Iarla O’Loinaird’s “Foxlight” shines brightly - West Cork musician discusses his trade


It’s contemporary music. One of the goals I had was that the ear wouldn’t find it strange when put alongside some of the contemporary folk you would listen to. It’s folk, but something that is more immediate. Produced but not too dense.

It’s not as ambient as my last one and that was on purpose. I wanted this to be more direct.
To that point, let’s take “The Goat Song.” It seems like a children’s song in that it is very simple and straightforward but like a good Beatles song, it is simple and complex at the same time.

That is an old song. It is a children’s song insomuch as my mother taught it to me.

My producer really had to talk me into this one because while I like comedy, I’m far from what you would call a jolly composer. But Abrahams liked the simplicity of it because of this child-like directness.

In the end I liked this children’s song space in a way because children are direct and I think the songs here are direct. So it works.

This album was released on Real World Records, which is owned by Peter Gabriel. How would you describe this long association you’ve had with him?

First and foremost, he is a lovely man, very soft-spoken. We had a lot of great conversations about having a relationship with one’s own voice, a relationship to the sound, the subject matter, the microphone you’re singing into, and the relationship into your own life. I’m happy to say he has been a great supporter.

I am a huge fan of Afro Celt Sound System. What ever became of them and will we ever see them play again?

I left the band in 2011, so I don’t know what they’re up to now. We had a five-year hiatus and then we did some touring in Europe and the U.K. in support of a best of album that actually never made it to the states. I didn’t have the time to be in that group any longer. Plus, I thought it was very good and successful in its time, and I didn’t think it needed to be tested in these times.

The music I am interested now is less technologically dependent, and I think that’s a trend in music nowadays. Technology has become so compact and advanced that people can make music in their bedroom, and I think a more simple sound is coming from that in the music that I hear nowadays. 

What other stuff are you working on?

The Gloaming, we’re playing in Lincoln Center outdoors in July.  Martin Hayes and Denis Cahill are with me. More earthy and now. We just finished the record and it will be out in the summer.

I’m doing this Masters of Traditions tour, which is a presentation of traditional music. In May I’m with the Crash Ensemble at Carnegie Hall on a piece called “Gra Agus Bas.” It’s a 24-minute avant-garde opera, which I think is a record (laughs).

So, I guess that is where I sit now, somewhere between avant-garde classical avant-garde folk!

Pardon me for a crass question.  You just said that you sing in a language most people don’t understand so it begs this question. Why are the words important to you?

It has been suggested to me that I just sing sounds with no words because it has the same feeling; people respond to the sounds and the emotion in my voice. But the emotion people connect because the words mean something to me.

I write about my life and that’s what listeners connect to even though they may not understand the words, is my guess.

Foxlight is available on Realworld Records. For more information, log onto http://www.iarla-o-lionaird.net.