Interview with Boa Morte – Part 1

Interview with Boa Morte – Part 1
by Killian Laher

No More Workhorse caught up with Cormac Gahan and Bill Twomey of Boa Morte in advance of the release of their fourth album, The Total Space.

Before we get into the new album, what was your introduction to music? What were you listening to growing up?

Cormac Gahan (CG): I started listening to a lot of synth-based music, like Depeche Mode, Thomas Dolby and John Foxx, and people like that. I got interested in synthesisers from then and then started to move into guitar music like the Smiths and things like that. Pretty standard late 80s musical education. New Order bridged those two genres. A lot of those sorts of influences are coming back to bear on the stuff that we’re doing now, bringing more synths in.

Bill Twomey (BT): I was more mainstream starting out. As a teenager, I was a big U2 fan, but as you get into fifth year and sixth year in secondary school and particularly into college, you get exposed to way more influences. I gradually got into the usual entry points like The Smiths and The Cure. We met Paul (Ruxton), the singer in the band, in first year, and he was a massive Housemartins fan of all things. But he disappeared for the summer holidays, and coming back in second year in secondary school, he completely changed his taste of music. He came back a massive Pixies and Sonic Youth fan and introduced me to a lot of that stuff as well. I got into mainstream guitar indie for a good period, in the late 80s into the 90s. My Bloody Valentine, Pavement and so forth. I didn’t have the same synth education that Cormac had growing up!

Anything I might be surprised by from either of you? 

BT: Cormac played in a synth-driven band in the 80s. He had electronic sequencers and stuff that would have been fairly exotic at the time.

CG: I was thinking about Japan the other day, such a great influence. They are one band from that era that I would still listen to, and maybe very early Cocteau Twins. They’re still washing around in our subconscious somehow.

NMW What are your roles in the band?

CG: Well, I’m a jack of all trades. I generally play bass on songs that Paul is singing and I play guitar on songs that I’m singing. We share songwriting, so I write some of the songs, Paul writes most of the songs and then we swap around instruments and I play a good bit of the keyboards as well. Bass guitar and keyboards, depending on the song.

BT: I play guitar on most songs. Backup guitar, I wouldn’t call it lead guitar, it’s more playing counter melodies and stuff like that. I used to play bass on some of the previous albums, on some songs. For this album, I branched into playing synth on a couple of songs. Paul and Cormac are the main songwriters, but I did an instrumental on this album (Jan 1, 2020). Typically I look after the recording and then take it home and throw in overdubs, bring them back to the band, and see what they think.

This album came together very differently from the previous albums in that we had practically figured out all of the backing tracks, more or less produced it ourselves in a rough format before we went into the studio and then replicated it with far better equipment and far better gear and a better producer. It’s very much a collaboration between all of us. It’s not like a traditional, ‘you sing and do nothing else’, ‘you play guitar and do nothing else’… it’s a bit of a free for all, really.

This album has come together quite quickly after your last album, is that fair?

CG: Yeah, that’s fair enough. I think what COVID lockdowns did was they focused our energies a lot and we were able to work the way Bill described, by recording a bit and then working in our home studio. We had a lot of time to ruminate on things and write songs when everyday life was on hold. So it benefited us and changed the direction in a way, because of the way we had to create the music, as Bill said, by learning the technology and applying it.

BT: Our first album was 2002. We actually recorded the second one pretty quickly, by 2005, but we didn’t release it until 2009. I’m not even sure why!. And then even though we were meeting up occasionally, we did nothing really, until 2016 when we got back together recording and released the album in 2019.  But this time, as soon as that album was finished, we went straight into preparing for this album. So that time between the end of 2019 and now, which is three and a half years. That’s probably a more natural gestation period compared to previously, where we had these big long gaps.  But that was mainly because there were huge periods of inaction stuck in the middle. We’re hoping to keep on going, we already have a good bit of new material for another album.

You’re using synths a lot more this time around?

BT: Yeah, we’ve both bought synths, as in keyboards, we’ve probably got three or even four of them at this stage. We use a lot of soft synths with a controller keyboard as well. In some songs, it’s subtle and in the background, like in the song we released a couple of weeks ago (Hard To Know). There’s synth in that, but it’s buried under a traditional song. In other songs, synths are front and central and there are drone passages, long melodic stint passages. Having a wide variety of equipment available to us lets us experiment a lot as well. Cormac, you’ve been slowly amassing some new synthesisers over the last three or four years.

CG: Things that I absolutely need in my collection, I can justify it somehow! Not really being experts, but finding the sounds that fit what we want by messing around a bit. And the same on Logic, the recording software, by experimenting. It’s funny, you can bring a naivety to the process as well, through not knowing what you’re doing and suddenly stumble upon something that works. We’ve done that quite a bit, I think, as well as learning a bit more about what we’re doing from a technical point of view.

Do you think it all came together a bit more naturally this time around, with everything going on?

BT: I think so. Simply by virtue of making a habit of meeting every week, you develop a rhythm or a heartbeat in terms of the creative process, as Cormac described earlier on, through a process of iteration. Stuff came together fairly organically. We were ready to record this album at the start of 2020, and we’d been talking to Spud Murphy. He had agreed to produce it. We had the studio booked and we were going that February. Next thing, the pandemic broke and by the time it was starting to ‘thaw out’ a year later, Black Midi had discovered the work that he had done with Lankum and others, and they had got him on board to produce their next album, so he was off the books. So even though it was a three-and-a-half-year period between the last album and this one, you could say it would have been a year or a year and a half quicker without the pandemic.

What are your favourites on the new album?

CG: I really like the way side two of the album progresses and goes into slightly new territory for us. We’re a downbeat band, but it’s extremely downbeat, it’s very layered and sort of textural. I really like that aspect of the album. The first part of the album is slightly more typical of what we do and then it morphs into slightly different territory, but it’s still recognisable as us. I like side two, the way things sort of mesh with each other.

The interview continues in Part 2…



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