Emmet Cahill recently played to sold-out audiences across North America, performing songs from his debut recording Emmet Cahill’s Ireland along with a mix of Broadway favorites, movie hits, folk classics, well-loved hymns and the occasional operatic aria. Recently, he spoke with Celtic Life International about his past, present and future.
Where do you currently reside?
I live in a small town in the midlands of Ireland called Mullingar.
When and why did you start playing music?
I began playing music and singing at the age of 4. Music was a huge part of family life at home; my father was a piano teacher, and he encouraged me to play, and my mother was a church singer and taught me many different songs growing up. I saw the enjoyment my parents got from music, and I wanted that for my own life also. They really encouraged me to pursue my passion as I grew older, both in school and elsewhere. As a family, we would perform at church ceremonies all over the country. We would all play and sing together; my dad on piano, my brother on cello, my sister playing classical flute and singing, while I would sing and play violin. Music was a great way of sharing something together as a family.
Are they the same reasons you do it today?
Absolutely – I still love to sing and play. And my family is as supportive as ever with my music career. It has always been a central part of my life, and I really couldn’t imagine doing anything else
How have you evolved as an artist over time?
I find that my life experiences, both good and bad, have had a great impact on my artistry on stage. In particular, I draw on past experiences when performing Irish songs. The songs I perform often bring back memories from my childhood in Ireland, make me think of a special person in my life, or remember someone close to me that I have lost. I do allow myself to get quite emotional on stage. For some people it can seem a little scary to let your real feelings take over on stage, but by letting my guard down and being totally myself it brings complete emotional honesty to a performance, which resonates on a much deeper level with an audience. Many people approach me after my concerts and say they feel like they know me, despite only seeing me perform for the first time. I love hearing that.
How would you describe your sound today?
My sound is a mix of classical Irish and folk music. My approach to these genres, however, is very much influenced by my classical music training.
What are the challenges involved with the vocation?
The main one would be not seeing my friends and family as often as I would like. I miss Ireland a lot when I leave, but in a way I get to bring a big part of Ireland with me when I perform these songs every night, so my homeland never feels too far away.
What are the rewards?
Seeing so many interesting places that I would otherwise never experience. I have been blessed to meet many inspiring people through music, and have made life-long friends along the way also. Being able to stand on stage and speak so proudly about my country, and tell the stories of my forefathers through these beautiful songs is something I cherish greatly.
What have been some career highlights?
Having my parents travel around the world to see me perform has been a real highlight. They were my first teachers – in music and in life – so to be able to share this experience with them years later is something very special. And they are still teaching me! And I am very much looking forward to performing at Carnegie Hall next March – details on that show will be coming soon.
Is your creative process more ‘inspirational’ or ‘perspirational’?
I would say inspirational. I don’t try to force the emotions too much. As I said, I like to draw on personal human interactions and experiences. I’m inspired by human stories, both happy and sad. So many people have spoken to me about their connection to the Irish songs that I perform – Danny Boy, When Irish eyes Are Smiling and I’ll Take You Home Again Kathleen – they have been passed through many generations of families, particularly in America and Canada.
What makes a good song?
How a song impacts someone is always subjective and personal. I try to perform songs that have depth to them – both musically and lyrically. Songs that speak of human stories really resonate with me.
What’s the best part of being on the road?
The whole experience is great; living my dream by performing on stage every night, meeting new people every day and seeing so many different cultures. I love speaking with the fans before and after the shows – hearing that they drove 10 hours to see the show, or thanking them for bringing me a home cooked meal or a Starbucks card! They are incredibly generous, and are my family away from home. I know so many of them by first name basis now so it is just like catching up every time I am on tour.
What are your thoughts on the current state of Ireland’s music scene?
I think it has become quite diverse in recent years, and Irish music has been fused my many different styles – which is a good thing in my opinion. That is essentially what I have been doing myself – taking old Irish songs and making them relevant to today’s audiences.
Is enough being done to preserve and promote Irish and Celtic culture generally?
There is always work to be done. Ireland is a country that is developing and changing and has always moved with the times. However, I think there is a unique pride that we have for our culture and history that will always be a big part of who we are. The Irish story of emigration has taken us all over the world for hundreds of years, and continues to do so today. I like to think that by keeping these songs and stories of the past alive, the Irish story can continue to be told to new audiences for years to come.
Can this be improved?
Yes – by making the music more relevant to today’s audiences, yet staying true to both the style in which the songs were composed and the people that these songs represented.
Do you miss your Celtic Thunder days?
I took a break from the show in 2014 to focus on my solo career, but it is great to be back working with the guys at the moment. We played 72 cities in the USA and Canada last year, and we have a busy year of touring and recording ahead this year. It is a lot of fun being on the road with the guys – we know how to have a laugh and not take ourselves too seriously.
What do your family & friends think of what you do?
They are happy to see that I love what I do. I don’t talk about my career a lot with them. To be honest, when I am at home I like to lead as normal a life as possible and switch off. Walking my dog, going to the gym, playing golf, etc.
How has the internet helped your career?
It has helped a lot, as it is a great way to keep fans involved with what I am doing when I am not on the road. I love to interact with everyone on social media, and I post videos pretty regularly. It is lovely to hear from fans before a tour, as it builds my own excitement for the shows, and I try to reply to as many messages as possible.
What advice might you have for a young person looking to pursue a career in music? Choose the musical path your most passionate about and – most importantly – be uniquely yourself. That’s your best shot, as it is authentic and real, and people ultimately relate to that best of all. They want the real you on stage.
If you weren’t involved with music or the performing arts, what would you be doing?
I am a big sports fan, so that would be the other line of work I would love to try – maybe working in the media. Recently, I have enjoyed doing some TV work to promote my album, so I would certainly be open to doing broadcasting at some point.