Lost Brothers find their niche

Critical praise for the duo’s second album So Long John Fante has won them new fans around the world,says Ed Power

OISÍN Leech doesn’t like sitting still. One half of dreamy folk duo the Lost Brothers, the Navan man has lived in Liverpool, Dublin, Nashville and Portland, Oregon. ‘Lived’ is probably an overstatement.

A fan of touring, he’s spent much of the last decade on the road, sharing the bill with groups as diverse as Arctic Monkeys, crooner Richard Hawley and Jack White’s Raconteurs. This morning, he enjoyed the novelty of waking up in his own bed.

“We travel to reach the people we want to work with,” he says. “For the first Lost Brothers album, we went to Portland to record with producer Mike Coykendall. We loved the sound he got on the records by [singer-songwriter] M Ward. Our goal was to replicate that sensibility somehow. The same motive brought us to Sheffield. We adore the music of Richard Hawley. So we went to the studio where he had recorded his LP, to try to capture that atmosphere. Almost without us intending it, travelling has become part of what we do. Your desire to try new things takes you to unexpected places.”

Leech and Lost Brothers partner Mark McCausland will be clocking up more air-miles this year. Released in November, their second album, So Long John Fante, has received unanimous praise. To capitalise on the exposure, plans are underway for a trek around the US in February. The visit will include several TV appearances (Leech is forbidden from providing further details).

This will be their second American sojourn in six months. In the autumn they were in New York for Other Voices NYC, a celebrity-stuffed affair in the middle of Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. Sharing a stage with many of their idols, it dawned on Leech how far the Lost Brothers had come.

“The atmosphere in the room was brilliant,” he says. “Roddy Doyle, Martha Wainwright, Laurie Anderson, members of The National — they were all performing. Lou Reed even turned up. It was an amazing event and we were fortunate to be there. We had a fantastic time.”

It is a far cry from the days when he and McCausland had to sing for their supper on the British pub rock circuit. “Aye,” says Leech. “Though you run into a lot of interesting people on those tours. I remember we’d played a gig in Sheffield. By chance a guy came up and said, ‘a friend of mine would love what you do.’ The friend turned out to be Richard Hawley, who we are big fans of. That led us to open for him in Dublin and then record at his studio, Yellow Arch.”

Leech and McCausland met ten years ago in Liverpool. Both had arrived in the city via a circuitous route. Leech was playing with much-hyped Merseysiders 747s, while McCausland was seeing a local girl. They realised they had a shared love of the sounds of the 1950s and early ‘60s. Everything fell into place. “I stayed at Mark’s house one night. And I didn’t leave for two months. We ended up writing the first LP in his kitchen, then went to Portland to record it. We didn’t have a big plan. It sort of happened,” he says.

While the pair are open about their pre-rock’n’roll influences, it baffles them that they are so often compared to the Everly Brothers and Simon and Garfunkel. Not that they are insulted. It’s just that they’re not familiar with either act. They didn’t set out to sound like them.

“It’s funny you should mention that. We didn’t listen to Simon and Garfunkel or the Everly Brothers. People are always asking us about those two acts in particular. Obviously, it’s nice when journalists say we have something in common with such big names. But our influences are different. We like Nat King Cole, The Belmonts, Hank Williams, Van Morrison, Andy Irvine. A whole lot of very diverse artists. We appreciate all sorts of music,” he says.

The appeal of older music, says Leech, is its straightforward desire to entertain. The song is what matters and the musician fades into the background. “Those old albums had zero pretension,” he says. “They simply sound fantastic. They are so beautifully recorded. And the quality of the actual songs is great.” The Lost Brothers aren’t interested in nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake. They have little wish to be a living museum piece. When they write, they have no clear idea what sort of song they want. Their job is to let the music flow.

“We were never really into any one genre, “says Leech. “We try to pick a song that stands up on acoustic guitar and then build a song around it. It is a very organic process.”

Though So Long John Fante is garnering attention and extravagant praise, it is their next album the pair are most excited about. They recorded it in Nashville last year with singer-songwriter and sometime Raconteurs member Brendan Benson.

In America, Benson has a large cult following and his involvement will likely raise their profile. Leech is counting down the days until the LP comes out (it is scheduled to appear in spring). “We’ve toured a fair bit with him, so he ended up helping us make the next LP,” says Leech.

“He produced and played on it. It was a fantastic experience. His approach to recording songs emphasises hard work. It’s old school: you create the correct atmosphere and then you go to put everything you have into the process. We did it in what was an old record plant outside Nashville. It was an extremely inspiring environment.”

The Lost Brothers share the bill with Katie Kim and Puzzle Muteson on The Certain Three tour this week. Dates include The Half Moon Theatre, Cork, on Saturday, January 14, Pine Lodge, Myrtleville, Co Cork on January 15 and Bourke’s in Limerick on January 19.

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