From their 2015 debut Cold Old Fire to their most recent release, False Lankum, Lankum have been on an upward trajectory informed by their attention to detail and commitment to their roots in their reimagination of traditional music. In August, they take to the Queen’s Hall stage as part of Edinburgh International Festival to intensify festival proceedings with their distinct brand of brooding and hypnotic folk.
What led to the creation of False Lankum?
Ian Lynch: Being a lockdown album, it was totally different in the way we had time and space. The songs we chose to play would have been entirely different had it happened at a normal time.
Cormac MacDiarmada: We were used to having to squeeze albums in. With lockdown we were allowed to become far more meditative, like all external distraction was limited. It was quiet.
Ian: Usually when you go into an album, we’re playing gigs all the time, but at that point there were none at all – which, in a way, was really nice. We’d all become tired and worn out, and suddenly we have two years off from nearly everything, which aside from the obvious, was amazing.
Despite having a sound based in Irish folk, why are very few of your songs Irish?
Ian: Well, there’s always been a great mix of tunes on our records. We’ve done lots of American versions of Irish traditional songs, some English songs, some German songs. People think what we do is mainly Irish, like sometimes we’ll record a set of old-timey American songs and people will refer to them as jigs. Whatever, you know, it’s grand.
Cormac: Actually, this is nearly the first time we’ve recorded a traditional Irish song. Well, there was a secret track, and the ‘Donegal Polka’, too.
Ian: Trad music shows up the falsities of nationalistic political standpoints because, as working-class people, we have more in common with each other across the world than the upper classes of our own countries. In a way, trad music and folk music are great equalisers because you realise that all around the world, everyone has the same needs, and these things motivate people, so they sing about them.
How do you interpolate your more contemporary influences?
Cormac: Everything filters in minute detail, so I think you only see it in small flashes. We don’t say, ‘Let’s make a Godspeed album’ or anything like that. We all have different focal points that are always shifting, and that affects how we play.
Ian: It’s a case of having your sonic palette informed by lots of different types of music. There’s a lot of influence from ambient music, and drone-based minimalist stuff, so that finds its way in. We’re all informed by the music we grew up listening to and where that’s led us. To us, something sounding correct is a very certain thing, and it’s totally different from being correct to someone else.
Cormac: We have trust in each other’s ideas, so if something doesn’t click immediately, we trust that we can take it to a point where, at the very least, if we don’t use it, it becomes part of a subconscious archive. There are bad ideas, but even when it’s bad, you know you can get something from it.
Ian: We might write a song that sucks but it has one line that becomes the foundation for something that becomes good. That shit becomes the fertiliser for something else.
Seeing as you play songs that are rooted in a history of live music, how do you approach live performance?
Cormac: That’s where the fun really begins for me. With this album, it’s both fun and stressful because it’s so dense. We have to choose carefully which parts to engage with, which leads us to experiment even more. Ian and Radie [Peat] have been playing synths and tape loops, I’ve been playing banjo, and there’s a lot of bowed instruments on the album. It’s about working out where the energy is, and how to best capture that with what we can on stage. We have to accept that live performance is a different beast, and it’s always changing in little ways.
Lankum will perform at The Queen’s Hall 17th August as part of the Edinburgh International Festival. Tickets here.