By Nicholas Jason Lopez
Toronto-based musician Eamon McGrath and his intense “Do It Yourself” work ethic and style evolvement has made his name a well-known one through numerous continental tours and upwards of about 300 written and recorded songs.
He recently released the single “Yellow Sticker,” an Appalachian-esque bluegrass track, which revolved around common country music lyrical traditions of singing about a fear of the unexplainable and Satan.
The Music Bugle recently had the chance to talk with McGrath about his career thus far and more.
Music Bugle – How would you describe Toronto to someone who has never been there before?
Eamon McGrath – In the 10-plus years I’ve lived here now, I’m constantly discovering something new about the Torontonian identity. Like any metropolitan centre of its size, it has its typical rush hour frustrations and constant non-stop full throttle pace, but at the same time, it’s teeming with hidden and secluded parks, which give you the chance to totally escape and get away. I’m continually reminded about how relatively safe it is. I love it here and I always have. I remember touring out east when I lived in the prairies and falling in love right away. You have the monolithic, urban feeling of the wider scope of North America, but it’s also got this small town, neighborhood-oriented pace at times, which has more in common with some other cities in the rest of Canada and for touring, it’s perfect. There was a time when I could get to Paris, France from the front door to my apartment in about nine-and-a-half hours and there’s no other city in Canada which has a geographic or regional location that’s better suited to playing music for a living. You could easily do a two or three-week tour of Ontario and sleep in your own bed more or less every night.
Music Bugle – What is your biggest source of motivation?
Eamon McGrath – When it comes to songwriting or performing, I’m notorious for kind of catching a wave and then running with it until it stops feeling new and exciting. I’ll learn a new instrument or learn how to use a new piece of gear or hardware and then kind of beat it to death until I feel like it’s become familiar and then move on to the next thing. Recently, for example, I’ve started learning mandolin, which has widened my scope of musical arrangement possibilities in touring or recording and a few weeks ago, it was really diving in full-on to this midi controller I bought and learning how to route software synths through a pedalboard. I’ll work and work and work that one idea until I feel like I’ve gotten everything I can out of it and then might not write a word or note until I come across something that’s new, undiscovered and inspiring. That’s become the most cyclical, identifiable source of what motivates and informs the creative process.
Music Bugle – What has been your favorite show to play?
Eamon McGrath – In recent memory, on the last tour of Europe the band did in support of the ‘Guts’ release, we played in the beautiful Teatre del Mar in Palma de Mallorca. That was one of those experiences that makes all the hardship of touring worth it. Historic and revamped antique building, incredible technical staff, a chance to reunite with old friends, the promoter did a fantastic job. It was everything you want from the live music experience. That stood out to me as being one of the more memorable shows of that entire cycle.
Music Bugle – Which song of yours was the hardest to write?
Eamon McGrath – Well, that’s a bit of a tough question to answer, because I’m pretty notorious for not really working songs to death. If something doesn’t really line up instantly, I sort of abandon it, move on to a new idea, or try to apply it to something else. Most of the time, the songs that I spend the most amount of time pondering or deliberating just don’t end up on the records. I take the ease at which they emerge as a sign that they’re working, but saying that, it’s usually collaborative projects that end up taking the most time. For example, when you’re scoring a film or working within someone else’s vision, you usually have no choice but to tweak and tweak and perfect and perfect. Recently, I scored the film “Range Roads,” landing soon on North Country Cinema and we were really painstaking about everything in that project to make sure that it was exactly what all the people involved were looking for. Not to say that it was difficult – it was an incredible, rewarding, positive and exciting thing to be a part of, but working in the parameters of what someone else is expecting always demands something more than just throwing paint at the wall to see what sticks – and rightfully so, because you can’t ever expect other artists to share the exact method that works the best for you.
Music Bugle – How do you feel your single “Yellow Sticker” has been received?
Eamon McGrath – Response has been great. It’s definitely been one of the highlights of the live show as the live band over the years has moved into a quieter, more country or folk-oriented experience than what I was known for in previous years, so in the setlist, we’re always excited to get to the point where we can get out the amps and rock out for that one. It’s become sort of a flagship song in terms of demonstrating the wide breadth of music we love and love playing. When we tour as the duo, just me and Darrek Anderson, we adapted the tune sonically and gave it this kind of Appalachian folk treatment to fit with the somewhat “Satanic” lyrical subject matter and that always goes over well with the audience, because despite the fact that we adapted it for more traditional acoustic instruments, it’s nevertheless one of the more upbeat songs in the show.
Music Bugle – How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected you?
Eamon McGrath – Well, my live performance career essentially screeched to a halt for awhile. Everybody’s been trying to figure out how to navigate this new environment and I really don’t know if there’s a way to do it yet. Even whenever we try to organize a really, really small-scale show, new cases will emerge or bylaws will change or something will happen that makes it hard to even get 10-to-15 people in a room together, but for me, the beauty of live performance is something worth waiting for, regardless of the fact that right now, it’s just not a safe thing to do. I mean, it goes without saying that I’m not going to get on any kind of stage until it’s okay to do so, but I don’t want to do any live streams or anything like that. I’d rather hold out for the real, beautiful thing, so for now, I’m just writing, preparing, getting new material ready to go for when that can happen again.
Music Bugle – What do you still look to accomplish as far as your career?
Eamon McGrath – I just like to think about continuing to move forward in terms of being able to constantly expand the scope of everything: the sound, the geography, the audience. Before the pandemic, I was playing 250-plus shows a year on three different continents, regularly rotating between them. It would be great to add a fourth to that list. I’ve never played music in South America, for example. When I started touring Europe, I would go over alone with an acoustic guitar and then gradually over the years, I’ve been able to add players, add equipment, widen the sonic potential of what we can do over there, slowly, but surely. I like to think of my career as just continuing along this trajectory, involving more people and more sounds in more places.
Music Bugle – What’s something people should know about you as a person?
Eamon McGrath – I go at everything I do at 1000 percent, doesn’t matter what it is.
Music Bugle – Are you working on any new music?
Eamon McGrath – There’s so much stuff in the can and ready to go, yes. I’ve been essentially stockpiling new material to be rolled out when it makes sense to do so. Back in March when the lockdown hit, I gave myself a quota of a song a day and was meeting that for about three weeks. I made the point of collaborating, writing and recording remotely with as many people as I could and that’s given birth to about two or three collaborative records I’ve got on the go right now. Should be getting the mixes back for the follow-up to ‘Guts’ any minute now. There’s another folk record ready to be mastered and I’m about 10,000 words into a third book. It’s a long list of new shit.
Music Bugle – What was the hardest decision you’ve ever had to make regarding your career?
Eamon McGrath – It’s never easy to let people go from your band or your crew, but you have to be pretty willing to make decisions that are only going to benefit everybody in the long run. People change and music takes a different role in people’s lives as they change and you can’t hold that against anyone. You have to make your decisions and live with them and move on. By far, the toughest thing is dealing with the negative impacts that a music career can have on some relationships. People are always looking for a reason to hold a grudge, which is definitely a downside and when those things happen and relationships go sour, that’s always the toughest shit to live with.