For someone from the land of green, lead singer Maire Brennan sure sees red when anyone – even the Grammy people – lumps Clannad into the new age category.
Nothing gets her Irish dander up more.
“I prefer world music than new age. I hate new age,” Brennan said recently from her home in Dublin, Ireland. “First of all, we’re not a new age band. We’ve been twice nominated for Grammy Awards for new age. Some of the boys have gone over for the awards, but I refuse to. We’re not a new age band.
“New age is boring music; it’s like mantra stuff. It’s a matter of taste if you like Yanni or not. I’m not totally keen, but it’s nice that there’s room for everybody out there. There isn’t a category for us, but I’m fine with world music because it’s culture music. I like that, it has a chunky kind of feel to it. There’s a good vibe from that category, I think.”
More precise, by combining delicately crafted Celtic arrangements with a contemporary sound, Brennan and her band mates – brother Ciaran and uncles Noel and Padraig Duggan – are in a class by themselves.
“When people talk about Celtic music, they now include our sound as part of Celtic music,” Brennan said. “It didn’t exist before we started (in 1970). The way we developed and tracked vocals and harmonize and the way people now are copying us, it’s nice to think that we’ve been very much part of something that has been a tradition here. You can only be flattered by something like that, when people copy you.”
Clannad’s new Atlantic album, “Landmarks” (released March 3), carries on the group’s tradition of creating lush, earthy music that reflects the people and the culture of Ireland. Recorded last summer at Ballybetagh Wood, a 30-year-old rented house overlooking the bay of Dublin, “Landmarks” comes from Clannad’s collective heart. The album’s best track, “Of This Land,” for instance, yearns for peace in a country torn apart by political and religious strife.
“It’s about hoping that people will find the love back again that they have,” Brennan said. “The healing for this land is very much in everyone’s mind at the moment.
“There’s a couple of songs on the album relating to certain parts and areas in Ireland. Like ‘Bridge of Tears,’ it’s about a bridge in Donegal where I’m sure many a tear was shed. People used to go as far as this bridge to say goodbye to people who were immigrating.”
“Landmarks” doesn’t make any sociopolitical statements. Brennan said they will leave that to others.
“We’ve never been the kind of band that went political with our music,” she said, “because first of all it can be dangerous to be out there preaching or come out with solutions or whatever. It just doesn’t work. Some people can do it and do it very well. We very much wish for peace for all the people in this country. When you’re talking about the culture and what Clannad’s all about, that’s really the root of it.
“People feel our music with an emotion, rather than thinking ‘I must know what the Gaelic words are.’ It’s not the most important thing to our albums. It’s the images, the way you feel.”
“Landmarks” is certain to follow its 1996 predecessor, “Lore,” to the top of Billboard’s world music chart, familiar territory for Clannad since its international breakthrough in 1992 with “The Theme From Harry’s Game” (used in the film “Patriot Games”).
“I think we’ve done so successfully because we haven’t stuck to a formula all the time,” Brennan said. “We have been totally criticized, maybe rightly so, for various things we have experimented with through the years, like working with English producers or American producers. If you didn’t try it out, you’d never know. It’s all about experiences, about discovery.
“What motivates me now is the respect we have as a band. It’s quite enormous; it’s not something that’s in the superstar element. It’s quite nice. I don’t have to pretend or not be myself, which is very important to me. And no matter how many musicians I’ve met – right across the board, all sorts, whether it’s heavy metal, rock, country people – they all seem to know about the band and its impact. And, really, you cannot buy that. It makes you feel so good.”