Interview with Kirk McLeod, Seven Nations, Cleveland Irish Cultural Festival,
Cuyhahoga County Fairgrounds, Berea, Ohio, U.S.A., July 23, 2005

Cleveland fans of the Celtic band Seven Nations were treated to an entire weekend of music this month, with the band playing a long set every day of the Cleveland Irish Cultural Festival. The band gave the audience shows full of energy and incorporated many old favorites into the sets.

An added bonus was the fact that advance copies of the band's new album, Thanks for Waiting, were available for purchase at the shows. The full release is due soon, though an exact release date has not been confirmed. Kirk McLeod, founder and lead singer of the band, was kind enough to talk to me for a few minutes after the Saturday show about the CD and the band's creative process.

As we crossed the grounds of the festival to a relatively quiet place, fans stopped and asked Kirk for a picture or autograph, and he cheerfully obliged. One woman made a comment regarding the fact that Kirk had teased Dan Stacey about his "chicken legs" during the day's show. "That's why we had to stop wearing kilts," Kirk said, "because Dan would look terrible in one with those chicken legs." He then turned to me, smiling, and said, "Print that." Laughing, I promised that I would find a way to work it in.

Let's talk about the new CD, Thanks for Waiting. Is the title a message to longtime fans?

Kind of, but, actually, it was intended more for our friends and family who waited while we spend so many grueling hours on the road. Now, we are doing more the choice shows, and it ends up that we are home more, and we are doing much more productive work on the road. So, now that we aren't away so much, it's our message to them, "Thanks for waiting."

What's the significance of Intro and Outro, with the subway sound effects?

It kinda just happened. Scott brought up the idea for the artwork of having us being in a subway waiting for a train, or waiting for a bus, with a guy in a kilt, or something like that. It never came around to that visually, but it kinda struck a chord with the whole audio thing. It starts with the subway and ends with the subway. It's like a day's journey.

I enjoyed listening to this CD. It is a natural progression from other CDs featuring the current instrumental lineup. The sound mix is really faithful to the arrangements, so I could hear everyone really well.

That's good!

The first song, "Mama," captures the listener right away. Every member of the band really gets a chance to shine in that arrangement. There's driving bass and percussion, the pipes and fiddle line have flair, and the vocals are great.

I actually played pipes on that one. Scott just heard me playing pipes on it, and it started this run, us saying, "Yeah, we should break it down, and Scott's gonna grab the guitar and I'll play pipes on it."

Really? Longtime fans will be glad to hear that. Will we ever see you play pipes on stage again?

Oh, yeah!

There are really some beautiful piano arrangements on several songs on this CD. Did you ever think about bringing the keyboards out on tour?

Yeah, well, sounds stupid, but it really comes down to logistical and financial (details.) We had this great keyboard, the best keyboard you could get, weighted keys, full length, so I could have it onstage. But for some reason, the window crapped out on it, so I can't trust it onstage. That's why we stopped using it.

Most fans know that you all grew up with traditional Scottish music. I want to ask you about your non-traditional influences. Who have you listened to or worked with that influences your current sound?

Probably the Chili Peppers and Foo Fighters, groups like that. Writing-wise, I was influenced by Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush a lot.

Did you write all of the songs on this particular CD?

Yeah, I wrote all the songs. There is one song on there, "The Waltz," where Dan came up with the chord progression for it. (He was working) on the piano, and I thought he was doing something for an instrumental fiddle thing. So I said, "Yeah, go ahead record it." Dan said, "You've gotta sing," and I said, "Sing what? There's nothing to sing." And Dan said, "You've gotta write a song over it."

So I said, "Well all right," and I said to Struby, "Remember that French girl you used to date in New York? Write down everything you can think of about her right now, within 20 minutes." So he did, and I took his words, and wrote a song.

Would he want that published?

(Smiles) He wouldn't mind.

I wondered about that one, because most of your lyrics tend to be more hopeful or positive in tone.

That one was kind of negative, wasn't it? (Chuckles.) Those were Struby's words.

What is the usual creative process for a song? When you write a song and you think "This might be a good one for the band," what happens next?

Well, this album was different, because I just built a studio in May of last year. I started writing songs immediately and giving them to the band. Because I have a studio, I was able to record songs as a whole. I was able to record drums, bass, guitars and vocals, and leave spots for fiddle and pipes, and send them to the guys, and say,"What do you think?" They could then plug in their own parts from there.

So each member writes their own line in the arrangement.

Right.

How does that fact that the band members live so far apart from each other effect your work? Dan and Scott are in opposite ends of Canada, and three of you are in Florida . . .

Well, we work on the road, so it doesn't matter, really. We just meet up. Everyone asks how we rehearse, but for us rehearsals are long sound checks.

Well, it works. The balance on the new album is really nice.

That's good to hear. I was still worried that there's not enough pipes. In fact, I'm going to start working right now on something new, and I'm going to start with pipes and build from there. I wrote all these songs with pipes in mind, but I didn't record the pipes. I just counted on Scott to come along and fill it out.

He did . . . but he plays them in a way that most folks probably aren’t accustomed to hearing pipes, so some folks might not recognize them! You can hear them better than on the last CD, though.

Oh, they're there, for sure! You're also dealing with over 55 minutes of music, so hopefully there's everything you could want on there.

There are a couple of traditional tunes, let's talk about those. "Instrumental" is actually based on a Strathspey, isn't it?

Yep, it's a Strathspey, "Sheep Wife."

I like the way percussion and piano sound along with the pipes. It's a nice bright, full sound.

Oh, for sure.

Is "Slow Air" a traditional piece, or an original of Dan's? It's very pretty with the piano accompaniment.

It's traditional. We don't know who wrote it; it's that old.

Some of the songs have almost a blues feeling to them. Was that by design?

None of it was by design. If anything, I was just hoping to get more of an acoustic sound, getting away a bit from the harder edge we were having live, but still having energy. It just kind of naturally went into a more American-based, sometimes bluegrassy sound, hopefully . . . not that I have any experience with that whatsoever! There's no electric guitar on the whole album. It's all acoustic. The whole thing.

Really? So we'll be seeing a lot of your blue guitar when you play these live . . .

Actually, about half the album was recorded using this old guitar that I never play live because . . . well, I'll show you picture of it. (Pulls out cell phone to show picture of his daughter playing the guitar.) The only reason I didn't sell this guitar was it has my daughter's hand prints on it. The strings are from 2001, and you're supposed to change them every couple of weeks. I used it on 5 or 6 songs.

It sounds great, though. What do your daughters think of Dad being a touring musician? Has it just always been that way?

Yeah, I told them last year, "I've gotta quit. I want to be at home with you guys." And they said, "No, Daddy. It's too cool you do this. You know everything about all the states."

A few of you recorded solo projects recently. Has anyone talked to you about those?

The solo projects were what they were. What we feel is that the Christmas EP, and my solo project, So Piano, were experiments in how to set up a different recording process for the band, both creatively and mechanically. We feel it worked, and it all led to the new album.

You played some shows in England this year. How was that?

England was great. My mother came up. She's in Florida now, but she's from the South of England originally. I went a couple of days early to see family. It was a hard ticket, and it was almost sold out. We had a great crowd. It was even better than Scotland. I though Scotland was great when we played there. But, I forgot how cool English crowds are. They really want to get involved in the show and sing along.

I want to mention the Clan Na Gael CD, Ten Years On. I listened to that too, and the remastering sounds great, and there are some fresh tracks. I understand you have a few reunion shows planned?

Yeah, right now we've got a tour scheduled in October. There are four shows, in Albany, Philadelphia, Northampton and South Carolina.

Fans who have followed the band since those days will be excited about that. Will we be hearing any of those old songs crop up in Seven Nations' sets?

I hope so. It's pretty much a matter of 'bagpipe world.' It's a big difference. We have to figure out how to work that in.

Well, Neil and Scott are both great, but they are different kinds of pipers . . .

Well, they play different instruments.

One plays Uillean pipes and the other plays Highland Pipes.

Exactly.

The band sounds great this weekend. Will we get to hear any more of the new material in the sets?

Thanks. Well, we just finished the new album last week, so we haven't had any real time to rehearse it yet.

I look forward to hearing it when it's ready. Thanks for taking the time to talk.

You're welcome.

***

Clan Na Gael, the band that eventually became Seven Nations, featured a different lineup. The original four members, Struby, Kirk McLeod, Neil Anderson, and Nick Watson, got together late last year to record a few tracks, which led to a commemoration CD, Ten Years On. Seven Nations' tour schedule is available at their website. Thanks for Waiting will be available for purchase from the site when released and features the band's current line up: Kirk McLeod (vocals, guitar, bagpipes, and piano), Dan Stacey (fiddle), Scott Long (bagpipes), Stuby (bass), and Crisco (drums). Advance copies can be purchased at live shows.

Reviews of Seven Nations' CDs may be found here, here and here.

 

 


 

[Wendy Donahue]