“I do like a big stupid project as well. I think I work better and I’ll deliver more if I have this massive task in front of me.”
St. Patrick’s festivities aren’t for everyone. It’s likely that the idea of spending the day in town with huge crowds, leprechaun hats and spilled pints isn’t your thing. This year, however, brings something we have always longed for.
2018’s St Patrick’s Festival is showcasing a wide array of national talent with Kormac: Equivalent Exchange taking place at Vicar Street on Sunday March 18. Equivalent Exchange, created by the widely loved producer, DJ and composer Kormac, will will feature over 30 homegrown acts accompanied by The Irish Chamber Orchestra and visuals from Dublin’s very own Maser.
All aspects of the show involve deep collaboration and this genre-hopping event celebrates Irish artists including ArtSoul, singer-songwriter Loah and composer and conductor Eimear Noone performing a brand new collection of songs on the night. The show is awash with brand new material written for and with the Irish Chamber Orchestra and some of Ireland’s most talented artists and musicians.
Equivalent Exchange, the result of residing in Bulgaria to study under Europe’s leading composers, orchestrators and conductors to learn new production and writing methods, an inspiring and unique show celebrating our new cultural influences and what it means to celebrate our country these days.
We caught up with Kormac in eager anticipation of this year’s alternative St Patrick’s Day celebrations.
So tell us a little bit about the project?
Basically it’s called ‘Equivalent Exchange’ and the whole thing was born out of a couple of ideas where I could write a show for a chamber orchestra. I wanted to start from scratch and know that I had that in my palette and go from there. We slowly developed the idea of ‘Equivalent Exchange’ which was that I would write this suite of music with an orchestra in mind and then invite some collaborators in. People like Loah and Eimear Noone and Maser.
You went to Bulgaria to get orchestral training. Did you grow up with classical knowledge or is that something completely new?
I can read music and stuff but when I studied I did a music and media master’s in Trinity. When I was on that course I sort of focused more on the software side of it and building plug-ins. My master’s thesis was building a big software thing that was controlled by turntables. When I took on this project I did a lot of work myself on it. Then from there I went to Bulgaria to study with some conductors and composers and work with up to 38-piece orchestras just to get out there. It’s a completely different thing. I mean, I’m known for working with live musicians in a club setting or a festival setting, whereas there’s a whole different dynamic when you’re working with orchestras.
Not just because there are so many people, but for loads of different reasons. I wanted to get out there and learn about that and make my mistakes there. I wanted to very humbly go at it and try and immerse myself in it and be the guy with the least knowledge in the room and build it up that way, you know?
It’s a one off show, is that right?
Yeah, it is in the way that with all of these collaborators and all of these guests… I’m not likely to get them all back in a room again. So to that end, yes. That said, I have written a bunch of new music for it, so I’m not just going to kill that there either. There is a single coming and we have a few surprises lined up as well. I’ve been in the studio the last couple of days mixing those tunes as well. To get everyone from Maser, flying in Eimear Noone from the States, having Loah there, having Jack O’ Rourke up from Cork, having Shayan Coohe and his brother Shahab there too… Just to get everyone there on top of an orchestra and on top of my Big Band is a huge ask. It’ll be a while before you see it in Dublin for sure.
The work you did with Maser is really interesting. I was reading that you brought him through different parts of the orchestra and that he made shapes and decided colours from that – almost a synaesthetic way of working and creating.
It’s really interesting sitting with Alan seeing how he reacts to my music and how his process is totally different to mine in a way. I played him a house track for example and he was seeing that as a broad shape and a certain colour. That kind of thing is always interesting. Part of the joy when you work with that many collaborators is what you learn and what you take from it. Watching other people create and seeing what they’ll bring that you wouldn’t have gotten on your own. That’s the real joy in it. Although it does take a bit longer, it’s certainly worth it for that reason.
So, you started off solo. Now you’re doing a show with over 30 people in it.
I started on my own. My first live show under the Kormac name had three of us playing for 15 minutes before one of the guys from Jurassic 5. We played for 15 minutes because all we had was 15 minutes and we did this big fuck off intro and everything, but nobody complained. A lot of artists will start off like that and then strive to get really big and powerful sounds that nobody else has done.
Is that something that you had always planned or did it just happen?
I mean for sure, I’ve always embraced working with live instruments. It’s kind of what my background is. I grew up playing instruments and stuff so it’s more natural for me to that extent I suppose. Did I envisage it?
I don’t know if I was fully sure I’d be working with an orchestra way back then, you know? It was a bit of a step by step thing. A couple of years ago I got more into film music and music that would utilise orchestras, so it kind of knocked around the idea in my head. You find yourself writing for orchestras a bit and it influences your listening and your writing. So it just sort of happened organically. That said, I do like a big stupid project as well. I think I work better and I’ll deliver more if I have this massive task in front of me.
You’ve explored so many different genres in your work and now you have a full orchestra. Is it hard to work with the different needs of the different styles?
To be honest it was something that this time around I tried to decide early on. I’m into so many types of music and different genres so I suppose people can see eclecticism in my work. You know, that can get messy when you’re sitting down trying to write an album or a live show because you’re just sitting there going ‘What am I going to write?’. I tried to decide on the tone of it before I involved anyone.
To describe that better, I had essentially written the tracks and mocked them up a bit and then gone to someone like Loah with let’s say 70 per cent of the track or even less done. I would be like ‘ok, you react to this and write a bunch of stuff over it’. She will come back to me and I’ll rewrite it again and put the strings on it and that. Then I’ll go to the orchestra and show them what string arrangements are done and they’ll be like ‘what about this?’. There’s a lot of back and forth.
That’s what the Equivalent Exchange concept is sort of about. Equivalent Exchange is a notion that you have to give up something to gain something new. So, in my case, I’ve kind of given up a degree of control as well because I’m involved with collaborators a bit earlier. As per the tone or what type of music it is, that would be me. I would decide what each track is broadly going to sound like and what type of song it is and all that.
With your latest album you worked with Irvine Welsh. How did that come about?
We have a mutual friend. I had written a piece of music that I wanted a bit of a spoken word thing over and my friend suggested Irvine to me. I sent it to Irvine and he liked it. He was all about it. It took about a year to get us in the same room though because Irvine lives in the States and I was in Dublin.
The time he was back I was away and this went on for a year. One night I got a call and he told me he was back in Edinburgh and he said ‘Can you come here tomorrow morning?’ and I was like ‘yes!’ I was on the first flight out and before one o’ clock I was standing in his office where he had written all of these books and you ‘realise oh right okay this is actually happening’.
It was brilliant. It was one of my best moments in music just on a personal level in that he’s such a gentleman. He sat down in front of me and said ‘Ok, what will we write about?’. I was like ‘fucking hell, Irvine Welsh is asking me what I want him to write about’, you know what I mean? We just kicked ideas back and forth and he wrote about what he wrote about and we were done in about two or three hours. I was back in Dublin that night editing. He’s a gentleman and a really nice guy.
We still speak a little bit as well. It was a big honour and privilege to have him on the record. I like things that people don’t expect. Particularly with collaborators. I like having that.
Kormac’s Equivalent Exchange takes place on March 18 in Vicar Street. Click here for more.