If you think a crew of Irish bluegrass folksters who mess with the country scene are off-brand for DigBoston, then it’s time for you to get acquainted with their unique sound and style, a mesmerizing spectacle of finger-picking talent and relentless showmanship. They’re pretty damn hilarious as well, as you’ll see from the responses they gave to the curveballs we tossed at band members David Howley, Enda Scahill, and Martin Howley ahead of their upcoming show at the Somerville Theatre.
What’s the quick version of why there are four people in a band with the word “three” in the name?
DH: When we started the band, there were three banjos. I’ve been relieved of my banjo duties since then. Plus, Ben Folds Five is only three people; at least with us you get one more than you bargained for.
What’s it like to split your time between Galway and Nashville? What’s the biggest similarity between the two places?
DH: We feel really lucky to be from Galway; it’d be hard to find another town like it in the world. We grew up with a world-class International Arts Festival, music in every pub and street corner—there’s just a general love for culture built into the ethos of the entire city. It’s what influenced the creation of the band itself; we love playing and just try to have as much fun as we can every night. I think the audience can feel that too: There’s no need to even know the songs beforehand, we’ll teach you everything you need to know.
Coming to Nashville has been an incredible experience; I’ve learned a lot and made some amazing friends. There’s a beautiful understanding here for music and the musician lifestyle. When you come home after a long couple of months on the road people act like you never left. Music runs in the veins of both cities. I’m not sure I could live without that.
How big is your fan base in Greater Boston compared to other places you tour?
ES: Boston has a really vibrant, active Irish community who are huge supporters of Irish music and bands. They stay right up to date with the current Irish scene and are very connected to all happenings in Ireland. There are many great Irish bands who tour through the area, and Irish music is very much alive. As a result, we’ve sold out practically every gig we’ve done in the Greater Boston area.
You’re active in country markets in America, but is that a perfect fit for you? Is there any category that really works for you?
ES: We’ve had huge success across the Irish and Celtic markets, establishing ourselves as a headline act at Irish fests such as Milwaukee and Dublin, Ohio. In recent years we’ve made great inroads into the folk and bluegrass worlds, headlining at huge festivals like Merlefest, ROMP, Old Settlers, Four Corners, and Winnipeg Folk Festival. One of the standout attributes of the band is our musical flexibility, allowing us to rouse a bluegrass audience from their lawn chairs and on to their feet, and get the Irish audiences stomping on the bleachers and belting out the choruses. We’ve become known for mixing Irish musical virtuosity with Americana entertainment and bluegrass flair.
You hold “over a dozen All Ireland titles.” What does that mean? How competitive is banjo playing over there?
MH: Banjo playing in Ireland is intense and cutthroat. The level of competition is akin to the Olympics and the Tour De France combined. It is said that banjo is the instrument of ancient Celtic Kings, so everyone wants to play banjo. Once you have won a title, everything changes. Being mobbed on the street by adoring fans, hiring a big security detail. Not every hero wears a cape; some play the banjo.
Are there serious banjo rivalries? Like East Coast vs West Coast hip-hop in the 1990s?
MH: The banjo rivalries are mainly intercontinental. In Ireland, we play the four-string tenor, whereas in the US, the banjo of choice is five-string. The rivalry is more of a mutual appreciation, however, as the crossover and cross-pollination possibilities are much more valuable. We are better together, basically. It’s a little-known fact that Biggie (Notorious B.I.G.) won a[n] All-Ireland tenor Banjo title in 1985. He had a promising banjo career.
Is it true that Barack Obama is a fan? How do you think our current president feels about your music?
MH: We were lucky enough to meet Barack at the Friends of Ireland luncheon. He was extremely charismatic. We chatted about life after presidency, and he mentioned he has always yearned to play the banjo. Although last we heard, he is now playing Irish fiddle and wearing red pants (our fiddler, Fergal, left a strong impression on young Barack). We have not heard anything about President Trump’s fondness for banjo. We will keep you posted. Maybe the Mueller investigation will reveal that the president plays banjo all the time.
WE BANJO 3. SAT FEB. 2.9. SOMERVILLE THEATRE, 55 DAVIS SQUARE, SOMERVILLE. ALL AGES. SOMERVILLETHEATRE.COM WEBANJO3.COM