Born in Sligo, out of a fireside pub session in 2012, stomping bluegrass/Americana outfit Rackhouse Pilfer are starting to make a huge impression on the Irish and international music scene. From recording their album in Nashville to their collaboration with Tom Jones and Imelda May, Willie Kelly tells Aisling Daly that – with a bit of luck and chancing your arm – wonderful things can happen.
Picture this – six lads driving in a van, buzzing from the gig they just played, laughing, chatting and dreaming about what legendary producer they would love to work with on their album. A few names come up in conversation, but at the top of the list is one of their “heroes” Ethan Jones, who has worked with the likes of Ryan Adams, Paul McCartney and Kings of Leon.
“We were messing about thinking of who we’d love to produce it and he was number one. So I brazenly said ‘let’s try it, why not?’ So I found a number for his manager and I called him up and he was lovely. He asked me to send on some demos, so I did; and we kind of got a polite ‘no’. We got a ‘not this time’ but they didn’t close the door. They left the door open and said ‘come back to us again’.”
Fast forward a year, and with a trip to Nashville and a new album under their belts, the lads found themselves having the very same conversation in the van. This spurred Willie into action once more and he got in contact with Ethan’s manager again, this time sending him the band’s most recent album, Love and Havoc.
“Fast forward another two weeks and we got another email from his manager out of the blue saying ‘here’s a cool opportunity for you. Ethan would like to invite you to be the session band on a couple of songs with Tom Jones. It’s just crazy. It just goes to show you that if you dream big and stick your neck out there things can happen…
Even though we’re doing well here in Ireland and abroad we’re still an independent band, we do everything ourselves. So it really is a bit of a victory for the small guy. Chancing your arm a bit! We do have a strong belief in ourselves and what we do, we enjoy what we do ourselves and we know what transcends and I guess we’ve gotten confidence from the reactions that we get off people at our gigs and to be able to pick up the phone to people like that and try to sell it to them [Ethan Jones] as well!. At the same time Ethan obviously heard something in our recordings that he liked and that he wanted to explore.”
The lads drove to London where they would be recording in Church Studios, “the premier league of studios” according to Willie. U2’s latest album was recorded there and it houses the recording console from the world-famous Abby Road Studio where Pink Floyd and The Beatles made their magic. Understandably being thrust into the world of the musical elite, Rackhouse were “really nervous”, but Ethan was nothing but a calming influence and gave them total artistic freedom. “He wasn’t instructing the guys to play and sing in a particular way. He literally wanted us to play the way we play. Straight away that just puts your fears at ease and we just got down to work.”
Tom Jones and Imelda May arrived to the studio shortly after. “It was a good, intense working day. They took us out to lunch and it was kind of cool walking down the street with Tom and Imelda and everyone looking at us wondering who we were!”
What spurred this collaboration in the first place was the original album Love and Havoc they had recorded the previous year in Nashville. But in typical Rackhouse style, there were a few unexpected changes to the schedule while they were in ‘the home of country music’.
While in a guitar shop sampling the wares, the six lads were approached by shop assistants, and asked to come back the following Sunday to feature in a promotional video for the store. At the video shoot, they were being watched by a renowned session player from the country music scene who obviously liked what he heard.
“He was having a birthday bash at the Station Inn Bar with an all-star audience of musicians and actors. He heard us playing in the music shop and invited us down and we played a 40 minute opening set before his band jumped up. It was just a party really, but it was quite a cool thing to do nonetheless. There’s a queue the length of that city to play in that bar. So…just lucky…very lucky things that don’t necessarily get you anywhere but they mean a lot.”
If you haven’t already been lucky enough to see Rackhouse Pilfer perform live, you can check out their October tour dates on Facebook.
Rackhouse Pilfer feature on Tom Jones’ upcoming album Long Lost Suitcase due for release on October 9th. Pre-order the album here.