Thanks to the likes of Carrie Underwood and Jess and The Bandits, the past few years have seen a boom in the popularity of country music. Ireland's own Rackhouse Pilfer, injecting their own alternative stamp on the genre, have also greatly helped the cause thanks to their hugely successful album Love and Havoc, which is being re-released on March 11.
The band; Willie, Leslie, Leon, Mark, Hugh and Fiachra, have already toured with Imelda May and performed with John-Carter-Cash (yes, Johnny's son!) but they are by no means satisfied with their achievements so far. Instead, 2016 sees bigger and better things on the horizon for the group who are looking to release a new album by years' end.
To coincide with the re-release of Love and Havoc, the band are hitting the road for a UK tour and kindly agreed to this interview to talk inspirations, social media, ultimate ambitions and new music.
PW: When did you first realise that you wanted to make music a career?
Willie (drums, guitar, vocals): Personally I grew up in a working musicians’ family, both my parents are successful musicians and on my Mum's side it goes back generations, their bread and butter was entertaining. So from a very young age I started to play drums and I always knew it was the only job for me. Same goes for my band-mates Fiachra and Leon; their families were players too, and all of the rest of the lads have a very natural draw towards it so it's all very natural to us really.
PW: How would you describe your sound?
Leslie (mandolin, vocals): It's rootsy, being a bluegrass string band set up with mandolin, fiddle, banjo, guitar and double bass. But with drums thrown into the mix it's definitely got a rock ‘n’ roll vibe going on, and we're not perfectionists by any means, we put a lot of raw energy into our playing, so I guess it's edgy and almost punky at times!
PW: Which bands and artists are you most influenced by and how do those influences impact the music you create?
Mark (banjo, dobro, vocals): To be honest most of us in the band here were very into heavy rock for a time- Iron Maiden, Metallica, all those kinds of bands. Willie came from a country background his parents had worked with Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson, so that's been a major influence on him. And then in general we all gravitate towards people like Ryan Adams and even his first band Whiskeytown, Gillian Welch, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young; all of those kind of artists. I think we gain our direction of song-writing from there and possibly our edgy rock sound from the heavier bands.
PW: Ireland has produced some amazing musical talents over the years including U2 and The Script, so what makes you stand out?
M: In Ireland, I think we stand out because we don't conform to what people think we should be. I think with our string band slash bluegrass type set up, often bands make the mistake of going for the obvious song choices in that genre. We don't and we certainly don't make boundaries when we write - we'll play any song our way. And also I think another thing that makes us stand out is our vocal strength, we've got 6 strong singers here, our harmonies are quite full on at times, and even then we don't work them till they're sterile, even the harmonies have a great loose feel to them and it seems to work.
PW: Tell me about your latest single "Bright Lights". Is there a story behind it?
W: I wrote that tune. Yeah that song is essentially about emigration. Here in Ireland, so many of our generation have had to leave and look for work abroad because of the economy. I have many really good friends that live all over the world, and I miss them and I guess it was playing on my mind a bit and that song came quite naturally really one day. It's not a negative song either, it's more kind of like a motivational song for anybody that needs to go away from home to work, to just keep going no matter how tough and you'll be okay!
PW: How do you think your song-writing has evolved during your time together and is it something that comes easy to you?
Fiachra (fiddle, dobro, vocals): Myself, Leon and Willie wrote the Love and Havoc album. We were all songwriters before Rackhouse Pilfer existed, so that album really was a case of the song-writer bringing the song to the band in the rehearsal room and it worked out great. This time round there's still a bit of that going on. I mean if a guy brings in a great song he wrote himself at home then that’s cool. But we've also made a conscious effort to try and write as a band and get everyone involved - that's hard to be honest because it's new to us, but we're working away on our next album right now and it's sounding good. Hugh, our youngest member, has written two crackers, so it's great to see him finding his feet.
PW: How do you find the experience of making music videos? Is it something you get fully involved with?
Hugh (double bass, vocals): For our last album a good mate of mine, a guy called Sean Clancy, made all of the videos for our singles. He's young but he's passionate about it - in fact he won an award at a film festival for the video he made for our song “Fallen Leaves”. It was shot with green screen using miniature things made to look huge; for example a piece of broccoli was made to look like a huge forest! Sean likes to take control himself really and plot his vision for a video, so we let him do his thing.
PW: You're to re-release your second album Love and Havoc on March 11. What made you decide to do that?
Leon (guitar, harmonica, vocals): For us it doesn't really seem like re-releasing it, it's more that we're ready to give it some more attention in places like the EU and UK. When we first released it in 2014, we really only gave it a good push in Ireland, and it done so well for us there. But now fast forward 2 years and we're finding ourselves touring in the UK and EU a lot more, so we feel like it's time to breathe new life into the album in these regions, and we really do feel like it's a strong body of work, so why not?
PW: You've been championed by the likes of Hot Press Magazine among others, but how important to you are the thoughts and opinions of critics? Do you honestly care what they say?
Leon: We're delighted Hot Press have taken to us; they've given us several awards and it means a lot. Obviously we care what a critic might say, it's great when it's good and when it's bad it might sting a little for a second, but we move on. We're going to do what we're going to do regardless of outside opinion so there's no use crying in your tea or whiskey as the case may be!
PW: You've supported the likes of Imelda May and performed with John-Carter-Cash among others, but of all the bands and artists you've played with, do any particular ones stand out?
Leslie: Yeah playing before Imelda was great. John Carter Cash is a friend of Willie's so that was a bit of a wild one with some drinks on board!. But I'd have to say the day we recorded with Tom Jones and Imelda May at Church Studios in London would be a stand out moment really - it's not every-day you get to go recording for the next Tom Jones album, and it was a pleasure. They really made us feel at home; we felt like a conference side going to play in the FA Cup final at Wembley that day. We were nervous but we won the match!
PW: Which five artists who can be living or dead would you most like to share a stage with and why?
Leon: I'd have to say Ryan Adams because we're all big fans here; I just wish we could rewind 15 years to his wilder days! Bruce Springsteen because he's the boss, but I think we'd all need gym memberships for a few months first to get match fit for his 3 plus hour long shows. David Bowie cause who wouldn't like to hear a bluegrass version of 'Space Oddity'? Johnny Cash because Willie's been practising his train shuffles real hard and no one sings a train song like Johnny and finally, Iron Maiden because, well let's just rock a little while we're at it!
PW: What was it like to visit and stand in the legendary venue that is the Grand Ole Opry?
W: We were guests there of George Hamilton IV, who was a close family friend of mine. George hung out with us for a bit in the recording studio in Nashville and really liked what we were doing and so he invited us all out to see the Opry show and introduced us to the huge audience, which was really cool of him. George passed away in Sept 2014 not long after that, so it was the last time I saw him and I miss him a lot.
PW: You've got a number of tour dates coming up including a slot at this year's Country 2 Country Festival. Is there any particular show you're most looking forward to playing?
F: Yeah C2C at the O2 is the one right now we're most looking forward to, it's only a few weeks away and we can't wait to rock it there and fly the flag for Ireland.
PW: If you could play any venue in the world, which would it be and why?
M: For me it's always been the Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Denver, Colorado. That place just looks absolutely epic in every sense, and can you imagine the acoustics?!
PW: For those who haven't seen you live before, how would you describe a RP show?
H: The best Rackhouse shows are always the ones where there's a two way street of audience energy and our energy. We always give it 100% but when the crowd is there sweating with you, it just takes it to another planet and we love that. We're best known for our live show really, that's where it's at, so do come along!
PW: Which track(s) do you most like to play live and have you found that there are certain fan favourites?
Leslie: We have been doing a version of Bruce Springsteen's “Atlantic City” right from the very start. That song really was the starting point for us in the fact that we realised our version was grabbing peoples’ attention and making them rock out at gigs. We still play it every night, it never gets old for either us or our fans. It's a must every night!
PW: What are your thoughts on social media and to what extent has it helped get the word about you and your music out to your audience?
F: It certainly helps yeah and we try to use it as best we can without over spamming people that choose to follow us on Facebook and Twitter etc. We really appreciate our fans’ time and we respect their cyber space, so we try and keep it to a minimum really, but yes it's a great way to interact and keep people in the loop.
PW: Would you agree it's a necessary tool for bands and artists today?
F: Yeah it's obviously pretty important, but absolutely 100% necessary? I'd hope not. I'd like to think getting out there and touring and building a fan base through live shows is still the most important thing, that's the way we approach it anyway.
PW: Aside from the album re-release and your tour dates, what else does 2016 have in store for you?
Leslie: A new album - that's the big one 2016 we hope. Work is already under-way and we really hope it's going to be even bigger and better than our last, which is not going to be easy to do, but we'll give it a good shot! We hope to have it ready for release by September or October.
PW: Finally then, what's your ultimate ambition as a band? At what point would you be able to say "job done"?
Leon: To be honest we never have set any huge pressured goals for ourselves, the music always came first and enjoying what we do always comes first. But what we do is set smaller goals, like for example a new album this year, or more festival slots, or some great opening slots etc. Obviously these goals have grown naturally with the band, so yeah we're aiming for bigger things now than at the start, but we're not getting ahead of ourselves either. It's all very much baby steps and get to the next point and then move on and up!
Check out the bands' latest single "Bright Lights" below and for more information on Rackhouse Pilfer, visit their website, give their page a like on Facebook or follow them on Twitter. The album Love and Havoc is available now on itunes with the re-release available March 11.