Clear Away In The Morning: Lankum Interviewed

"Nothing ever truly stays the same forever..."

“There’s something very satisfying about it,” Lankum’s Cormac MacDiarmada smiles as he nestles comfortably into his armchair, preparing to chat to CLASH over Zoom alongside bandmate Darragh Lynch ahead of Irish drone-trad architect’s fourth studio album ‘False Lankum’; “It’s amazing to see it finally see the light of day, because when finish something you have to wait so long to release it, that by the time it rolls around you realise it hasn’t really come to full fruition until it’s out in the world”.

It’s been almost ten years since Lankum first made their presence felt both at home and further afield with their debut album ‘Cold Old Fire’. The four-piece, consisting of MacDiarmada on strings, Lynch on guitar, Ian Lynch, Darragh’s brother, on pipes and Radie Peat on bayan, concertina, harmonium and harp to name but a few; were originally founded whilst playing in trad sessions in bars and venues across Dublin. Since then they’ve travelled the world following the success of their 2017 album ‘Between The Earth And Sky’ and its critically-acclaimed, award-winning follow-up ‘The Livelong Day’, which cemented the band’s status as the leading creative force in Irish music culture, in both traditional and popular circles. Tours across the world were planned for 2020, but when the world shut down the band found themselves uncertain of where next to turn.

In an effort to spark inspiration, the band decamped to Mortello Tower in Co. Wexford over a string of two week periods to put together the building blocks of what would become the new record. “For the previous album we had a rehearsal space in the basement of The Liberty Hall in Dublin and we’d spend hours and hours hammering away at different pieces and through the absolute slog of arranging an album” Lynch explains of the move to Wexford. “This time the location was a lot more interesting, we were album to go up the tour and look out onto the sea and be inspired by that, it was definitely better than the windowless room we were in before”.

The sea represented an important character in what would become ‘False Lankum’. Its ever-bounding nature, and the natural rhythm that comes with being surrounded by the gorgeous cacophony of waves against the shore provided the added backbone and texture that can be found across the album’s 12-song tracklist. The album is primarily composed of re-arrangements of long-lasting traditional pieces, but the added tracks, ‘Netta Peurus’ and ‘Turn’ in particular are beautiful additions. Across its runtime, the album is immersive, taking the listener deep into the bowels of its being before spitting it out into a world forever changed; waiting for them to return once again.

“It was definitely something we wanted to do but we definitely didn’t pre-plan fully what that would be,” MacDiarmada explains when asked of the project’s immersive qualities. “Even with the track listing everything became clear because it’s all kind of woozy, there’s a very natural internal flow within each songs and the fugues [three rhythm and melody-less pieces scattered throughout the album] break that up nicely; there’s no rhythm and then it goes on two more tracks and it’s all very nautical regardless”.

“I don’t think we planned to split it into three sections,” Lynch adds of the fugues. “But even before we started recording anything we knew we wanted to have recurring ambient sections at the start of the album and the end of the album and in-between, we just didn’t know what it would sound like. We ended up at one point doing a 10-minute improvised session, which is what the fugues are, and our producer spud chopped it up and put it between the tracks and I think it really helps accentuate what works across the tracks”.

With an album as cohesive and as comprehensive as ‘False Lankum’, it must be difficult to know when it’s finished? “I don’t know,” MacDiarmada answers, to a certain degree when you subtract and take little bits out, really get into the gritty gritty of arrangements and stuff, that’s a signifier that the bulk of the work is done. When we’re recording, we really throw the kitchen sink at it so when we start to pare it back we know”. 

“Part of the tracklisting was pretty satisfying too,” he adds, “because when we had all the materials done and recorded the picking out of the track list was the quickest we’ve ever done and it was pretty unanimous, there was no weeks of sitting on it or dwelling so that was a great sign as well”

“That’s all absolutely right, but it was also the case that we have a deadline we need to meet” Lynch laughs, “The last record we had to get it all done in a really short space of time, like wrap it all up in a matter of weeks but this time around there was no active deadline until, well, there was and we’d told the label when it would be it, and it’s only when got close to that we realised ‘Fuck, we have to cut this back’ and we realised we hadn’t cut some of the saliva sounds and bits like that even though we had way more time than we’ve ever had for any album before there was a panic”.

As our time comes to an end, talk turns to the album’s title, ‘False Lankum’, which is a reference to a song from traditional folk singer John Reilly. It’s also, however, an open-ended question, what is Lankum and who defines what a band can become; is it the members, with each instrument holding with it an essence of the band or is it the listener, who comes to hold this work so deep in their hearts? “I think we like the name ‘False Lankum’ because you can read a lot into it” Lynch explains, “it’s a bit ambiguous and a bit odd. It’s the title of the song we took our name from but it also ties into notions of traditional music and authenticity, creativity, and is there a true lankum, is there a false lankum…”.

“It’s also about how words change,” MacDiarmada adds, “because obviously false means wrong, means not good… and that just doesn’t have the same connotations anymore. It’s ever-changing. Nothing ever truly stays the same forever”.

‘False Lankum’ is out now.

Words: Cailean Coffey
Photo Credit: Ellius Grace

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