We met Dan Murphy and Darragh Griffin from Hermitage Green before their show at the Cork Opera House on the 8th April, to talk about their career and their new album “Save Your Soul”.
You started as a cover band, what has changed now that you play your own songs on stage?
Darragh Griffin (vocals/guitar): It’s a big difference in how the gigs go. When we started out we were quite picky about what covers we did, we only did covers we liked. There’s a lot of bands who do the same covers so we needed to try different ones. It didn’t make it very easy because, as a “cover band”, we had to do a different version of a song that people already liked. Whereas, original music is far more rewarding when you get the crowd on your side and they get to know the songs. But obviously, it’s a different kind of a struggle at the start, because people, by nature, don’t necessarily listen to a song that they don’t know or engage with – some people will – but most people, if they don’t know the song, they kinda switch off the thing. So it took a little while for the transition between the two.
Did the covers posted on YouTube help to get you an audience?
Dan Murphy (vocals/guitar): Yes, it did I think initially. Playing covers and writing original music are obviously two very different things and when we played covers initially, it was a good way for us to decide what we wanted our songs to be like and decide what we should sound like. But there are two different chapters in our life as a band.
And did you close this covers chapter now?
Dan Murphy: There’s a taboo about playing covers. But pop music is based on frames so technically they are cover songs like classical music is: almost all songs have been written by other people and they’re played again and again and reinterpreted. So I don’t think any of us has any problem with doing it, It’s good fun and it’s nice to put your own print on somebody else’s song. We like to try a cover, maybe one a night cause it’s good fun, but not really more than that.
You released a live record before this one, it’s quite unusual. Bands usually release their live after two or three albums, why did you chose to start with a live?
Darragh Griffin: We do everything backwards! (laughs) At the time, we were not signed, and we could have made a studio album but we did not really have enough money to make a very high quality studio album. We kind of have the thought that, at the time, we were good live so we thought why not pick what we were best at and record ourselves live and then use that as a kind of a tool to get our music out there so the people coming to the gig could have at least 12 songs they could go on. So I think it was our thought at the time.
You’re touring for 6 years, what changed since your start as a band?
Dan Murphy: Everything! (laughs) We’re together for almost six years. It’s been a very slow process to get to where we are now. Nothing has happened that quickly for us and we’ve had to work pretty hard for it. The biggest change? (turns to Darragh)
Darragh Griffin: I suppose that we all write music now. First, none of us really wrote music and we transitioned to a point where everyone does some writing. That’s a big change.
When you write a song, do you think about how it will sound live or does it come later in the writing process?
Dan Murphy: I think it’s important not to focus on what it’s gonna sound like. I know that would be one of my sins. When I want to try to write, I overthink what it’s gonna sound like, what people will think of it. It’s a sort of a habit of a writer but it should be much more like : you sit down and you let the things out. So if I was told by somebody else how to write a song, I would say : “try to not think about what it’s gonna sound like on stage and just try to express yourself, and write, and don’t be contrived, don’t try to pattern or whatever, because it’s art and you should focus on expressing yourself.”
Darragh Griffin: Absolutely. It’s my biggest thing at writing anyway as I got sidetracked for a year or two trying to write what I thought might be a hit or what people wanted to hear. And I just abandoned that completely. So I just write what I want to write at the moment and what I like. You have to trust to your own pace. I was just writing the songs I wanted to write without thinking about anything else at all, and then they are the songs that have really done well, I have gone back to that; I’m really selfish about it now but I like it. (laughs)
Dan Murphy: And one interesting thing, if you look at it, we wrote “Quicksand” which is a slow, dark song but you can still reinterpret those songs into the way they are on radio or commercials. At the beginning, we were trying to write something that’ll have feedback but we were quenching the creativity if you do it the other way around.
“Save Your Soul” was released in Ireland a month ago. How are the feedback so far?
Darragh Griffin: We’re very happy. I mean, it made number 3 in the album charts so to be honest I was very happy with that. Because releasing an album in Ireland is all about who you’re up against. If you pick a week where no one releases anything, you can get to number 1 easily. But we were up against Adele, who I think is still number 1, so I was really happy with that and people’s reactions have been pretty amazing.
Dan Murphy: The feedback from people is pretty important. It was largely positive. People kinda sort out the fact that we deliver songs in a different way they might have known them before and I suppose, to check the temperature with that kind of stuff is very rewarding.
You use the bodhran in some of your tunes, is it important for you to have an “irish sound” in your music?
Dan Murphy: We’re stuck with it! We can not get rid of it. (laughs)
Darragh Griffin: I don’t think we made this decision consciously. At the start, we never used the bodhran but we started to think of it. But when you have someone like Dermott (Sheedy, member of the band), who is one of the most accomplished bodhran players in the country… you have to ! He’s amazing. Bringing an Irish element, he takes it and brings it just beyond that all, because he can do so much more than a typical bodhran player can do. He takes the Irish instrument and he performs with a certain kind of way. I think it betters our songs hugely. It gives a sound a lot of bands don’t have and gives us the ability to come up with different sounds and it works in a very non-traditionnal way.
You already played once in France, right? What do you think about the crowd and the country?
Dan Murphy: Yeah! The wine is terrible. (laughs)
Darragh Griffin: We played in Cannes. We’ve been lucky to play in beautiful parts of France. We loved it but we would love to do a proper gig in a venue in all the different cities.
Dan Murphy: What we did was a corporate event, which was great, but we’d love to play in different venues.
Darragh Griffin: I’ve seen an Hozier video shot around different places in France and all the venues are very impressive.
Dan Murphy: I hope I can say this, but I think at the moment it would be really, really a cool time to be in France, because of what happened in that music venue in Paris in November. When things as awful as that happen, they tend to sort of bring people together. I watched U2 on TV playing in Paris right after, and I could feel the energy and the unity within people. Sometimes, things that terrible can be a good chance for people to express how much they love each other, how much they care about strangers in the streets. I think Paris at the moment is some place where that is definitely happening. So I hope we could play there and share the love.
What bands do you listen to while you’re on tour?
Darragh Griffin: I love a band from Michigan called Vulfpeck, really love those! Also The Gloaming at the moment.
Dan Murphy: LCD Soundsystem, John Grant as well was on my playlist this summer.
To finish, our traditionnal question: as our website is called “RockUrLife”, what rocks your life?
Darragh Griffin: Performing music with friends to crowds : that really rocks my life.
Dan Murphy: Yes, that and those moments where you reflect back on our journey over the last few years. It’s that moment of introspection where you go and it’s pretty good actually, I have to remind myself to do that because things have moved slowly for us and sometimes it’s hard to realize and appreciate where you are at. But like, when I walked in here today, I had one of those moments where I realized when we started to play in Cork, it was in a bar in front of drunk people that didn’t know who we were, and to come back here and play in a venue like this, it’s really spectacular for us. That rocks my life.