Off The Record by Mike Farragher
Guggenheim Grotto still laughing
Posted on Wednesday, June 02, 2010 at 11:38 AM
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The opening line in the song “Trust Me I’m a Thief” from the new Guggenheim Grotto album, The Universe Is Laughing, sums up the band’s life perfectly.
In the three years since their first album hit the top of iTunes folk charts, Mick Lynch and Kevin May have criss-crossed America to cultivate an audience one gig at a time.
Along the way, they have lost a member (Shane Power was in the band when they first came out), had songs used in major network primetime TV shows like One Tree Hill and Brothers and Sisters, and garnished rave reviews from influential outlets such as Paste magazine, the Boston Globe and the Washington Post.
“I’m throwing myself at the world like a lunatic,” and “if we don’t break, we’re not trying hard enough” are lines from the reflective “Wings and Feathers,” words that May says encapsulates the fierce effort on the duo’s part to find their audience.
“Not everything I write is autobiographical, but that song really sums up the road for us,” he says. “It is a strange time to be an independent band at the moment.
“Sometimes you feel when you are traveling this huge country and you’re in the middle of nowhere playing to 15 people and you say, ‘What are you doing?’ You think you’re a madman when you think about what goes into this life we’ve chosen for ourselves.”
Though their pace might be frantic, the music on The Universe Is Laughing is far from it. It is an album of reflective, beautifully constructed ballads laced with highly literate poetry.
For this reviewer, playing this music in the background got the creative juices flowing as I wrote this review and it stayed on the background as words were crafted for my second book.
“That’s one of the best compliments we get,” says May. “I’ve heard people say they put our music on when they are painting or writing, and it is really neat if your music becomes a part of their creative process.”
This disc is great even if you don’t have a creative bone in your body. It is full of sonic delights that lower your blood pressure.
“Wisdom” breaks up the balladry with a strutting beat and an Israeli violin scratch. “You feel scared/Jesus is your bodyguard/you feel alone take a look in your backyard,” May sings before warning that “a wasted life is a life lived unaware.”
“This is the first album that just the two of us recorded,” May says. “Shane Power was in the band for the first album and did a lot with us behind the scenes on our last one. This is the first one where we played the role of engineer.
“We were recording this while we were stationary in Ireland, and some of it was recorded in a mobile studio while we were on the road. We recorded songs in difficult environments, and I think that is what framed the album.”
They will be playing their new music in a set of showcase gigs in June, playing each Wednesday at the Bowery Electric (327 Bowery, New York, 9:30 p.m. show, $10 admission) and each Thursday at Philadelphia’s Tin Angel (20 South Second Street).
In between those events, they will play gigs in Boston, Maine, and Pittsburgh. Check out the gig section of www.guggenheimgrotto.com for a full list of dates.
“I really feel that the states are a bunch of countries,” says May. “The vibe from area to area is huge. You try to build the good markets that you have and do reconnaissance work in places where you are not as well known.
“Our label is here in New York and it helps. We do better on the East Coast because the cities are closer and it is easier to make a gig pay for itself when there is only a short drive between them. On the west, you have to drive great distances to a gig.”
If you live in Manhattan, you won’t have to drive to hear the great music of the Guggenheim Grotto and The Universe Is Laughing (available on UFO Records). Make it a point to catch this Dublin duo sometime in June.