The Folk Dream
of Lorkin O’Reilly
August 6, 2018
We caught up with Edinburgh, Scotland native Lorkin O’Reilly, a folk musician who now lives and writes in the Catskills of Upstate New York.
He talked to WBRU from a porch in Raleigh, North Carolina. We caught up about his latest record and his musical heroes, his history as an artist and his life on the road.
What was the inspiration for your latest record, Heaven Depends?
I guess it’s kind of a montage of all the music I’ve been listening to for the last three years. You know, before I was doing folk stuff I was pretty into punk rock. Indie rock. I was 18 when I picked up an acoustic guitar and wrote songs. But I’m really into 70s, 60s British folk. That’s really my main pool of resources. You know, Bert Jansch, Nick Drake–his open tunings are really interesting, and I think the most obvious connection I have to that genre is just the open tuning stuff, you know. I don’t really play in standard tuning, which is a pain when I’m playing live because it involves a lot of tuning onstage.
How many guitars do you have with you (on tour)?
I have two. But, honestly, I’m looking at getting a third. [Laughs] Just the other night, I broke two strings, one on each guitar. I was like, “Oh, my God!” But yeah, John Renbourn, too, and John Martyn; he was a Scottish songwriter who didn’t really make a splash over here at all. In the U.K. he was kind of an institution. He died, obese and one-legged, in 2009, but he had an amazing career. In fact, his biggest record was called Solid Air and it had a track, I believe, that…was about Nick Drake. He and Nick Drake were friends. [Martyn’s] career was really healthy and he was doing really well in the U.K. He was a big admirer of Nick Drake’s playing, but Nick Drake had a lot of personal issues. But he wrote a really beautiful song about him. I just love the feel of that record. It’s almost jazz-folk, but it’s just got an amazing tone to it. That was a huge one, I think. In the beginning, when I first started playing acoustic, I learned that record, definitely not note-for-note, but I learned all the tunings and tried to improv over the songs. BRU: Was your music as well-received in Scotland as it was over here? (O’Reilly first came to the U.S. in 2012 at 18).
Was your music as well-received in Scotland as it was over here? (O’Reilly first came to the U.S. in 2012 at 18).
Well, I’m not there as much as I am here, but I did a tour over there two years ago that went really well. I played at Glastonbury [Music Festival] which is really exciting. I think it was like 120,000 people…I wasn’t playing in front of 120,000 people; I was on a small stage, but it was exciting to go and get a free ride there. That was cool; that was really fun. I think I was there for three weeks. I’ve not gone back yet, but I’m going back in September for two weeks and hopefully doing Ireland as well. I’m watching the wave peak, I hope.
I asked (Marissa of the Screaming Females) about what she called a “disconnect between society and music now that everyone’s on their smartphones all the time.” Have you experienced anything like that?
Apart from the fact that I’m guilty of it as well, it’s a blessing and a curse. I think that the benefits for a young, unknown artist like myself are huge. I did a show with Nadia Reid in December. She’s from New Zealand. She was telling me that she was playing small, local clubs in New Zealand making a name for herself, and then she got a track picked up on a Spotify playlist, and overnight, her career changed, and I think that’s awesome. That’s a new model and it’s exciting. So there’re definitely pros and cons. It’s funny hearing…older guys talk about how [they] used to sell records. [There are] a couple of people who live up in my hometown who were in big bands at the right time in the 90s and late 80s, and they’re living very comfortably and…buying up multiple properties in town, and they haven’t released any music for, like, 25 years. That gives you a little idea of what it used to be like, you know?
For the uninitiated, how would describe yourself as a musician?
I’ve been trying to take a more celtic finger-style guitar playing and meld it with a more traditional Americana songwriting and lyrics. That’s what I’m going for.
You use a resonator.
I use a resonator, which is one of the most American sounding and looking instruments there is. I’m trying more and more to play it less like a resonator, which has been fun. Not necessarily playing slide on it, although this record does have me playing slide on it, but that’s something I’m trying to do more of. Down here in the Appalachians, it’s interesting that there’s a huge amount of Scottish, actually. I listen a lot to the Smithsonian Folkways — they have a Scottish traditional folk music one and they have an Appalachian traditional folk music one, and there’s a lot of the same songs. It’s interesting hearing them and how they got brought over here and changed, but it’s still fundamentally the same thing. I think that’s so exciting. I’m toying with the idea of putting out an EP of traditional songs this fall.
Tell us about your music video shoot in North Carolina.
We’re going down, shooting a film where the concept of the song was God if he hated himself. That was the premise of the narrative. We’ve been playing with that idea. The solitary male figure baptizing himself and then getting up. A lot of it is going to be based on the beauty of the shots and the fullness of the film. There’s gonna be a baptism in it, but in the forest, in a lake, but it’s gonna be a little abstract. I’m really excited to shoot it and the director, Griffin Hart Davis, has got a great eye, he’s done some amazing films. Have you seen the film There Will be Blood? That’s the tone we’re going for. It’s gonna be a learning experience.
What’s your favorite city to play?
I’ve not toured the country and played in a whole bunch of cities…
Are you partial to New York?
Yeah, New York is good. But when New York is good, it’s really good, and when it’s bad, it’s soul-crushing. I’ve been lucky that the last few times I’ve been down there, it’s been really good. When I first started, when I first came [to the states], I would go down to the city and busk on the subway for, like, 3 days a week, and I would just try to do it as cheap as possible. And then I’d shoot back up to Upstate. That was draining. The City can be great. I’ve had a couple of really good shows in London. I had a good show two nights ago in Raleigh, too. I’ve not really had any terrible experiences with places I’ve played. Apart from the City. I guess I’ve been lucky. But I linked up with some great folks down at the Scratcher Bar. That’s a great session: every Sunday for 8 months of the year, a lot of Irish songwriters down there, very attentive crowd. It’s been really nice linking up with those guys, and I’ve been helped out in the City from that.
What’s your favorite part of being a musician?
That’s a loaded question. (Laughs) My favorite part of being a musician is that I’ve never had any second thoughts as to what I was going to do. I barely graduated high school and I was always clear that I wanted to do this. I feel like I’m doing what I should be doing. And that’s, I think, something that I often forget, but I know not everybody feels like that when they’re 24. And I feel lucky that I know what I’m doing and I know that I’m doing what I should be doing. Which is huge…Sometimes I feel like I’ve not been doing it long enough to really feel the ramifications of some of the downsides of it, but I’m starting to get an inclination: I’ve done shows with people who have been doing it for far longer than I have and I think that playing the same songs every night can get tiring. I don’t quite know it yet but I’m sure that I’ll learn it at some point. And so I’m preparing myself for that. I’m away a lot, I’m married, and it’s very time consuming, all-encompassing. I feel like I’m just “out” a lot. Which is what I like, but there’s not many songwriters who are in their mid-twenties, who are married, who are “out” a lot. It’s a balancing act. And sometimes, I’ve not always got that right. Lorkin is currently on tour in the UK.