There’s been a lot of talk in lockdown about new normals, and getting back to nature, but Irish musician Seán Mulrooney is taking it back further than most.
Mulrooney — who spearheads the loose psych collective Tau & And The Drones of Praise — has recently moved back to Ireland from Berlin, and he’s been reaching back into our ancient past for a new grounded approach.
He says he’s “tapping into that ancient sound of ours, Éist Le Ceol An Chre. ‘Listening to the sound of the land’ and walking the hills. Really seeing the special beauty and magic of this island”.
Tau’s new EP Seanóirí Naofa follows two previous albums that channel freewheeling psychedelia, droney psych-rock, Saharan Tuareg music, South American spiritualism and many other facets, through a revolving cast of musicians. It’s been a hell of a cosmic left turn from his previous guise as frontman of indie-rock act Humanzi, who exploded then imploded in the noughties, and played their last gig in 2010. The EP has aligned nicely with his new home in Sligo. The artwork features Queen Medb’s Cairn at Knocknarea, in a photo captured at the spring equinoxe, just as the world went into lockdown. The animal headdresses also suit the earthy, pagan Wicker Man folk vibes.
I spoke to Mulrooney about reconnecting with Ireland, ancient history and synchronicity.
You’ve said before that your first album was like “the beginning of the ceremony, the lighting of the fire” while the second album had “light reflecting, shadows moving and everything in between”. How do you see this releasing se that’s not quite an album?
I see this as like a bridge for the exceptional times we are in and a bridge to the mystery of what will be our third album. It’s a collection of past present and future woven into the now. I did something I don’t often do which is go through old material. I noticed that though they were all recorded in different times , all songs follow a similar thread. It’s a tender time to release music so these songs are sketches to anchor hope and personal improvement and move forward in a good way. And remembering with all crisis comes opportunity for change.
This EP feels a lot more grounded in Ireland — from the artwork to the traditional-inspired arrangements in place. Was that a conscious decision before recording, or did it feel like a ‘reset’ during this unprecedented time?
It’s a bit of both, since I moved to the west of Ireland I’ve been learning trad music on the fiddle, listening to the sound of the land” and walking the hills . Really seeing the special beauty and magic of this island. I suppose I just let whatever music I’m into somehow seep into the Tau collective. I write very much about were I’m at and what I can see around me.
Each of your releases seems to have a specific sense of the magic of a place, even from the first inspirational visit to the desert of Real De Catorce. What drew you to Queen Méabh’s Cairn this time?
The northwest is abundant with ancient sacred sites. From Carrowkeel to Queen Mebh’s cairn. I’m just dipping my toes into the mystical wonderment of our ancient past which is still very present but I do feel these sites carry a special vibration and one often feels uplifted and energised after being in there. It’s also about honouring the work our ancestors have done to leave us these spaces so sacred and timeless.
How did it feel recording the spiritual/prayer song with your sister?
It felt really good. She comes out with these beautiful songs , she often sends me them on her phone and says, ‘What do you think?’ When I heard this I knew immediately we would record it. We have a great Creative flow me and my sister , we encourage each other in what we do. Like all siblings we can wreck each other’s heads too. The words are so simple: “All that is , all that ever was, all that ever will be, take this pain, transmute it, into light, into power , power To heal , power to forgive , power to love.”
You’ve got tO play with Tiariwen, and their music inspired the song Mongolia on the EP. Were you able to learn much from them?
Loads. I’ve be literally dreaming about playing with them for years. They are an enthralling unit. Humble pioneers and carrying a great message of the nomadic Tuareg people of North Africa . Rory from the band has been big into North African music for years and we got to jam with them backstage in the Olympia, we even swapped Irish guitar tunings with their North African tunings . I believe they were impressed with Rory’s skills as he had all the licks down! They were also particularly interested in my electric andolin.
How much did you retrace your ancestry for these songs, and is this something you’ve done before? Who’s the most interesting character you’ve found in your family tree?
I believe that all life is our ancestors, the rocks , the two-leggeds, four-leggeds , winged ones. The name Mulrooney comes from Sligo , apparently we were ancient scribes! It’s a meaningful coincidence I ended up there or as Carl Jung calls it, a synchronicity. My two grandmothers were traditional midwives and both passed before I was born. I love the fact that they had this remarkable responsibly and ability to bring new life into the world.
There’s no defined TAU ‘band’, but you’ve worked with a wide variety of artists. How do you choose these artists? Do you give much direction or is it free-flowing or improvised?
I don’t really choose them, are a network of good friends. Berlin is absolutely bursting with great musicians, and Ireland too. How it’s worked till now, studio-wise, is I’d have the guts of the material , songs, loose structure , riffs and so forth . Then we’d go to the studio and jam and improvise around that , usually play the song two or three times and have it in the can. Earl Harvin from Tindersticks has been monumental in making the first two records. He’s an incredible drummer with so much experience and a real no-bullshit approach in the studio . He often reins me in when I’m flying off dancing with the fairies! There’s so many great musicians on the records and I’m humbled to play with them all. Nina Hynes sings on both records. The recording for Seanóirí was different to how we did it in the past in a way that we all pretty much wrote the song on the spot together as a band . I don’t even remember how it came, it dropped out of the ethers!
You’ve said before you were “gobbled up and spat out” by the Irish music industry when you were in Humanzi. Did it take a while to get over that feeling? Has it left a sour taste?
Haha did I say that? Nah I think we all handled it pretty well. We were happy as Larry for the first two years when we moved to Berlin. We all lived in the same gaff and pretty much played music all day long. The great thing about that experience for me personally was it gave me a chance to learn from my mistakes!
Seanóirí Naofa is out now