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27/01/2009 – Interview with CELTIC LEGACY

I only know a few Irish Metal bands: MOURNING BELOVETH, CRUACHAN, FIRELAND, MASS EXTINCTION and CELTIC LEGACY. The last two were brought to my attention in the spring of 2008, as Adrian from Lugga Music Productions sent me promos to review. CELTIC LEGACY (official website) has been playing Heavy Metal (w/ Folky influences) for more than 10 years, yet are still unknown to the world, or at least big parts of the world. Their latest output, "Guardian Of Eternity", was a nice release to get to know them, although - as can be expected with a band that has to do it all and with limited means - the production could have been better. Still, everything was very listenable despite this issue. You can read my review at this location.

As a result of this release, I was curious to know more about the band, their ideas, music and some other, small things. So, many months after the release of the newest album I sent the band a list of questions and it was guitarist Dave Morrissey - also one of the masterminds - that took the time to answer them all. Enjoy and do check these guys out, for they deserve it.

Celtic Legacy logo

How was the band formed? Did you have a certain philosophy in mind?

We formed toward the end of 1997. It was essentially Dave (Slim) Boylan and myself writing and recording demos during the year. We didn't particularly have any plan, just write and see what happened next and eventually we got a rough direction to go in. The next step was to get a recording line-up together, which is the one that recorded the first album.

Are you all self-taught musicians or did you take lessons?

Well, I can't speak for everyone who's been in the band over the years, but as far as I know all the guys in the band now are all self-taught.

Regarding the creative process, is everyone involved or does it always start with the same person(s)?

It's been myself and Slim who have written 99% of the material on the 3 albums so far, but that's only because the line-ups changed between each album and Slim and me were the only ones who stuck around. So even when we didn't have a proper band together, we still continued writing. Essentially the material for the albums was all completed by the time the recording line-ups for each album were finalized. We're hoping that's going to change for the next one, though, as there (hopefully) won't be any major upheavals this time, so we're encouraging everyone to bring ideas in. I think the band needs that extra input.

When did you start working on "Guardian Of Eternity"? And when was everything finished?

Writing started toward the end of 2004 and continued up until early 2007. We were trying to get a new line-up together all this time too so the process was long and drawn out. In fact, it took us almost 3 years to go from the "Resurrection" line-up to the "Guardian Of Eternity" line-up. We had to make sure we got the right people in.

Guardian Of Eternity coverWhat's the idea behind the cover art, what does the guardian stand for? And is there a connection with the lyrics?

There's no accurate historical story behind it. Slim came up with the lyrics to the title track, which was about the journey to the afterlife, and I'd read an old Celtic myth, which lended itself to the concept, so I did a bit of research and came up with the design for the artwork.

Speaking of the lyrics, are they based on historical events and what inspired you for this?

Not actual historical events, no. Slim just wanted to tell a story. We did an account of Irish history on the first album on the band's title track, but we haven't done it again since then.

The reviews were both positive and negative and I read some that weren't exactly neutral, so to speak. One shouldn't be lead by reviews when making music, although keeping certain hints and criticism in mind might help to create better songs. Do you take certain criticism into account or do you follow your own ideas?

We used to pay a lot of attention to reviews, but we've learned not to bother too much with them in recent times. A review is just someone's opinion and opinions are always different. If someone thinks a band should be doing this or doing that, well, again, that's just an opinion and the very next review might say something completely different. CELTIC LEGACY has always written songs regardless of what is expected, because you can't satisfy everyone. We like what we do and if a track is good enough we'll use it. That's the only criteria our songwriting follows.

Dave MorrisseyAnd speaking of (constructive) criticism, I mentioned two elements in my review: the production and tempo. Did something do wrong when finalizing the sound (mixing process?)? And will there be more uptempo/faster songs on the next album(s)? Not that it should be fast all the way, but if I may say so, it would make the album more interesting if among the midtempo songs there were a few "boosters", by manner of speech.

First thing to remember is we're not a "Power Metal" band and never were. There are countless albums out there that follow that mantra. We don't write stuff specifically for double kick just because it's expected that we should. The song is the key, not the tempo. The previous albums didn't have any mad fast songs either. There are two fast tracks on "Guardian Of Eternity" and that's fine with the fans. By the same token we didn't put a ballad on the last album for the simple reason that we didn't have one written, so we didn't hold things up waiting for one to arrive.

In terms of the production - I stand over the production of "Guardian", especially when put up against the previous two albums. There's only so much you can achieve with a small budget and I think we got the most out of it. Sure there were lessons to be learned for next time and we'll certainly be making things sound a lot bigger next time.

Lots of attention went to the promo folder for "Guardian Of Eternity". How come?

Because we wanted to give it as much of a promotional push as possible. We'd put a lot into the writing and recording, we really pushed the boat out, so I figured we shouldn't just send out blank promos in a white slipcase. It was easy enough to do the folder because that's my day job. But of course it added to the cost. Money well spent though. Presentation is half the battle.

"Guardian Of Eternity" came out via Eternal Legacy Records. I assume this is your own label, right? Was this something that popped up from the start and why not sign with another label?

If it was as easy as that we would have signed a deal years ago. We HAVE been offered deals in the past, but none of them have offered us anything that would have allowed the band to progress. No tour support was ever offered and in most cases not even a small recording budget, meaning we were still expected to pay up for recording albums and they were all very vague as to their distribution. Bottom line, we would have been out of pocket and the last in line to be paid back. In a couple of cases too, the labels were insisting on us changing direction and one even demanded we fire band members and get someone in they wanted instead. A label deal can be a blessing or a curse. We've managed to retain 100% creative control over our product by staying independent. Of course, now that we have 3 albums in the can, if another label did come calling we have a back catalogue and definite style and image that the label would have to take on board. They'd know what they're getting.

How are the gigs going? Do organisers know you exist? Or in other words, do you get enough booking requests?

Not yet. Organisers do know about us but our profile isn't high enough yet. We were trying to get a foot onto the festival circuit for this year but a lot of them are planning 2 years in advance now so 2009 is practically booked out, leaving us to try and get onto the bills for 2010. We'd like to do more gigs than we're currently doing, but gigging in Ireland is a waste of time as we're about as popular as a dose of the clap here, so we have to concentrate on international shows.

Last year you played at Bloodstock. Finally the recognition you deserve, no? What was it like and has it had some influence on your name (= known on a wider scale) or the album sales?

Well, we played on the unsigned stage. That was great, but there was a mix up with the time we were supposed to be on the stage and I think people were confused by the band who were actually playing in our time slot, the Bloodstock forums certainly made that clear. One great thing to come from that appearance was us coming to the attention of Earache records who were nearby and they've included us on a compilation of new bands called "Heavy Metal Killers" coming out in February. That should hopefully raise our profile significantly. It may even lead to something bigger.

Have you already started working on the follow-up of "Guardian Of Eternity"? Or any rough ideas ready?

We've a few ideas yes and we certainly have a definite plan. We want to do something a bit different this time, though, so we're thinking of a concept to carry through the project. Whether it will be just a single album, though, is open to discussion, we're looking at something a bit bigger. There's no time frame yet, though, it's still in the very early stages. But if it works out the way we're hoping, it should be something special.

You've got three albums out now. Are they similar in style or are there significant differences?

In terms of direction there's subtle differences between all three. The first album had the benefit of a full time fiddle player in the band, so things were a bit more experimental, which is usually the way it goes with a new band. By the time we came to record "Resurrection", we'd gone a bit heavier and the songwriting had improved also. All three albums sound different because they each have a different singer, so they each have their own unique identities I think.

Dave MorrisseyThe first two albums have been re-issued and can also be downloaded via sites/programmes like iTunes. How do yo feel about the mp3-situation? Doesn't it affect the magic of having an entire album in your hands, with booklet and all? Plus not to mention the lowered sound quality?

To me, having a digital file is no substitute for having the full album complete with artwork. Of course, the market has gone increasingly toward the digital end product, but I think just having a downloaded version diminishes the album, as you're only getting half the package. If someone wants to listen to us via mp3, then that's a choice and that's fine, just as long as they pay for it.

Our big problem is that the last album appeared on illegal sites for download within days of it being released and if there was a chart for illegal downloads, we'd be well up there. This sort of thing has really hurt the band in the pocket. I'm all for spreading the band's name as much as possible, but it seems that pirate downloading has gotten totally out of control and for a band like us it's a huge problem, as it reduces the money we can put aside to record more albums in the future. Unfortunately, people who download illegally don't realize the damage they're doing to smaller bands.

There are music organisations that make sure that artists, authors, etc.. get the money they deserve when the music is played on the radio, parties, sales, etc.. In Belgium we have Sabam, Germany has GEMA... How's the situation in Ireland? And do you benefit from this or is it the big fish that get fed first?

In Ireland we have IMRO, but we've actually released the albums through GEMA in Germany, as that's where the albums were manufactured, so GEMA's the one who look after us. We haven't benefited at all from royalties yet, as there's been little airplay so far. Maybe in the future though.

Making money with Metal is hard, so I take it you all have dayjobs as primary source of income. How much time does CELTIC LEGACY require from you and is there enough left for hobbies, family or other things?

Yeah, LEGACY is not where we make our money, in fact no one connected with the band has made any money whatsoever in 11 years. Our income comes from our jobs. I'm self-employed, so that's where my primary focus has to be to pay the mortgage, the others are in the same boat. We can only devote a certain amount of time to the band, we're certainly not a full time thing. Of course, it would be nice to get some cash from making music, but we won't be counting on that happening. If it does, then that's great.

Looking back at 2008, what stood out for you? (releases, gigs, world events, anything...)

The Up The Hammers Festival in Athens was a definite highlight for us. We'd never set foot in the country, but heard the crowd singing our songs back at us while we were onstage. That was a great weekend. We also started making inroads into the Japanese market for the first time. That's actually where we've sold the most albums so far and there's been an even better response to the re-issued back catalogue as a result. We'll be targeting Japan a lot more for the next releases.

I'll stop now, else you'll need to take a day off to answer more, hahaha. Just kidding. Many thanks for taking the time to do this interview and best of luck with CELTIC LEGACY and anything that comes your way. If you want to add any last words, be my guest.

Just want to say thanks very much for the interview. We're hoping things continue to progress in 2009. With a bit of luck we'll be reaching more and more people this year.

Dave Morrissey

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