Interview : CRUACHAN frontman Keith Fay… Posted: 14/05/2015 by John O'Brien
It’s been a strange couple of months for CRUACHAN. From the triumphant release of the bands latest, and arguably their best, album to the recent controversies which have seemingly plagued them of late.
So with all the recent trials and tribulations the band has been experiencing, the Irish Metal Archive thought it was high time to have a chat with the bands frontman Keith Fay. And discuss the bands history, as well as all the latest publicity surrounding them.
You might want to put the kettle on for this one… 😉
(IMA) Alright Keith!
Thanks a million for taking the time to talk.
Let’s start things off by talking about CRUACHAN‘s latest album, “Blood For The Blood God”, Which has been received really well across all metal community. You even made your first music video for the title track. You must be really happy with how your new label Trollzorn has embraced the band for this release and also with people’s reactions to the album?
(KF) Yeah! There’s no doubt. We stand by everything we’ve released and we’re very proud of our back catalogue, but I just think that after all these years we’re really starting to come into our own and stand out amongst the crowd as a really strong, professional, touring band. And it’s just shown in that new album, you know! I think it’s one of our best produced and definitely one of our strongest. I remember when the “Folklore” album was released nearly fourteen years ago… a very well respected album, but I remember the likes of Terrorizer reviews giving it 4/10 or something like that and really not taking this type of music seriously. And now all that has completely changed and we’re getting like 9/10 across the board. That’s really amazing for us as a band after all this time to actually see the respect that’s out there for us.
(IMA) Yeah! It’s definitely a more rounded album production wise, like you were saying. The folk elements and the metal elements blend together really well on the new album.
(KF) In fairness! I think we’ve always done that really well. We’ve always managed to mix the two genres pretty well, in my opinion, obviously, but certainly where we are now after all these years under our belts I think we’ve pretty much become perfect at it.
(IMA) The album is the second of a planned ‘Trilogy Of Blood’, with 2011’s “Blood On The Black Robe” being the first. Have you a plan in place for the third installment?
(KF) No! We’ve nothing at all, actually! When we brought out “Blood On The Black Robe” we saw it as a sort of rebirth of the band. Some people in our position would have had a change of name, or something more dramatic, but we were never going to do that. We didn’t change too dramatically, with the biggest difference being the lack of full-time female vocals. But the music is still pretty much similar. You can see the kind of path we were on over the last ten years with the albums getting steadily back to the more extreme kind of stuff.
And when Karen (Gilligan) left we said this was kind of whole new beginning for the band, so we wanted to release albums with something to identify them from the past CRUACHAN stuff. So we thought… what about having the next three as part of this dark trilogy, based around blood. Now there’s no real link between them all or no underlining story. We’ve never done concept albums or anything like that. There will be ‘Blood’ in the album title and a lot of our songs will have darker themes. We’re not afraid to sing about subjects that people probably wouldn’t associate with folk metal bands, as well as our normal Irish mythology, Celtic history that we always do. So the real reason behind the trilogy was to mark where new CRUACHAN is and keep all the new albums connected in some way.
(IMA) It’s no secret that CRUACHAN enjoy far more success abroad than here in Ireland. You recently co-headlined Cernunos Fest with MOONSORROW in Paris and also went on tour in Russia during March, which went really well be all accounts?
Does this situation frustrate you at all? Or does it really even bother you that much?
(KF) It’s hard to say! I mean, like… PRIMORDIAL are the most succesful Irish metal band but they experience the exact same thing. They definitely have more fans here than we have, but still… The average guy in the street still wouldn’t know a typical Irish metal band from a one with the success that PRIMORDIAL has. A couple of media articles like in the Journal cover that these two bands are huge, but not known in Ireland. We just take it like it is. I mean, ten years ago we played here and struggled to get fifty people. Now we’ll sell out the Voodoo Lounge. So that’s pretty good and we’re happy with that.
But there’s no question that our market is outside Ireland and England. Musically Ireland and England is that whole X-Factor bubble where it’s just pop music. Whereas if you go to Sweden or Norway you’ll hear some death and black metal in the charts and the top ten. so our market is always going to be outside Ireland. And you know, if you’re in a band then you want to be playing and touring the world, playing to your fans and having a good time while you’re doing it. I wish the money would come with it, though!
(IMA) OK! So, CRUACHAN have been together in one form or another since the early 1990’s. And you released your first “Celtica” demo back in 1994. Tell us a little about the origins of the band and the early years?
(KF) Well! When I was still in school around 5th and 6th year I started playing with my sister’s boyfriend in a band called CRYPT. And I also played in a kind of grindcore band, I must have been only thirteen at the time, just doing vocals. It was just in a shed with guitars, bass, drums and me. We’d be recording a rehearsal onto a stereo and I’d just be screaming into the stereo. So that’s really how I started.
I also got really into Irish traditional music early on too, but I don’t really know where it started from or know how that happened. I suppose I was into fantasy stuff and Irish mythology and the folk music kind of came with that.
And then I was in a band called MINAS TIRITH playing doom metal when I started to listen to SKYCLAD’s “The Wayward Sons Of Mother Earth” and heard the few bits that they had with the violin and that was when I was like… ‘Wow! Someone should do this as a full band playing this all the time’. And that’s where I got the idea for CRUACHAN and that we could change what we’re doing. So I said it to my brother John who’d never played an instrument in his life, ‘Do you want to learn to play the tin-whistle’ and he said OK! The guys in MINAS TIRITH remained. And although our drummer Jay (O’Neill) played on “Tuatha Na Gael”, he wasn’t into it at all and couldn’t handle the folk music in metal.
So yeah! That’s really the origins of it. We got CRUACHAN together back in ’93. And I always say it takes the mind of a young person to think that mixing something like folk music and metal is definitely going to work. But it did! And the rest is history. A lot of people say we were the first folk metal band and a lot of people say SKYCLAD. But the way I see it… SKYCLAD were the first to use folk parts in their songs, but I think we were the first to actually do it full time. Every song on the album is a folk metal song. But that’s for other people to argue and discuss!
(IMA) And then when Karen Gilligan first came on board as vocalist towards the end of the 1990’s, you basically switched to a more accessible heavy folk/rock style for the next decade. Was this due to the bands growing appeal and success abroad at the time, rather than here in Ireland? Or was there any particular reason for going down that route?
(KF) It’s hard to say! Even looking back now after all these years I’d love to get a time machine and say “What the fuck are you doing?”. There was a lot of confusion and youthful ignorance. When we released “Tuatha Ne Gael” we had a manager promising us the World and we had the interest from labels to kind of back up what we were hearing. so with a bit of influence we got more into folk music and toned the extreme metal back a bit. We actually broke up after that first album. I can’t really remember the ins’n’outs but we just became ridiculous. It was just myself, I don’t think we had a drummer and two other guys that had pretty much nothing to do with CRUACHAN. And at one point we were listening to a lot of Ska music and even started play a lot of Ska songs. And I remember thinking… ‘This has to end’ and that was it. CRUACHAN broke up. There’s about a year or so that I just couldn’t handle being in a band. Even though there was a lot of interest from around the World about getting CRUACHAN back together.
So! Eventually when we did get back together it was much lighter, heavy metal sound that we were doing. You can even hear the remnants of that Ska thing on the song ‘Unstabled’ and I still don’t understand what I was thinking! I was still meant to be the main vocalist but I was a terrible vocalist and couldn’t even sing in tune. So we had Karen coming in to sing on two or three songs and after she sang her parts she stayed on in the studio while we were doing the rest and then I went to do my vocals. I remember the first song that I sang, I was in the vocal booth so I couldn’t see the control room. And so I sang my vocal parts and when I finished I asked the guys how was it (hahaa!!!)… and it was just complete silence! And when I walked back into the control room they were all doubled-up on the floor laughing, I was so bad.
We had an emergency band meeting and ALL agreed I wasn’t able to do it. So we asked Karen if she wanted to join CRUACHAN. And typical Karen, her attitude was “Ah yeah, sure it’ll be a bit of craic”. So she came in and learned all the other songs. I still sang on one or two parts, even with some black metal vocals on ‘The Middle Kingdom’ track itself. As the years went on, luckily my vocals did improve and I’m really happy where I am now as a vocalist with the clean, sub-aggressive and black metal vocals. But if you could go back and hear me on “The Middle Kingdom” it was horrific!
(IMA) Those demos won’t be surfacing any time soon, so?
(KF) No! I listen to the track ‘Unstabled’ and to this day I think why did we let that get on the album. It was just terrible. But it is what it is, I suppose!
(IMA) Sure, every band looks back at one time or other and thinks the same!
(KF) That’s true!
(IMA) You worked with none other than Shane McGowan on you “Folklore” album. How did that collaboration come about? And what was it like to work with a legendary singer like McGowan?
(KF) At the time of “Folklore” we had a manager called Peader Gaffney who had a load of great friends and contacts in the business. Peader was a driver for MCD. After “Tuatha Na Gael” was released he was driving METALLICA around when they played here and we got to see them on the bus they were on. Anyway, he knew Shane and his manager Joey Cashman very well. So asked if Shane would be up for it. And he was!
It was really great, being a huge fan of his music and all that. We went to visit him in his house before recording and within minutes John (Fay) stopped him from falling into his own fire. He offered us some drink which we took and that pissed him off cos we literally cleaned him out of booze. In the studio he was more of a supervisor than anything else but he always had great words of advice and wisdom to show us. Although it was a nightmare when he fell asleep, we had to ask the doormen from Blooms Hotel to help us get him back there… most times they’d just say he’s our problem. (hahaa!!!)
(IMA) We touched on this a little earlier. With Karen Gilligan leaving the band a few years after your 2006 album “The Morrigan’s Call”, there was a gap of about five years between that album and it’s follow-up “Blood On The Black Robe” in 2011. You decided not to replace Karen on vocals and this album saw the band returning to your more metallic roots.
Was this one of the reasons for Karen leaving the band? Or was the return to your older more typical style a result of her leaving?
(KF) No! She was happy to go along with whatever we were doing. She always loved the music, but she was never the biggest metal fan. She was a fan of rock and a couple of metal bands and loved what she was doing with us. But it just became more of a burden to her as we were gigging more and touring more, then we were rehearsing more and it just didn’t fit in with her family life. So she didn’t have the same enthusiasm as we had. And it just came to the point where she pretty much had enough. There were no fights or anything. And it was a bit unexpected. But it suited us because with “The Morrigan’s Call” you can definitely hear the extremity had come back into a lot of the songs and I was back screaming and doing the aggressive black metal vocals on a lot of those songs.
So ‘Yeah!’ Definitely when she left it was a catalyst to say… OK! That’s it! We’re back to where we were when “Tuath Na Geal” came out. And it made us a lot more enthusiastic and got us a lot more recognition and more fans who really liked what we were doing. I’m sure we did lose fans along the way who were fans of Karen, but that was inevitable. And you just hope that you gain more than you lose.
(IMA) Well you’ve definitely been gaining a lot of momentum again in recent years, which is great see.
Now! I suppose we may as well address the couple of large elephants in the room…
CRUACHAN have been on a bit of a social roller-coaster the last while. From the highs of the tour in Russia and festivals to the more recent controversies of the last few weeks.
Firstly! The DEBAUCHERY copyright nonsense? Most CRUACHAN fans will already know the score at this stage, but can you give a brief summary of what went on for anyone living under a rock the last couple of weeks?
(KF) The (not so) short version is…
Thomas Gurrath from the band DEBAUCHERY had trademarked the words ‘Blood God’ in Germany. And we never knew. I mean! Who would know this? So when we released the album in December(2014) he kicked up saying ‘You can’t do this… I’ve got the trademark here.’
Now one thing people have been saying since this came out is that our label should have checked this and should have known. Now we’ve been on bigger record labels and I can say categorically that there is no way that they would even check the copyright of song or album titles, specially sections of titles. There’s just no way we could have known this. So the album came out. He (Gurrath) got in touch and went ahead with his action saying we’re going to have to change this.
He said he could have taken us to court and said point blank that we could not have sold the album in Germany, but he chose not to. And he got a lot of serious negative press, which is understandable but you don’t want to cause harm to anyone. We’re not like that. And I know he definitely regrets it now.
So, the label made an agreement with him that we were allowed to sell the existing merchandise that we had, so a few thousand CD’s, vinyl, t-shirts, etc. with ‘Blood For The Blood God’ printed on them. And this was only in Germany, so we could sell what we wanted around the world. So we were then going to call the album “Blood For Crom Cruach”. Now that was a disaster for a record label like Trollzorn, because they’re German also and can’t afford to be making two versions of albums, so it was only going to be one. So we weren’t happy because we weren’t going to have our album title. Some people liked the title “Blood For Crom Cruach”, fair enough! But it wasn’t our album.
So! they got that contract signed just over a month ago. And we always said we’d keep quiet and let the label sort it out. In hindsight I think I should have got in touch with Thomas beforehand and tried to sort it out, cause he maintains that if we had spoken to him he would have backed down. But I’m still not too sure because when the shitstorm exploded and he got such negative attitude towards him, that’s when he actually backed down. But regardless, I should have spoken to him beforehand. I didn’t want to name and shame him, but the only way to explain to fans about the new album title was to name him and his band DEBAUCHERY. So when I put the statement up on our facebook, they were just bombarded. They were saying they were deleting 20-30 comment per minute with people just ripping into them and calling them the worst names imaginable.
At the time I was never going to get in touch with Thomas. I was just telling people what happened. It’s when this shitstorm really began to unfold I said “Hold on a minute”. So I put up a message on facebook saying it’s not too late for him to change his mind and speak to Trollzorn and give us our album title back. And it wasn’t long after that I got a message from Thomas saying “Why are you dioing this to me?” And I was like… “WHAT??? You’ve done this to us! You’ve created this yourself!” So we had a long conversation and he maintains we should have spoken before we put the statement out, but as I said, that was just never going to happen because there was nothing to discuss. He had gone through this with his solicitors and the label and this was the end result. So after a bit of back and forth, it took a bit of time and some convincing… I said I’d put out a statement saying we’d discussed it and it was all friendly and he agreed in the end. So we have the rights to our album title in Germany.
And it just goes to show, what is the point in trademarking something like that? Some really common word? I still can’t believe it’s legally possible. And while this was happening we were contact by solicitors in Germany that are metal fans saying that there’s just no way and we should call his bluff and bring him to court. But to do that needs a shitload of money and is something we don’t have the facility of doing.
And that was the media frenzy for that week…!!!
(IMA) Yeah! (Hahaahaa!) A week in the life of Keith Fay from CRUACHAN…
So your label, Trollzorn! You were saying they took a a bit of a hit initially because of the legal troubles. How have they been affected after the compromise you reached with Gurrath? I know there was a settlement given. Does that still stand?
(KF) It does. The settlement still stands as well as their legal fees to get all this checked. When this all started back in December/January we were in touch with each other and I could literally hear the guys welling up and almost crying because this was the end of their label. If Thomas went with what he was saying at the initial stages then that was the end of Trollzorn. Now that obviously didn’t happen. It was all hot air from Thomas saying I ca ndo this and that. But they still had to make that payment which still stands and it’s not a nice thing to lose money like that, but when you think of what could have happened it’s better.
(IMA) And has it affected your relationship with Trollzorn?
(KF) No! It’s all good. It’s nobody’s fault when it comes down to it. But when you think of the media coverage we got. All the top metal magazines are running the story. People that had never heard of the band were getting in touch. And they sold a shitload of merchandise around the time too. And when I managed to the rights to the album title back they were delighted and couldn’t praise me enough. And we’re the biggest selling band on the label at the moment.
(IMA) The other major talking point over the last few weeks has been the complete breakdown of your agreement with Skaldic Games. Again! For the hermits living under a rock the last couple of weeks, fill us in on that whole situation?
What were you initially told about “The Shelter” video game and what was CRUACHAN‘s and your own involvement?
(KF) Well! I just got an email from this guy Randell Herman saying he’s a new developer with a history in the gaming industry and that he had an upcoming survival horror game and wanted to have CRUACHAN‘s music in it. I looked at the games he’d already made, which looked pretty shitty, but maybe this one would be good, maybe not! What have we got to lose. And I said ‘Yeah!’, CRUACHAN are up for it. Then he said that they were auditioning for voice actors and asked if I’d be interested in having a part in the game. So I auditioned. My girlfriend Rachel (Lally) is a professional actor so she helped me. It was initially meant to be a bit part, but he then made me one of the main characters, so you can imagine I was pretty excited. As a gamer this was a dream come true.
The project went on and then my girlfriend also came on board and we recorded our voice parts over a couple of days. I mean we were acting the seven, or however many, possible answers to the question. It was really fun and we had grea tcraic in the studio recording all of it. And then we see graphic models of guy in the game with CRUACHAN t-shirts on. It all looked and sounded brilliant. That was all about two months ago or more now.
Then we were just waiting around to see what happens with it and then…
(IMA) Yeah! It’s one thing to develop a horror themed game, which comes pretty close to moral and ethical boundaries in itself. But to blatantly cross the line and target a specific social group by developing a game such as “Kill The F****t” really is a step too far.
(KF) Yeah! Totally!
And his statements trying to cover his tracks are just disgraceful. I don’t think anyone can seriously agree with him. One or two people alright saying ‘freedom of speech’ and all that stuff, which is fair enough. But I don’t have the luxury of looking at it that way because I’m directly linked to it. So I had to get myself away from that as much as possible. It’s completely against what I am. I’m all about equality. Same with Rachel. She’s an LGBT campaigner. My younger brother is gay. We’re the worst people for that kind of thing to happen to or be associated with.
(IMA) “Kill The F****t” is also planned to be included as an bonus add-on to “The Shelter”. So it must have come as a real shock when you and the bands reputation was being called into question over it?
(KF) Absolutely! We were getting strangers from around the World messaging us asking how could we be involved with it and were we even aware. People even got in touch with Rachel’s modelling agency saying one of their models was supporting this, you know! And we were like, “What the fuck!”. So we got our statement out quick as we could saying ‘No! We’re out.”
I got contacted by Lori Beth Denberg, an actress who’s been on a load of shows and one of the bigger names involved with this, and she tells me that this guy Randell is sticking to the contract that she signed. Now she wants out and has done the very same thing as us. But he’s saying “No. You’ve signed the release. You’re going to be in the game”. He’s being totally obnoxious and disgusting about it. This goes morally against what they and we believe in and he’s still making them be in the game that is linked to that ‘Kill The F****t’ game.
He hasn’t engaged with either myself or Rachel in a few days, so we have no idea if he’s OK with taking us out of the game or if he’s going to challenge us. Now Rachel didn’t sign a release so you’d imagine she has nothing to worry about. But I did sign a release for my voice work, the CRUACHAN logo and CRUACHAN music. So that is just horrific and I do not want to be associated with games company in any way, shape or form.
*** In the week since this interview took place, Skaldic Games have confirmed they won’t be using Keith or Rachel’s voice work or any of CRUACHAN’s music in their game ***
(IMA) Well! Good on you far making a stand against Skaldic Games and publicly shaming them for their deceit to everyone involved and for ever thinking such a game should even exist.
(KF) It’s probably done more good… it HAS done good. I mean, we’ve had so many people support us and get in touch with us. I’ve had private messages from young guys all over still in the closet, afraid to let their friends know cause they’re all metalheads. It’s just this male, bravado, macho thing in the metal scene and saying that seeing CRUACHAN supporting them in this way is just the best thing possible for them. And that’s brilliant. That makes me happy.
(IMA) It really is an unbelievable concept for a game. They claim it wasn’t intended to be taken seriously, but in all fairness… how could it not?
(KF) He said in his statements his mission was to piss people off!!! Well, mission accomplished. It was intended to get the name out there and he’s definitely done that, but hopefully here it’s going to work to its detriment.
(IMA) Whether it’s for better or worse remains to be seen.
Well! I hope CRUACHAN can move past the all the recent hassles and come back stronger than ever.
So what’s next for the band? More shows? Summer’s coming up so there’s obviously festivals. Have you any planned?
(KF) Yeah! Well we’re waiting on confirmation of a couple of festivals, but already confirmed we’ve got ‘Metalhead Meeting’ in Romania, we’ve got a gig coming up in Dublin on the 10th July and we’re just in the process of sorting our European tour which will take place in October that there’s only four dates confirmed so far. and again a load of festivals potential for next year.
We’re really looking forward to the European tour. We haven’t had one since 2006, so that’s going to be a blast, especially for the new guys. Well! I say ‘new guys’ even though they’ve been in the band for over two years. But they wouldn’t have done any proper touring with us where your night after night playing a show.
(IMA) Very good! That pretty much covers everything.
Thanks a million again for taking the time to talk, Keith.
(KF) Thank you, John.
Interview by John O’Brien