Mighty folk revellers and boisterous festival favourites, The Emerald Armada have foot-stomped their way to the top of pile as one of Northern Ireland’s most in-demand live acts. Mixing an ethereal spirt with some turbulent rock zest, it’s no surprise that they are one of Belfast’s main attractions during it’s biggest party of the year, St. Patrick’s Day. With a new EP and tour on the way, we felt it was time to catch up with the lads to find out the ingredients of their bounding success.
► You are set to play Voodoo on one of the biggest dates in the Irish calendar, St. Patrick’s Day. Is this your first March 17th gig?
Gary Lynas: This will be our third year playing on St. Patrick’s Day, in fact they’ve all been in Voodoo. It’s a venue which has become our home stomping ground in way, a place which we always come back to, especially after a tour. It always brings in a crowd and each show has topped that last one.
► We imagine that a St. Patrick’s Day show is a bit more of a rowdy affair compared to your usual gigs?
Ben Hamilton: Our shows can be rowdy in general because we get the crowd pumping as much as we can, but Paddy’s day is extra special because everybody is allowed to start drinking from noon. Haha. So by the time we hit the stage everybody is either out for a party or holding on to their mate to stay upright.
Gary: Last year was great. Unfortunately people were turned away at the door because the place was full quite early. So if you’re hoping to catch the show make sure to come down early as not only is there a whole host of great bands on but we don’t want you to miss out!
► Compared to other venues and festivals across NI, Voodoo is a much more intimate show. Do you prefer the tighter stages?
Ben: I love it there (Voodoo) because you can get right in their faces and see their reaction – you get a real buzz from it. In turn though, we’ve launched an EP at The Black Box and in June we’ll be releasing another EP at the Limelight 2. We like to change things up and some shows are definitely suited to particular venues.
❝ We’re going to try and put as many tracks on there as humanly possible. We’re probably due an album. ❞
► How much does crowd interaction come into play when it comes to the writing process?
Ben: It comes naturally to us. We don’t make a conscious decision to write a crowd surf moment or a time to throw the sticks into the crowd or anything like that. The main thing for us is that we really enjoy it on stage and we think that filters out into the crowd, it helps the atmosphere.
Gary: One of the things I’m looking forward to the most about playing in Limelight for the EP is that there is a raised stage, which means if there is an opportunity to stage dive we can take it!
► It sounds like the gauntlet has been laid down.
Gary: Then I guess I’ll be stage diving on the 5th of June…for your sake and mine, burly men at the front only please.
► As a band who is folk based, do comparisons to acts like Mumford & Sons frustrate you?
Ben: We feel like we are our own entity and we do our own thing. But at the end of the day if people are to compare us to somebody like Mumford & Sons – who really paved the way for a lot of acts who had been around and had been making music for a long time but weren’t getting the publicity which they do now – then that isn’t a bad thing. Mumford, Fleet Foxes, Ben Howard, their success has helped open the door for bands like us. Ourselves and others have always been around and it isn’t a trend thing. But you have to appreciate the work they’ve done.
Gary: I think overall we’re a lot edgier. We a lot more aggressive. We do have our slow paced chilled out songs. But whenever we go flat out it’s different to Mumford.
Ben: I think having a skin head, metal-head as a guitarist might be key to that. Haha.
► Going back to the writing process. Do those comparisons ever sway the direction of the band?
Ben: Nah, if we were writing stuff that we thought sounded like another band in general we would take another look at it. We always aim to write songs which sound original and feels true to what we want to do. So if we ever write something and say, ‘That sounds like that other band’, then we’d take a look at it.
► It sounds as though there is various musical backgrounds coming together in Emerald Armada.
Gary: Dermy (Dermot Moynagh) would have the Trad background. Playing in bars in Trad bands for years. Tony (McHugh) would be a bit more into metal, bands like Pantera, Black Sabbath and that sort of stuff. I like a bit of old metal, a bit of early 90’s grunge. But then I like John Martin and the old folk scene as well.
Ben: Then Neil and I met through acoustic nights. So we would have a strong connection to singer-writer style music. I’ve done a lot of Worship stuff too through my Church background so there is a whole range.
► How does all that blend into one sound?
Ben: We’re not quite sure how it blends. Everybody has an input . I don’t think we have a song which has come in as a whole track and stayed that way. There has always been something changed through playing together. We practice in a jam format and that is what can often come across. A big mash-up.
► So you have an EP coming out in June. Can you reveal more?
Ben: We’re going to try and put as many tracks on there as humanly possible. We’re probably due an album. We owe it to the people who have been buying out music over the years. With our last EP we really loved it, but we maybe wanted to put an extra song on it but we didn’t have the time or the budget. So now we’re really trying to put as many quality songs together as possible.
We’re planning on working with Mike (Mormeecha) from Mojo Fury at Millbank Studios. We’ve had great results there already so we’re really excited to put the hours in between now and June.
► What should we expect?
Gary: Summer-y tunes and a couple of chilled out tunes too. Hopefully it will be perfect for you to sit out in your back garden and chill out to. Or if you wanna bounce around with a drink it’ll be the record for you too.
Ben: Like with our last two EPs we always tried to do something different. We don’t want to do that classic band thing where we say we’re going through our ‘experimental phase’. We always trying to revisit how we play our songs but also evolve our sound. For example we’ve written one song which has a bit more electric guitar, a little bit more distortion. So that’s definitely something to look forward to.
► Will it be all new tracks or will some old favourites make an appearance?
Ben: We’re going to put two fairly new ones on the EP, tracks which we’ve only played about once or twice. So keep your ears out for them at our upcoming shows. Then we’re going to have a song called ‘Make It Good’ which was actually on our very first EP which you can’t get online anymore….because it was really really bad. Haha. We had only been together for three months, it was one of the first songs we’d every written. It’s four years on now and we’ve matured as a band, so it feels right to return to it.
► Finally, after St. Patrick’s Day your gearing up for a tour, tell us what you have planned?
Ben: We’re going to head to Scotland with The Jepettos, and The New Ancestors will be playing with us at our Edinburgh show. It’s only a short five/four date tour in Scotland but hopefully it will set us up to head to England later on in the year before Christmas. But it’s just nice to get away, play shows in some places we’ve never been to before. This will be our third time heading over the Scotland so it should be good fun as we’ve been developing a following over there. After all that we’ll be well up for playing Belfast as the tour comes to a natural close on June 5th.