Irish folk singer/songwriter Ciaran Lavery is set to kick off his latest US tour this Wednesday, June 20th, at our very own Boot & Saddle, when he double-headlines our favorite former-honky-tonk with duo Cicada Rhythm. This April Ciaran released his third album, Sweet Decay, arguably his most accomplished yet. The album, which was largely inspired by Ciaran’s time spent reading collections of short stories, tackles ultra-heavy topics revolving around things like mental health and religious morals with an undeniable eloquence. Earlier this week I got a chance to chat with Ciaran Lavery about the past five years and the books with which he’s currently passing the time.
Izzy Cihak: Not to start with a huge question but, considering that you’re about half a decade into your solo career, what have been some of the highlights so far?
Ciaran Lavery: My memory is notoriously bad, so this is a good test. It will always be difficult to top being invited to play the Luck Reunion Festival at Willie Nelson’s ranch; I even have the ring to prove I’m a part of the family now. Turning the corner on the lower east side of Manhattan and seeing a crowd for my show snaking up the block was another nice moment. I even questioned my piano player, Danny, who the crowd was for.
Izzy: Have you noticed patterns in the kinds of people who seem to most like, or best “get,” your music?
Ciaran: I generally attract the couples and the dads. By couples, it’s quite specific – it’s usually the girl who wants to see the show and the guy wears the face of a man who’s been dragged along. That’s the live demographic anyway. I don’t think there’ll ever be any risk of cross-pollinating with a Taylor Swift crowd (though I’d kill for that). It’s strange though, I had a group of football hooligan type guys at a show in Germany who seemed ridiculously intimidating, but they knew every word; it’s a strange world we live in.
Izzy: You recently released your third album, Sweet Decay. How do you feel like it compares to your previous work? Does it seem like a natural progression, or were you trying anything new for the first time on this one?
Ciaran: I think Ruadhri Cushnan, the producer, best summed this record up by saying that it needed to be a forward step, not a leap or a crazy side step, but just a confident move further down the road that was plotted out by the previous records. Making a record always comes with a temptation to veer off in many directions. There is always the danger of becoming Brian Wilson and being lost on some sonic highway to achieve the perfect record, but really I’ve learned it’s more about knowing when to stop, being concise. I’ve always enjoyed space on a record, just letting songs exist without cluttering them with extra bows and ribbons. I put most of my focus on the lyrics for this album. I wanted to be able to listen back and be pleased with every line, no matter when in my lifetime I listen to it. God knows if I’ve achieved this – maybe ask me about it in 20 years.
Izzy: What would you consider to be the album’s most significant influences, both musical and otherwise? It seems as though you have a lot of non-musical influences. I know you have a great fondness for collections of short stories. Any particular favorites at the moment?
Ciaran: I did read a lot of short story collections around the time of making the record, absolutely the writing part anyway. It was originally an outlet while touring, something I could enjoy even when exhausted. Novels felt too taxing on my brain. What I admired about short stories was that they didn’t have to begin or end, they just kind of happen. They broke the rules of storytelling and I loved that. I have a song on the record titled “Wells Tower Song,” named after the author Wells Tower and based on the artwork of his collection, Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, which is frighteningly beautiful. I also remember reading Miranda July and Flannery O’Connor around this time. I just consumed collections. At the moment I am reading Denis Johnson’s final collection, The Largess of the Sea Maiden (which is eat your heart out good), Sam Shepard’s Cruising Paradise, and the Hemingway collection. There’s never enough time.
Izzy: Also, I mean, this isn’t a question but, if you’re looking for collections of short stories to check out, The Acid House, by Irvine Welsh, was always my favorite short story collection, if you haven’t already read it.
Ciaran: My brother-in-law is an Irvine Welsh nut. We were talking about him a couple of weeks ago. I’ve yet to read any of his work and wanted to know where best to jump in. Acid House is on my list. Thanks for the reminder.
Izzy: Have you had any particular favorite reactions to the album, whether from critics, fans, or just friends?
Ciaran: I think by default my family always likes it. If they don’t like it, then I’m usually met with silence, which is okay. I don’t usually ask for feedback when an album is released into the big bad world. Generally I do that in the mixing stage or in around the recording, just to get some objective opinion. “Your album’s pretty good,” was one of the best text messages I received. I admired someone for going out of their way and taking time out of their day to let me know that the new songs are pretty average. It was great.
Izzy: I know you’re about to kick off a US tour this week. What can be expected of the live show when you play Boot & Saddle?
Ciaran: You know, I’ll probably test drive a bunch of new songs. I try to always write and so, with it just being myself, a guitar, and piano, there’s a freedom for me to try out new things. I like to keep the setlist pretty flexible, so if I want to change something according to the room, then I can. It’s also very likely that I’ll talk a great deal. There may be some divine spiritual awakening too; who knows. Just about anything can happen – apart from dancing. I can guarantee there will be no dancing.
Izzy: And, finally, what do you have planned for the second half of 2018, after your currently scheduled dates wrap? Or is it just going to be more and more touring?
Ciaran: More touring, more writing. I don’t envisage that stopping any time soon.