Ciaran Lavery Goes Kosher With New EP

The prolific singer-songwriter ups the tempo for his latest collection of songs, typified by the joyous 'Left For America'

For a musician who seems to have rarely taken a break from recording or touring over the past few years, singer-songwriter Ciaran Lavery has a relaxed air about him when we meet in Café Harlem in Belfast to chat about his new EP, Kosher, a follow-up to both his debut album, Not Nearly Dark, and his collection of cover versions, Other People Wrote These, both released in 2013.

Those familiar with the work of the flame-haired and bearded troubadour from Aghagallon, County Antrim, may be surprised by the record. In contrast to the stripped-back splendour of Not Nearly Dark, the new songs have a decidedly more commercial feel to them.

‘As soon as we finished recording the album last year, I knew that when I got back in the studio I wanted to concentrate on something more upbeat,’ Lavery admits. ‘With the album it was about experimenting, using the room as another instrument. This time it was based around percussion. Everything was more beat orientated.'

During the process of writing and recording Kosher, Lavery was listening to a lot of hip hop, as well as the early records of Beck, and was inspired to try out various percussive sounds. ‘I knew that I wanted something like the flipside of what the album was, something brighter, leaning towards commercial, even just as an experiment to see if I could do it,’ he admits. ‘How would it sound? Would it work?’

Produced by Barrett Lahey, Lavery is joined on the EP by Mike Mormecha on drums and percussion, Conor Scullion on piano, keyboards and synths, Paul Wilkinson on guitars and ‘sounds’, Marty Young on bass and double bass, Robert Holmes on slide guitar and Katie and Evie Holmes on vocals.

Lavery worked closely with Mormecha, frontman with rock outfit Mojo Fury turned solo artist, on the percussive instrumentation. ‘Having Mike on drums was great,’ Lavery says. ‘You don’t really need to lead him into anything. You just give him some sort of direction to start from.’

In the lead up to the release of Kosher, a promo video of opening track ‘Left For America’ was released. Directed by Richard O’Connor, the promo – which features Dublin actor Ro Graham – is a joy to watch and listen to, and proves that Lavery's latest offerings are songs with rhythm.

‘I said going into the recordings that I really want people to either tap their feet or nod their heads to every single song on the EP,’ he says. And why the title, Kosher?  ‘I love that word. I was trying to work it into a song and I couldn’t so I gave up on it and forgot it. Then, when we were finishing up the record, it came back to me.

'Kosher to me always means it’s legitimate and that’s what the record means to me. It’s one hundred per cent authentic because I’m basing a lot of it on memories from either childhood or recent. It’s all based on things I like to think I know or have happened to me in some shape or form.’

Although the music he has released so far as a solo artist can roughly be tagged as ‘alt-folk', Lavery listened to a wide variety of music during his formative years, and is keen to thank his brother-in-law for his eclectic taste.

‘He used to live across the road from me and he would send across albums for me to listen to. They’d have a post-it note on them saying, “Reference songs two, three and nine. Don’t come back to me until you’ve listened to them.” I was 12 or 13 and he was sending me Stone Roses albums, and some things I didn’t like but I’d tell him I did. I guess it was brainwashing in a non-threatening way.'

It seemed a natural progression to play music himself, but Lavery didn’t find it easy at first. ‘I remember really hating it, thinking it was far too hard to learn,’ he remembers. ‘It was becoming really depressing.

'I was learning things like ‘She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain’ and I couldn’t do it right. After struggling for a couple of months I put the guitar away and then I came back to it a couple of months later and it seemed easier. I was more determined, I think.’

A friend had started to play drums at about the same time and they used to jam together several times a week. Before too long another friend joined them on bass. ‘The three of us used to play with nobody singing because everybody was too shy to sing,’ Lavery laughs.

‘We set up the mic but everybody just looked at it. Nobody would have a go. This went on for a year or so, and then my brother-in-law came along one day and said he’d like to do a bit of music and that’s how we started with the band. It was always pretty organic.’

The band became Captain Kennedy, who developed a loyal following and much critical acclaim over their seven years together before their momentum slowed and the band came to an amicable end. ‘I’m still friends with everyone in the band,’ Lavery says. ‘I’m thankful for all the years we had together, all the hard slogging and the hard gigs. Whenever you do gigs on your own you still have that knowledge behind you.’

Wasting little time, Lavery struck out as a solo artist, playing gigs all over the country and working hard to establish himself once more. ‘As a solo songwriter people were paying more attention to the lyrics and not relying so much on the sound of the music,’ he explains. 'I don’t really miss the band but it was difficult playing on my own at first. You didn’t know if anyone would know you and there was nobody beside you.

'You were operating on a smaller stage and the sound was so minimalistic but I really enjoyed it. I learned some things. Now, though, it’s great playing with a band again. They’re always thinking about your songs, hitting you with different ideas and stuff. It felt like the right time to bring people in again.’ And that he has done, with perhaps his most successful and accessible recording to date. As a solo artist, Ciaran Lavery is most certainly kosher.

Kosher is available to download now.