The Lost Brothers Interview
They are about to celebrate ten years together, release a new album and hit the road again. We caught up with Oisin Leech and Mark McCausland AKA The Lost Brothers for a chat as they prepare for the tour.
Let’s go back to the beginning. How did you both meet and what lead to the formation of the band?
Oisin: We met at house parties fifteen odd years ago and our old bands toured the same UK circuit but always came home to the same city – Liverpool. When both bands drifted we just found ourselves listening to the same records and strumming from the same song well. Also we kept bumping into each other at the bus stop and chatting music- it was a sign. People just started calling us The Lost Brothers one day. Probably because we lived in record shops and looked lost. The name just stuck.
Mark: We met around 2002-2003 when Liverpool was buzzing. We both lived there and played in our own bands, The Basement and the 747s. Mike Crossey was working on both our albums at the same time. We used to meet up and play each other our demos. After listening I would say to Oisin; “I wish my band sounded more like your band.” and he would say, “I wish my band sounded more like your band.” We ended up leaving our other bands and starting our own.
Oisin: Also we’d both been through the big label whirlwind so we were eager to make music on our own terms and see where that takes us.
Do you share similar musical influences and how do they feature in your music?
Mark: We both come from very musical families, Irish traditional music being seeped into our blood from an early age. We love all the great songwriters like Tom Waits, Dylan, MacGowan, Townes Van Zandt, Van Morrison, and Hank Williams. Mix that with a bit of harmony singing like the Louvin Brothers or the Everlys, add a pinch of folk guitar picking and you have the Losties soup. Oisin grew up listening to punk and I was a bit of a grunger when I was a kid, so a bit of that works its way onto the songs, although a bit more subtly. We also love good soundtracks and always try and get an instrumental or two on our albums.
Oisin: We definitely shared a love for songwriters like Fred Neil and Harry Nilsson but our sound just happened by accident. All the records we’d ever listened to just poured out into this little sound we had. We’d sit over a tiny gas fire at night in Omagh or Navan studying albums like ‘The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’. Lucky really. Golden times. We were fortunate to grow up around music as kids. My mum and sister are great singers and my dad plays great Irish fiddle. I was born in Meath in Ireland. Mark’s family is also steeped in music. He grew up in Tyrone. My mum used to read to us at night time around the fire; poems by Patrick Kavanagh and children’s stories by Oscar Wilde. It was a great childhood surrounded by music and art.
The first album ‘Trails Of The Lonely’ was released in 2008. Have you found the recording process has changed over the years and if so how?
Oisin: In 2008 we wrote quickly and recorded quickly. Now we work even faster. But we write a lot more songs these days and keep a lot of songs in the drawer for a rainy day. Only the songs that really survive the filters make it on to the final album. The songs have to jump more hoops these days to make it on the album.
As songwriters and musicians do you feel you’ve changed over your time together?
Oisin: We don’t really write setlists anymore. On stage, we can read each other’s mind and know what song comes next. That kind of telepathy comes after ten years gigging nonstop. Fun really. The songs are getting better too. I can feel it.
Mark: Maybe we’ve grown up a bit. Not much. Just a bit.
You toured heavily in support of ‘New Songs Of Dawn And Dust’ during 2015-2016 then 2017 saw you both take a break and work with other musicians. Was this a deliberate choice?
Mark: When we started out ten years ago we a shoved everything else aside. After finishing our last gig of the tour we needed to go back and pick up the life we shoved aside and focus a bit more on normal but important everyday life stuff, which we never really did before. We became domesticated Losties. Oisin started a folk club and I opened a record shop! We live in opposite ends of the country so getting together isn’t always easy, but we make time and don’t let it go stale. We guested on a few albums this year too; Dan Sartain, and Steve Wickham. We get together when we can for writing sessions and are in the middle of demoing the next album.
Oisin: Yes we wanted to wait until the new album and new songs were ready before we toured. We’ve done bits and pieces here and there just to stay playing and keep sane. We always have played with other musicians. That’s nothing new. Even off the road, it’s good to just make music and never let the guitar become a stranger. Now it’s The Lost Brothers time. “Season Of The Lost”. I’ve missed it. We both have. Let’s go! Let’s folkin’ rock and roll. Mezz Mezzrow’s book ‘Really The Blues’ taught us to roll.
You’ve just released a new single called ‘Echoes In The Wind’. Tell me about that.
Mark: We wrote that in Milan. It was the first song we wrote for the album and it set the standard for the rest that followed. We were waiting for a spark to set the ball rolling and that song was the spark.
Oisin: ‘Echoes In The Wind’ and another called ‘Where The Shadow Goes’ are probably the cornerstones of the album. When these songs fell on us we knew that it was the start of a new album and a musical departure. The next chapter. Mark and I sang the song live in Rome a few days after we wrote it in Milan and knew it was a keeper. From that grew all the other songs. We spent time off the coast of Morocco and some other new songs that made the album were sparked there. Mark and I take every new song to the ocean and strum it and give it shape and form. We are still learning about writing but it’s the journey towards the work that we love. Then someone sticks on a Shane McGowan song and we just want to quit! How did he write those songs? Genius.
January 2018 sees the release of ‘Halfway Towards A Healing’ – your new album. What can we expect from it?
Oisin: The album is a trip out into the desert. The desert for us is the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Sligo or the Burren near Doolin, or Tara Hill in Meath or Gortin Glen in Tyrone. These songs came from living out on our own desert and drawing from a feeling of absolute freedom. The new album is three years of Mark and I writing songs and only the gold made it onto the final record. It was a fun record to make it and we love it. We hope our audience does too. It was produced by two great pals Howe Gelb and Gabriel Sullivan of Giant Sand in Tucson. Steve Wickham helped us with pre-production on the west coast and our great pal Glen Hansard co-wrote three of the new songs. It’s by far our best album so far. Even if I do say so myself.
It’s an interesting title. Is there a reference to your own musical journey there?
Mark: It probably means something different to each of us, but I find music is a healer. No matter what shit is going on in life when we are making music, I know that that is exactly what I should be doing, and it’s the only time I feel normal.
You have three 10th anniversary shows lined up for December and then the album tour begins in London in January 2018. Are you looking forward to performing the new material on the road?
Oisin: Playing these songs live is a thrill. They feel like the richest and deepest songs we’ve written and every night something new comes out of singing the song. It’s our most soulful and testing bunch of tunes to date. For the homecoming shows and the January-February tour, we have assembled a great band. You can’t miss these gigs folks! It’s going to be a hoot… and a laugh… We hope.
Mark: Bring it on!
Thanks for your time Gents. See you on the road.
The lost Brothers play Belfast’s Black Box on the 14th February 2017. Tickets are on sale now via the The Lost Brothers on Soundkick.
A full list of tour dates can be found on The Lost Brothers’ official website.