The Spiritual Leaders are a collective of independent electronic musicians from Cavan, Ireland. The band has released ‘Shadows and Tall Trees,’ the first song from their forthcoming studio album, ‘This Fictional Place.’
The band has spent the past year recording the album at JT Soar Studios in Nottingham, UK, with engineering and production by Robin Newman and Rich Collins.
The single ‘Shadows and Tall Trees’ is a musical journey into new synthesizer-heavy territory for the band. Its lyrics are a reflection on social inequalities via the prism of the classic novel ‘Lord of the Flies’ It follows the publication of ‘Albania Away’ in 2020, which garnered rave reviews, radio play on BBC Radio and 2XM, and a spot on Spotify’s ‘Alternative Ireland’ playlist with the singles ‘Picture on the Wall’ and ‘Underwater with You’. Check out the song and the exclusive interview with David Reilly, the lead vocalist of The Spiritual Leaders below:
1. Can you tell us a bit about where you come from and how it all got started?
THE SPIRITUAL LEADERS: We all grew up in County Cavan in Ireland. Although we all went to the same secondary school, we were all in different years and so didn’t know each other that well then. It was really through a chance meeting years later in 2009 in Cavan, where a local musician Michael O Brien started running an original songwriter’s night called “Origins” in our hometown that brought us all together as a collective. We started collaborating through that and naturally going on to form the band.
2. Did you have any formal training or are you self-taught?
THE SPIRITUAL LEADERS: In secondary school we had a great music teacher called Ciaran Tackney, whose passion for music structure and theory was second to none. We probably didn’t realise it at the time but his influence and approach to music was probably a lasting one on us. Ciaran would teach us about music composition. We all would have had lessons in our instruments through our early learnings and then like anybody else learn the songs of the bands that influence you in your teenage years on our chosen instruments.
3. Who were your first and strongest musical influences and why the name ‘THE SPIRITUAL LEADERS’?
THE SPIRITUAL LEADERS: I think we all have different influences which is probably our strength when it comes to songwriting as a band – but were we all agree is that we have a lot of love for bands like New Order, Manic Street Preachers, The Smiths and Radiohead.
The name the Spiritual Leaders derived from one of our very first gigs as a band in Dublin were we were playing support to Ciaran O Neill & Co. On the drive up I was thinking how do I introduce us, “I can’t say: Hello I’m David and this is the rest of the band – I remember I couldn’t think of anything decent – but it was really just as I was introducing the band on stage I just said “and here they are The Spiritual Leaders” as a joke introduction really and it got a laugh from the crowd and we stuck with it ever since.
4. What do you feel are the key elements in your music that should resonate with listeners, and how would you personally describe your sound?
THE SPIRITUAL LEADERS: I don’t think it’s for me to say or second guess what should resonate with listeners. Some people will be into the feel or the beat of a song, some people will connect with the lyrics and some people will dismiss it. I just try to approach writing to convey a personal experience as a way of getting it out of me and make it as good as I can. When a song connects with someone its does feel amazing to think they may feel something for something we wrote. I think our sound is very much indie with a love for electronic elements.
5. For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and music maker, and the transition towards your own style, which is known as POP?
THE SPIRITUAL LEADERS:
The one thing we never did was play as a cover band first – for each of us it was always about writing music and that side of expression. Even as I was learning the guitar in my early teens, I would learn contemporary songs but I would always find myself wanting to write my own songs and that feeling has never left me.
As a band we changed in style. To begin with, we were very straightforward sounding with guitar, bass, drums and keys, which naturally progressed to synths and electronic elements. I think we have always moved to develop our sound.
6. With social media having a heavy impact on our lives and the music business in general, how do you handle criticism, haters, and/or naysayers in general? Is it something you pay attention to, or simply ignore?
THE SPIRITUAL LEADERS:
Its very weird, when you read articles or insights about getting exposure or growing your band fanbase there is a lot of emphasis on being good content creators, posting funny videos etc, getting views/followers etc. It bypasses the core principle of why you should get into any band or musician because you connect with the music and what it represents to you.
I think there’s a theme developing especially with radio DJs when taking a chance on relatively new or unknown bands trying to get played. They are more likely to play someone who has a large social media following first and foremost – almost to be popular by association and not solely because they got a great song. The music has become almost secondary in a lot of instances. It’s very transparent when a radio DJs will play something because its being plugged to them by a PR agency and I think there are very few tastemaker DJs left out there who solely rely on their own gut feeling.
In terms of naysayers- we’ve had lots of it too and that’s alright. It probably means were doing something right. I’m never really that concerned about people who go out of their way to be negative. I do take on board criticism from people I trust and don’t take that as a negative; more that they maybe trying to point you in the right direction and think about something differently.
7. Creative work in a studio or home environment, or interaction with a live audience? Which of these two options excites you most, and why?
THE SPIRITUAL LEADERS:
For me its creative work in a studio,. It’s the opportunity to put down your piece of work exactly how you envisaged. There are some unbelievable live performers and artists out there, and I probably shouldn’t say this but I’m not one of them and I’ve come to terms with that.
I am in awe of great front people, it’s something you can’t really teach. It’s just not in my character or nature; I’m not a natural front of stage persona, someone who can effortlessly interact with a crowd and I’m not trying to be that. I’ve always connected with certain albums and how they are created. And I suppose that’s why I enjoy that side of things more trying to make that perfect record.
8. Could you describe your creative processes? How do usually start, and go about shaping ideas into a completed song? Do you usually start with a tune, a beat, or a narrative in your head? And do you collaborate with others in this process?
THE SPIRITUAL LEADERS: It will always be a case that one of us will have an idea or song in demo form – for me it will always be the riff or chord sequence first and then the lyrics with follow. We then take that idea and we experiment to make that that song to a place we want it to be.
9. Do you think is it important for fans of your music to understand the real story and message driving each of your songs, or do you think everyone should be free to interpret your songs in their own personal way?
THE SPIRITUAL LEADERS: Yes and No….as a fan of music I always find it interesting when an artist shares their thinking or insight on a song they wrote, and I never feel it detracts from my own personal connection with that song which could be something completely different. The same song might remind you of a certain time in your life for instance, be it childhood, adolescent, or adulthood or a relationship/friendship etc.
But I would never make it my business to say you can only enjoy this song because that’s how I felt when I wrote it. It absolutely has to be the case that everyone should be free to interpret songs in their own personal way. That’s the listener’s right.
10. What would you consider a successful, proud or significant point in your life or music career so far?
THE SPIRITUAL LEADERS: I think the fact we just continue to make music in our way. This band has given me lifelong friends just through our shared love of making music and that in anyone’s language is not a bad outcome.
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Photo credits: Claire O’Reilly