The Big Interview: Hermitage Green

Motley Editor Ellen Desmond meets with Darragh Graham of Hermitage Green

Hermitage Green is a prime example of a fresh new generation of Irish music emerging from the scene. It’s an industry that’s booming with talent at the minute, if you haven’t noticed, and Hermitage Green are just one of many Irish names that we’re going to see creating a stir in 2015. I sat down with Darragh Graham, who plays the banjo, djembe and sings backing vocals for the band. I briefly couldn’t find Darragh, and asked every living person in UCC had they seen a loose member of Hermitage Green wandering around the place. Everyone found this very amusing.

Mr Graham himself (who was eventually located) has many accolades in the Irish athletics and sporting field, as well as in the music scene. A former 100m and 200m sprinter for the Republic of Ireland, Graham also coached the Leinster Senior Rugby team, the Tipperary Senior Hurling team and the Irish Paralympic Team. Not to mention holding a PhD in the area of strength and condition. However, today we were together to talk about music. In particular, we were together to discuss the very interesting sounds of acoustic folk rock band, Hermitage Green.

Hermitage Green, like most bands, incorporates many different instruments and genres. However, unlike most bands, Hermitage Green’s members play around with a Dobro, a harmonica, a didgeridoo, a banjo, a djembe, some guitars, a bodhrán, four part harmonies, and a piano. For obvious reasons, it wasn’t an unusual question for Graham to be asked how he would go about describing his music to someone who couldn’t hear it.

“We were all talking about this just yesterday, literally. We were like, if somebody asked us exactly that question – would we all have exactly the same answer? And we came up with the conclusion that we would have a few core similarities in our answers but then everyone had a bit of a different take too. But I suppose, we would say our music is different, we would be distinctive, hopefully, we would fall under highly percussive sounds and four part vocal harmonies and I suppose if you were to try to categorise it, something under the folk rock acoustic sound. I don’t know if those things go together but somehow that’s what we’ve ended up creating.”

The five person Hermitage Green first began creating music together back in July 2010, in what Graham described as an accident. Their curious arrangement of instruments might stem from the fact their band was born from a spontaneous jam session between friends; friends of different musical backgrounds and tastes. Since then the originally Limerick-based group have steadily been gathering momentum, which it was evident from speaking with Graham, is a momentum that is doing nothing but driving onwards. The story of the band’s unusual name was as interesting as their music, and it’s an origin I certainly wasn’t expecting to hear.

“Two of the lads, there’s five of us in the band and two of them are brothers and they grew up in a housing estate called The Hermitage. And they never had a playing area to play soccer or whatever but out the back there was this kind of marsh. And so they tried to make a football pitch out of the marsh. They spent a week or two putting down the grass and everything and then when they finally had it done they stuck up a sign that said ‘The Hermitage Green.’ So yeah, it was just a good story and Hermitage Green kind of has a ring to it, so we went and used that.”

A name with a meaning for a band with meaning – Graham went on to speak with admirable passion about the band’s creative process and it seems tides are turning in their creative process right now. Known predominantly for fantastic interpretations of other artists’ songs (‘Teardrop,’ ‘Walking in the Air’ and ‘Cosmic Love,’ to name a few) but with original tracks like the fan favourite ‘Gibson’ also to their name, it’s the future originals that will be the ones that get Hermitage Green the next boost they are looking for. Graham, at least, seems to have the focus needed to produce the motivation behind a next phase of music for the group.

“This year it’s been different to previous years. In previous years he [another band member called Darragh] would come to us with a finished song. Lyrics, melody, he would have his own guitar part behind it. Then we would try to fit ourselves to that song. Or we might give our feedback and suggest different things and then we would have a kind of a template or a base thing to work off. Whereas this year we’ve kind of explored that process a bit more. We’ve started working with just the five of us in a room and nobody’s coming with something. It’s just starting from scratch and thinking what we will write about it.”

Presumably, this is going to have a colossal effect on the type of music the band produces. It’s early days in 2015 yet and if the move has been for better or worse remains to be seen. However, Graham feels it has been a beneficial move, one which allows them to put more of themselves into their live performances.

“The one benefit is that when we perform it we all feel more attached to the song because if Darragh writes the song and then Barry or Dan sings it, they didn’t write those lyrics so they might not necessarily feel as invested in those lyrics. Whereas if we were all in a room together and we all wrote the verses together or all pitched in and contributed in some way, then when it comes to the part of the some that know oh that was me that was my contribution, then you’re kind of more attached to the song when you perform it you kind of get a bit more of a buzz out of that performance.”

Hermitage Green’s story makes breaking into the music scene and making all these catchy songs sound relatively simply but in a competitive industry, even one as diverse as Ireland’s, it isn’t really all that simple. It all comes down to one very basic thing; the quality of the music.

“It all depends on the music, like if the music is good enough and you get one or two breaks it’s easier to do it. As an Irish band then, I mean, Irish music is so popular at the moment, even at different levels. At the top you’ve got like Hozier, or Kodaline, and I’m just talking about the new acts that have come through and then of course there are the bigger acts that are already there. Then underneath that you’ve got people like The Riptide Movement or Gavin James – those are the people who are just getting signed and breaking through. And we’re probably a little bit below them in terms of profile and radio plays and so. But certainly that’s where we want to be going.”

The band will have their work cut out to them to reach the heights Hozier and others are at right now, but Hermitage Green certainly have the basic aspect covered in that they have piles upon piles of raw talent. Every time I’ve listened to the band they’ve sounded like a band on the very brink of getting everything completely right. Maybe there was something missing but Graham claims they’ve found something new this year, it could be the missing part of the puzzle.

“We’re probably as a band a lot more focused. A lot more driven. We started out accidentally becoming a band and that kind of notion or that kind of feeling was kind of evident for the first few years and now we’ve kind of realised we can stick along doing that or we can really put ourselves into it and become a bigger, better band. And that’s where we are at the moment. Every gig to date, we never went for it. We never asked for anything and today is the first time I’ve ever actually gone to a college and said are you interested in having us play? It’s the first time we’ve ever actively sourced a gig. So that’s a reflection on the mind-set at the moment, we want to take every opportunity that’s there, rather than let it slip by. It’s all about writing and creating good music that people like.”

had already known that Darragh Graham was in UCC for some sort of meeting to plan a gig in the University.  The details haven’t been agreed upon or set in stone yet but he admitted; “Yeah hopefully we will be (playing in UCC). We’re talking about hopefully organising a gig here around R&G Week. It’s not confirmed yet but it hopefully will be.”

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The last word:

Graham’s best moment:

“We were at Electric Picnic 2013 and it was our first big festival stage. We had played other festivals but not as big as Picnic. And we were on the Electric Arena Stage which is the second biggest. I had been there the year before, and I went to see Of Monsters And Men in the same tent and there was people like out the two main entrances on either side. I just remember thinking while I finally wormed my way in, just inside the door, can you imagine if we ever ended up playing on a stage that big to a crowd this big? And then literally a year later we got a massive crowd there, I don’t know how we got the crowd we did it was the exact same thing. l. I remember it got to my solo part, and I just remember looking up and out at the door and I could see those people outside, looking in, which meant they obviously couldn’t get inside and it just made me think of that happening the year before I just thought; Jesus this is class.”

Darragh Graham on plans for 2015:

We have a goal to release a new EP in April. We’re working towards that at the moment. We have a good few songs written and we’re currently in a writing month. So we’re writing loads at the moment. We’re going do that, we’re going to record it, release it, we’re going to hopefully have about 20 songs and then we’re going to pick four or five to release on an EP. And then hopefully one of those songs will be a single. Hopefully that’ll go well, get some radio play and so on. So next then I guess is to see how that goes and then next it will be a debut studio album. We have an album but our debut album is live, so in the industry they’d view the studio album as your debut album and that’s done in studio rather than live. That’s something that we hopefully want to get done this year as well. And if both of them are received well then on to bigger and better things.”