THE BRAD Pitt Light Orchestra can contain anything from five to 10 members on stage for a live show, but the core of the band is siblings Ann, David, and James Blake, who come from a Limerick family steeped in music.
“We grew up with it in the house, mum was a violinist in the RTÉ Concert Orchestra and dad loves music,” Ann Blake tells me during our Thursday morning interview. “We were brought up signing together all the time and playing music from a very young age. It was prioritised in our house.”
Even before the siblings joined forces as the BPLO they would enjoy playing music whenever the chance arose to have a get together. “It’s a joy to play with family as there is an immediate understanding. It’s almost telepathic and that is great now that we are all in the same band.”
The original Brad Pitt Light Orchestra was formed by David during his student days when they were, according to Ann, “a covers band, but they did unusual versions”. That incarnation eventually broke up, but the band was revived a few years later when David and Ann reunited under the name to record a version of The Sugababes’ ‘Hole in The Head’ for The Ray D’Arcy Show’s album Even Better Than The Real Thing Volume 2.
The track was well received and it encouraged David to give the BPLO another go. He called in his brother James and his (and my ) old friend Tom Howley from Salthill, Galway (who was also in The BLPO Mk I ), and so the band was reborn.
“When we did Even Better Than The Real Thing a lot of people were asking us ‘What are you doing now?’” says Ann. “David had written a lot of music so he got the band back together with a few new names in tow.”
The current line-up is Ann (vocals ), David (vocals/guitars ), James (vocals/guitar ), Tom (keyboards ), Stephen Childs (violin/viola ), Brian O’Grady (bass ), Jamie O’Neill (percussion, mandolin ), Nick Carswell (guitar, vocals, clarinet, Fisher Price items ), Boris Hunka (vibraphone ), and Diane Daly (violin ).
Why, however did the band name themselves after the star of such films as Se7en, Fight Club, and Inglorious Basterds?
“There are a lot of schools of thought on that,” says Ann. “When we were in college Brad Bitt was a poster boy and there were many bands around with ironic names. Also it was just at the start of the internet so we thought we might get more traffic on our site if we called the band after Brad Pitt and people would remember the name. The name stuck. I had nothing to do with it, but people like it.”
You never know, Mr Pitt may hear of the band one day and might perhaps MC at one of their shows? “Or he might sue us,” laughs Ann. “One night Dave Couse on his Today FM show tried to get word out to anyone who might have a connection to Brad Pitt but it didn’t work on that occasion. We did once come across a guy who was a friend of a guy who used to be Brad Pitt’s chef and he said maybe he could pursue it. It would be amazing to have Brad Bitt at one of our gigs. Maybe that will be our project for 2011.”
Now revitalised The Brad Pitt Light Orchestra released two EPs - Fireside Chat and Small Contradictions - and toured around Ireland regularly, building audiences and impressing critics. Then in August this year, the band released their debut album, Lowering The Tone.
The album was given an enthusiastic response by the critics The Irish Times’ Tony Clayton-Lea declared: “Lowering the tone? Raising the bar, more like.” Hotpress said it was “accomplished, infectious...difficult to define - and impossible to ignore.”
The Brad Pitt Light Orchestra are certainly one of the more unusual bands on the scene given that they do not fit into any traditional music category. Lowering The Tone offers sophisticated indie pop (‘Soon’, ‘Grace Jones’, and ‘December’ ), rabble rousing Irish folk-rock (‘Long Time Rogue’ ), cabaret/chanson (‘Last Of Me’ ), and classic rock (‘All I Want’ ), hinting that Queen, Belle and Sebastian, The Dubliners, and Jacques Brel are all potent influences.
“They are all influences, some we would have grown up with, some we came to later,” says Ann. “David writes all the music but each song has the creative input of all the other musicians. When you write a song, you don’t think of what style you want it to be in, you want to write something that’s true, that works, and that you, and other people, will enjoy. Our style is what we enjoy playing. We’re really not trying to be specific as to what genre.”
This approach, along with a dose of practicality, also lies behind the band’s instrumental set up which includes violin, viola, mandolin, double bass, clarinet, vibraphone, and even Fisher Price toys!
“Those were the instruments David’s friends played and it’s a happy accident for us,” says Ann. “That has influenced David’s writing as he has to think of the violin and keyboards as well as the regular guitar, bass, drums, and also writing for three voices as David, James, and I all sing.”
The band’s live shows have also drawn praise for their theatrical/cabaret elements, but this is to be expected given that Ann has performed with Impact Theatre Company in plays such as Footfalls, Valparaiso, and Broken Glass, and directed Lessons from Louise for the company last summer. She also did the MA in drama and theatre studies in NUI, Galway.
“There is a lot of fulfilment in it creatively being able to combine theatre and music,” says Ann. “At our concerts we like to emphasise the visuals as well as the music. We dress up for the show and there is a lot of engagement with the audience, so expect the unexpected.”
The Brad Pitt Light Orchestra play upstairs at Kelly’s Bar, Bridge Street on Thursday December 9 at 8.30pm. Admission is €8. See www.bplo.org