Mike Quille interviews Ian Lynch from the four-piece traditional Irish folk group Lankum, formerly known as Lynched, who are currently on tour.
Mike: I appreciate you must get asked this all the time, but can you tell us why you changed name, from Lynched to Lankum?
Ian: The bottom line is that we didn’t want to continue operating under a name connected to acts of racist violence. In modern Irish parlance the term is used to describe getting jumped on by a gang, but it seems that everywhere else there is a different understanding of the term. Playing more and more outside of Ireland and outside of our own immediate scene brought this home to us and so we decided to change the name. I think we are seeing a very alarming acceptance of right wing ideas all across the western world at present and it’s definitely not a time to sit on the fence about such matters.
Mike: What’s the attraction of the Traveller culture, music and tradition for you?
Ian: I think that Travellers get a really raw deal in modern day Ireland. They have always been looked down on as second-class citizens, but ironically I think that they were more accepted in days gone by. The majority of Irish people see Travellers as an aberration - settled people gone wrong and not as a distinct ethnic minority with their own language, culture and traditions etc.
Personally I find it fascinating that the Travelling community held on to so many of the old ballads for a lot longer than the settled community and I think if people were more aware of this and other aspects of their rich culture then they might be forced to reconsider some of the prejudices that they hold.
Mike: One of the most angry, hopeless-sounding songs, ‘Cold Old Fire’, clearly has a strong political content, about Dublin since the financial crash. I know it was co-written with Cian Lawless, but can you say something about how you express your politics, in this and other songs you sing?
Ian: To me it’s far more interesting to find ways express such views in a more poetic, personalised style rather than simply painting a black and white picture. I grew up listening to a lot of hardcore punk and the moralising ‘don’t do this, don’t do that/this is good this is bad’ outlook of a lot of bands just bored me. Whether people agree with the sentiments or not the last thing they want is to be condescended and lectured to.
Mike: Generally speaking where do your political sympathies lie? Is there any equivalent in Ireland to the Corbyn phenomenon – the one thing that gives socialists in this country some cause for hope?
Ian: My political sympathies lie with the people, always. Saying that, I don’t like to define myself as anything ending in ‘-ist’, no matter how much I may agree with a certain position. I would be worried that once you codify your political outlook in such a way then you may be forced to ignore certain truths that don’t fit into that paradigm, and that seems like denial to me.
In Ireland there has been a lot of dissatisfaction with the mainstream political parties in recent years and this has led to some very outspoken independents being elected to sit in the Dáil. Much like Corbyn though, they are constantly derided, ignored and made fun of by the more established parties and often by the media.
The two major parties – Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil – are centre-right and largely identical to one another and people still go from one to the other every few years depending on how one has performed over the last few years. It’s really quite despairing and brings to mind the old maxim – if you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.
Mike: ….and the same question on music, who do you most admire musically and what kind of sound are you aiming for?
Ian: Sound wise we are really drawing on a large range of musical styles. While we do consider ourselves a traditional folk band first and foremost, these different styles do make themselves into our music in subtle ways – informing the musical palette that we draw upon rather than making themselves fully apparent.
I don’t know if I can describe the sound that we’re looking for – only that when we get it we know it. Musically I admire anyone who has the drive to realise their creative vision no matter how odd or unpopular it may be to other people. Richard Dawson, Brian Eno, Adam Green, Quorthon – these people are all heroes to us.
Mike: What’s your experience of the music business, and where do you think it’s going? There seems to be a lot of opportunities to return to a more DIY, punkish, grassroots and homemade approach to music making?
Ian: I know this has been said a hundred times, but I think it is so easy to record and get your music out there these days. When you hear about how bands on some major labels are treated – so–called ‘360’ deals where the band are paying merchandise and touring money to the label you have to wonder if bands are really gaining anything by signing such a deal. As always, they need us – we don’t need them.
We had an approach by a major label a few years ago, but it was very apparent from the outset that they didn’t get it (they wanted to know if we would be interested in writing a song for the Irish football team), and they weren’t really offering us anything concrete either.
We signed to the legendary independent label Rough Trade at the start of the year and it’s been really amazing. They have a total hands-off approach and really let us do our own thing. I’m not really interested in the music business to be honest – most of the events I go to are 100% DIY, and I think that’s usually the best way to go.
Mike: Can you tell us something about the new album, what you were aiming for and how do you think it relates to your previous recorded material?
Ian: I think Between the Earth and Sky is a definite continuation of what we did on Cold Old Fire, with some areas seeing more development - the heavy use of drones for example. While it is something that was there on COF we really beefed it up on this album, aided in no small part by our drone-obsessed soundman John Murphy. On some tracks we layered up drone tracks, played them in empty churches and recorded them down again – all to give a much heavier and layered sound. We have a greater proportion of our own original songs on this album and also Radie sings more songs – both of which I’m very happy about.
Mike: Finally, it must have come as quite a shock to move from playing squats and pubs to concert venues like the Sage, Gateshead. Where do you think you’ll be, musically and politically, in two years’ time?
Ian: It’s definitely a big change, and every now and again you find yourself looking around and wondering what’s going on. I like some aspects of playing big venues, but in a very clichéd way, you do definitely find yourself yearning for the intimacy and atmosphere of playing in smaller venues and spaces. Luckily for us we all still play and sing in sessions on a regular basis, so we get to experience this and feel like we are ‘keeping it real’ and not being total sell-outs!
Between the Earth and the Sky is released on October 27th. Details of Lankum’s tour can be found here.
Mike Quille is a writer, reviewer and arts editor, and co-managing editor of Culture Matters.
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