Interview with Patrick M Barrett (The Hedge Schools) – Part Two by Killian Laher
No More Workhorse visited Pat Barrett in his adopted hometown of Kilkenny and had a wide ranging interview covering an in depth look at the new Hedge Schools album, what it means to be an artist, and some great stories about music.
The new album by Hedge Schools – ‘Magnificent Birds’ is released on May 5th 2018 and is available here.
What are your hopes for the record this time around?
We made so many friends with the last record, it genuinely caught the two of us on the hop. It was incredible how much it mattered to a lot of people and still does. We’re still getting messages, I sent two copies of it to New Zealand last week, nearly two years later! With this one, it’s a really personal record for me, I had a lot of stuff going on when I was writing it. A lot of change. I moved from Dublin down to Kilkenny in the midst of it all. So the process of writing it was very much done on the move, I was travelling up and down or I was in one place and not in the other.
I think we’ve made a beautiful record. People who loved the last record will go ‘right, ok, there’s something about this’. I think it’s a bit special and Joe does as well. The two of us picked out three or four tracks to embellish with cellos. But when we sat in Nice listening over there with him we thought ‘yeah, we’re in a good place with this’. It’s hard to have expectations with it. I really just want people to sit and listen to it and enjoy it for what it is. We’re printing it to vinyl this time around which is really important to me, I wanted to make that happen. A lot of people asked for At The End of the Winding Day on vinyl but we just didn’t have the funds to do it. Whereas with this one I got the funds for it.
Will you be doing much touring?
It’s early days. With the last record we just did 2 or 3 gigs with just the two of us. I kind of like it like that. We tried to make it that every time we did something it was a little bit special and anybody who was there enjoyed it. I think with this one we’ll probably do something down here (Kilkenny) and definitely something in Dublin but beyond that it becomes expensive… it becomes “how can we make this work?”. Now Joe is in Nice so we have to get him home on a flight, get a piano, get everything on the road… it’s a tough ask. But I’m a big fan of planning something special, to have people walking away from it and still talking about it 6 months later. I’m a big fan of that. I love playing live.
Is it hard?
It depends really. Because I do very little of it I think I enjoy it a lot more than a lot of people might. I try not to dilute it. Other people’s opinions might differ but I think if we’re doing it, we’re doing it for a reason. We launched the last album in the Kevin Barry room in the National Concert Hall, and it was probably THE best moment I’ve ever had on stage any year. It was just magic. And anybody who was at it still talks about it. It was a little bit akin to Joe’s gig in the church (Unitarian). I sat at the back of that room, and I knew what The Easter Vigil meant to Joe, and two days later when he flew back to Nice it only really dawned on him what had happened in the Unitarian church and he was going “wow”, whereas on the night he couldn’t appreciate it. I thought it was an exceptional night of music. That’s what I’m talking about.
I was talking to the local Green Party TD Malcolm Noonan, we were talking about St John’s Priory opposite Langton’s Hotel. It’s one of these incredible little venues in Kilkenny but it’s a non-bar venue. But I don’t care whether there’s a bar. There’s no bar in the Kevin Barry room or the Unitarian church. There’s an onus on people in a room like that, you have to listen. It’s not in a contrived way, we haven’t deliberately sat people in a room with no drink. What Joe does and certainly what we do lends itself to a decent room. I don’t think that’s being a snob about it, it’s just that I actually care about people’s experience, when they walk away that they’ve had an amazing experience. We spend time crafting a record, we need to find space to let it out there and for people to sit and soak it in. That’s what we’re about, and have always been about. You can play to noisy bars but there’s nobody listening. It’s so tough. I’m not a big fan of it.
Lisa Hannigan played in St Canice’s church last year and it was ethereal, it was incredible. Pews and pews of people just silent for an hour and a half. We don’t do that these days as a species, it’s all go go go. We’re not hooked up to devices for an hour and a half, put it away and listen to somebody crafting their art, and that has taken you into this beautiful space. It’s a huge building. And John’s Priory is the same. That could really work for a special night in Kilkenny. I owe Kilkenny so much.
Have you been here in Kilkenny for long?
I’m down here a year and a half. I love it. Willie Meighan brought me. There’s a huge music community here. Obviously a lot of it revolves around Rollercoaster Records. It’s just a little shop on Kieran Street, that was run by the biggest man who walked the streets of Kilkenny. A great man. He sold more copies of the last album than any other human. Just by playing it in the shop. He’s the reason I moved down here, in a bizarre set of circumstances. So it means a lot to come down here and for myself and Joe to do a show. It’s really important to me that we do a show.
Were you listening to much music when you were recording Magnificent Birds?
I tend not to deliberately. I wouldn’t go “I wonder if that sounds like…” Though I immersed myself in Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle, an incredible Bill Callahan record. I love the sound of that record, it’s all really simple. I think we were on day 2 of recording the new one in Nice and Joe picked up a Spanish acoustic guitar that’s in the corner of the studio, and it ended up on every one of the tracks. It’s a different sound to the steel-stringed acoustic which over 10 songs you’d grow tired of. I tend to sit in the corner of the room and lay down acoustic guitar tracks and voice. I send Joe a tape and we take the guitar out of it and we build everything around my voice. That’s ultimately how we work.
I buy music every week but… it’s a separate thing for me. There were some incredible records last year: Will Stratton – Rosewood Almanac, a great Elliott Smith-ish acoustic record. But I wouldn’t have gone to France and sat down and said “let’s make a record that sounds like that”. Between the two of us we have an equal obsession with Nick Drake records and Richard Thompson records. That’s always been a starting point for us. But I do buy records, old and new, I tend to buy a record every week.
People’s relationship with music has changed, but I think it’s still important for some.
I have an 11 year old daughter who listens to Ed Sheeran. We share a Spotify account. And I find myself listening to some of it because we have a connection. In turn then she could end up listening to a Bill Callahan record because she has access to my account and she has that curiosity that kids have and she might go “what’s that Stevie Wonder track?” So for me it’s a huge part of my life, it has been for years. It’ll never be anything else. It’s the first thing I do in the morning, before I put the kettle on I’ll stick a piece of vinyl on while I’m cooking breakfast. It sets the tone for the day for me, yet for a lot of people it doesn’t. It has become that thing we have in our pocket. I mean I use Spotify, I use it to go digging and I’ll buy vinyl, or I’ll go to a band’s bandcamp. Bandcamp was an absolute revelation when we put the last record out. It’s so instantly trackable in terms of people buying from you, paying you, in terms of you being able to contact them when it’s shipped, there’s that personal touch. I love it. I bought records from it: Hammock and Slow Meadow. I like going onto their page and there’s no third party, it’s neat… and then it’s in your house. It’ll be the same with this Hedge Schools record it’ll only be on bandcamp. I worked in the industry for 15 years as a music buyer for HMV so I know how the game works. There’s effectively only Tower left on the high street. But I’ll make sure independents like Freebird and Rollercoaster get it. But the guts of it will come from bandcamp.