You’d be forgiven for failing to see the similarities between a toe-tapping trad session and a soaring post-rock soundscape, but Túcan blend the two so seamlessly it’s hard to spot where one facet of their sound ends and the other begins.
The endlessly eclectic and inventive Irish instrumental act have just released their second album ‘Towers’. Their origin story, much like their musical style, is an eclectic combination of elements, with the band riffing on a variety of different permutations before arriving in their current form.
It all started when guitarists Donal Gunne and Pearse Feeney met at a house party – while still in secondary school in their native Sligo – and decided to form a band. The first iteration of Túcan came later, following college and a busking jaunt across Europe, when the duo developed their own genre-straddling instrumental acoustic guitar sound, which initially drew comparisons to groups like Rodrigo Y Gabriela.
Túcan’s first album ‘Aliquot Strings’ was a rich tapestry depicting the vast range of sounds possible for two acoustic guitar’s to make – playfully fusing jazz, classical guitar, rock and folk. But far from stopping there, Gunne and Feeney already had one eye on what boundaries they could transgress next.
“I've always had an interest in heavier music,” explains Gunne, “in its intensity and power of feeling… it can be quite euphoric, and energetic.” Growing up in the ‘90s, the first songs he learned on guitar were “Oasis and Britpop” because they were “easy to play.” He cites grunge and MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball as influences too, but the real musical revelation came when he discovered Radiohead.
From there his list of influences flows like his music, diversely unpredictable, but with a strongly lucid rhythm to it. In quick succession he goes from Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth - “Great music for a guitarist as it develops scales, picking, soloing, riffing, and speed,” to Tool; to Paco de Lucia, “one of the greats of the Spanish guitar,” Al di Meola, and “the genius” of Django Reinhardt; and finally to Kila.
All of this and more came into the mix as Túcan evolved from an acoustic two-piece into a full band with electric guitars, bass, drums, and eventually a brass section. The addition of the rhythm section sent things in “a much funkier, dance-orientated direction,” while the brass “added so much texture,” and in its versatility “it just took the band to another level.”
“When I was writing for the new record,” explains Gunne, “the music that was coming out was much slower, and melodic, but as there was no vocals we needed more instrumentation to fill out the melodic ideas. We decided to experiment with brass with a couple of trumpet-playing-pals of ours and once we heard the results we were sold.”
Album number two – ‘Towers’ – is the culmination of this new incarnation of Túcan. The album is heavy yet melodic, full of progressive post-rock flourishes, while retaining shades of Túcan’s classical acoustic guitar roots.
The band worked with producer Torsten Kinsella (of the post-rock band God is an Astronaut), who “added teeth” to Túcan, according to Gunne. The recording process was long and drawn out - recorded in short bursts of two or three tracks over the course of two and a half years.
Kinsella was a “rigorous operator,” explains Gunne, with a “systematic and detailed,” approach to the recording process. This may have grated slightly against the fact Túcan were still only really “figuring out what the new band sound was,” and so “it took us a while to really find our new skin.”
“But that was necessary to get where we needed,” says Gunne, “which is where we are now, I think.”
Where Túcan are now is very much something of their own, a place of free-flowing, unconstrained invention. They’re a band living in what Gunne describes as “iPod or YouTube generation,” where the very idea of genre “is being lost as everything is being mixed with everything.”
But Gunne doesn’t want to take too much credit for novelty. He refers back to Kila. “Back when we started they were really out on their own for mixing the sounds of the world together and still coming up with something with real identity.”
Whether Gunne will admit to it or not, there is something uniquely inspiring about Túcan. And while they’ve got some impressive studio recordings and beautifully produced YouTube videos to their name, the live Túcan experience is where this really comes out.
Gigging is where so much of what Túcan is has come together. Live shows are “the best way of informing ourselves about the music were making. It always changes things, no matter how much rehearsing and arranging is done in the rehearsal room.”
The band are a mainstay at Irish festivals by now, possibly because “our live show is so energetic, and audiences don't necessarily need to know our music previously to react to it. It's very accessible in a live situation, which is always good for festivals.”
Gunne goes on to explain how “Ireland is blessed with loads of great festivals but we love Knockanstockan and we can't wait to play there again this year.”
But before all that there’s the little matter of the #GoldenBeck gig in the Workman’s this coming Thursday. With a new album to showcase, and a festival summer to warm up for; Túcan will bring everything they’ve got in their seemingly bottomless musical Lego box.
Túcan play GoldenPlec.com’s #GoldenBeck music showcase this Thursday (28th May) at The Workmans, Dublin (Doors: 8pm) along with Leo Drezden and Megacone. Tickets €5. See more info here.
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