Interview: Oisin Leech of The Lost Brothers (Part 1)

By on Thursday, 11th December 2014 at 11:00 am

Without a doubt, The Lost Brothers‘ fourth album ‘New Songs of Dawn and Dust’ is one of my favourite albums of 2014. (Read my review of the LP from this post back in September.) The Irish duo, now based in Liverpool, make songwriting seem effortless, as their beautiful, poignant songs bring forth real and strong emotions that seem all too lacking in popular music today. In part 1 of my interview with the fairer-haired, bespectacled half of the Lost Brothers, Oisin Leech tells me about their last UK tour that recently concluded and how he became inspired to become a musician.

Stay tuned for the second half of this interview posting tomorrow.

Hello Oisin. Where do we find you today? What are you up to at the moment?
Hello there…. We are getting ready to play a great TV Show called Other Voices this week down in Dingle in lower mystical depths of southern Ireland. Just polishing my boots and packing my music here.

You recently finished off a pretty massive Irish and UK tour from the end of October through November. A tour that long sounds intense and gruelling. How did the tour go, and how were your new songs received? What were the highlights of your trip, were there particular dates that stick out in your mind?
This tour was our favourite because it was just us, two guitars, the new songs, and people in a room ready to hear the songs. We weren’t supporting anyone on this tour, and we had to do longer shows. We rose to the challenge and loved it. A lot of the gigs sold out, which is encouraging when we are working hard and giving it all we have. This tour has been a lot of fun.

As the tour progressed, the new songs took on their own life and developed each night. One lady in Switzerland actually came up after our gig and said that the new songs stood out in the set like glowing emeralds amongst the older songs. That was the best thing I’ve heard in a while!

All the gigs were great.

But our Liverpool show stands out because all the players who played on the new album came down and joined us on stage including our producer Bill Ryder-Jones and Nick Power from The Coral. Our pals Jack Cocker and Scott Kearney helped too. We loved it that the studio engineer Chris Taylor even turned up!

It was an emotional night with the longest aftershow I have ever witnessed. We sang Paul McCartney songs ‘til way after dawn with tears of laughter falling on the floor.

One of the earliest press releases of yours I read said that the two of you met in Liverpool. Yet both of you are Irish. Where are you both originally from in Ireland, and where are you based now? And how did Liverpool end up being the place where the Lost Brothers formed? I heard something about a library…
We are from Meath and Tyrone in Ireland. My dad’s family are originally from Kinvara, Galway, and my mum’s family are from the North of Ireland in Buncranna. My mum sings and plays piano, and my dad has a great singing voice too and plays a mean fiddle. I was lucky to grow up around music in our house in Meath. My Grandmother Mae had a beautiful voice, just like my mum and my sister Saramai. I have memories of my Granny playing piano and singing way into the night. Blue songs with the sweetest melodies.

These days we spent most of the year on the road travelling writing and recording with no fixed abode. We have a Lost Brothers “Song Cave”, which we retreat to sometimes …but even I don’t know where that is. It just has a piano and a fax machine and one old lamp.

Why Liverpool as a base? Well…it drew us there separately 11 years ago with a” magnet of song”. The Beatles, Echo And The Bunnymen, The Coral. For years, we were mystified by the music that came out of this city. We both formed different bands there and met in record shops and street corners over the year talking about music … Soon a friendship started. We spent many days and nights in record shops huddled over a gas fire and vinyl from all over the world. Liverpool is a cauldron of energy and musical dreamings and we dived right in.

Soon, after being pals for 5 years we started writing songs for fun.

That’s back in 2006/2007. We had to because ideas were falling from the sky with every rainfall and with every sunrise. We lived near Arnold Grove where George Harrison was born.

How did you get into songwriting and wanting to be a performer? Was there a defining moment / album in your childhood that was a major encouragement?
I studied classical cello for 5 years but soon discovered that I loved punk music… From the age of 12, I collected punk albums. Bands like Stiff Little Fingers, The UK Subs, Alternative TV, The Ruts… I went to punk festivals by myself as a kid!!! Then, at the age of 14, a pal Alan Quinn played me a cassette of Dylan’s ‘Freewheelin’’ album on my Kitchen stereo. I was frying an egg at the time, and I turned to the stereo and fell around the room laughing in total amazement at this music. It blew open my mind. The egg burnt on the frying pan as my pal explained who Dylan was. Then the next week he gave me Beck albums, Bowie, Captain Beefheart and Nirvana. I read so many books on Nirvana, which led me to track down Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie and brought me all the way home to Irish genius albums like those of Planxty and Sweeney’s Men. I started busking in Dublin that summer and busked around Europe for 6 years. I lived in Naples and sang on the streets and learned my craft.

Somehow I ended up playing rhythm guitar in Neville Staples’ (singer from The Specials) band in bull rings around Spain for a spell!

Then came the move to Liverpool where my band The 747s started. We toured with The Raconteurs, The Strokes, we recorded ‘Baby I’m Yours’ with Arctic Monkeys. We had a ball. We also toured with The Basement, which is how I met Mark from Lost Brothers. Then the new chapter began.

I think you have some of the most beautiful singing voices I have ever heard in my life. Do you have any special regimens / rituals / drinks / etc. you keep to so to keep your voices fighting fit?
Neither of us smoke and on tour we try to look after the voices. Usually the voices look after themselves. If ever we can find it, we use [a] honey and vinegar mix to keep the throats well oiled. That was a George Harrison trick.

As an American, I have to admit I don’t listen to a lot of the musical genre called Americana, which is what a lot of outlets seem to associate you with. Do you agree with this classification? If yes, are there other artists in this genre you admire / think you could be accurately compared to?
I don’t see our music as Americana at all. I see it as “the Lost Brothers sound”. It’s our sound that’s born out of our ramblings on the road. Everyone should have their own sound. It’s like having a stamp. It can constantly be changing too. William Blake said, “the artist’s job is to create… Let others compare and contrast.” No matter what you do, people will always have to put your music is a box and categorise it. That’s ok but it doesn’t interest me.

Rory Gallagher and Van Morrison were so influenced and inspired by American music, but it’s still intrinsically Irish. They have probably influenced American music massively by bringing Irish Soul to the table.

I listen to Dinah Washington, Beck, Billie Holiday, Planxty, Andy Irvine, Fred Neil, Nick Cave, Lou Reed, PJ Harvey, Tom Waits, Ger Wolfe, Sonny Condell, Fugazi, anything with heart and soul…the list is endless.

Who are your favourite songwriters, and why? Are there any that you think your fans might be surprised you’re a fan of?
As writers, I like Phil Lynott, Fred Neil, Shane Macgowan, Townes Van Zandt, Bob Dylan, Leadbelly, Carole King, Paul Brady, Bill Ryder Jones, The Coral , Alex Turner…I love ‘70s punk writers like Mark Perry from Alternative TV. Prince is such a great songwriter. Mindblowingly good. Beck’s new album is stunning.

On his new album, Beck appears in the desert wearing silver robes and speaking in tongues of crystal and cold fire. The songs are immaculate. The precision and emotion in this album makes it so special. This album was my close companion as we toured the world. I love it dearly. Great songwriting.

My first experience seeing you live was at SXSW 2013, where I saw you play the [email protected] night on Monday with Girls Names and Tim Wheeler.
How did you find the Austin experience? Was it everything you imagined, was it surprising, etc.?

We love Austin and we love playing in the States in general. We get very excited and inspired in Texas. The horizon widens and songs appear. Something new always comes out of a trip to Austin. I love the moment where the evening just steps in and everything turns a lazy yellow.

I hope we play Texas again soon.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this interview and Oisin’s answers to the TGTF Quickfire Questions to post soon.

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