Exposure: Washington Irving
Washington Irving - The Magician
2009 has been a busy year for Washington Irving. Releasing their debut single The Magician earlier this year, and spending the summer touring and playing festivals, the indie-folksters have made an impression on audiences around the country. I spoke with Martin Anfield (electric guitar), who kindly told us more about the band, their influences and the experiences 2009 has brought.
Can you tell us a little about how the band got together? How did you meet?
We all moved to Glasgow around the same time and met and became friends. Joe and Chris spent their childhood together frolicking around Oban pier like a couple of dunderheads. Martin is from Oban too but they never really knew him until they started having raucous jams in his Glasgow flat. During one of these jams Joe broke a string on a guitar belonging to Aberdeenshire’s own Rory ‘Hot Hands’ MacDonald - one of Martin’s compadres - and he was quickly given the shilling. Flute came in with Roslyn. She can speak Gaelic but, like Joe, was born in Dundee.
Why did you choose the name Washington Irving? Are you a fan of his work?
We’ve never read any of his stuff. We've always meant to. Joe and Chris both read Joseph Heller's book Catch 22 at the same time and 'Washington Irving' is the subject of a joke in the novel. The book's protagonist Yossarian uses the alias 'Washington Irving' to remain anonymous, I suppose we have inadvertently done the same.
Tell us a little about what influences you. Are there any artists in particular you would consider to be major influences on your music?
There are a lot of bands we could list here, but a couple of important influences on us would be The Pogues, Arcade Fire, Sufjan Stevens, Talking Heads and The Band. Our parents all separately force fed us good music from an early age; Neil Young, Bob Dylan and The Beatles and the like. Mike Nisbet, another Oban musician making a name for himself, has been playing music with us for years and he’s always had a big influence on us. Glasgow bands like Three Blind Wolves, Sparrow and the Workshop, Endor and The Low Miffs have had a big impact on our sound too.
I can see that you've played a few festivals this summer. Which has been your favourite, and why?
Insider Festival was definitely the highlight of the summer for us. We were all set to play The Outsider and were sad when it was cancelled. We all jumped at the chance to play its little brother. I think it turned out better for us in the end. There was just one big stage and the place had a really great vibe, like a big sunny garden party. We’ve always loved doing festivals because we reckon our music suits the happy drunken atmosphere. We ended up playing to a tent full of some of the happiest, drunkest people around then went for a scary rave in the woods. Belladrum was really special too.
Do you think where you come from has had a major influence on the music you create? Has your cultural background had a considerable impact on Washington Irving's sound?
We’re all from small town/countryside backgrounds, so ceilidhs and such like prevailed round all the big dates on the calendar. We’ve always tried to get that kind of atmosphere into our live shows, as that’s what we all associate with good times. Even though none of us come from a traditional background musically, there is definitely a Celtic feel to the music. We all really got into The Pogues because they took traditional music and made it something new and interesting. I suppose we took that approach but instead of punking it up, we’ve tried to introduce a wee bit of Glasgow indie-rock to the fold.
Have there been any particularly memorable experiences – either good or bad – that you have shared as a band?
We did a small tour around the north of Scotland that was great. After playing two shows in Thurso we camped at Dunnet Head, which is essentially the edge of the world. We were all half-cut, dancing about on a two hundred foot high cliff. Sorren McLean's drummer still has nightmares about that! The launch of our first single The Magician back in April was also a definite high point. It was very busy and sweaty.
What long term goals do you have for Washington Irving? Where do you see yourselves in the next five years?
Support tour with Fleetwood Mac - make it happen! Otherwise we want to play a lot more outside Glasgow. The little summer tour has given us the itch to get out and about. In the next year we’re hopefully do some more shows all over Scotland and down south too.
Do you have any upcoming releases or shows that you'd like to tell us about?
We released our first single The Magician in April with the help of Instinctive Racoon Records and we're still trying to get them out to people. If anyone comes to see us they should come and chat and we might just give them one for free!
Washinton Irving play The Mill at Oran Mor, Glasgow, Thu Nov 19