Over the past three years, Mick Lynch and Kevin May of pop/folk act the Guggenheim Grotto have touched U.S. and U.K. audiences in a way the duo couldn't have imagined. From setting out on the Dublin songwriter circuit to building a devoted cult following in the U.S., they exploded on both sides of Atlantic with their folk masterpiece "Waltzing Alone." Filled with dense literary references and immaculately crafted acoustic melodies, their music was featured in major network primetime TV shows like "One Tree Hill" and "Brothers and Sisters", and enjoyed prominent placement on iTunes with a Free Single of the Week slot. They are back with one less band member, an excellent EP called "Tigers", and a full-length album, "Happy the Man", that instantly shot to the top spot on the U.S. iTunes folk chart. "Happy the Man" still has the same intricate folk that won them legions of fans, but they threw some curve balls into the mix. The opening track, "Fee Da Da Dee" has a slow-cooked, sparse electronic beat that sounds like a throwback to the birth of MTV in the eighties. "You are always searching as a songwriter for a new way to express yourself," explains Kevin May when asked about the electronica diversion. "We did jump between genres, but there is a close connection with folk. It's the start of the album and I'm sure some people were afraid that we would do a whole album of that electronic stuff. It was always part of our ethos to follow songs where we need them to go, but I suppose there is a bit of mischief putting that song first!" Critics in Ireland were slow to embrace Guggen-heim Grotto at first, but now they are falling over themselves praising the group. "Combining pop, folk, soaring melodies, haunting harmonies and emotionally intelligent lyrics, their lovingly crafted sound is both completely contemporary and yet somehow timeless," gushed Irish music magazine Hot Press. The praise is well deserved. Tracks like "Sunshine Makes Me High" and "Her Beautiful Ideas" are just some of the acoustic pop masterpieces that make Guggenheim Grotto so worthy of the attention they are getting. The band is in the middle of a standing residency this month at The Living Room (154 Ludlow Street between Stanton and Rivington 212-533-7237) in Manhattan, as well as Philadelphia's World CafZ and Boston's Lizard Lounge during the month of January. For more information, check out their website at guggenheimgrotto.com. This band is fantastic live and this reviewer cannot recommend their show highly enough! I recently caught up with Kevin May in the midst of their tour, where we discussed the new album, the changing music business and the thrills and pitfalls of operating as a duo. Here's how it went: What are the band's influences? They seem harder to pinpoint than the average band. I have a kind of theory that more bands are moving away from drawing distinctions. You do get the odd band that heads off on a certain set genre on music. It makes sense to me that if you have a varied musical taste, and with the advent of an iPod and Internet radio, where you can cruise around a number of genres and playlists instantaneously, you will probably have less obvious influences on the music that you write. That said, my own stuff growing up would have been heavy on Leonard Cohen and, believe it or not, Seattle Grunge. I loved Nirvana and Soundgarden! Since the last time we spoke, Shane left the band. What was behind that decision? It was a decision Shane made to concentrate on studio life. Shane wanted to stick closer to home with his family, whereas myself and Mick are creatures of the road. We just wanted different things. It's very amicable. We will definitely be using him in one form or another because he is an amazing engineer and very creative. Anytime something that major happens in a band there is always a soul searching as to what to do next and if we should even go on. Did that happen to you? We never had a doubt about going on as the Guggenheim Grotto. We just had to reassess the situation. Do we tour with more session musicians or just the two of us? We decided the latter and wanted to retool the band as a duo. I took up keyboards and I really enjoy it. What did you learn from the last album? I loved the way you came out with an actual CD of very ornate packaging, yet you totally partnered with iTunes and the digital medium all at once. You were old school and new school at the same time! We learned a lot. Both of us still sell albums at live gigs, and I love how people pick it up (Waltzing Alone) and get great enjoyment from detailed packaging. It is a greater outlay on our parts financially. It's not something that makes huge business sense, but we did it as artists. We did it out of a love for nice packaging. We did not go that route this time around because we have to look at putting money into things like new equipment. It went back into our art. If you are independent you have to make those choices with limited funds, but I do see us doing something intricate with packaging in the future. Did the "Tigers" EP and "Happy the Man" turn out as you expected? You always end up with some map in your head. . . . Waltzing Alone had good points with songs of substance and depth, but we wanted to create something more up-tempo. We are really happy with how people took to it. How are your residencies going for you? We love them. It's a very new place for us. It's all about the Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays in Boston, New York and Philadelphia. Each of the rooms has a really great vibe to them. We have three weeks under out belts now. I like the residencies because we get to see these cities. When you are on a tour with many cities you see the venue and then you are off to somewhere else. There is no excuse not to see us this time if you are in those cities because we give you many choices! We give people the opportunity to see us multiple times. What about the fans in other cities? What are your longer-range tour plans? We have some isolated things in February and March like SXSW. We will book gigs around that.
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