Kyle Warner: You guys have this awesome sound, often described as a blend of traditional Americana with an Irish twist, how did that sound develop?
Switchback: We both have Irish roots. Marty’s grandfather came from Clairemorris, County Mayo, Ireland and Brian’s family from around Limerick. The Chicago Irish music scene was very active with a lot of old country Irish musicians teaching us “narrowbacks”, the traditional tunes. At the same time, we both were exposed to singer-songwriters and roots music at Brian’s family’s club in Chicago, Fitzgerald’s.
At the club, Brian met and later studied with the great mandolin player, Jethro Burns, and later he toured a bit with Clifton Chenier. It was the perfect finishing school for American roots music and put us on the path to developing our own sound by pulling from both influences. It was an eclectic sound and enabled us to open for such people as the Moody Blues, Leon Russell and Beausoleil. It also caught the ear of Matt Malloy of the Irish supergroup, The Chieftains. He invited us to play several times at his club in County Mayo, Ireland.
KW: Switchback has a big following not only in the US, but also in Europe, do you feel like you’re spreading that classic American sound into Europe while simultaneously giving American fans a taste of Irish folk?
S: Our European fans and American fans both like the hybrid sound. It’s what we consider a sound that reflects the part of the US where we come from, along the upper Mississippi River, where the migration along its banks brought together so many different musical styles.
It’s an aggressive, energetic sound that resonates with the tribal nature of everyone. It’s also the kind of style that enjoys taking some risks with the music. What the audiences identify with is the joyful unpredictability of it all. The mixing of the genres and the physical delivery creates for a very compelling show.
KW: You guys play 200 gigs in a year! Where do you find the energy?
S: There is a certain athleticism that comes with playing that many shows. So, we try to approach it from that viewpoint. Some of our preparation includes Tai Chi and a classical approach to vocalizing and playing our instruments.
Also the more shows we play the more in sync we are with each other and the more opportunities we have to work on our songs. So it’s all positive energy.
KW: Could you talk to us a little bit about your Community Outreach Program? What do you aim to accomplish with this program?
S: From the beginning we saw the value in bringing our music to populations that normally do not hear live music. Those venues have changed over the years as more schools don’t have musical programs, for example. So there is an even greater importance to reach out to the community and provide an opportunity for young people to be exposed to working musicians.
We also have played for other populations of people, such as the mentally challenged, seniors, autistic children and prisoners. Everybody has the desire to connect through music. And so do we. That’s why we feel it’s essential to reach as many different communities as possible.
KW: You guys have had success with music licensing, what’s the feeling like seeing your music on TV?
S: It’s a great feeling! And whenever we have success like that we turn right around and pour that money into new projects. On a funny note, Brian’s sister once was watching the Kentucky Derby on television and a commercial came on for a Chevy Blazer featuring our music. She called him in a state of alarm thinking that it had been stolen. Brian had to explain that our music was actually chosen for the commercial.
KW: What’s next for Switchback?
S: We are taking fans on a tour to Tuscany, Italy in March. In April we have a tour in Hawaii. This October we have another fan tour in Ireland and the UK. We are also working on bringing our music to South America and a summer European tour. Recording wise, we are working with producer, Paul Von Mertens, who is the musical arranger for Brian Wilson. We think this is our 16th album. It’ll be an Americana album, but with a bit of Celtic soul!