Marc Gunn's Happy Songs of Death; cover art by Ingrid Houwers
In part one of this interview, Celtic-American musician Marc Gunn described various aspects of his career, from sci-fi conventions and the influence of blues on his interpretation of Celtic music. Part two takes a more in-depth look at his latest CD, Happy Songs of Death, which was released this past Thursday, August 20th 2009. The album puts an irreverent spin on a usually somber theme, honoring the Celtic tradition of celebrating all aspects of life (and death).
Samantha Gillogly: What inspired you to create this album?
Marc Gunn: The CD idea originated from an Italian song called La Pulce de
L'Acua by Angelo Branduardi. It translates to, "The Flea of the Water." I mistook that title for an upbeat folk song about the Black Death. Turns out it wasn't about that at all, but I thought it would be cool to write a happy song about death. The album title originated while I was chatting with the Brobdingnagian Bards several years ago about this song. I thought it would be a great CD title.
SG: Many of the songs are traditional Celtic and/or American folk songs. How did you go about choosing which ones to include?
MG: Overall, these are some of my favorite songs to play. It just seemed natural for this CD to happen.
Clementine was a favorite of mine growing up. When I decided to learn the song and looked up the lyrics online, I loved the ending so much I had to record the song. The arrangement of Foggy Dew was inspired by my recent move to New Orleans. I started jazzing it up and it swang!
Jug of Punch was one of the key songs that led to this album. I was hired to play music for an Irish-American lady in hospice. I asked the daughter if there were any songs she was partial to and the one she suggested was this song though we had a different title. I don't remember what she called it. But it was one of her favorite songs. I played the song and halfway through the hospice lady breathed her last breath. I played a few more songs choking back some tears for the daughter. Then I went to my car and burst into tears. It was a powerful moment, both sad and happy that the woman got to hear a song she loved before she passed on.
SG: You also write quite a lot of original music. Which songs on this album are your own?
MG: The original songs are Won't You Come With Me, Red, Red and Black, and
I'll Drink from Dusk ‘Til Dawn.
Won't You Come With Me was inspired in part by my love of the song Tom Dooley. I thought it'd be cool to have a bright chippery murder ballad, much like that song.
Red Red and Black was my tribute to the Black Death. I was doing some research for the song and found a phrase that a priest had written that was basically, "he's dining with his father in heaven." That started the song. Then a few memories of the book The Pillars of the Earth helped inspired other parts of the song.
Happy Songs of Death features Marc Gunn on lead vocals and autoharp; Ari Koinuma on guitar, bass, mandolin, percussion and backing vocals; Jaime Haeuser on bodhran and backing vocals; and Michael Younger on backing vocals. Younger passed away this April, and the album is dedicated in his memory.
The CD can be purchased directly from Marc Gunn’s website.