Space is the place for Cork's Boa Morte

With new album ‘The Total Space’, Cork alt-folkers Boa Morte move into ambience and soundscaping, representing a departure for the long-running four-piece on the 25th anniversary of their formation, and a new context for longtime production partner Daniel Presley. Mike McGrath-Bryan finds out more.
Space is the place for Cork's Boa Morte

Boa Morte formed in 1998 and their fourth album will celebrate their 25th anniversary.

There are bands on a city’s scene who, by the vagaries of chance, coincidence, or, more often than not, sheer bloody-mindedness, not only manage to stay together, but do so quietly, as their music weaves in and out of the fabric of their own wider lives, and those of the people who take them to heart.

Boa Morte are one of those bands for Cork City - coming together in 1998, and establishing their form, taking their time before releasing debut album ‘Soon It Will Come Time to Face the World Outside’ in 2002 to rapturous critical acclaim and hectic touring that saw them share stages with the likes of Teenage Fanclub and Calexico.

Their body of work has been as deliberate and considered as their tunes, with the band releasing four long-players in the last 25 years - two of them emerging in the last four, the most recent of which, ‘The Total Space’, revels in investing the band’s considered and often lo-fi alternative folk with expansive soundscapes, a decision that came about as the album was coming together.

“We were recording it for quite a while, and working on it for quite a while”, says multi-instrumentalist Cormac Gahan. “There comes a certain point where you can't really listen to it much more - you have enough, and you lose objectivity really. Even more so, the way it was recorded this time, because, y'know, we recorded demos, parts of which ended up on the record, then we recorded a big session in a studio, then we did overdubs. It's a long recording process, so you've had enough by the end of it, but I think it sounds good.”

The band speaks of this album in terms of their own ‘fundamentals’ - and how the protracted nature of the writing process represented an opportunity to appraise what’s worked for them, and make interventions with a range of synths and other gear, expanding on sonic space created and explored on 2019’s ‘Before There Was Air’ album, and allowing them to continue their own mission of moving forward as a band.

“For the first few albums, Paul or Cormac will come with a song, typically written on an acoustic or piano at home, they'll bring it in, the band will jam it,” says guitarist Bill Twomey. “We'll get it into shape, we'll develop overdubs, and we'll go ahead and record it. I think what happened this time is, it was it was different in that we did that piece, the four of us working together to develop the songs.

“But I guess, over the pandemic, we managed to invest in some technology that we're able to bring into play. So typically Cormac or myself will take the songs away that we demo'd in the studio and work on synth overdubs, or putting effects over certain tracks, fleshing out the songs to a greater degree than maybe we would have had on previous albums. There was a lot more pre-production put into this, and it's almost like the technology, the synthesisers, the plugins... the technology that we bought almost became another band member, in some ways, that we managed to incorporate, and evolve pretty significantly by doing it.”

Boa Morte have maintained a continuity of sound over 25 years.
Boa Morte have maintained a continuity of sound over 25 years.

“The first thing is, we really enjoyed working with Daniel, he's great fun to work with. [Which is important] because you're going to be spending a week with this person. We knew we'd get on very well. He's also got a very well-tuned ear, he's a great musician.

“At the beginning, we sort-of felt that he was a bit old school, that he cut his teeth on analogue equipment, which is what we wanted, but I was quite surprised at how he adapted to technology in the studio, even though he hasn't actually worked in music for quite a while, he's been doing a lot of writing screenplays, and so on, a writer now, rather than a producer.

“I suppose the fact that we've worked with him before, just recording the band in a room, it's what we went back to, but this time, we're adding stuff on top of that. He lives between Paris and The Hague, I think, and so we knew it was just a quick flight over for him - we just pitched him the idea of coming to work in Dundalk in a studio, and he jumped at the chance, so it was quite easy to do.”

One thing that doesn’t move at a considered pace in the least is the record business. Released on vinyl and digital formats via London label Gare du Nord, ‘The Total Space’ is on something of a victory lap at present, with the album being well-received in reviews thus far, and singles being playlisted on RTÉ Radio 1 and BBC Radio 6 among other outlets - but the band continue to see change in their own musical lifetimes, and find themselves approaching the streaming model with a degree of curiosity.

“It's an odd one. We're happy with the response, any reviews that we've gotten have been very, very positive,” says Gahan. “Even with the last album, there were set outlets that you're pretty sure you'll get a review from, but the amount of channels that actually do more formal reviews seems to have narrowed significantly. The whole scene has dispersed a lot, in terms of trying to get influential people to listen to your music, and then recommend it to other people. That's become a very much more dispersed model than it used to be.

“It's about trying to get us into the ears of people that can push it to their audiences. That's tough going, y'know, it's really tough yards. One great way of doing it is getting it onto a Spotify editorial playlist, but that's a bit of a black art, and it's far from guaranteed. We did manage with the last album, and got tens of thousands of listens as a result, that we wouldn't otherwise have got.

“Whereas this one, it seems to be rippling out more organically, in the absence of a big splashy review, or getting onto a Spotify editorial playlist. Even looking at the stats that come through from Bandcamp, and Spotify, and Apple, and all that stuff on a daily basis, there's a momentum there that's gradually building.

“Radio play is certainly a big help, but for some reason there's a tonne of people listening to it in South Korea, we just cannot figure it out. It doesn't seem to be played on radio over there, so we don't know why that's happened. It's where we've got our biggest listenership, bigger than Ireland, or the States, or anywhere.”

It’s a different world that Boa Morte finds itself in now, and with ‘real life’ happening all around them as it does, the band is also far more selective of live appearances in which to showcase ‘The Total Space’ in all its splendour. The band leans toward appearances in non-traditional venues, including their most recent excursion to UCC Library, for Culture Night 2022, and launch gigs in the same vein are in the works.

"We've done a couple of gigs in the last few years, like the Glucksman and the UCC library,” says Twomey. “And yeah, we're trying to line up something [soon] for a non-typical gig venue in the city centre. That kind of stuff works for us and especially with some of our newer tunes, which are more ambient in nature tends to work in unusual environments.

“It's more fun to do, as well, y'know, because we're messing with laptops and effects and synths that we weren't in the past. We're trying to make them more like events, and more maybe unique, rather than just going on stage and playing. We typically were never a great gigging band, we never did a lot, but what we've started to realise is that we're enjoying ourselves a lot more live in the last number of gigs than we have previously.”

Boa Morte’s fourth album, ‘The Total Space’, is available for download and streaming here, and on all streaming services. Vinyl copies are available from PLUGD Records, MusicZone and Bunker Vinyl.

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