The Guggenheim Grotto is a band from Ireland that has just released its second album, "Happy the Man." Up to November they were a trio until percussionist and pianist Shane Power left to concentrate on his career as a music producer and sound engineer. Now, the Dublin-based duo (Kevin May and Mick Lynch) are playing in three venues in three cities during January to promote "Happy the Man" (World CafZ in Philadelphia, The Living Room in New York and Lizard Lounge in Cambridge), before heading on a nationwide tour in February. Their first album "Waltzing Alone" was a huge hit on iTunes - it went to number one in the folk charts and was regularly played on radio stations WXPN, XM50 and KCRW. The band's name emanated from a brainstorming session among its members, but in an unusual quirk of coincidence, once they became popular in America, staff from the Guggenheim Museum in New York contacted them to tell them a room in the basement where museum workers got to take a break is actually called "The Guggenheim Grotto." "Happy the Man" is laden with songs filled with moments of joyful recollection ("Sunshine Makes Me High," "Fee Da Da Dee") and is sprinkled with well-crafted tunes of loss ("Lost Forever" and "Heaven Has a Heart"). Irish America caught up with lead singer Kevin May, originally from Ballinrobe, County Mayo but now living in Dublin, to chat about the new album and plans for 2009. When will the album be in U.S. stores and how have you been getting on since Shane left? It is to be released on January 27 in stores and it is currently available digitally on iTunes. When we released the album here in Ireland in September Shane was with us, but at the very start of November, he left. We did a second tour then, an acoustic tour that was just myself and Mick and it will be the two of us from here on in. We are planning to do a lot more touring in the New Year, and [touring] just wasn't interesting Shane anymore as he is married and I suppose it was time to settle down a bit more. But Shane leaving was as amicable as breakups go? Oh yeah yeah, I have a hangover today after being drinking with him! Shane is an excellent engineer and producer and you don't do any producing or engineering when you are driving around America in a car. How does that affect the live dynamic of the band? We don't have any plans to add session musicians to the mix or to put it into a band setting. What we have been doing is working on new things. Before, we would have an acoustic guitar and now we are adding bits and pieces to it. I am playing piano an awful lot more than I have been. Mick has also been playing a porchboard bass. It's like a stomp board that you would often see guitarists use to tap out a rhythm like a big deep bass drum sound. With these few things we have developed ourselves as a two-piece, but it is a lot more sophisticated than it was before. Tell us about the production and mixing of "Happy the Man" Shane, myself and Mick produced all the album together and then once we decided on the arrangement and what instruments were to be used, we brought in Ger McDonnell [who has worked with acts as diverse as Def Leopard and Martha Wainwright] who mixed most of the album, while Shane also mixed some of the songs. We noticed a huge difference in how Ger mixed as he gave some of our songs a much harder mix than Shane would normally give, which almost gave it a more radio friendly feel, but also made it jump out a lot more. In some songs like "Fee Da Da Dee" it was very evident the way Ger mixed it harder - well, that may not be the right word - but more immediate. You do most of the lead vocals but on "Nikita," Mick sings lead. How did that come about? My hero would be Leonard Cohen and I would love to have a voice like his but much to my disappointment I am very much a tenor. "Nikita" was something that Mick and I wrote together. It was inspired by something Leonard Cohen said and I intended it to be a Leonard Cohen style and I wanted it to be a deep voice, and Mick, as much as I envy him for it, can get down there so I conceded that it would be best for him to sing it and he does a fantastic job! Are you looking forward to the residency? We've done nothing like that in the States before and one thing I am looking forward to doing is seeing these cities because a lot of the time you just drive in, play the venue and drive out, and you really only know cities by their venues, so I am really looking forward to actually spending some time in New York, Boston and Philadelphia. And in February you launch a nationwide tour? Yeah, it looks like we'll be heading right across the country and finishing up around Los Angeles somewhere, so that is a big trek. We are looking forward to it. Like Foy Vance and Snow Patrol, some of your work has featured on U.S. TV shows (among them "One Tree Hill," "Men in Trees," "Six Degrees" and "Brothers and Sisters"). Is that something you attribute to the iTunes effect, or what would you put it down to? I suppose all these things help one another. I couldn't say one thing led to another but certainly with our TV shows we have a wonderful publisher, and the work he does for us is just fantastic, so I would put a lot of our TV placement down to him really. It certainly helps when you approach someone and you can list off these things and they go "Aaahh, [these guys] must be worth something!" How would you describe the tone of the new album? It is definitely more upbeat. The very last song on the album is called "Heaven Has a Heart," which is a very sad song. We only added it at the end because people were reacting to it very well at gigs that we were playing during the recording of "Happy the Man." The reason we were going to leave it off is because we really wanted to make an album that was much more up-tempo from start to finish and happier, just like the title, so we made a conscious effort to keep the tone of this album a lot brighter. Do you plan to go into the studios again soon or will you spend the year touring and building your fan base? I was just talking to Mick about this - when will we get a chance to record again. Because we are two now we need to explore more of what we are now because it is a different thing. We have got some songs we would like to record but it looks like we are going to be kept very busy [touring], so the answer is as soon as we can, but I am not sure when that will be! Are you happy to be defined, on iTunes at least, as a folk band? You know, I don't understand that side of it all. I know it is very important where we are put, but I don't bother my head with it. I know if we had been put in another category we might not have got a number one in iTunes so I leave it up to the people who are involved in the business side of it. When we sit down we don't sit down to write a folk album, we sit down to write an album we feel like writing and then after the fact we let people classify it as they see fit. To listen to some of The Guggenheim Grotto's new album and to see if they are playing in a town near you, visit www.guggemheimgrotto.com
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