The Charlotte Interview: Rackhouse Pilfer
written by Charlotte Jakobsen
1. Can you tell us about the band?
Rackhouse Pilfer formed about 3 years ago now, but the seeds of the band were being sown a few years before that when Leon and Leslie had a 2 piece band going. They were playing covers of people like Ryan Adams, Gillian Welch, Bruce Springsteen etc. and some older roots stuff, they really had a good thing going and it sounded great with just the two of them. Myself, Leon and Les have known each other since childhood and so I'd sit in with them the odd time on drums. I suggested to the two guy's that we make a full band out of what they were doing and eventually one drunken night they gave in to my requests haha, and so we began looking for other musicians. It came together really quick then actually, we recruited another childhood friend Duane on Bass - Done, Mark our Banjo player who's younger than us had been sitting in on some of their sessions to gain experience playing and had become friendly with us all and of course is a super player - Done. And Figs our Fiddle/Dobro player came recommended by two musicians in Sligo who's opinions we trust and how right they were, we didn't even audition another guy once we met Figs, he was in - Done! And then we basically started by picking up on Leon and Les's Monday night Bluegrass session in McGarrigles bar in Sligo, we still play some of the covers the guys were doing as a two piece, so it's really the foundation of it all. Unfortunately just over a year in Duane the Bass player wanted to leave, it wasn't his thing and so we took on Hugh who is the youngest of us all now and had never played an upright bass before, but a few of us had worked with him in other bands and we knew he was good and more importantly a person we liked and he was into the gig, so we asked him to go buy a Double Bass and one month later he was there playing his first Rackhouse gig on the thing and was doing a fine job at too, amazing!! 3 years on we'd never have imagined back then we'd have achieved everything we've achieved already... We've just been awarded "Best Folk/Trad" band in the Hot Press readers poll awards, beating off serious competition like Christy Moore, Sharron Shannon and Damien Dempsey, unreal!! We were also in another category for "Best Live Band" with The Script and Hozier etc. we didn't win that one somehow haha. But we did win the Hot Press and Jagermeister freezer sessions Live Band of the Year just at the end of 2014 there, again unreal. We've supported people like Imelda May and Paul Brady, we've done some of Ireland's and Europe's biggest festivals. We've released two albums, the second 'Love and Havoc' was recorded in Nashville Tennessee with Brad Jones a producer whom some of us really admire. And I think honeslty the most meaningful thing we've achieved is that we've built an incredibly loyal fan base of people who are just the best and support us so well everywhere we go, the journey is only young yet but we're loving it.
2. How would you describe your music?
Leon was chatting to a person after a gig recently who described us as The Sex Pistols with Bluegrass instruments haha, we hadn't really thought of it that way before, but he's pretty much hit the nail on the head. When we get fired up at a gig it's just Raw Energy, we don't try to play every note to perfection, we just let lose and it's all heart, energy and sweat. But as the Drummer and in my musical opinion haha, I think the lads, the string players in this band are just great at what they do, they are brilliant musicians so they can afford to let go and play with abandon. And of course the Rackhouse Cherry on Top is that we all sing both Lead and Harmonies, that seems to be the deal breaker for a lot of people. At our gigs it's a constant changing of voices and instrument swaps and it somehow all comes together so well. So to sum up I'd say Irish, Americana, Bluegrass, Punk.
3. How did you get into alt country/Americana music?
We all came to this kind of music ourselves in different ways. Personally I come from a family of musicians who played country music a lot, so I've been immersed in country music since I was born. Leon's Grandad was a huge country music lover, people like Hank Williams etc. the old school proper country, so Leon again was exposed to it a lot as child and has a deep love and knowledge about all things Country and Americana. Figs parents we're Folk musicians on the road too, they toured Europe a lot in the 70's, Figs was actually born on tour in Holland, so he's just been steeped in all kinds of music his whole life. The other guys I think came to it later, they we're all Heavy Metal lovers and all Heavy Metal Guitar players until just a few years ago, but they somehow arrived here and they love it!!
4. You recorded the 2nd album “Love and havoc” in Nashville last year? Why Nashville?
Yeah we recorded in Nashville January 2014, what an amazing experience for us as a band. Why Nashville? Who wouldn't want to record in Nashville? Agh no, the truth is I have been going there since I was a kid, again with my Country music playing family. I always loved that city and so in my early 20's started going there every year using my 90 day Visa, I was learning how to write songs, recording demo's, and eventually recorded my own solo album in 2007 Produced by John Carter Cash at the Cash Cabin Studio. That album didn't do much for me, but what it did do was provide a chance meeting with one Brad Jones on the day I was at the Mastering studio finishing up my solo album. So I met Brad briefly and after he left the studio, the Engineer told me he was a great producer. Not being one for absorbing album credits, I actually didn't realize I owned several albums he had produced that I loved. Anyway that brief meeting always stuck in my head and when it came time for Rackhouse to record our original material I suggested Brad to the rest of the band and they liked the idea. So I got a number for him and called and he loved what he heard. We actually asked him would he come to Ireland to record us, save money on flights haha, but he said we should go there and use all his amazing vintage Guitars and Mic's which would help the sound of the recordings. So that's what we done and we're so glad because we had such a top class experience all round in Nashville and Music City really took to Rackhouse Pilfer too, we do hope to return.
5. How was it coming from the West Coast of Ireland and suddenly find yourself playing with the some of the greatest musicians of all time – like Harold Bradley who has played with Elvis, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis just to mention a few?
To be honest it was mind blowing having Harold Bradley in the Studio with us, not only has played on records by the Artists you've mentioned but he has played on virtually all of Roy Orbison's records and Patsy Cline's too. Harold and his Brother Owen were pioneers in making Nashville Music City back in 50's, creating recording techniques that had never been done before, that's why they created some of the most timeless records ever made!! He came in and played his signature "Tic Tac Bass" on our tunes "Angela" and "Me and a Polar Bear", it's a very subtle percussive bedding type sound, but it's so effective in moving the song along, and so recognisable once your ear tunes into it. It's the same sound he recorded on so many huge hit records of the 50's and 60's. It was just amazing to have him do that on our album and get to work with him.
6. You have had an amazing year in 2014 and you have just won the Hot Press Magazine Readers Choice Award "Hotties Folk/Trad Band 2015". What have been the highlights so far?
Yeah winning that award was one of the best things so far, I mean if not only for the fact that we were in with Christy Moore, Sharron Shannon and real heavy weights of the Irish Music scene, we can't believe we won it really, but all the credit must go to our fans that took the time to vote for us! Winning the Freezer Sessions Live Band of the Year was class too, again thanks to our fans. Being invited to play at President Higgins Summer garden party at Aras an Uachatarain last Summer was such an honour too. Of course recording in Nashville, so many great things have happened, we're very grateful.
7. What can the audience expect at a gig?
Well as I said before, we always play our hearts out with tons of energy. I mean we can get chilled sometimes too for periods of our sets or albums, we don't keep things at 100 Miles an Hour all the time. But generally it's all about the upbeat energetic stuff and we have a lot of fun, which most nights is a two way street between us and our audience. A Rackhouse gig is just lots of fun.
8. What makes a good song and a good gig?
Tough question we're no experts, but I'll try haha.
A good song... Something that connects with it's audience. Whether that be emotionally or energetically. I think that's how I'd at least look at answering that from a Rackhouse perspective. We got some slower songs that have gotten a great reaction from our fans and critics, I think the reason they're recieved well is that they are written from a place of truth, I suppose you're getting a piece of the writer in them which makes them genuine and in turn when that translates to the listener they can connect with it and make it their own and feel somewhat personal with the piece of music. On the other hand we strive to be upbeat and those songs are actually very hard to write, I suppose in those ones you're looking for hooks or catchy phrases or riffs, something exciting, fun.
A good gig... I think for us the good gigs are always the ones where the band and audience are in it together, a two way street. We feed off their energy and they feed off ours and it's one big beautiful thing, gigs can be lame sometimes when the audience or band isn't into it, thankfully that rarely happens.
The biggest thing on our schedule for this year is that we want to try and make another album before the end of the year. We've only just begun writing songs for it, they're starting to come, so at the moment it's all about getting those written, rehearsed and demo'd. We gig constantly also, it's always been our philosophy to hit the road and gig in as many places as we can to build our fan base from grass roots level up, so we're always trying to get to new towns and venues. We also already have been confirmed for some great festival slots in 2015.... Arainn Ceilteach on Inish Mor March 14th, Vantastival, Sea Sessions, Hilden Brewery, La Roche France and loads more to be announced. It's going to be another crazy busy year and we love it!!
Not really you done good, and I bet you're glad you didn't ask anymore judging by the length of my answers!! Thanks a million to you and all your readers, Best wishes to you all. Come jump on the Rackhouse bus, it'd be great to see you at gig. RHP