The great Irish band Gaelic Storm have been around long enough to be featured in the movie Titanic. But their career has done anything but sink since then; they’ve only gotten more popular as the years have gone on. We spoke to guitarist and vocalist Steve Twigger about the band’s journey, their influences, and why they’ve named their new album Cabbage.
Tell us about your new single, “Raised On Black And Tans.” What kind of reaction has it gotten?
There are somewhere in the region of 36 million Irish Americans, we have probably met several thousand of them. It amazes us how fervent their enthusiasm for all things Irish is, some of them have never been to Ireland and are more Irish than any born and bred, “fresh off the boat” Irishman. Some of the enthusiasm seems a little misguided to us but we still enjoy the energy they bring to the shows. This song is a party song for anyone wanting to celebrate Paddy’s Day all year long. The song is getting a great reaction out there, the crowds are singing along and really joining in with the fun spirit, and why the hell not?
Why did you call your new album Cabbage?
Why cabbage? During my art school days I was continually broke, whatever money I did have went to buying beer. The cheapest meal I could come up with was fried cabbage sprinkled with an ounce or two of the strongest cheddar I could find, mmm delicious. I’m sure the lowly, unglamorous cabbage has enabled many a poor drinker to sustain his habit. God bless the humble cabbage.
What’s a song on the new album you’re particularly proud of?
That would be “Green Eyes, Red Hair”. This is a song that’s been rattling along inside my head for years. Steve Wehmeyer and Patrick Murphy came to my place for a writing session and we knocked this out in an afternoon. It was a very creative day and we had a lot of fun coming up with unusual metaphors to describe the sweet and seductive sides of this awesome femme fatale. I think my favorites are “she’s a picket fence, she’s lemonade” and “she’s a question mark, she’s absolute.”
You bring Jamaican, African and Middle Eastern influences into your music. Who in the band is responsible for that? Have you ever got any flack from it from hardcore Irish music fans?
I think that Ryan the drummer and I are responsible for that. Ryan is into the African percussion and has played a lot of hip hop in his past. I grew up listening to the English ska thing, you can hear it in bands like The Police and The Clash. The Specials were from my home town, I think I always wanted to be in a ska band. We have had some flack from the purists who are uncomfortable with any drums at all let alone the world percussion we have going, you know there’s room for all out there.
Do you see the songs you write as part of an Irish music tradition?
I do yes, Patrick is a natural storyteller and many of the songs we write are just these stories set to music, that’s very much in the tradition.
What is it about Irish music that makes it so great? Is it comparable to any other form of music?
Well it doesn’t hurt that it is usually accompanied by the drinking of copious amounts of beer and whiskey! I’m not a musicologist but I’m sure there’s plenty of indigenous folk music that could be comparable.
Do you feel Irish music gets enough respect in America? How about in the rest of the world?
In parts of Europe it’s regarded on the same level as so called mainstream music, but all in all at least it gets more respect in America than in Ireland. They love country music over there, i guess the grass is always greener.
How does the songwriting process work in your band? Has it evolved over the years?
I make notes throughout the year, random rhymes, ideas, abstract thoughts, whatever comes into my head, then I gather the piles of notebooks and scraps of paper and see if anything makes sense for Gaelic Storm. I get together with Steve Wehmeyer, one of the original band members, and Murphy, throw out a number of songs in various stages of completion, some just need a final verse and others are just a chorus line or broad idea. The guys throw their ideas into the pot and we go through them and finish them up best we can, all of us contributing lines and words. Next we grab a beer and start telling stories and in between fits of laughter we usually manage to write another song or two. Even though I supply most of the musical form and content, the “magic” happens when all three of us are together in one room throwing ideas around, the real collaborative songs are always my favorites.
Your song “Kiss Me I’m Irish” was included on a Hallmark St. Patrick’s Day soundcard. Did you get much response from that — new fans who might not have heard you before?
Well I guess we must have got some new fans from this, we certainly signed more than a few singing cards.
Can you talk about the experience of writing a song in “simlish” for the Sims game? How did you pull that off?
Luckily we did not have to write it in simlish — the guys at EA games had their “experts” translate it for us and write it out phonetically. Re-recording the vocals was a nightmare, we were reduced at times to comping together words one syllable at a time.
You’re going to be on the Sailing Southern Ground cruise with the Zac Brown Band. Do you have any special plans? Are you worried at all about getting sea sick?
We have done a few rock festivals before as well as a number of “Rock Boats” , Bare Naked Ladies and singer-song writer cruises, they are way too much fun. We have met Zac and the band a few times before, they are very cool guys I am thrilled at their success, they deserve it all, it’s going to be a great cruise. No special plans; we’re pretty much going to do what we do every night, get up on stage and have the best time we possibly can. We have a tune on the new CD called “Jimmy’s Bucket”, in honor of the side of stage puke bucket and Jimmy our tour manager, enough said.
Your band was featured in the movie Titanic. What was that experience like? Do people ever recognize you from that?
It was an amazing experience, they shipped us (no pun intended) down to the set in Rosarita beach in Mexico, we had dressing rooms next to Leo and Kate, a hotel on the beach and per-diem. After a 14 hour day at the set we would head to the hotel, throw down our per diem on the bar with instructions to the bartender to “keep-em-coming till we run out”. We would play music in the bar till the sun came up, or until we ran out of money, which ever came first. Soon the actors and crew heard about the party and by the end of the week the bar was packed with Titanic folks dancing and singing. Yes, it was a good time. Yes, at least the name still gets recognized.
What’s a song you wish you’d written?
There are so many, “Ain’t No Sunshine” comes to mind, I wish I could sing with the soul of Bill Withers too.
Who are some of your favorite songwriters?
Joe Strummer, Paul Weller, they spoke for all of us at the time. Guy Clark, John Prine, so human and approachable, Lyle Lovett, “If I Had a Boat,” brilliant. Elvis Costello, i want to wear his red shoes, Lennon and McCartney, and Paul Simon, need I say more?