Interview with The Orphan Brigade
During their recent Italian tour we managed to have a long distance conversation with Ben Glover, Neilson Hubbard, and Joshua Brit from The Orphan Brigade as they travelled between shows.
There’s more to The Orphan Brigade than you three guys. Tell me who else is involved and what lead to the formation of the band?
The three of us write the songs but The Orphan Brigade recording band is a community of musicians out of Nashville who were playing on each other’s albums.
The band for the last two records has featured Gretchen Peters, Kim Richey, Barry Walsh, Kris Donegan, Dan Mitchell, Eamon McLoughlin, Dean Marold, Will Kimbrough, Natalie Schlabs, Heather Donegan, Audrey Spillman and Kira Small.
The three of us formed The Orphan Brigade in 2013 after we toyed with the idea of making music together in a haunted house in Kentucky. That led to us writing and recording a record in that very house, ‘Soundtrack To A Ghost Story’.
Do you share similar musical influences and how do they feature in your music?
There are definitely shared musical influences between us and those seep into our work the way any influence does. As well as musical common ground we like similar artists, books and filmmakers. Everything from Dylan to Bill Monroe, David Lynch to Christopher Nolan, Salinger to NFL films, Tom Waits would be a big influence on us all.
He is wild. He is charismatic. He can light you on fire. And he can break your heart. He is utterly unique and has paved a path in this industry that is only his. He marches to the beat of his own broken drum.
You recorded the first album in a civil war era haunted house in America. The second album was recorded in a pre-Christian cave system in Italy. What are the stories behind those places that made you chose them as recording venues?
The connection to Octagon Hall; the haunted house in Franklin, Kentucky, was Josh who originally comes from that town. His uncle Billy runs Octagon Hall as a museum. We were fascinated by its history as it was a hospital and camp for soldiers during the American Civil War.
Whether or not you believe in ghosts, it’s hard to deny that the house has a very strange energy and, for us, it stirred up a lot of creative juices. In 2013-2014 we would visit the house at night and write songs by candlelight, basically just allowing the spirit of the house dictate what the songs were.
That album became the album and film documentary ‘Soundtrack To A Ghost Story’. In 2016 we toured the album in Italy and visited the town of Osimo. It has an incredible history and has a tunnel and cave system that runs underneath its streets dating back 2,500 years.
They were used by groups such as Masons, Knights Templar, monks, and even some who went on to become saints. We felt an immediate attraction to the place and its history and in October 2016 we spent ten days in the tunnels writing songs and doing some recording which became our latest album ‘Heart Of The Cave’.
The earthquake that struck during recording of the second album certainly makes for great storytelling and album publicity, but how did it feel personally to be caught up in the event and did it influence the songwriting process?
It scared the hell out of us! There actually were three earthquakes in Osimo when we were there; the largest being 6.6 on the Richter Scale. None of us had experienced a quake before so it overwhelming and powerful and naturally shook our foundations enough to inspire a song. We wrote ‘The Birds Are Silent’ based on this encounter and tried to channel the deep unease we felt into that song.
Over the short period of two albums, you’ve recorded some very memorable and accomplished music. Do you feel this down to a natural chemistry between you as musicians and songwriters?
Absolutely. We’ve been very lucky to have written and recorded in incredible places that have very inspiring and intense atmospheres and spirits. On a writing front, the three of us seem to be able to connect on a meaningful level both with each other and also with the locations we find ourselves in. The Orphan Brigade is a close community of friends as well as musical cohorts so that definitely helps with the creative chemistry.
You are touring as a three-piece. Have you found that you’ve had to re-arrange the songs to suit the stripped back format?
The core of the band is the three-piece. The songs were born in that format so we don’t feel that we’ve had to strip anything back. Naturally, when we play as the full band the sound is bigger but the three-piece still has an impactful energy.
The European leg of the tour started with ten dates in Italy before dates in Northern Ireland and Scotland in the New Year. Why Italy to begin the tour?
We wanted to start off the tour eating well so we thought it best to kick off the tour in Italy. Plus with the Italian town of Osimo being the inspiration for the new album we felt it appropriate to start the journey here.
What do you do between shows to unwind?
Neilson: For me it’s photography and running.
Josh: One thing I love to do is photography, especially time-lapse photography over the towns we’re visiting.
Ben: Nothing terribly rock’n’roll to report. I try to run most days and if we have time get out and walk around and try to get a feel of the place where we are.
I guess this one is for Ben. How excited are you to be bringing the band to Northern Ireland for what are two homecoming shows for you?
I’ve wanted to bring the guys over for some home shows since we formed the band so I am very excited. I’ve been telling Neilson and Josh for a while that the Irish audiences are the best and now I get the chance to prove it.
Each of you has your own successful music career outside of the band. What are your solo future plans?
Neilson and Josh: We’re working on a lot of film and photography together. Some of the projects we’re involved in at the moment are John Prine, Jason Isbell, Lucinda Williams and Mary Gauthier.
Ben: I’m finishing up my next solo album. It’s called ‘Shorebound’ and will be released in May.
Would I be right to assume that schedules permitting you’ll be back recording as a band again?
Yes indeed. When the next location finds us – or we find it – we’ll be continuing The Orphan Brigade journey.
The Orphan Brigade also recently announced their first English date at AmericanaFest UK on the 30th January 2018.