In this latest edition of Artist Center Stage, we talk to Kevin May and Mick Lynch from Irish alt-folk duo Guggenheim Grotto about sharing the stage with Damien Rice, laying down roots and apocalyptic fantasies. Don’t miss their double show this Friday, May 3, at 7PM & 9.30PM.
What inspired you to become a musician?
Kevin: I first began writing songs in my teens. My brother’s acoustic guitar was lying around the house and hearing him play his own songs inspired me to pick up the guitar and work out chords and create my own compositions. A year after picking up the guitar I still couldn’t play a cover by another artist but I had a small collection of my own songs built around chords I had no names for. Then when I went to college I started frequenting open mic nights to put my songs out there and get some stage experience. In the late 90’s there was a particularly vibrant songwriter community in Dublin and I got to play alongside great songwriters like Damien Dempsey, Glen Hansard, Declan O Rourke and Damien Rice. Playing on the same stages as these guys and getting feedback from them was a huge inspiration with taking my songwriting to the next level.
Mick: I grew up in an extremely musical family, I’m the youngest of nine siblings who all play something, and my parents were both music teachers, so there really was no other option!! I started off in classical music playing the violin and viola and also a bit of piano, but when I found a guitar belonging to my sister when I was 17 it really set me on the course I’m on now. I didn’t start singing seriously till I was about 20, but I would say the Beatles and U2 were the first bands I listened to that inspired me to do so.
What do you love about Passim? How does performing here differ from other venues you’ve played?
Kevin: My favorite type of venue to play is the venue that doesn’t get in the way of the music. Passim is that kind of venue. Good sound, good people working there, good size and atmosphere. Passim makes it easy to perform and put your songs across. I’ve played my share of venues that get in the way of music. Sometimes it’s a layout thing, sometimes it’s a personnel thing or due to poor equipment. So I never take it for granted when you get to play a great room like Passim.
Mick: Boston has always been really great for us, and Passim is like a home from home. I love the intimacy, and generally we know a lot of the people who are there so there’s a very relaxed feeling when we perform. I don’t think I’ve ever been nervous about playing Passim, and I mean that as a compliment. It just feels right!
Passim has a rich local history spanning over five decades. Where do you see yourself in ten years time?
Kevin: I’ve been a touring musician for 8 years now. Ten years from now I’d like to still tour but not at the expense of having put roots down in a community I can call my own. It’s easy to envy Passim… with all those great musicians coming through it gets to live out a rock and roll dream without ever having to leave home.
Mick: I would love to be doing what I’m doing, albeit at a higher level. We have been progressing steadily in our music career and I would hope that in ten years time we would have a really solid following so that we can continue for years to come.
Tell us the story behind a favorite song you’ve written.
Kevin: We have a new song called Cherry Red which took its inspiration from a 1998 Canadian film called Last Night. The premise of the film (and the song) is that we’ve been told the earth will end next Sunday at 4pm. So the question is who would you like to spend that last moment with? While western culture has always seemed to have a fascination with apocalyptic narratives there seems to be an increased focus on them of late - zombies, financial collapse, environmental disasters, peak oil and everything else. Cherry Red rides on the coat tails of those fears but without taking itself too seriously. It’s good to laugh at our apocalyptic fantasies.
Mick: Well it would be a co-write between myself and Kev, and it would have to be The Universe is Laughing. I had the chords and the bones of the melody and a very vague structure but when Kev came on board with it it took on a new life. Although it took a few lyric rewrites to really nail it (it was originally called Sitting in Trees!) when it came together it was very satisfying. I had told Kev about a panic attack I once had when I was 14 in school when we were learning about Copernicus and Galileo and I had my first realization about the size of the Universe and I just couldn’t get my head around it at all. I think that Kev took this and went with the idea of the Universe laughing at the futility of trying to comprehend it. He did a wonderful job of the lyrics.
If you could offer a piece of advice to your past selves, what would it be?
Kevin: I’m not sure my past self would take advice from my present self. In fact my present self rarely takes advice from my present self and he’s supposed to be the more mature one. Meditate more. Sit more. That would be it.
Mick: If it means you’re going to make a loss, don’t do it. And if you aren’t quite sure about signing it….don’t.That’s all I’m going to say!