On his upcoming album, Atlantic, singer/songwriter < strong class=’StrictlyAutoTagBold’>Ben Glover reaches across continents and decades to bring together the two musical and geographical worlds that he calls home < strong class=’StrictlyAutoTagBold’>Ireland and Tennessee. Having immersed himself in the historic and artistic cultures of both lands, Glover tells wonderfully thoughtful, intentional tales of his search for and planting of roots.
Ahead of Atlantics release, Glover put together a special NoiseTrade sampler, Precedent & Prophecy, which culls tracks from several previous sets along with a couple of cuts from Atlantic. As a whole, it captures the essence of Glover’s evolving artistry and offers a glimpse of what’s yet to come.
NoiseTrade: When you were getting started, you would play American folk tunes in pubs back home in Ireland, then play Irish folk tunes in pubs in Boston. How did you find your balance when you had feet in two different worlds?
Ben Glover: My objective was the same in both countries sing great songs and, in doing so, try and make a connection with the audience. I never felt off balance when my musical objective was consistent regardless of continent. Whether I was belting out rowdy Irish folk songs in the bars of Boston or doing some Woody Guthrie in the pubs of Belfast, my intention was to perform songs that had something to say and that would stir up an audience. Conceptually, there really isn’t much difference between American folk/blues tunes and Irish folk tunes the songs from both traditions are filled with great stories, colorful language, and tales of both the joys and struggles of the people who wrote and sang them. I was drawn to both Irish folk and American folk/blues traditions right from the time when music began to mean something to me. So the music was really the thing that kept me balanced. It’s easy to find balance when you feel deeply connected to and love the thing you are doing even if one foot is either side of an ocean.
You went back to County Donegal to make Atlantic. How would this record be different if you’d made it in Nashville?
< strong class=’StrictlyAutoTagBold’>County Donegal is one of the most rural and isolated parts of < strong class=’StrictlyAutoTagBold’>Ireland. The house we made the record in is at the foot of a mountain and overlooks the Atlantic Ocean the album cover image is what we looked out on every day while making the record. That rugged, raw environment and spirit of rural Donegal had a massive influence on how this record sounds; its presence was huge on this album. That physical dislocation from anything to do with the music industry was a perfect environment in which to make this record. That’s not meant to be disrespectful to the industry, but it was extremely liberating and inspiring to make a record in a place that was worlds away from the marketplace, away from the distractions that Nashville or any city has.
It meant, too, that everyone who played on the recording was transported out of their comfort zones into an entirely different context. It brought something new and different out of us all. We felt that we were creating our own little universe during the recording process and, literally, we did as we transformed the house into a makeshift studio for 10 days. We created a recording space that will never exist again and, in doing so, created a sound for this album that we can’t replicate again. For those reasons, we could not and would not have been able to have made this record in Nashville. It definitely would not have had the rawness, intimacy, or personality that it has if we recorded it in a more controlled studio environment. In many ways, the record sounds like how Donegal feels to me, and that was one of the things that I wanted to capture.
You’ve made pilgrimages to sites related to some of your musical heroes Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Robert Johnson, et al. How does that affect you as both a person and an artist?
To experience the very places that are marked by my musical heroes is something that is very important to me. It’s about deepening the connection with their legacy, but, more importantly, it lets me get closer to the source of the fire that their music lit in me creatively. For me, such places are shrines of sorts and there is definitely a spiritual element, too. Those artists have had great significance in my life and music and so journeying to sites that are connected with them always awakens and stirs up something inside me. To sit at Hank’s grave, to spend the day at Cash’s childhood home in Arkansas, or to go in search of Robert Johnson’s grave in the Delta excites and invigorates me in the same pure way that their music did when I first heard it. These trips fire up my creativity and imagination. Music is a sacred thing, and I need to go to sites that have sacred symbolism for me; it’s the duty of any good pilgrim! In some respects, too, it de-romanticizes my heroes in a good way by visiting their graves, it’s a reminder that these mighty, near mythical figures were indeed mortal after all and just on the same journey as the rest of us.
When you are writing a song with another person, how do you dig into deeply personal things about yourself and hash that out in an honest way? It must take an incredible amount of trust or whiskey.
Atlantic is the most personal album I’ve made and that was because I wrote it with trusted friends who were willing to dig as deep as possible to find these songs with me. There’s no point in going halfway to the truth. It only matters if you go all the way there and we were all committed to mining as deep as possible to get there, no matter how difficult or uncomfortable the writing process was. I wrote these songs with Mary Gauthier, Gretchen Peters, Neilson Hubbard, and Rod Picott; they are all amazing writers who bring a huge amount of integrity and courage to the writing process. They are also some of my closest friends, so it was easy to get deeply personal and dismantle any pretense. It also comes down to what you and your co-writer are writing the song for if it’s for the charts and for commercial sales, then honesty doesn’t necessarily have to drive the process; but if you’re writing because you want to express your truth, then digging deep in an honest way is the only way to go. As for the whiskey, there was definitely some Bushmills involved in the recording, but not in the writing. We couldn’t possibly make a record in Donegal and not have a few sips
Are you a fan of Southern gothic literature or did you just soak up and conjure up all the imagery and culture through your travels?
It’s a bit of both. Since moving to Nashville, I wanted to immerse myself in as much of the southern culture as possible, so my senses have been wide open and soaking it all up ever since I made my first visit to the South seven years ago. However, I had been reading William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Cormac McCarthy, and many other gothic greats long before I set foot on southern soil. This mean’t my imagination was traveling through those hot, dusty, dark backroads of the South prior to me physically being there.0