Ireland. THE Homeland to Europe’s folk metal sound. And one of it’s most overlooked and founding members of the folk metal scene? Cruachan. With a Celtic metal focus to their folk sound, the band named themselves after the archaeological site of Rathcroghan, also known as Cruachan, and hiding the supposed entrance to Tír na nÓg., the Celtic Heaven.
On the eve of Cruachan’s rebirth into the darkened halls of black folk metal with their latest album “Blood on the Black Robe” (Candlelight), Metal Riot was able to sit down with founding member and frontman Keith Fay and ask him some very poignant questions and some not so much. Check out the intriguingly hilarious conversation here.
JDKleinhans: So where you calling from?
Keith Fay: Ah… Dublin.
JDK: You are in Dublin.
Fay: I am.
JDK: What time is it over there?
Fay: It’s just gone 6:30.
JDK: Well that’s not bad.
Fay: Not too bad. Gettin’ ready to go to pub. haha
JDK: haha. Nice! Yeah, it’s pub time man.
Fay: Yeah. Yeah. haha It has to be done.
JDK: Well, before we start is there anything specifically that you really want to talk about or anything that I should stay away from?
Fay: Not at all. Anything you want to ask me feel free.
JDK: Oh, that’s dangerous man.
Fay:Livin’ on the edge! hahaha
JDK: Awesome. So, I hesitate asking this question ‘cause I’m sure you’re sick of it since you guys have been around since 1994 but I love your band name and the storied history that’s behind. We could easily spend a solid 30 minutes talking about it but real quick for those people that are new to you, where does the band’s name come from, what’s the history there?
Fay: Well when we first started Cruachan we were called Minas Tirith and the whole concept was Lord of the Rings and Tolkien. So, that only lasted a couple of months then we decided we’d change into this folk metal thing, this brand new type of idea that nobody’s ever done. And we decided we’d sing about Irish history and Celtic mythology so we had to find a name suitable. So, Cruachan was the name of… basically it was the name of the part of Ireland that was allegedly the entrance to Tír na nÓg which is the Celtic underworld, it’s like the Celtic Heaven, and it was the Cave of Cruachan and you go in there and you go to this underworld. And when Christianity came to Ireland and began to convert all these pagans to Christianity they said “Hey! That cave! That Cruachan cave! That’s the entrance to hell!” So, we said “Haa, that’s a cool name.” And we took it.
JDK: Damn Christians. Hell yeah.
Fay: God- damn- Christians… hahaha
JDK: Your upcoming album “Blood on the Black Robe” which I’ve been consuming over the last day or so has quite the black folk metal feel to it which is where you guys originated from, why the return to the roots of that original sound?
Fay: Well, it’s something that’s been brewing for a long time. Certainly on the last album “The Morrigan’s Call” you could hear the extremity was starting to creep in and get back in there, there’s blast beats, there’s aggressive stuff on there. I’ve wanted to go right back to the black metal kind of stuff for a number of years. First of all, I love the music so you play what you like, basically. But as well as that I was looking at the whole folk metal genre. Now I take a lot of personal pride in folk metal. I strongly believe Cruachan were one of the first. We helped create it. It’s our thing. And I was looking at what was happening and it was almost- I personally seen that it was becoming almost like a funny joke. It’s just all these funny bands with their drinking songs.
JDK: It’s become party metal.
Fay: Yeah, exactly. As well as that, it’s a lot of the Scandanavian bands, the Viking stuff had become popular you know but they’ve no defined folk music. So, if you don’t have folk music, what do you do? You go and use these kind of sea shanty, Spongebob Squarepants type stuff in your music. So it’s “A-har-har. Away we go on the sea!” I thought “Oh, for fuck- fuck no, that’s not folk music.” If they were here in Ireland they’d see there’s a lot of darkness, there’s a lot of sadness in folk music.
Fay: As well as the move to the more extreme stuff, I also wanted to kind of- We’ve done it too. We’ve done the funny, stupid stuff as well, true to history of Cruachan. But we said “Let’s get the darker kind of stuff. Let’s explore this side of folk music. Show people what it really is about.” And I personally think we’ve successfully done that on the new one. There’s a lot of folk music on it but certainly no Spongebob Squarepants moments. haha
JDK: hahaha I get a picture in my head of Spongebob Squarepants in black leather pants and metal spikes. It’s an interesting image. I might need to draw that up.
JDK: So, you talked about that darker side of folklore and there’s always there’s those dark sides, the title captures that too, “Blood on the Black Robe”. How’d you come up with that title?
Fay: Well, there’s a number of songs, I think there’s three in total, where there’s a kind of anti-Christianity vibe from a pagan viewpoint. So that song “Blood on the Black Robe” there’s a lot of- I remember when I first began to write the lyrics I imagined this scenario where the patron saint of Ireland, Saint Patrick, was caught on the road by a band of Gaelic warriors and killed. I thought “Well… that’s kind of funny but um – getting a bit entirely explored.” The Celtic Christian church, there were women priests as well, they were very ahead of their times back then. They had women priests and they dressed in black so that’s it – it tells the story of, the fictional story of just an early Christian preacher who stumbles across a bunch of angry pagans and gets killed. As tended to happen.
JDK: My favorite track on here is “The Column”. I love the catchy riff and I can’t help but resist the urge to throw my fists up in the air yelling “Arise! Arise!” and “To arms! To arms!”. So, what’s your favorite track on this one?
Fay: Uuuh… And it’s funny you should say that about “The Column” because we almost dropped that from the album. It was just- the idea that I had in my head just was not happening. It was just this (insert guitar chugging train sound) and it was that chug just going and I said “This is fucking shit!” Because we took a break for two weeks, so we had a half-finished album. And it was probably the worst thing we done because it was a half-finished album, we didn’t put the elaborate layers on or anything. So yeah, that was almost dropped but now it possibly is one of my favorites, certainly the middle kind of rhythm part where the electric plays up melody, that’s probably my favorite part on the whole album where the violin kind of does its own thing. I really like that, really proud of it.
JDK: Good. You should be. I like the dynamic movement throughout your songs. You’ve definitely made a fan of me pretty quick.
Fay: haha That’s good to hear.
JDK: I like the production of this album too. A lot of bands tend to either severely under produce, which just makes it sound like crap, or severely over produce it where you lose that sound.
Fay: Yeah. Well, we’ve always had a nightmare with production.
JDK: I was gonna say, because you’ve had issues in the past, so how do you feel about how this baby turned out?
Fay: Yeah. Really, really happy. Definitely could have been better. I still listen to it now and I can pick out lots of little problems here and they really shouldn’t have got on. You know every musician is their own worst critic. So, a lot of people probably won’t even notice it. But this was great, we see this album as a rebirth. It was a great kind of, you know, raise their fists, say “Look. We’re back. This is our statement of intent. And the best is yet to come.” So, we’ll get better and yeah, overall with the production I am very, very happy with it.
JDK: For those that are new to Cruachan why should they pick up this album?
Fay: Hoo-oh-oh. It’s like a job interview question. hahaha
JDK: I know.
Fay: Well… it’s a tough one. You know? It’s definitely original. There’s absolutely nothing like this album in the folk metal world. And there’s a lot of folk metal out there. There’s a lot of similar bands. Lotta big folk metal bands like Turisas. We’re different from them all and definitely “Blood on a Black Robe” is as folk metal as can be but it’s as different from all the sea of folk metal out there. So, it’s worth picking up for that alone. Plus, there’s a lot of extremity. If you like extreme metal there’s still a lot on there for the regular black metal fans and so on.
JDK: So what about current Cruachan fans? What are they gonna like about the new guy?
JDK: Same thing?
Fay: Yeah. I mean, there’s still a lot of Cruachan on there. There’s a lot of typical stuff where you can always pick up, know in advance where we’re gonna go. It is more extreme. Karen Gilligan is not there. I’ve stepped up to the vocals. But it’s still a Cruachan album. We know we’re gonna probably lose a few fans that really loved Karen and the kind of softer side of stuff but for every one we lose, we hope we’ll gain another two, you know that’s the way to look at it.
JDK: You bring up Turisas, another great band that I personally like, but they really seem to go on this over-the-top epic feel to their music, almost Tolkien fantasy style. You guys really make an effort to keep the true reality of folk music and where the origins really come from.
Fay: Exactly. you know we have an advantage, we live in Ireland, we’re absorbed in folk music. To the point where when we were growing up as kids, we were embarrassed by the folk music. You know, you’re dad is listening to it on the Sunday morning and I said “Dad, put on some Metallica. You know. That’s shit that you’re listening to.” Obviously, you grow old, you appreciate things a bit more. I don’t think all over Europe where all these folk metal bands are coming from, they don’t have that kind of folk culture that that kind of – you know, folk music never died in Ireland. Whereas you just don’t hear it across Europe and in America. Well, you do, I mean you’ve got bluegrass which is a version of European folk music as well but it’s never been as big across – as far as I can see – the world as it is in Ireland. So, we do have that advantage. But sure, Turisas do their epic thing and Alestorm do their Viking thing, there’s plenty for everybody. Alestorm do their pirate thing. What am I saying Vikings for?
JDK: True Scottish Pirate Metal!
Fay: Yeah. I love that! It’s hilarious.
JDK: I know. It’s awesome. There’s a time and place for it. I enjoy it though, you know, just throw back a few beers and get rowdy.
Fay: Exactly. I’m very good friends with Gareth the bass player from Alestorm. I’ve known him years.
JDK: Which is something I think we miss out in America is that you guys in Europe seem to have this really tight metal community. The U.S., being so big, I don’t think you get a lot of that.
Fay: Yeah, that’s true. I mean, I was only talking Gareth recently, and we’re trying to get our record labels to put us out on tour. I mean we fuck all in common with each other but we’re just getting party time together.
JDK: Speaking of which, you guys just did a Ukraine mini-tour, right?
Fay: We did. Yes.
JDK: How’d that go?
Fay: Oh! Awesome. Absolutely amazing. We play Eastern Europe a lot, of Russia. It’s absolutely bizarre. Words cant’ describe. Every time we go to these place we come back with the most amazing stories. Like, in Ukraine we get a night train to Kiev for our flight home the next day. And the tour organizer bought no tickets for the train. And they were like “No. This is normal. This is normal.” Oh. Okay. So they go to the train and the plan is to bribe the security guys on the train to allow the band to sleep in the crew quarters in every cabin. And it worked! Just. Just bizarre. haha
Fay: I don’t know how they get away with this stuff.
JDK: Nothing like a little bribe money.
Fay: Oh, amazing. But no, it was great. Who does a three date tour of Ukraine? I don’t know but we done it and we got a lot of fans in every city. It’s absolutely amazing. Across the world, people just seem to love Ireland for whatever reasons. So we hit the Ukraine, downtown Kiev, there’s a St. Patrick’s Day parade and everyone’s got Irish flags and they’re dressed in green and there’s posters up “Release your inner Irish” and I’m like “What the f- Where am I?” It’s just made. Absolutely insane.
JDK: Not an image you’d think you’d get of downtown Kiev.
Fay: No. No. We’ve played St. Patrick’s Day in Russia a few times and it’s the same thing, just “Eh! I am Irish!”. Ooo-kaay?
JDK: Yeah, everybody wishes they were Irish.
Fay: Yeah. Yeah. Except the Irish. hahaha
JDK: Hahaha. Wow… So do you guys have any plans for an upcoming tour? How are those coming about?
Fay: Well… You see that’s a problem we’ve had in Cruachan. You know, it’s great that we get to do the band and see the world and so on but we all have regular day jobs, mortgages, we’ve got families, so whenever we tour it’s literally based around the holidays we take from work. So, we could never head out and do a two month tour like our friends in Alestorm can do. So we are quite limited. Festivals are okay ‘cause it’s a weekend and it doesn’t affect our jobs. But with this album we have a bit of a commitment with Candlelight that we need to get out to promote it so we’re hoping and we’ll do a ten day tour of Europe. What would be an absolute dream would be a ten day tour of North, Central, and South America because in South America I think we have more fans in South America than in any other country in the world or any other continent in the world. It’s just bizarre but that would be a dream. We’ve never played in North America. I mean I’ve been there many times but I’ve never actually played a concert and that would be an absolute dream for us.
JDK: Yeah, that was gonna be my next question ‘cause we’ve Pagan Fest which I know Alestorm has been on.
Fay: Exactly, yeah, and I think Candlelight has a lot to do with that as well. If memory serves me correctly.
JDK: I believe so. I believe a lot of the bands are Candlelight bands. Also, I noticed you guys call yourselves modern day bards, or storytellers, telling the old Celtic myths like the ancient Fili. Telling those stories through the medium of music, can you expand on that?
Fay: Well, I suppose it’s kind of self-explanatory but certainly the lyrics that I write – I’ve wrote about our culture, aspects of our history, even recent history with the struggle for independence that we’ve had. A lot of these stories are put into lyrical form. There’s not many of them out there. That’s what I mean, I went on to the Wikipedia site recently and I was just looking up Bloody Sunday and I promise I did not write this ‘cause anybody can change Wikipedia but it usually gets changed back within a day. But they’re talking about Bloody Sunday and they mention three artists and I think the three artists are U2, John Lennon, and Cruachan that have put the Bloody Sunday story into lyrical form. And I thought that’s amazing. I swear I didn’t write it. hahaha
JDK: Wow, that’s awesome. That shows your relevance on the folk metal scene.
Fay: Exactly. Yes.
JDK: So, I’m gonna get personal a minute because you said nothing was off limits.
JDK: How are you recovering since that attack this past February?
Fay: Fine. Absolutely fine. My worry when it happened, well obviously the worry was “Fuck, I hope I don’t have a brain hemorrhage or something like that.” But certainly, the few days after though I spoke to my doctor and said “Look, I have to do a mini tour of Ukraine.” We done a rehearsal I think a week after the attack. I don’t know if you’ve ever had broken ribs, it’s a fucking nightmare. You can barely move. So, screaming vocals was just a nightmare. But luckily by the time we got to Ukraine I was healed up, I could pull it off, not a problem. But when the fans, you know, we get off stage, we meet the fans and they’re hugging ya’, I was fucking screaming like a baby half the time. But luckily there’s no long term damage. The little scumbags I hope get caught by the police but very unlikely.
JDK: So nobody’s been caught and nobody’s been prosecuted?
Fay: Nah. Nah. Nah. There were so many of them, fifteen little bastards and they all woulda’ ran as soon as – the whole thing I would say only took two minutes. I was hit on the head. I was with my sister and a girlfriend of mine. You know, we walked past these fifteen little kids and I think they pulled my younger brothers hair, he was with us. So, they were all “Oh, hippie. Look at your hair.”, this kind of shit. But they started insulting my sister. And she, the idiot, instead of just walking away starts yelling “Hey, I’m old enough to be your mother. Would you speak to your mother like that?” And I was like “Louise, come on, just walk the fuck away.” And then they started again, they got insulting, I can’t remember what they said and I went up “WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU SAYING!? THAT’S MY SISTER!” And that’s the last thing I remember. An iron bar or a brick over the head. My sister said it was only about a minute, they were just laying into me when I was on the ground. A lot of people came over because it was a busy street and they threw my sister to the ground and broke her arm and then they just ran off, like a bunch of brave men they are. scoffs
JDK: silence I don’t even know what to say to that, that’s just…
Fay: I’ve never been attacked like that before and you know you’re sitting there. You’ve seen the photograph that Candlelight put out which I thought “Oh, you shouldn’t have put that out. That’s a bit embarrassing.” I sat there with my head – the blood was just all over me.
JDK: That’s the picture I saw and I was like “Jesus Christ!”
Fay: Yeah. And only today, only today. I had a big overcoat on me that day and it was drenched in blood. And just this morning I went to the dry cleaners with it and I said “I need to get my overcoat cleaned.” “Ok. Uh… is that gravy?” And I said “No, it’s blood.”
Fay: And they’re like “Oooh. Ok?” And I said “It’s okay. I don’t have a disease or anything like that.” But you know what? What the fuck do you say? “Yeah, I got assaulted in town and I got blood on my coat. I need it cleaned. Here’s the fucking money, you know? Do your job.”
JDK: It’s all my own blood, I promise.
Fay: hahaha Hardly any hepatitis in there.
JDK: Yeah, maybe a little bit. haha
JDK: Alright, this is the part where I like to change it up a little bit. Gonna ask you some questions that most people probably don’t ask you. They’re pretty random.
JDK: Because, you know, the industry standard questions can get a bit boring after a while.
Fay: True. True.
JDK: And you seem to have a good sense of humor. So, you ready?
Fay: Oh, yeah.
JDK: Beer, whiskey, or liqueur?
Fay: Oh, definitely beer. Beer all the way. My thoughts being, whiskey just makes my night end quicker.
JDK: haha True. True. Mine as well. What’s your favorite beer then?
Fay: I drink Guinness. I know that’s kind of an obvious answer but I drink the old fashioned, the stout you can only buy in bottle form. It’s not the stuff you get out of the taps.
JDK: So, it’s the real Guinness.
Fay: Yes. That’s what you would call it. The real Guinness. The Old Man’s Guinness. That’s what I would call it.
JDK: What’s the current musical artist that you just can’t get out of your head right now?
Fay: OH! OH! I can’t answer! hahaha It’s so embarassing.
JDK: And that’s why I ask. In the hopes that it’s embarassing.
Fay: MICHAEL JACKSON!
Fay: Yup. I’ve fucking become obsessed. So, there ya’ go. Today I was driving around and I had Rotting Christ and Battery and I took both of them albums off to put on the new Michael Jackson album. So there, there ya’ go!
JDK: Hey, we all have our guilty pleasures. And that was actually going to lead into my next question, “what’s your biggest guilty pleasure right now?” Michael Jackson would probably be that right now.
Fay: Oh, fuck yeah, yeah. Definitely. My friends just won’t let me live it down. I’m the joke. So I keep putting up on my Facebook profile “Love you MJ” all this kind of stuff, put his videos up. You know, they contact me say “Keith? When is the Michael Jackson joke gonna stop?” And I say “No, it’s not a joke. I fucking love him!”
JDK: I’m a huge metal guy and my biggest guilty pleasure is Kelly Clarkson.
Fay: hehe Well, re – Well she’s great as well.
JDK: What is your spirit animal or animal totem?
Fay: Oh. there’s one I’ve never, ever even considered. What would it be? I’d say a raven because they’re cool.
JDK: Nice. That’s a nice answer. Most people would say a wolf or a tiger. So, I stumped Ted from Amon Amarth (sorry Ted) on this one. If you were a superhero, what would your superhero power be?
Fay: The ability to remove women’s clothes in two seconds.
JDK: Two seconds? So long?
Fay: hahaha Okay. I give up!
JDK: Ok. I could see two seconds. Any faster and it can lose its appeal.
Fay: Well, if you do it too fast you’ll hurt the woman. Hey, I’m a sensitive superhero that respects women by taking her clothes off in two seconds. hahaha
JDK: hahaha Well then, any last words for our Metal Rioters out there?
Fay: Ehhhhh…. No. No. snickers
Fay: Not at all. Hey, whoever’s listening, reading, whatever, we hope you see us on tour.
JDK: I hope to see you come to the states because I can’t really afford come see you in Ireland.
Fay: It has to happen to us this year. If it doesn’t happen this year with the support we’re getting from Candlelight, who do the Pagan Festival in America, if it doesn’t happen this year, I don’t know what the fuck to make of it. I’m not gonna say it’ll never gonna happen. I’ll just say, “Well if it doesn’t happen this year, maybe it’ll happen next year.”