BD: Delighted to be interviewing Loreena McKennitt today. I found her lovely vocals and interpretation of poems with Book of Secrets, when browsing HMV listening to music on the headphones it was a ‘must buy now’ moment. With the opportunity to review her new album Lost Souls, the first original album since 2006, with a welcomed return to the studio paints a deep and moving lyrical picture across the nine songs.
LMc: My pleasure to talk to you today. Yes, the retail experience has changed. I loved those listening posts such a cool way of finding new music. The best customer relations you would go in for a browse or to buy an album and leave with many more sometimes ten or dozen new, listening delights. It was special the music being played straight into your ears hearing music that you might not have found without the record store. Music and how it is listened to, marketed and consumed has changed with the advent of Spotify and other streaming services. Vinyl is coming back and is a reaction by a few finding inspiration vinyl is a nostalgic awakening. The Walkman was the first to make music portable with MP3 player following on as music was digitized. This loss of music being a communal experience, with the experience being enhanced in the setting of the performance. Through listening to vinyl the sound is layered with nuances deeper details and shading. Listening to vinyl is like going to films with friends a better experience leading to music being thought about and discussed.
BD: Growing up in Canada, what were your early musical influences?
LMc: I grew up in a small town Morden, Manitoba. There was always lots of music around in the community. For the German Mennonites music was an integral part of their culture. I was involved in opera at school. As a teenager I was always more folk from Joni Mitchell, JJ Cale etc. rather than the Beatles. When I moved to Winnipeg I found Celtic inspired music, I was absolutely smitten including Steeleye Span, Chieftains and Mary Black, the beauty of traditional harp playing.
BD: As a multi-instrumentalist, what instrument did you start playing?
LMc: I started with the Piano when I was about five and continued learning and playing for ten years. I started off playing classical then when I was thirteen/fourteen I got into traditional music. I am self-taught on the harp my playing is the equivalent of henpecking on a typewriter.
BD: Your songs have deep melodies and lyrics that shape the tone of the music. What inspires the lyrics and choice of poems used?
LMc: I don’t think lyrics are my strongest though I do come to appreciate listening to a long tale embedded into a longer narrative shaping the record. When drawing on other people’s poems, it is about the imagery and the storyline that has a sense of beat. The poem needs to have regular phrasing so that you can sing and put the same words to music. There are always practical considerations, the poem and music have to work together.
BD: How did it feel going back in the studio again recording nine new McKenna tracks? You recorded the album in two studios Catherine North Studios, Hamilton Canada & Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studio Bath, U.K. How did that workout?
LMc: This worked quite well, it was great to be back in the studio. Catherine North’s studio used to be a Church and is atmospheric a lovely place to work. While Real World Studio deep in the Wiltshire countryside. The studio is set in a beautiful location, you can look outside, you can see ducks, swans and herons. My creativity is more enhanced when closer to nature, you can have a run to clear the cobwebs. I have worked at Real World since 1993/4 and good to be back it has become a second home.
BD: When recording Lost Souls you used a variety of instruments from Violins to the Oud how do you create the instrumentation and who should be invited to play on the album?
LMc: The Oud is a lovely expressive instrument Haig (Yazdjian) is an exceptional player of this plucked instrument. It is great having lots of musicians I have worked with. At the beginning we explore the arrangements, this comes together quickly because we know each other and understand each other having worked together before. With each encounter that relationship gets that much richer. It was also lucky that four songs had been written some years ago. Including A Ballad of a Foxhunter (1998); Ages Past, Ages Hence (1989/90) and Spanish Guitars (1990/91). The older pieces the arrangements that I had, I did consider them for recent records. I have always had a fascination with the range of instruments used in traditional music. Wonderful to have musicians who play the range of instruments from Hurdy Gurdy (Nigel Eaton) to Nickelharpa (Ana Alcaide). Finding musicians that play in the idiom adds authenticity. Working this way we invite them to the studio it is a real musical feast.
BD: Will you be touring with Lost Souls?
LMc: Yes, starting in the fall in South America, then Spring 2019 Europe and then USA/Canada in 2020. With a family, it is hard to be on tour. It is a balance I enjoy touring and being at home. You have to balance the two, touring can be quite addictive. With the collapse of the industry, there is more and more touring as this is where the money is made through the commodification of music means that without touring it is just cents per song streamed.
When the fascination of technology wears off in favour of the analogue experience, it is just a bubble I think the place of technology has to be explored it is all too easy and needs to be looked at where it is included in, for instance, child development. I believe we all should have the ‘Right to be analogue’. We have to trust analogue, use technology in a different way it is referenced with a generation that is growing up having only known digital. They have never had analogue experience, everything is mediated through technology. Grandparents should be reminding children to experience life through personal experience and contact. Music, found through playing an instrument gives young people a connection and this should never be lost. I had Folk/Celtic Music that kept me grounded I am also a rural person. My grandparents were farmers and I still live on a farm in South Ontario. This makes me feel grounded away from La La Land when home on the farm, where I can pursue and listen to Celtic music. I am rather shy and rather have my personal life at arm’s length, this distance is important as too much can be engulfed in our career. I feel very lucky to live in Stratford, Ontario, in a well-known part of the community it is great to live a ‘normal’ life.
BD: From veterinarian dreams to musician and volunteer fundraiser for good causes. Having founded multiple charitable organisations including The Cook-Rees Memorial Fund For Water Search And Safety and a variety of educational and cultural foundations. Tell us about the causes that motivate you and why?
LMc: I wanted to be a vet growing up I enrolled in the Department of Agriculture at the University of Manitoba. Then a performing opportunity arose. It was too good to ignore so I left formal education. My education has been travelling, studying history and culture the world is a richer place to learn than formal institutions.
It has become seen as common practice adopting a cause. For me, it has to come from personal experience. The Cook-Rees Memorial Fund For Water Search And Safety was founded in 1998 after her brother and fiancée died in a boating accident. Then in 2000, I purchased a school that was closing down for the community. The community decided that it should become a family centre used by many.
BD: If you were putting together the perfect band with members from across the years (dead or alive) who would you have playing
LMc: My perfect band was back in 2007 when I performed with eight other musicians, the largest band I have ever taken on the road. There were four buses, two semi-trailers this is just not viable now. The concert is always an approximation of the pieces being played, where the voice, guitar, bass and keys replicate the song on stage. When you compose and arrange the piece, feasible in the studio but not on the road. With Breaking of the Sword, a WW1 Battle I wanted to use a military band and local choir to have that performed on tour as imagined would be magical.
Bluesdoodles thanks Loreena McKennitt for her time.
Check out Bluesdoodles review of Lost Souls HERE
Keep in touch with Loreena McKennitt HERE