Between O’Carolan and Indie music is a gem of many facets: The home recording of Black Rose by American singer/harpist Scott Hoye.
Scott Hoye is my guest for this week. His album Black Rose is out in the market. It was also the start of my comprehensive journey into the world of harp music. It was an interesting learning experience. There are many harpists around the world. The harp community is growing. Within the community is a wide range of eclectic music. Every artist has his or her own unique approach in terms of style and arrangement.
Scott Hoye embraces the two worlds of Celtic rock and New Age music. His time with Seranati and The Spriggans contributed to the edgy style of his compositions. On the other hand, his inclination for ambient or meditative music contributes to the spiritual nature of his tracks. It is the kind of balance that is both surprising and essential. This eclecticism enables him to morph into genres. It is no surprise his answers in this interview are well thought of and very informative.
At last your debut album Black Rose is finally out. This is your first solo project outside The Spriggans and Seranati. How do you feel about having this harp album finally?
My experience in creating and releasing Black Rose is twofold. I am extremely proud and happy with the end product, but as the only producer of this album, I can still hear all of the minute aspects of it that I could work, re-work, and work some more to “perfection”. However, you have to tell yourself at some point, “it’s time to kick the eagle out of the nest so that it can fly, live a life of its own”, so to speak.
The experience of recording itself was extremely rewarding, with a lot of learning curves for me. I had to put together a home studio, purchase gear, learn about engineering and mixing, write, arrange, perform all of the instrumentation and vocals, and research mastering, marketing, and distribution. I wore a lot of hats.
My goal was to work creatively, within a limited budget. The technology has changed so much since I recorded with Seranati or The Spriggans. One can literally make decent recordings at home, and work with an engineer for mastering. My goal was to work with as little as possible. Black Rose was created with one microphone, for example. I learned to use that one microphone to get a rich, mellow sound from my harp. It was also recorded in a very dry environment to control for extemporaneous sounds. That required me picking the brains of other people to work with creating a nice, resonant sound during mixing. But, I am probably digressing a bit here, and obviously this shows how excited I am about the process of creating with studio equipment, back to answering your question.
Knowing that songs I wrote fifteen years ago are realized in some fashion feels great. Knowing that I can record and produce music for people to enjoy is also gratifying. I don’t look at Black Rose as a harp album. It does feature the harp, but I set out to make a good album, not a good harp album. I hope that the variety of sounds (vocals, harp, whistles, and percussion) translates into that good experience for the audience.
Here is a link to an article I wrote last year on my recording process: http://www.wirestrungharp.com/revival/home_recording_harp.html
This is brilliant! Home recording is really the trend these days
Thanks! Glad you like it.
That article about Home Recording With a Harp is great to read. I think it is a great source of information for those wanting to start their own home recording. That essay tackles the challenges in terms of the instrumental aspect of home recording. Tell us about the vocal aspect. Your album is rich with vocal experimentation. Oh Rainy Night is an example of what you did with layers. What were the challenges doing that song as well as your approach in terms of the singing style?
Oh Rainy Night was a difficult song for me to re-conceptualize. I had originally written it for Seranati. I imagined it would be sort of like a Beatles song, either ala Revolution, or something off of Rubber Soul. Or, we would at least try not to do it so heavy handed, ala Robin Trower or Black Sabbath. This was the biggest stumbling block for me, as I couldn’t get a stop chorus of guitar, drums and keyboards out of my head. It came down to just laying the lead vocals down, and going from there. I re-imagined it with a harp accompaniment and percussion. Well, the key I liked the vocals in was C sharp major, a very lousy key for the harp to play in; lovely for keyboards. So I wound up say, “to heck with it”. I didn’t want throw out the tune entirely, and decided that a cappella was probably the strongest bet for the tune to work. I think that was probably the best choice.
As for the recording aspects of that song, it was simply adjusting the gain to meet the right level for my very loud singing, and recording the other parts. I wrote the alto and bass section in vivo; while I went along.
I like the mash up between Eleanor Plunkett and Fanny Poer. The result was really refreshing. It could have been a pairing of other songs but why these two?
Simply put, O’Carolan wrote some of the loveliest harp music. A lot of tunes are attributed to him, and since they were passed down via the oral tradition among harpers, we don’t know which tunes are really his. These two tunes, in my estimation, are elegant, and appear to be a hybrid of Irish music and the baroque music of the English (Anglo-Irish) courts that he was fond of emulating, so I’m pretty sure they are his. The reason I chose to record them is because they are simply beautiful.
I chose to pair them up because they complement each other. Eleanor Plunkett is sad and plaintive. It ends on the dominant degree of the scale, having a strange sense of, or lack of resolution for the listener. Fanny Poer is festive, and it lands right on the tonic. In essence, the sounds move from sad/reflective to festive/happy. Limiting Eleanor Plunkett to solo harp adds to the sense of inner reflection; adding whistle and djembe to Fanny Poer built up the tension and the added color for the arrangement, allowing me to add and remove instruments as the first and second sections played out. I think that using the djembe rather than the bodhran provided a different take on the tune. When paired with the whistle, there is, I think, an almost a Caribbean flavor. The break from the harp at that also provides variety.
Mind you, I didn’t think of arranging these two tunes outright. Rather, I approached them one step at a time, and thought about how the arrangement could be crafted for the most possible interest and variety for the listener.
There is this huge wealth of music within the harp community. I also noticed the support you give to each other as musicians. Do you think that the harp (most specifically the Clarsach) has already attained the same level of mass exposure like say the fiddle or bodhran or do you think it is still heading that way and you as well as other artists are smack in the middle of that turning point?
Good question. I don’t believe the clarsach has attained the same level of exposure as fiddle, bodhran, or guitar for that matter. I think that the reason is twofold. The other instruments are spread wider at this point in other styles of music and just more culturally accepted; “monkey see, monkey do”. I think the other reason is portability. Hauling a harp takes dedication, endurance, and planning. You can easily toss a violin in a case and go. 😛
I do think that the harp is on the edge of really taking off as a more main stream instrument. Lots of great players are doing incredibly innovative work: Jochen Vogel, Rachel Hair, and Catrin McKay to name a few. Apparently, the Scottish scene is booming right now, and lots of young harpers are taking up the instrument. I hope that the wire strung harp comes up alongside the gut and nylon strung as well. I know there are great players on wire who are exposing more people to its voice. It really has a distinct sound, and it, along with the pipes, span the bridge back to the origin of a lot of British isle Celtic music. I hope this second wave of the “Renaissance of the Celtic Harp” includes equal growth for the wire strung.
A Place Where Time Stops is a track that somehow reminds me of Flight of Dragons. I think it is the flute and the mellow singing. You also mentioned that this track has been influenced by religious and devotional poetry. It must have been an interesting period in your life. Please tell us more about it.
Well, it was an interesting time. I was working quite a bit as a musician and working day jobs in an unrelated field, selling books, and access to a great deal of reading material. I have always been interested in world religions and various takes on spirituality. I’m a member of the Anthroposophical Society, not very active these days, and not very orthodox for that matter. I find that spirituality is a pretty big part of who I am on some level, but I do have a more practical side as well, and try to balance the two out.
The theme in A Place Where Time Stops is based on the idea of the Beloved singing to the soul, so to speak. I suppose the Sufis sing to the Beloved as the spirit or God, attempting to work them into ecstasy. Some Hindu devotional hymns or chants are of Krishna singing to Radha, God wooing the soul. I suppose that the dialog in this tune works more from that angle. The ambiguity of the lyrics allows for the song, I hope, to translate as a simple, tender ballad or, if you take into account the sort of grandiose statements like, “I found an ocean, and you found a stream”, it can be seen as something more. At least I hope that is what comes across.
The first verses and chorus were written in 1995. I flushed the song out a bit more as I re-worked it for the album.
By the way, I just checked out Don McLean’s tune. I’ve never heard it before. Charming! I do believe that it was probably influenced in some way by Gentle Giant, or other prog rock bands that used recorders or winds in their work. All in all, I think it was a song that just fell together well as I was flushing out the parts during the recording process.
Do you have any plan of releasing Black Rose through physical media?
Yes. I plan to roll out a physical CD in the fall. I hope to have it available for purchase both directly from me and through an on-line distributor.
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Chicago based harper and musician Scott Hoye was a founding member of the Celtic ensemble The Spriggans, as well as the progressive rock band Seranati. His repertoire includes traditional and original tunes on Celtic harp, vocals, whistles, and percussion. Scott gathers inspiration from traditional sources of Irish, Scottish, other Celtic, and folk, and world music, while mixing them together with contemporary sounds to create a new, sonic brew.