March is all about Purim, and Purim is when Celtic traditions and Irish whiskey… wait a sec. Sorry. Wrong holiday. March brings in St. Patrick’s Day, when all of us find our inner Irish. The Indulgers aren’t just Colorado’s most beloved Celtic rock band—their fan base spans the globe. Here, founder and vocalist/songwriter Damien McCarron talks about what it’s like to be a rock star one day a year, how they stay busy the other 364 and why being a niche act is actually a good thing…
French Davis: Why did you decide to focus on this particular musical niche?
Damien McCarron: There’s always been an active passion for Ireland’s culture inside of me. Growing up I spent far more time at the Irish college in Galway (Gaelteacht) than any of my friends from Dublin and I’ve been singing all my life, it seems. My father was part of Guinness Choir and it likely rubbed off; my grandfather was a recording artist in Scotland many decades ago also. It was a natural form of folk music to fall into for me. I truly only wanted to record the songs I’d written, make that life-long dream come true and settle into normal daily life.
FD: Do you find that having such a specific sound hamstrings you as far as mainstream popularity goes or does it help you keep busy gigging?
DM: I suppose it’s fair to say that being non-mainstream means we don’t get some opportunities to play, but we’ve no idea what they would be. I’ve heard all sorts of comments over time about being a niche band and the reality is that perceptions can be very wrong. We’ve played some high profile events that break the rule but generally we’re delighted to have an audience and they do come from all walks of life. There are niches inside the niche and that’s where it gets complicated.
FD: How have The Indulgers evolved musically since their inception?
DM: Most of our CDs start out with 50 songs and come down to 12 or 13 by the end of the project. We try to get the very best of our material on a CD. We hope each song makes it on its own merit and if there’s a tie in the concept, as there was on “Out In The West,” it’s a great bonus. This last CD was inspired by the stories of the new frontier from letters Mike’s grandfather had written. The current project will reflect the inspiration from a recent tour of Ireland.
FD: You must be in high demand for St. Patrick’s Day.
What percentage of your band’s gross proceeds comes from holiday-related gigs?
DM: St. Patrick’s week is an important time for us. The band plays year-round and some summer months are actually much busier than March. There’s a real opportunity to meet new folks when the bias is on Irish culture in March of course. We try to widen the scope year-round as it’s not too hard to be busy in March. We do turn down some very nice opportunities in March, but St. Patrick’s Day only happens once a year. We have some great friends and supporters at many annual events that keep us busy.
FD: How do you stay relevant the rest of the year?
DM: To keep fluid musically we have two resident gigs (Conor O’Neill’s, Boulder) and (Exchange Tavern, Westminster). These monthly engagements are a great way to keep up our chops and develop new songs. We also play great venues like Nissi’s two or three times a year. The summer concert series events are a big part of our summer and we’ve been invited to some prominent Irish/Celtic national festivals in New York, New Jersey, San Francisco, Kansas City, Chicago and many other places.
FD: What challenges have been the hardest for The Indulgers to overcome?
DM: As an independent outfit we lack the ability to just get up and go without taking time and cost factors into account. We’ve run into a few characters over the years that Satan himself might run from, but that’s the music business. Whatever the issues, we’ve stuck it out and believed in the music and enjoyed that experience in an organic manner. We could use some help to getting our music out to a wider audience.
FD: Have you had the opportunity to play with any of your heroes yet? If so, what was that like for you?
DM: The Young Dubliners had us playing in Vail with them early on and over the years we’ve shared time on stage with lots of Irish musicians that I grew up listening to including Glen Harsard of The Frames, the winner of last year’s Oscar. (Glen Harsard earned an Academy Award in 2008 for Best Song for the film Once.) Last year we finally got a few songs on stage with Neale Heywood, the guitarist for Fleetwood Mac. When we went to Ireland, Johnny Fean of Horslips (Irish Legends) joined us for four songs and that was a very special evening.
FD: Can you tell me a little about your songwriting process?
DM: Irish music from a songwriter’s point of view is to tell a story, paint a picture. We have a songwriting process that begins with Mike making up a new tune in his head. He’ll have started tracking before long and as the tunes develop I’ll get to chime in. Renee looks for the fiddle line and Chris and Pat are ready to add drums and bass lines in rehearsal. I’m generally behind on the words and can take a while to develop parts with Mike.
FD: Any big news to share for the near future?
DM: We fully expect to launch the seventh CD this year. We just recorded and made a video of the title track “Whiskey Tonight.” (Check it out at www.shamrocker.com.) We’re planning to rake up the miles again this summer and looking at the details of our next Irish tour. We’re planning a fall tour of Texas and there’s exciting talk of a trip to the Netherlands and Germany to look into. We also hope to record a “live” CD of our side-project The Wild Mountain Celts in the near future.