HON JIUN WONG
Standing in the cold amongst the tall dark trees outside Saint Pancras Old Church with little lighting to see my notes was not how I planned to interview The Lost Brothers, but strangely, it works. Talking to them is just like their music: honest, genuine and without much fanfare.
The Lost Brothers are an Irish musical duo made up of Oisin Leech from Navan, Ireland and Mark McCausland from Omagh, Northern Ireland. The two of them met at a library in Liverpool but it seems that Oisin had actually seen Mark before: “I saw Mark around Liverpool in record shops, over in the Hank William section, a few times over the year”.
However at the library, it wasn’t the Hank Williams section that Mark was hovering about in but rather the John Steinbeck and John Fante section, and it was their mutual love for books that soon led to a killer singer-songwriting combination. Since then, they’ve released three albums: ‘Trails of the Lonely’, ‘So Long John Fante’ and ‘The Passing of the Night’.
Despite coming from Ireland, both Mark and Oisin are now based in Liverpool and even though the Irish Sea lies between the two islands, Mark feels like Liverpool is practically “an extension of Ireland. Everybody practically Irish, they’re all called ‘O’Neil’”. It is also Liverpool’s deep musical history that drew these two men over: Echo and the Bunnymen and the Beatles were both formed in Liverpool.
The fact that Liverpool has a good music community isn’t too bad either; Mark adds that “everybody gets behind each other and they really push each other” while in Ireland, one has to be good to play. He says “when the bar closes, nobody wants to go home and if you want to stay on, you better know a song or two”.
Their latest album “New Songs of Dawn and Dust” was awarded Ireland’s public radio, RTE Radio 1’s ‘Album of the Week’ and it is a truly remarkable album; songs that are both beautiful sounding but raw and honest. In their opinion, it’s their best album: the one they’re most proud of cause they spent time crafting it rather than waking up and just throwing it out. New Songs of Dawn and Dust is produced by Bill Ryder Jones, a guitarist of English rock band, The Coral. This wasn’t the first time they’ve worked with Bill though; Oisin and Mark worked together with Bill on a Christmas single called ‘St. Christopher” four years ago.
Ever since then, they’ve kept an open door to future collaborations: “we always said that down the line, if we could ever do an album that we would and the stars kind of fell into place”. Nick Power of The Coral, was also involved with the album’s production.
It’s clear, talking to Oisin, that he holds a deep affection for the Coral, calling them one of his favourite bands and that “they’re one of the best bands of the last thirty, forty years”. They’re huge fans of songs ‘Late Afternoon’ and ‘Liezah’, and while Oisin finds all their albums to be classic, Mark prefers their weirder stuff, especially their 2004 album “Nightfreak and the Sons of Becker”.
New Songs of Dawn and Dust was finished in Liverpool but prior to this, they had travelled around the States before and bit by bit, those American experiences did seep into their music, particularly when they were living in Upstate New York. Mark said that when they were “travelling for three years, sometimes on a bus between Boston and San Francisco, they would sit in the front of the bus and watch these big, wide landscapes and keep a little notebook of song ideas”.
The new album starts with Spanish Reprise followed by Days Ahead, however, the two couldn’t be more different in terms of tempo and feeling. They explain this difference a little more: “Spanish Reprise, we kind of see it as a ship arriving at a port or a dawn rising...and the second is like ‘alright, let’s go’”.
One particular song on their new album, Soldier Song, has drawn a lot of praise from fans and critics. A love song, Soldier Song began in Ireland but was worked on a little more in Los Angeles before finishing in Liverpool. It’s about the characters Oisin and Mark met on the road and partially inspired by Irish World War 1 poet, Francis Ledwidge.
New Songs of Dawn and Dust feature quite a number of instrumental tracks: they had sent them to Bill as instrumentals and “said we’ll put lyrics on them but he said no, don’t. They’re great like that”. Mark thinks that he was right, and they always wanted to make a soundtrack. When asked what director they would want to work with, the two of them began throwing names out: Sam Peckinpah, Steve Buscemi, Shane Meadows and Jim jarmusch.
Another song, The Crow and the Rat, feature someone speaking (apparently it’s Bill), but what’s interesting is the story of how it was conceived. Oisin said: “It was an instrumental idea that Mark and I worked on in Moscow. Just about two weeks before the session, we came into the studio, late into the session, all exhausted”. But then someone picked up a pen and Mark got his guitar and then “it all happened in about two hours and [they] all kind of woke up from this dream and the song was done.”
The last song on the album, Stones Throw, was inspired by a Nick Cave song and uses a piano rather than their normal guitar; this was apparently Bill Ryder-Jones’ idea: “the demo was totally different, the demo had guitars and voices and Bill had this really clear image”. Paraphrasing a quote from James Joyce, Oisin said that “art needs radiance, beauty and simplicity” and there can’t be any better way to describe the music these two produce.
The Lost Brothers are on tour in Ireland for the month of December before starting to hit the festivals next year; starting with Celtic Connections in January. Their new album New Songs of Dawn and Dust is out now.