'Music has its own way of making fun of you as a musician'

Ahead of Monroe's Live show, Kila’s Colm Ó Snodaigh talks music, film, and collaboration

Kíla.

Kíla.

KÍLA BRING their funky brand of hip-shaking, smile-making, groovy trad to Monroe’s Live on Wednesday March 16, where audiences can expect music from across their long career, including tracks from Suas Síos, the band's 10th studio album, launched to critical acclaim last year.

Suas Síos is a work that encapsulates the exuberance of Kíla's music, and their sheer talent. Recorded and mixed by Karl Odlum (Ham Sandwich, Josh Ritter ) the album typifies their energy, passion, and incisive musical intelligence. The last couple of years have seen Kíla go back on the road, playing Croatia, Malaysia, France, Spain, Switzerland, and it was during these gigs that the songs and music, which would go on to become Suas Síos, were given an opportunity to breathe and gain the nuances which might not have emerged from being ensconced in a studio environment.

As well as the acclaim garnered by Suas Síos, Kíla have also been garlanded for their collaboration with French composer Bruno Coulais on the soundtrack for the enchanting 2014 movie, Song Of The Sea. The beautiful animated feature film from Kilkenny’s Cartoon Saloon was greatly enhanced and applauded for the profound beauty of Kíla’s music. Most recently, the music they wrote for the documentary about the Shannon, Ireland’s Secret River, was nominated for an Emmy award. Rónán Ó Snodaigh wrote much of the score and the remainder was picked up by the rest of the group. The score won the Best Music award at Berlin’s Green Screen Festival.

Cartoons, music, and movies

Kila have clearly been on a creative hot streak these last couple of years so when I phone Colm Ó Snodaigh for a chat ahead of the Galway gig, I start by asking what does 2016 hold in store for the band?

“World domination!” he replies with a laugh. “We have a number of projects on the go. We’re working on a TG4 project which involves 12 songs being recorded by ourselves with 12 different singers, and then Cartoon Saloon are animating them, so it’s like 12 small little videos. I’m not sure when it will be broadcast but I imagine it will be about this time next year. It’s a big broad mix. Originally I thought it would be new songs mostly, but we’re not really in charge of the project. We’re part of a crew of people - they didn’t just tell us to go away and do it ourselves. There’s a fair amount of ‘traddy’ ones and a couple of poems that have been set to music. We’ve written two new songs and I hope they’ll get through, but I’m not sure."

I read an interview with O’Snodaigh where he revealed that the title track for Suas Síos took several years to come together. Is this a regular occurrence? “Oh yeeaahh!” he answers with another personable laugh. “I think music has its own way of making fun of you as a musician. For example, on the soundtrack for Song Of The Sea there’s a piece called ‘The Derry Tune’ written by Rossa away back in the early nineties. We tried to record it once or twice and it didn’t really work and got pushed back.

"Then for the album Soisín, in 2010, we were looking for pieces and somebody mentioned it and it worked for that album, so that took 20 years before it landed. Music has its own particular way. You can be working on something for ages and it wouldn’t do anything, or you could be working on it and it will just happen straight away.”

Ó Snodaigh goes on to tell me how Kíla hooked up with Bruno Coulais with whom they have now worked on two much feted films. “That was all down to Cartoon Saloon," he says. "It was interesting because it came about from when they left college they decided they were going to make an action hero movie called Rebel. They went to a gig Ronan was doing with the Millennium Drum Band and they approached him about working on Rebel. They then set up the company in 1999 and kept mentioning this project which evolved into Secret of Kells.

"To access funding they had to get a French composer, but the sound director was adamant that he heard our participation very clearly in it. He said to Bruno whatever trad instruments you are using you have to use these boys. This was about 2008. We organized two days in a studio in Sligo, Bruno came over with the score and we threw absolutely everything at it, it was two of the most amazing days of music that I have had the privilege to be part of. It was fantastic; every idea was listened to, everybody was open, everybody was giving absolutely everything.”

The magic of collaboration

Reflecting further on the band's work with Bruno Coulais, Ó Snodaigh says: "I suppose the fact we worked so well together really tripped the director out. He didn’t really understand the process of music so he was intrigued and delighted to see it happening. So with Song Of The Sea, we were the obvious choice to work with him again, and this time we were involved in the early process, we discussed ideas and thoughts. Even though the instrumentation mightn’t be as obviously Irish as Secret of Kells there is more of our thing in it. A lot of it depends on friendship and how you get on with somebody, if you’re not friendly, or doing it too much for money, it won’t work because you’re thinking about something else, and that gets in the way of the music. That’s how it’s always worked for us.”

Kíla have had a number of fruitful collaborations with artists from outside the band collective and O’Snodaigh relishes them; “Very much so. In May we are doing a gig in Vicar Street as part of the Polish Irish festival with the singer Kayah who is something of a star in Poland, so we’re collaborating again and have to dream up a concert with her.”

The group have now been on the go for nearly 30 years but Kila’s enthusiasm for their work remains fresh; “We’re still scrimping and saving but it’s great,” Ó Snodaigh declares. “I know the work is great and it’s such a privilege for me working with these remarkable musicians, listening to Dave and Ronan, for instance, rehearsing with the drum kit and congas or bodhráns together is absolutely fantastic. It’s amazing to be around it and that’s what keeps you going.”

Kila never fail to excite and their live performances are legendary so roll up to Monroe's Live next Wednesday. Doors are at 10pm. Tickets are €15/€13.50. See www.monroes.ie

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