|An interview by Ray Dorsey|
Editor of Chaos Realm Magazine (1998).
Ray Dorsey: Over the last several years, my interest in music has taken a path down a new avenue: Celtic folk. That's not to say that I've moved away from metal, hard rock, heavy prog. etc. Nothing could be farther from the case: just look at this issue. However, on a chance invitation by a friend to check out local Celtic folk trio Connemara (thanks, Jim!), I was bitten by the bug and have merely added this genre to my areas of exploration. The interesting thing that I've since discovered is that I'm not, by far, the only metal fan who has been captivated by this music.
The whys and wherefores of this are endless, but the common threads revolve around beauty, power, melody, etc., things that intertwine those seemingly (on the surface, anyway) unrelated styles. Of course, I don't expect that every metal/hard rock fan will instantly follow me down other paths I choose to roam. Still, for those of you interested in something fresh, exciting and vibrant, I can't think of a better place to start than the 2 CDs available (to date) by Maireid Sullivan. In the 4-5 years I've delved into Celtic folk music, these discs have become, for me, the defining works of a genre that has opened up like a blooming flower. In fact, her latest, "For Love's Caress - a Celtic journey" is easily my top album of 1998, thus far, regardless of musical style. Over the last few months, I have gotten into contact with Maireid (pronounced like "parade"). I've found her to be, not only extremely interested in and accommodating to what I'm doing with Chaos Realm, but also, a genuinly nice person with a lot of intelligent, thoughtful views. The interview I did with her follows and after that, you can find more info. on how to obtain her CDs, access her Web page, etc.
Maireid Sullivan: My new CD, "For Love's Caress - a Celtic journey" is very different from my first recording, "Dancer". It's a much more radical sound than the mix in Dancer. And we love it - my American band and I. For me, the real agenda is to play live and to create a recording that sounds like my live band. My first CD 'Dancer' achieved that with my Australian band, and "For Love's Caress - a Celtic journey" is that with my American band. The instrumentation is completely different and the consequence is a whole new sound for this new recording: Pipes, flutes, cello, harp, a touch of violin and accordion with more percussion on top of the electric and acoustic guitars and synthesizer pads. I, also, feel more brave in using my voice like a poet or a Bard.
I really have come to feel more like a "sayer" of poetry/songs, exploring new ways to use my voice. It comes out of wanting to reveal my deepest sense of my being, so that I can feel it in the reflection of others. There is a sublime experience in focusing on creating a perfect tone and a pure vibrato. But to let the voice go with the sense and feeling of the song, into the listener, is a great liberation. There will always be those traditional songs that must evoke an ethereal threshold of another world, where the purest and most sensitive interpretation is called for. I am dedicated to that! There is something I wanted to achieve in this recording that we all think has been achieved. It is something to do with contemporary energy and attitudes. It is about expressing a truthful feeling. It is the secular sacred! It is an edge of attitude to our own originality and it is also a subtle political statement. Every song has its own energy and the arrangement was designed by the group to express the tangible feeling it expresses.
There is much to be said in following one's heart and letting the music flow from there rather than to produce a recording based on what will sell, etc.
Ray Dorsey: Can you tell me a little about your childhood in Ireland?
MS: To begin, my childhood memories of the place where I grew up are with me still, in an idealized form. I visualize myself there every day! You could call it my "indigenous/native" memory of my homeland. It is the foundation from which all my imaginary adventures spring. I feel that where ever I go I am connected by an invisible umbilical chord to my childhood memories of the countryside. I think this is the source of my great sense of inner security and my passionate desire to explore the imagination's capacity to define reality. I feel extremely joyful everytime I remember that time and place. And the joy is bound up with the energy source for my life-long urge to study and learn, and my enthrallment with all efforts to understand life and the universe.
I live in an urban environment and I long for the water and the trees, its a longing that inspires my poetry. The fact that I am the eldest of seven children, who were all born within the first eight years of our parent's life together, created a sense of community and spontaneity that lingers and expresses itself as my principal mode of operation. I love to feel this sense of community in my projects. I love being around people who love exploring the mysteries of communication. The Irish call it "the craic". It brings me energy and motivation to push forward creatively. It motivates me to keep discovering ways of living that will be most harmonious and meaningful. People talk about "common ground" and "like minds" but I like to think about "common air" as my metaphor for the movement of thought and feeling. "An air of grace", "Sublime bliss and delight". These are ways of being that every culture recognizes as the highest qualities of existence.
RD: I understand that you came from a household where music was encouraged. Did you have any professional vocal/musical training?
MS: My relatives and neighbors loved to sing and they loved to dance. It all appeared to have a lively bounce and a deep emotion in it. I remember skipping down the road one day alongside my mother when I asked her if that was dancing and she said "yes". I was about five or six years old and a few years later I found out that it wasn't dancing and I had great difficulty coming to terms with the fact that she had lied to me. Of course, now I know that it is a form of dancing, if you feel like dancing. I also remember, around the same time, when my father and my uncle were working together on our new house, my father asked me to sing a song and he said if I did a good job he would give me sixpence. I sang "Sing-a-song-a-Sixpence" and he said it wasn't good enough. I remember feeling hurt that he didn't like it. But my uncle came to my rescue and told me that I had sung it very well and he gave me sixpence. The lesson in that has always been that half the people may not like my singing but half will. So, I kept singing, humbly at first, but with a growing confidence as I felt the encouragement of those who like the way I sing. Singing is now my main means of giving energy back to the world. And, as always, one can only give to those who want to take, in the right way!
As for technique, I had to completely relearn to breathe in my early twenties (dancers are generally shallow breathers) and I learned some very good exercises for strengthening the diaphragm and placing the voice so that the tone has maximum resonance and freedom. I worked hard on the basics but I have been very careful about how I let teachers tell me how to sing. I have a very strong sense of how I want to feel when I sing and I follow that absolutely. I have been coached by some gifted professional singers who have helped me to become more conscious of what I am doing and how to improve the quality of a tone by freeing my muscles and directing my thinking. I usually do scales for just a few minutes to warm up. I like doing scales because they help me to be sure I am singing in perfect pitch. I find that after about half an hour of singing everything changes in my perception. A light appears around me and I feel very free. I have looked in the mirror then and really seen the change.
RD: You lived in Ireland till you were 11 1/2. Did you think or dream about being a performer/songwriter as a child at all, or did that come later?
MS: I sang a lot in my community when I was very young. My mother actually spent a lot of time teaching me all the words to lots of songs. And she encouraged me to get up in gatherings to show every new song I had learned. The community gatherings in homes were the main social gatherings and everyone who could sing or play was obliged to give a song or play for the dancers. It was a natural part of the lifestyle. That's why I have never stopped singing. We didn't have television, and radio wasn't a big part of our lives as children. My mother listened to Radio Luxembourg after we were all settled in bed. Sometimes we would be allowed to stay up till eight o'clock to listen to the radio with her. That was a big treat for us.
RD: Your father's work took him to San Francisco CA when you were 11 11/2. Was it awhile before the rest of the family joined him?
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MS: Actually, my father came here way before we were born and then returned to Ireland. My father was a horse trainer in Canada and the US before he returned to Ireland and eloped with my mother. They traveled around Ireland on his motorbike and sidecar for three months after they married. While my mother came from a peace loving, educated family, my father's family life had been destroyed by the Black-n-Tan wars. They were driven from their house by the English and five of his eleven brothers and sisters and his mother died of pneumonia, as a result, when my father was ten years old. He then left home to become a groom at an equestrian stable and that is how he became a horse trainer. He went to Canada when he was nineteen, as a trainer for the famous horseman, Mickey Walsh.
My father's father suffered a lonely life, living in anger with the English, and with only one son remaining on the farm. I used to visit my grandfather a few times every month, after school. The day before he died he gave me an English penny and an Irish penny. I remember the Wake and the long funeral procession. Everyone walked to the graveyard and more and more people joined the procession as they went along the road. I'll never forget my struggle to hold back my tears as they lay him in his grave. I weep right now to think of it.
It seems that people did not communicate very openly then. My father never understood my Grandfather's suffering for what he thought was his own responsibility in not being able to protect his wife and children during the wars. And I know my father was angry at his father for letting it happen. Terrible and sad emotional misunderstandings. Whereas, my mother had the benefit of a loving life with her family in an absolutely beautiful part of the country - high on a hill away - far from the 'invaders'. We also had that beauty and peace as children. First, on my mother's family farm and then in the house my father built down in the valley in the smallest little village. It could hardly be called a village really. It was just a row of double-story houses covered in Ivy, on one side of the road. One of the buildings was a pub with a wonderful Glass-house Greenery in front. That was a wonderful gathering place for the neighbors, drinkers and nondrinkers alike, mostly the men, but on Sunday the women would come there too. There was a lot of singing on Saturday and Sunday.
Our teacher, Master Vaughan, and his wife lived at one end of the row. Their daughter went away to boarding school and when she came to visit she would go for long walks, with the dog, along the roads -- waving her scarf in her hand. A very old woman, Mamie Carthy, lived between their house and the pub.
Across the street was another large two-story, ivy covered house where Nurse Creeden, the local mid-wife, and her brother lived. I used to love to watch her ride her bicycle because she sat so straight up when she rode. She delivered my six brothers and sisters (being the first-born, my mother had me in the hospital).
Our house was a little apart, across the little square near to the great stone double-arched bridge over the Ouvane river. My mother had a beautiful flower rockery on one side of the garden and on the other side of the house, a rolling lawn, with borders of daffodils and a bee hive on one side, swept down to the river. Behind us were endless fields and huge Rhododendron trees in a long row. My father built that house to be a hotel originally, it had 15 rooms on three levels. But the family grew so large that we just moved in. We had a big play room with a huge table that we used as a stage. We loved to create plays together. We were the only children in this little settlement. A neighbouring family of nine children used to visit us all the time. The eldest boy was a year older than me and he had red hair and blue eyes, like me, so everyone used to tease us and say that we would marry each other one day. I hated him for that. When I chased him he would run!
Occasionally the tourist buses would pass along our road, not very often, but when they did they loved to take pictures of us. We played in the river all the time. It had wonderful rock islands and rock pools and we loved to collect minnow with glass jars tied to strings. We did this for hours. We never broke a jar in that river. That always amazes me. My brothers made fishing rods and would try to catch fish with the serious fishermen upstream. Our church and school were two miles away at the village of Kealkill. It was a two room school with two teachers. We walked to school and when the creamery carts came along, at a gallop - to avoid us, we would try to run and jump up on the back to get a ride. Those who could run fast and jump up got a ride and the others had to keep walking.
RD: What kind of musical/social environment did you find in San Francisco? How long were you there before you moved to Australia and why did you go there - was your whole family involved in this?
MS: I was 11 when we moved to San Francisco. I grew into my adolescence under the influence of the very visible cultural 'movement' there. Our father used to take my brothers and me out with him when he went to meet up with his friends. And the family spent a lot of time in Golden Gate Park.
My best girlfriend, whose mother was a Beatnik, lived just off Haight St. I used to go with her to see the big bands, you name them, they all played in SF, at Filmore West, Winterland, Avalon Ballroom, etc. I was on the fringe of that crowd but I was very shy and I also was heavily into reading poetry, philosophy and that's when I discovered Buddhism. Alan Watts was my intellectual mentor. I memorized the Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran - "Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of life longing for life. Though they are with you, still they do not belong to you. For they have their own destiny." This was my Freedom Cry. And I discovered the free spirit and passion of Walt Whitman, and the other great earlier American poets. I had no attraction to the popular philosophy of the Beatniks poets. I guess that is because they were reactionaries within American society and that was not my past.
There were two worlds in that scene: those who did not 'do' drugs and had good reasons for it and those who did, and also had good reasons for it. I remember the struggle that took place between those who wanted to live consciously and those who invaded the city with no purpose other than to be in fashion; 'do drugs and hang out in Golden Gate Park' and be part of a radical movement in anyway they could, without truly knowing what the movement was inspired by. Just looking the part became an end in itself. The "invaders" finally trashed the city and many of the original motivators/philosophers moved out to the country -- many to communes. My family also moved out of the city, an hour north, to a small country town, because my parents were afraid we would be led astray by the drug scene in SF.
One of the strong effects this intense adolescent exposure to such a variety of people and ideas had was that I developed a big reactionary "attitude" against any kind of fashion motivated culture; all cults and sects, any group thinking. I'm beginning to get over that now, I think, although sometimes I get pretty animated when I see the effect they have on individual freedom. It is tempered by my understanding that we must find the people we resonate with and when we do we must be very careful not to create an organization/structure that will limit the expression of the resonance that brought us together in the first place.
RD: I'm not as familiar with the music native to Australia as I probably should be, but I would think that the exposure to this, combined with your Celtic roots, plus the influences from SF must have had quite a unique effect on you? Did you find a great interest in the musical heritage of your native Ireland in Australia?
MS: Yes. Australia's population was predominantly made up of English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh people until the 50's. (There were isolated pockets of various cultures left over from the 1840's gold rush days; the Chinese for example.) The "White Australia" policy was finally modified, in the 50's, to allow "foreign" immigrants from Italy and Greece and a few other European countries to come to work in the big public infrastructure projects; mines, electricity projects, etc. These people had been treated as inferior classes. They were mostly peasants in their own countries, and most didn't speak English, so they really couldn't communicate in the "English" culture. They were called "New Australians" and they suffered the cruel bigotry of the "old" Australians. Recent positive changes in the attitudes, of both sides, are the result of their children, the second generation, having graduated from University, working in the higher professions and assimilating to the mainstream culture. Their parents still speak their old languages and, mostly, keep to themselves in their own communities. This process all started to happen in America several generations ago.
So, to answer your question, the early folk music of Australia was almost entirely imported from Ireland; no African or native influences, like in America. Since World War I & II, American music has become very strong in Australia. All styles of Blues, Jazz and Rock-n-Roll have big followings, just like in America. It is only in the past few years that the main Folk festivals have introduced other ethnic styles within the concept of world music and roots music and I think that is the same here in America, too.
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RD: I understand you also got into the marketing side of music in Australia. What kind of an experience was this? Did family or business commitments draw you away from the writing/performing arena?
MS: My daughter needed a home, so, I had to stop traveling around the world when the time came for her to go to school. I found a Waldorf School (Rudolf Steiner schools in Australia.) and I settled in one place for her sake. I also married a man who had the full-time care of his three very young children. While I took care of the four children for 10 years, with a husband doing a Ph.D. (in Philosophical Anthropology - one of my favourite subjects!), I continued to be very active in all kinds of environmental projects and music events and I gradually developed an ability to produce successful projects. My strength was in my ability to concisely focus on the 'point' of a project, communicate it to the media and draw audiences to an event. I was really good at expressing enthusiasm for other people's gifts and I was able to put the 'message' into words quickly and clearly. Plus, I was a fast worker and could do a lot of the promotion work for an event myself without depending on others to do it. I had plenty of energy to put into a project when I was excited about something. I loved it -- I couldn't have been doing more wonderful work!
RD: Your "Dancer" CD was recorded in Australia, with a band of native musicians, I take it. Was this your first recorded work? How many years were you there before this was done and what enabled you to get to the point of releasing it?
MS: Australian's don't refer to themselves as "native" because the Aboriginal tribes are the real natives, just like America's natives. But my most recent band was made up of Australians from various British Isles roots; English, Irish, Scottish, mainly. I've had bands with excellent New Zealander musicians too. I have been in a lot of bands over the years. They always fall apart when other interests come into the picture, especially the need to make a living! But my most recent band was different because I decided to be very organized in the way I developed it. We rehearsed on Monday and Friday nights, at my beautiful place, for six months before we launched the band. It was winter and I always had a fire going and good food on the table for each rehearsal, so that we all really enjoyed the whole experience. By the time we gave our first concert series in, absolutely, the best venues and situations, "everyone" we knew in the music scene was really curious to see and hear us and we got off to a flying start, selling out every concert. It was just wonderful. Then I asked Donal Lunny, one of Ireland's most famous producers, to produce the recording. Our engineet, Doug Brady was Engineer of the Year a couple of times, too. So, my team was excellent in every way. We couldn't fail to make a good recording because we had been performing the repertoire for two years before we went in to the studio to record. The highest standard professional facilities were all there to serve the music. That was in 1994. The recording was released in Australia immediately, to rave reviews. Then I realized that I really couldn't make a living from my music in Australia alone so I came to America in 1995 to set up distribution, etc. It took me nearly a whole year to get Dancer into American stores. Meanwhile, I started meeting and working with my American music colleagues and now I have a new band with a completely different line-up from my Australian band because I hope some day to put the two together!
RD: "Dancer" shows a nice balance between the traditional Celtic pieces like "Connamara Cradle Song" and originals like the title cut. The latter has, to me a distinct "eastern" sound or is this just my ears?
MS: You are right, it does have "eastern" influences in it. But the ancient Celts were Indo-European so there is a relationship there that I wanted to explore.
RD: Did you actively shop "Dancer" to any labels before deciding to put it out yourself on your Lyrebird label?
MS: I knew nothing about the Record Business when I decided to return full time to my own music. So, I started by carefully reading various types of contracts, licensing, signing, distribution etc - because I didn't know enough about how the record industry worked. It didn't take long for common sense to show me the reality of the binding nature of those contracts. I was shocked into realizing that I needed to remain independent if I was going to achieve any financial independence. And I knew I could do "it" myself. It would be slow but I would be a free artist and I knew I would really enjoy the work. Common sense, also, told me that no one would want to give the time needed to develop my music for me, except myself. When I shifted my historical studies from Asian culture to ancient Celtic culture, in 1991, there wasn't a Celtic "scene" happening! There was no way I could have predicted that this new surge of excitement about Celtic culture would have happened. I was a traditional, unaccompanied singer who loved good contemporary music too. I simply brought together excellent musicians who worked in all music styles - jazz, classical, folk, electronic - but who also had their own personal bond with traditional music and we just did our own thing according to how we felt was the best sound we could create for the songs
RD: What precipitated your return to the US in '95 and are you permanently based here now?
MS: As I said before I needed to distribute Dancer in a larger market. That was the practical reason that allowed me to leave Australia, temporarily. But there was something else too. It was my need to give myself space for my own deeper, personal growth. I had to let go of everything and throw myself into the unknown to see what I could find. I also knew I needed to improve my creative relationship with my musicians. I needed to work with musicians who were creatively autonomous and for whom the music we created was also an expression of their own growth.
Personally, I really needed to go more deeply into understanding my true life's purpose. I needed to go deeper into the source of my musical vocation in an environment where I wouldn't be pressured by people around me wanting me to create music the way they thought I should. Because I came out of the traditional Irish music scene, it is very hard to break free of everyone's expectations and really find my true originality and my true purpose in the music. This is the freedom I am determined to find.
Coming to Los Angeles was the greatest thing I could have done because it is so big that there really is plenty of space for me to feel free in my own self. By the way, I had the very same experience when I first went to Australia. A true liberation! But, I needed to be a stranger, again, and I had to go away, somewhere else, this time. When I achieved that freedom in myself, here in Los Angeles, I was able to establish the kind of relationships I really wanted to have with my music colleagues. Those relationships are all flourishing beautifully. I think we all enjoy working with each other because we all really enjoy and respect each other and trust each other's equal capacity to make good music. We all love to hear how we sound together.
As for whether I am going to stay, I don't need to know where my future will be. I need to follow the music. I've been here in the US - Southern California /Los Angeles to be precise, since March 1995 and that is a longer stay than I ever predicted. I, naively (thank goodness for that), came here for 3 months to get my CD into distribution. Fortunately I have two sisters living in LA - both married to Americans - who provided me with an instant community. I would walk, back and forth - an hour each way, every day from one house to the other, with my backpack/office on my back, to use the computer and phone. (I got very fit!) It took 6 months of everyday effort, with no prior contacts, to even find an independent distributor who would take my CD, "Dancer". Then I discovered all the alternative distributors - one by one. In September 95, a musician friend and I spent a week calling all the metaphysical book/music/gift stores across America on each other's behalf. I took the south and western states and he took the central and eastern states. We sent them our CDs, and they told us who their distributors were and we followed up so that the stores could order from their favourite distributors.
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I was so amazed to find all these wonderful people running eclectic little stores dedicated to every aspect of consciousness and health. The were all so very much alike in spirit -- they reminded me of Noam Chomsky's revelation about the thousands of little community groups who are active in environmental and social/human rights issues - without realizing how wide spread the trend was. Chomsky pointed out, in his docudrama, "Manufacturing Discontent", that, in their earlier days, these communities didn't know the extent of universal interest in the issues they were concerned with; the environment, spiritual matters, health/sickness, philosophy, personal/sexual freedom and religion, etc. I discovered hundreds of these little "centers" in late 1995, at the beginning of their expansion into the community through the newsletters/papers and magazines which were offshoots of the networks they spawned. That movement was identified with the "New Age" movement - for better or worse. In the past two years the new publications have realized varying commercial success in the wide span of their "market" and have become quite sophisticated about their role in their extended community. I noticed that they all share one important 'new' philosophical trend, in that they were committed to treating each other with love and compassion and they were focused on creating healthy, beautiful lifestyles.
I wrote commentaries on Celtic culture for a few of these magazines and I began to get to know the editors and writers. I began to feel part of a surprisingly high-minded community of creative thinkers. All acknowledged the weight of the larger mainstream community around us and the need to, very sensitively, bridge the gap between the transitional and traditional communities for the sake of promoting the joys of a more refined way of living and acting and feeling. I shared a philosophy with them that respectfully acknowledged the diversity of ritual archetypes, the many religious belief systems, we could choose from to access our higher energy sources.
That freedom was the essential connection in the general improvisation. I was in paradise! This was my way to communicate! I thought, for sure, the world was really improving, and a new Golden Age was dawning! Then, about six months later, I began to casually seek our people in the "Irish/folk" scene and the experience was a very different one. But it was similar to many experiences I have had in Australia!!! No longer was I, personally, welcomed as part of the universal spiritual family. I was seen as a foreigner, once again, because I was from Ireland via Australia. I don't know whether I just transferred my memories or whether I really was seeing a similar "old" cultural trend in another place. The Irish have an attitude, or a way of seeing themselves, and the Irish Americans have a way of typecasting themselves according to their Irish "pedigree", to fit into the Irish way of thinking. But the Irish Australian has no real firm archetypal role in the Irish American community. Plus, Australia is, obviously, not seen as a major contributor to the support system the Irish use in America and, likewise, Irish Australians aren't given credit for having anything valuable to offer to the Irish American - who is looking for "authentic" Irish cultural support for his energy source. I have felt like a lone voice amongst most of the many Irish communities. There are a few Irish and Irish Americans who have become my very close friends.
But, in the end, this "isolation" is good for me because I have had to answer to both communities on behalf of my own rights as an independent, though Irish, singer/songwriter/poet. I feel the challenge when I sing traditional songs and write my own songs. The two styles are so different. But I can't help it! This is the way it turns out when I try to stretch my personal style into new forms! And I love it!
RD: I read that you purposely chose musicians for your new CD, "For Love's Caress..." that did not correspond to any of those on "Dancer." Why was this so important to you?
MS: The simple answer is that when I came here I did not expect to stay more than three months and when I found myself staying longer, I needed to sing and make music to keep my soul alive. So, I was very careful to maintain fidelity to my Australian band, as I couldn't think of replacing any of them because they are so great.
RD: Was finding the musicians for the new CD a fairly quick process or did it involve a lot of searching?
MS: It was all so unpredicted. I met everyone in surprising ways and I met them as I needed them. I made a conscious decision not to rush into the process and bring in famous session musicians because I wanted us to achieve our own sound and not create it in the studio. I let the process unfold by itself and it all came together in very surprising ways. I knew the best thing to do was to find people I could perform live with. That is the real aim- to play this music live. This album has only a couple of special guests on it who can't tour with us - my sister and my mother and the violinist! Even the piper/flutist, Eric, can tour with us sometimes and he lives nearby. We can play the whole collection live. That's what is important to me.
RD: The difference, sound and style-wise, between "For Love's..." and "Dancer" is dramatic and yet there is still continuity. Was this a natural progression, or was it something you actively strove for? How would you characterize the change? The use of electric guitar on a Celtic folk release is something quite new to me, and I think it's very exciting! MS: Actually, the revival of traditional music in the 70s folk rock bands really opened up the music to contemporary instruments. Anything goes, instrumentally, in the tradition these days. Contemporary and traditional music is very open to introducing new instrumentation. There are really only a few instruments which can be called traditional and those are the harp, pipes, tin whistle and bodhran (Irish drum). That sense of continuity you speak of is a mystery really. I guess the way I personally direct the music has an impact on the overall sound that we create. The basic flow of the sound is chosen, first, by me, then everyone helps define that general direction, so, I guess that would be why there is a similarity. Of course, the traditional songs all have a similar character that I particularly like for my singing style. And I am very careful about the feel for them. Then the original songs really grow out of my traditional singing style. But I try to push my singing habits into new shapes and I suppose you can still hear the traditional style that they come from in my voice. My singing style is like a combination of singing and talking and storytelling. I don't use theatrical vocal styles though. I like to sing naturally and as true to the song so the song can speak for itself without my ego getting in the way! If that makes any sense!
RD: One thing I like again with "For Love's Caress...," especially, is how you seamlessly move from interpretations of the old pieces to originals. How important is this to you, exploring both of these avenues?
MS: It is completely integral to my musical feelings. I deeply love the old songs and I want to be true to their feeling/source and at the same time I am alive now and I must be true to the feelings and issues that move me. The commitment to both is completely and passionately equal for me. My new song collection reflects the diversity of the messages I have felt a wish to communicate to both "worlds" that I have belonged to; the traditional Irish music and the contemporary experimental or improvisational. I am in love with the enchantment of the old traditional songs. They are sublime pieces of poetry and I love singing them. When I sing them I go into a kind of trance and I feel people go into it with me. Some of the old songs have the power to create that entrancement. My new songs are like a diary of my current experience and thinking. Since I have been here, in the US, I have become more radical and daring and truthful than ever. A new environment is good for breaking old habits and California would have to be the best place in the world for that! I feel like I am standing with my arms stretched out reaching for both ends of reality and holding them both together with all my might. Both ends could refer to the old and the new that culture has to offer us in wisdom and power. I am trying to be as open as possible to let the poetry and music come through me.
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RD: "Soaring," a song you composed entirely yourself, has one of the most hauntingly beautiful and powerful melodies I've heard in a long time. Any comments on how this one came about?
MS: I wrote that back in 1992. It was one of those private soul songs just for the universe to hear. I am really surprised that everyone seems to love that song. I wrote it as a very personal statement for myself. I never expected it to be played. I even thought the melody was too simple and repetitive. But the amazing thing to me is that I am finding people relate to my intimate personal visions and that makes me feel that we are all closer than we give credit.
RD: "Danu's Land" is really something special. The combination of the music and lyrics works so well, and the lyrics are especially captivating. Your comments?
MS: The words of this song came to me at midnight one night in 1994, after I had given up writing another song, for lack of inspiration. I had this sudden little feeling come through me after I had been trying to "contact" the ancient Celtic heroes/Gods and the weren't talking to me! The first words are "Return to your other world lover, Leannan Si.(That means faerie helper) Summon me later. Send me a charioteer. Shake your golden cloak around me but let me not forget you were here." The myths say that after you meet the faeries they will wrap their cloaks around you so that you will forget you saw them. So, I was asking that they not let me forget them. Then I went on to talk to them with the second verse. "I can't forget your wild ways, banished in deep waters. Or white waves endless beating on your shoreless dwelling, or enchanting music's echo still wailing"
When the Roman Empire moved across western Europe they retold the myths of the heroes/Gods and changed the endings of the stories so that the heroes/Gods all disappeared from the living memory of the people. They disappeared under lakes and hills and out to sea and were replaced with the new heroes of the conquering culture, the Roman empire and then the Roman Catholic Church. In Celtic mythology these heroes are still alive but they have been reduced to faeries and "little people" when once they were grand and huge heroes who had really powerful relationships with the people. Danu is the great Celtic Goddess who is now the queen of the faeries. So, the song is like an incantation in memory of the old belief that says that we can all be free and live a life of great beauty and love and abundance if we make the effort to tune into the great truth about the wonders of the universe in our daily lives. We are mostly living like exiles from the beauty and power and freedom that is our own connection to infinite intelligence. The last verse says "Lovers, one and all, heed her call to exile's end, where abundance never fails and the shining guardian's golden rays bring a white shadow to a sweeter brighter day" The great and heroic capacity for power in the individual has been submerged under the "approved" reality of all the powerful conquerors who create the status quo that we all live under. Its the old food chain mentality that we all live in. The pecking order. The hierarchy of class. For example, in the US there are only four corporations who control 90% of the food production. They basically do whatever they need to do to maximize their profits - and we eat the results of their food processing and animal husbandry. I know our minds can take us to something magnificently greater if we gather up energy and use the will and imagination. We don't have to be celibate monks and nuns to have mystical experience of love and to know the vast infinite. We have science on our side, now that Quantum Physics has opened up all the definitions of existence and given us back our autonomy and rights as free beings.
RD: Another one I love is the album finale, "Anam Chara." This is extremely unique in sound, I've never heard anything quite like it before. Your thoughts?
MS: Well, that is another one of those "out there" experiments. The idea was to connect the feeling of the rhythm of life with the power of the imagination. Imagining space around sound; hearing minimalist sounds, like signals from space and other dimensions, like imagining the sound of space around the nucleus of an atom or imagining the meaning of the language of whales and dolphins. The poem is about the possibility of intelligent beings from different dimensions of reality becoming excited about visiting our dimension. That was a really exciting new insight that suddenly came to me as I was walking down Sunset Blvd. shortly after arriving in the US. I really felt like I had arrived in another world and I suddenly felt that I could share the experience with conscious beings, who were not physical like me. Most of the time, all through history, people think of "heavenly" beings as being superior to humans. We pray to them and ask them for guidance and help. But on this occasion I thought of them as being just like me, only not in this physical dimension, so in my imagination I said to them "This is what it is like to be a human walking on the street in this incredible city." And then I had this great surge of excitement go through me, just at the idea that I could share this magical fact with disembodied, finer vibrational beings who really thought this was a great adventure that I had been brave enough to jump into. Just to be alive as a human being is a radical challenge because we are trapped in such a limited perception of the physical universe and we are driven to try to make sense of it all, to make it a good experience, to make the whole effort worthwhile. Actually, the idea for the poem came from a different situation. A few days before that, at a party, I had a casual conversation with a Clinical Psychologist and he was talking about "precognitive dreams". I think he was trying to capture my attention, because he told me that he had a dream about meeting me! I wasn't convinced or charmed. Quite apart from that, I have an "attitude" problem with the whole history of psychological theory, generally. So, to divert his attention, I glibly said, "When I awake my dreaming starts." Next day I thought about that line and developed it by asking myself the question, "What do I dream about when I am awake?". The line goes, "When I awake my dreaming starts. I dream about heaven and luminous beings. I dream I am in it with my eyes open, I dream I am in it with my eyes closed. And when I walk along, I dream I take them into the world with me, to show them the clay that I am shaping. And they think its so exciting. They love this adventure that we're having, digging in the earth of pain and shaping love. Fragile, delicate, beautiful love." Then I decided to look up, in the Thesaurus, words that describe love. I found about twenty five and I chose ones that could be sung. And that's that! A little impressionistic offering!
RD: On some songs, your lyrics seem to transcend time and become either more personal or philosophical. How do your lyrics reflect your feelings about life, the way you live, the world, etc?
MS: I have inherited a very strong sense of justice for all from both my mother and father. I also have ardent feelings about breaking out of limiting habits of mind and personality and I think the best way to do that is to very actively seek deep communication and understanding with other people. I think the more conscious energy we put into our communication with every person we come into contact with, the better off we will be. To be able to communicate with a wide variety of people one has to learn to listen and find the truth in others in the best way possible, that way we expand with other people's help. It really helps to break the habit of thinking about everything in terms of linear time, because everyone lives in their own unique world. Sometimes I meet people who give me the first impression that there is absolutely nothing going on in their lives and then, depending on my energy and the opportunity, I like to see a glimpse of what is really going on in there. Invariably, something wonderful happens in those encounters. Obviously, it is a lot easier to get involved with attractive and energetic people, but everyone has something of value to share. Its simple, really, yet it is a challenge to keep remembering to make the effort and to pay attention all the time, everywhere. Eternal vigilance!
RD: There seems to be a growing interest in Celtic music over the last few years. Can you point to a reason/reasons for this swing in the cycle? Do you think the soundtracks to "Braveheart" and "Titanic" have fueled this in the general public? Do you ever see an artist such as Loreena M (or, Maireid S - well, we can hope, can't we??????!!!!!!) completely breaking out as a huge mback to topega-star and still retaining her strong Celtic style?
MS: Well, Enya did! Actually, she defined the genre of the new age voice and she had the marketing guidance of Warner Music to help her with the mainstream promotion of her sound. It is a complex matter with influences coming from many areas. For example, the fact that there is the concept of "lifestyle choices" today gives us something fascinating to think about. The fact that so many women now have disposable income of their own is another. And, we can't underestimate the fact that 30% of the US population has Celtic roots in a time when the restoration and promotion of world music and roots music is fashionable. The fact that Ireland, itself, is experiencing its first prosperity in recorded history is creating a completely new image for the Irish. Just these factors show why this interest in Celtic music has come together right now. I say come together because there are several aspects of Celtic culture experiencing a renaissance. The music is an obviously high profile development and there are many styles, from new age to rock music included in this new wave, but there is, also, a big increase in the availability of very good books, both fiction and non fiction, on all aspects of ancient Celtic culture. And, as you mentioned, there are some great historically based movies being made. The trend is feeding itself right now. The record labels are promoting the music, because the films are developing audience interest, because the publishers are publishing the books, because the previously untapped public wants it all! The great thing about all of this is that this is the first time that western culture has begun to see the incredible heritage that Celtic culture has in common with all the great ancient cultures. Celtic culture was as great as Indian and Chinese cultures, for example. The west didn't know what was at the foundation, under the rubble, of western progress. So, all of this interest is not empty and vain. There are great cultural riches to be found in this resurgence. Although, there are a lot of people, who have entered the Celtic cultural world for the first time, who hope to exploit this interest for the material riches as well!
RD: More specifically, some people find it odd that I'm personally into very heavy, uncommercial metal and hard rock and also Celtic folk. However, it's becoming increasingly apparent to me that these seemingly polarized styles share something very strong. I'm finding more and more people branching their interests into both. I think there's a sense of strength, power, melody and feeling common to the best of both genres. Also, both feature many artists, toiling beneath the surface, NOT making mega-bucks, who are just playing for the love of it. Your comments?
MS: You said it!
RD: What plans do you have for playing live to support "For Love's Caress"?
MS: I hope to have increased opportunities to play live. We will go anywhere as long as our costs are covered!
RD: Have any larger labels shown interest in distributing/releasing the new one?
MS: I have good mainstream and alternative distribution. I have had interest from a few middle level labels who wanted to license the music but I have decided to stay a small and independent record label and not license my music to anyone who doesn't truly offer me the "world on a platter" because in the end that is the most free thing for me to do. If I did find a good label/partner I would re-release "Dancer" as it really has not had the support it deserves. Everyone who hears it loves it, but it just has not been able to get the attention it needs to sell in the mainstream. I believe it is timeless and people will relate to it in the future when they discover it, even if it was recorded in 1994. I will just keep on recording when ever I can and hope that enough people will want to have the CDs, that they will pay for themselves and for my future projects. What more could I ask for on the practical level? I am just very thankful that I have come this far!!!
RD: What's next on the agenda for you as far as recording goes, any ideas?
MS: I am bursting with ideas and I just have to be patient while this pays for itself and then I can do the next one!
RD: What is the strangest/funniest thing that has happened to you with respect to your musical career?
MS: The fact that my efforts are taken seriously by quite a few people including the musicians I work with!
Interview by Ray Dorsey
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