catching on to the scene there now!”
As well as the support from his fellow Newbridge musicians (electro producer Mmoths among them), Dwyer says there’s a real sense of community with folk of all ages in the town.
“People my dad’s age are into the album. Someone might come in to the local record shop and buy six copies to post onto people. It’s great, because this is the stuff that’s going on outside of any of the actual success.”
His musings have obviously struck a chord with people, what does he think it is about the genre that hits home?
“Me and Stef always said folk singers write the songs that live on,” he muses. “They’re timeless. No matter how cool anybody is and what music they’re into, everyone loves a sing-song. At the end of the day, tune is a tune!”
Knoxville Morning is out now.