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Twin Headed Wolf in the theatre of sound

It has been a long and exciting road for Lahinch twins Julie and Branwen Kavanagh on their way to Altarwise. The duo, who make music under the name Twin Headed Wolf, began creating their debut album way back in 2013, and after more than a decade of off-and-on recording, mastering and remastering, Altarwise will meet the world this week.
This is an album like none you are likely he hear this year. The songs are much more than individual, musical expressions. The Lahinch singer-songwriters have crafted a world for every song to inhabit, with textures and characters unique to that particular place and time.
“This album got lost in time a bit. We started recording it back in Clare with Simon O’Reilly, we had so many mad things that we wanted to include in the album. We wanted [to record] wheelbarrows in doors and old pianos and things like that, so it took a long time to get the sound that we wanted,” said Julie.
“We ended up finishing the album in Dublin. Because of all the strange instruments that we used, it took up fully seven years until it was where we wanted it to be, which is a long time.
“We were both doing other projects in between. Branwen released an album under her own name and she also worked with a group called Rufus Nightjar. In the mean time I went to art college and lived in Melbourne. I was on a theatre ship for a while, which was like a post-apocalyptic circus show that was travelling around Canada. So we had other things going on.
“But I think, as twins, we also needed to vanish and reappear again. That relationship is very intense, so sometimes you need to leave it and come back.”
Using diverse instruments as well as non-instruments to make music is at the core of Twin Headed Wolf. This album features home-made sounds from anything from a radiator and a lamp, to a wheelbarrow and a lump of heavy metal.
“I am really excited by the textures of songs. One of our taglines is that we are scrapyard folk, so we are always using things that are not traditional instruments on stage,” said Julie.
“We used to have a slab of heavy metal that we played that had a grating sound. I would use the end of a French hunting horn to sing through and we would make natural sound effects.
“We were using lots of things that were not instruments already in the performance and when we got into the studio it was our chance to go wild. In Simon’s studio, we were getting him to record the sound of the wheelbarrow outside and driving him crazy with all of our mad ideas.
“We recorded radiators and lamps and bikes. We used to play bikes on stage, so that was fun to record.
“When we were recording in Dublin, there was a massive door that slammed really loudly and we really wanted that on the album.
“Pretty much all of the sounds on the album are things that we made and recorded. At one stage, we got really excited in the studio because we saw that we could use the recording software to create the acoustics of different buildings, including a mausoleum that we had been in in Norway. So we used that.”
While Altarwise is a sonic experience, it is much more than that. Twin Headed Wolf have created a record featuring mini-worlds, which each song having a lore of places and characters all of its own.
“Branwen wrote most of the songs for the album. They were all written and we were performing them years ago,” said Julie.
“For the album, we created these worlds for each of the songs and we had these specific ideas about what to do with them. We went into recording with the bones of the songs but they turned into more of a musical art project. We needed to add textures to the worlds that we created.
“If you listen to the album, each song represents a different world. It was a real pleasure to work in a recording studio because you can really take advantage of everything that is there to create the music.”
Altarwise will be released this week on a number of formats, including 250 limited edition vinyls.
“The sound is really nice on vinyl, that is going to be the nicest iteration of the album,” said Julie.
“We use to perform with a troupe of pals, and they each had a character that they played in our live shows. We did a few theatre-style shows of the songs on this album, with these characters involved and they are all photographed, in character, on the sleeve of the vinyl album.
“It’s going to be a really nice object, an artefact, we are very excited to be able to do it.”

The album, which will be released this week, is available to order now on twinheadedwolf.bandcamp.com

About Andrew Hamilton

Andrew Hamilton is a journalist, writer and podcaster based in the west of Ireland.

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