Interview by Barry Egan
After silence, Aldous Huxley once said, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music. I got that sense when experimental Irish ensemble Tucan covered Massive Attack’s classic Teardrop for The Windmill Lane Sessions on Independent.ie.
Experimental is possibly a trite word to describe how the musicians re-imagined acoustically and instrumentally a song that is as known for Cocteau Twins’ Liz Fraser’s ethereal vocals on the original as much as Massive Attack’s sparse electro genius — but that’s precisely what Tucan did in a Ringsend studio recently: experiment and re-imagine in a cinematic way.
“I guess the vibe with us is cinematic post-folk rock,” says Donal Gunne of the eight- piece demi-gods. “That suits us as much as any other label.”
People have been stoned to death for uttering things like ‘post-folk rock’, I joke.
“And they were right!” Gunne laughs.
When they say cinematic what movies are Tucan referencing? “I’m more referencing the band Cinematic Orchestra [the British nu-electronic group] because I felt that they in some way embodied a sound that we kind of ended up at on this album,” Donal says referring to Towers. “And also there are no lyrics. So it is instrumental music. I suppose you could set it to cinema very easily.”
Initially with the first album Aliquot Strings in 2009, adds Gunne, “it was very much Spanish guitar-driven. There was a sound put around that but there was two acoustic nylon-stringed guitars at the centre of it. And then that kind of changed a bit when we brought in a rhythm section.
“When we did The Factory Sessions with the Daft Punk stuff,” Gunne says referring to Tucan’s reworking in 2011 of Daft Punk’s Around the World/Harder Better Faster Stronger, “we stuck to nylon string guitars but it was very much more funk. Once we started playing the tunes live the audience reacted really well. So we figured: ‘Let’s keep doing this.’”
Tucan suddenly developed a reputation for being a big party band at festivals, not least when they also sprinkled their unique post-folk sonic magic for a mash-up of The Prodigy’s No Good. I ask where do the ideas come for the mash-ups.
“I think they were all tunes that we loved from the 1990s and early 2000s. We didn’t quite have the money to make the second studio album just yet so it was kind of a way of doing some interesting versions of tunes that we were already into, and danced to at raves.
“We did the dance-music-in-an-acoustic-band thing for a while — then that kind of ran out of steam, or we felt that we needed a change in direction. So we brought in brass and a string player,” Gunne says meaning Austrian violinist Claudia Schwab.
“We started writing the next record Towers and that took three years from the demos to releasing it this year.”
Would they ever be tempted to bring in a vocalist?
“Claudia added some vocals on the record but it was very much textural stuff — backing vocal. No songs have been written by anyone in the band that have come to the fore but we are open to that.”
Are there particular emotions you want people to feel on new album Towers?
“The thing is with instrumental music there’s no words. So you’re not trying to tell people what to feel. You just let them make up their own minds and react the way that they want to .”
And how does it make Tucan feel to play the music?
“A whole spectrum of emotions. When you’re on stage you’re lost in the moment.” There’s nowt as queer, nor as wonderful, as post-folk.
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