The Henry Girls are a trio of sisters still living in the same town in County Donegal, Ireland in which they were raised. To the musical landscape they bring an intriguing blend of vintage Americana and Irish traditional music. From naming their group after their grandfather Henry to the addition of family members on several tracks, The Henry Girls prove that there is magic in a group tied so strongly to their family and heritage.
Karen, Lorna, and Joleen McLaughlin recorded their first album ten years ago as The Henry Girls. By 2010, they were nominated for an Irish Film & Television Award for Best Original Score, having had their songs appear on the film A Shine of Rainbows; and soon after The Henry Girls appeared with the acclaimed Mary Black on her album Stories from the Steeples.
In November, they released their fourth album, December Moon, which casts their fishing net as far as possible, and from the depths of their musical bounty they have pulled up a wide range of inspirations. They have even reinvented the Elvis Costello song “Watching the Detectives” as a film noir cabaret number!
Ghettoblaster recently caught up with Lorna McLaughlin of The Henry Girls to discuss the record. This is what she told us.
When did you begin writing the material for your most recent album?
We began writing the material for it in in 2010. We weren’t really planning to record an album, the songs we were writing at that time were totally organic – songs that came out as reaction to things that were happening in our lives at that time. After a while we realized we had quite a few songs so we sat down to write a couple of songs to complete an album and away we went to the recording studio!
What was the most difficult song to take from the initial writing stage through recording and mixing? Why was it so troublesome?
The song that was most difficult was perhaps “Sing my Sister Down”. It is based on a short story by an American writer called Margo Lanagan. We had to try to tell the story she told in our own way, so it was the lyrics that were tricky. Plus, the subject matter of the story is very dark (a song about a woman being executed for murdering her husband by being sunk into a tar pit) – a much darker subject than we normally sing about. But it was a good challenge and we are really happy with how it turned out which is why we made it the first song on the album.
Which of the songs on the record is most different from your original concept for the song?
I reckon “Rain and Snow” turned out quite different as to how we imagined it. It was Calum Malcolm’s (our producer) idea to add in the distorted guitar and the heavy drum kit, we certainly hadn’t thought of it. At first we thought it sounded a bit mad but after a couple of listens we realized it made sense and suited the feel of the subject.
Did you have any guest musicians play or sing on the record?
We have quite a few. The person most on it apart from us is a girl called Denise Boyle. She is a good friend of ours and we have played music together for a lifetime! She spent the whole week with us in Scotland recording and I think she is on every track. Ted Ponsonby plays acoustic guitar and resonator guitar. He is an amazing player who has played with Emmylou Harris and Mary Black, plus many more. We had a drummer from Scotland called Ross McFarlane, he is a busy session drummer who works a lot with the Scottish bandTexas. We had Nick Scott on there, a fabulous bass player who has played with Van Morrison for years. There is also a brilliant percussionist called Liam Bradley on there. There is a brilliant brass section featuring Donal McGuinness, Sean McCarron, Aidan Simpson and Karen’s husband Matt. We also have Kora player called Gameli Tordzro from Ghana play on couple of the tracks. He is friend of ours who we have worked with on different projects over the years.
What input did your producer have that changed the face of the record?
Calum Malcolm from Edinburgh, Scotland produced the record for us. He is a hugely prolific and very highly regarded producer with over 1000 albums to his credit, including albums by Clannad, Tears for Fear, The Blue Nile and many more. We were so excited to get the opportunity to work with him. He is an unbelieveably nice man and he is a wizard in the studio. He was very good at helping us choose which songs to put on the album, arrange the music and generally make lots of decisions. We are working with him again on our new album due out in 2014.
Is there an overarching concept behind your new album that ties the record together?
Not really! I suppose the thing that all the songs have in common is our three part harmony, which many people see as our trademark! Apart from that, the songs are about all sorts of unconnected subjects – execution, fisherman lost at sea, positivity, recession times, loss of a visionary woman etc. It’s quite a random collection!
Have you begun playing these songs live and which songs have elicited the strongest reaction from your fans?
We have sung these songs for many audiences in many parts of the world. The song that really seems to resonate with a lot of people is “Farewell”. It was written by Karen after a young woman we knew died before her time of cystic fibrosis. Also another young woman we knew died of cancer around the same time. They were both incredible woman. Most people have lost someone special in their lives at some stage, it’s kind of inevitable. So I think people hear this song and instantly relate to it. A lot of people have told us it makes them cry – Karen used to worry about this but I told her it’s probably a good thing as people need to grieve.