RISING STARS: Louisiana Joyride

The funky, country band from Belfast tell all before their Belfast Nashville gig

Louisiana Joyride? What's with the name?

Orla: Back in the day when country music was at its height in America there was a music hall and radio programme named Louisiana Hayride. It had all the great artists of the time play there, like Elvis Presley, back when he was just a young unknown artist, he debuted his first single 'That’s All Right Mama'. It's just one example. It is a famous name and I guess we wanted to refer to something that inspired and influenced our kind of music.

Owen: We were also fans of a few local bands that had an American place name in their own titles like The Delawares and Jackson Cage and it’s a wee tip of the hat to those bands.

You’re a Belfast band that ‘tells it to a funky country beat’. What drew you musically to a sound most people would associate with America?

Orla: Country music has its roots fairly grounded in America but it is a genre that spread in popularity all over the world. It is no secret that America was the biggest generator of that style of music hence its association with that accent and its obsession with singing about the places that housed it. It is a genre which inspired me growing up because my parents listened to it. I felt we had an opportunity to take the style and make it our own by singing about the places I grew up in and the events that influenced my life and the people around me.

Owen: Personally, I was never really big into country music and I still wouldn’t be. Actually, a lot of the music I listen to and have listened to over the years isn’t even American. The American music I listen to seem to come from a different era. Neil Young is a big influence of mine especially when he plays the acoustic guitar. I also like blues and folk music that goes right back to Leadbelly Hudson and Woody Guthrie. The straight-up country music never interested me but you can see the connections in bands like Creedence Clearwater Revival and more modern influences like Ryan Adams. I like to think that I bring this variety of influences to the table when it comes to Louisiana Joyride.

You also describe yourself as a two-piece, sometimes four-piece band?

Orla: These days a two-piece can be just as popular as a full band, as festivals and gig promoters can now cater for different types of audience in the same venue. Some events need a smaller sound that still delivers. The two-piece is perfect for more intimate gigs, as well as being support for larger bands, because it comes with less baggage and time constraints. The full band can cater for larger events that are more economically and physically accessible. It is really all about meeting the demands of the gig on offer. Our current set-up is very flexible to different occasions, thus we have more options in regards to the types of gigs and events we can play.

Owen: It also gives us the chance to change our music. Shifting the focus between the two-piece and four-piece allows us to change the music we play. They are the same songs but we have the ability to alter them to suit the occasion – and that transitional spirit is one of the greatest things about music.

Despite being a country band, you don’t ape the American accent or twang. You sound local.

Orla: The music industry today is very different from what it used to be. Nowadays it is important to be original whilst still giving an audience a style it is familiar with. To quote Van Morrison, 'everything’s been done'. The struggle for artists today is that very belief, that there are no surprises left in what music can offer. So it is essential for music to deliver something new, and it can, but it requires a fresh approach. It is very easy to get up on stage and sing generic songs in an American accent but it is hard to communicate the story to an audience who are not from that country and hear nothing in the songs they can relate to. Music is supposed to be about making a connection with your audience, telling them a story they can identify with, that they can believe. If we are up there singing like Americans when the audience knows we are not then it will come across as insincere.

Owen: It’s all about being genuine and honest. We aim to be pretty honest in our songs and when we’re singing about the people we know and the places we’re from then it just made sense to be consistent and sing in our accents. It also helps an on stage performance – when you can be absorbed and totally involved with your songs and lyrics then that shows and hopefully reflects on to an audience.

What are the drawbacks and advantages to being a Northern Irish country band?

Orla: Ireland has a big country scene, singers like Dominic Kirwan and Philomena Begley have established themselves as country artists and they have been very successful in doing so. There are numerous festivals all over Ireland and the UK that are extremely popular amongst fans of the genre. We feel this genre is really making a comeback at the minute. Especially amongst younger artists who are now opening up to the style. The drawback though is that we are the next generation and the things we write and sing about are different. The country music scene is unpredictable, we have people tell us they love what we are doing and we have others say it would be better if we sang in a more 'authentic' country accent. Country music has an associated cliché factor and it’s difficult to break through that stereotype and get people to listen.

Owen: Even the term ‘country’ has various connotations attached to it – especially in Ireland where the country scene is dominated and intrinsically linked to those artists. So being connected with people like that is weird because I would never listen to them but it means that there are so many people – punters, DJs and gig-promoters etc – who will show an automatic interest in the style of music we play.

And again I’d have to highlight the fact that we’re more than just straight up ‘country’ band.

Has being from Northern Ireland influenced you as musicians or as songwriters?

Orla: Like any artist, we are influenced by our surroundings and we write songs accordingly. I think on a larger scale the music scene has been held back in this country by the political events of the last few decades. But in the last decade, in particular, there has been a huge focus on the music we are generating and a massive difference in how it is received by the 'outside world'. I think, in terms of lyrics, we are more influenced by the events in our lives as individuals rather than in regards to politics. So I guess in a sense we are writing about things that everyone can identify with, worldwide. As well as that, in the past decade promoters have been able to bring in bands from overseas to play at our festivals like the Open House Festival, Out to Lunch Festival and Belfast Nashville Festival.

Things seem to be taking off for Louisiana Joyride. You recently released your first EP and you played the final gig at the Black Box with The Bittersweets. Where next?

Orla: We will be playing the Belfast Nashville Festival in February this year as well as a selection of other gigs in Belfast in March. We are also playing the Kilkenny Roots Festival April/May and we hope we can get a few more festivals booked to really get our music out to a wider audience. We would love to get our album recorded and hopefully go on tour to promote it. Promoters and the media are our best friends these days, as they are the gateway to our audience. You can find out all our upcoming gigs on our MySpace. (www.myspace.com/louisianajoyride).

If someone bought your EP what could they expect to get in terms of your music?

Orla: We recorded the EP back in July last year as a two-piece back when we were trying to find our footing in the local music industry. It has five tracks which we deemed to be our most popular at the time. We wanted to keep it simple and honest and listeners so far have commented on how they found it enjoyable to listen to in regards to the music and the lyrics. I think our songs have quite a twisted humour and listeners appreciate the honesty.

With the Belfast Nashville Songwriters Festival coming up there are going to be lots of country music stars in Belfast over the next few weeks. Are you going to attend any of the concerts or workshops?

Orla: Absolutely. This is the perfect opportunity for us to speak to artists who have influenced our music. Nanci Griffith for instance was a favourite of my mum, I remember her album being played as a kid, so to see her live and maybe even talk to her would be a huge honour.

Owen: There will be a big thrill in having an actual real-life connection to the music that’s influenced us. Previously, these artists would have been very inaccessible but now that we have the opportunity to share a stage with them and interact with them as artists, it’s an opportunity we’ll be grabbing with both hands.

Do you think it's a good opportunity for local musicians?

Orla: It is the perfect opportunity for local musicians to play with international artists. Not only because we are honoured to grace the same stage as many of them, but because we have the chance to show audiences that country music is not just imported but it is home-grown. It is a good opportunity for us to contrast the American sound with our local sound, to open the audience’s mind to the music they have on their doorstep.

Are there any country musicians or songwriters who aren't at the Belfast Nashville Songwriters Festival that you’d have been excited to see and why?

Orla: That’s an easy one! If I had my way I would have Patsy Cline resurrected just for the occasion. I would love to see the Felice Brothers and Gillian Welch just for starters. But realistically there are so many bands and artists out there that it is difficult to accommodate them all. I just hope that I can squeeze them all into my life-time.

Owen: Hmmm… again I’ll have to plead my ignorance in the country music genre. Although there are a few Nashville based guitarists that I’d love to see live and maybe even blag a quick lesson from. Guys like Lee Roy Parnell and Tony Joe White would be on the wish list.

If you had to be shipwrecked on an island, like in Lost, with one country music star, who would you pick and why? (You don't have to like their music, maybe you just think they'd taste good if worst came to worst.)

Orla: That’s a tough one. I guess I'd have to bend the rules a bit and pick Jackson Browne, but 1970s Jackson Browne. He is a phenomenal songwriter and not too bad to look at.

Owen: I’ll be really obvious and pick someone like Jonny Cash or Willie Nelson. Their tales of what they used to get up to back in the day would help pass the long evenings during monsoon season.