Ben discusses the new Orphan Brigade album Heart Of The Cave
By Cara Gibney
In 2015 The Orphan Brigade released their Soundtrack to a Ghost Story, a lingering collection of songs about the people connected with Octagon Hall, an old, troubled, plantation house in Kentucky, USA. Noted as one of the most haunted buildings in the States, Neilson Hubbard, Ben Glover, and Joshua Britt wondered about the history of the old house. They looked behind the stories and the sightings and the tall tales. They stayed in Octagon Hall and experienced it for themselves; documenting events, recording their voices, their music, and adopting the name of The Orphan Brigade, the First Kentucky Brigade who camped on the plantation during the American Civil War.
Later as The Orphan Brigade toured Europe with Soundtrack to a Ghost Story, they were invited to explore the network of caves underneath the Italian city of Osimo. The caves, an underground warren of tunnels dating back to the Roman Empire, have over millennia invited all forms of humanity into its buried, hidden world; banished saints, secret societies, communities hiding from the bombs of WWII. Over two thousand years of mortality.
“The Freemasons were one of the secret societies who used these caves for their meetings and initiation rites in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries” Ben Glover explained. A number of the caves were directly below the residences of wealthy inhabitants of Osimo and so access to this underground world was easy. During the Enlightenment period in particular these noblemen and Masons would gather in secret in the caves to discuss ideas and partake in rituals away from the prying eyes of those who might persecute them for engaging in such activity.
Glover talks of the “dust, the dark and the heavy air” of Osimo caves. There is no natural light, and the sandstone walls are carved and scratched with the words and symbols of passing humans; individual souls marking their struggle, their story. There you’ll find the names and the dates of people crowded into the tunnels to escape the horrors of war; engraved emblems referring to the Order of Templars, diabolic figures, allegories and inscriptions, people and animals. Joshua Britt notes “The caves were a place that seemed to hold the true story. Carvings of angels and demons in the same place. Ancient secret societies willing to withstand torture to keep their secrets. Piles of human bones.”
The subsequent Orphan Brigade album, Heart Of The Cave, feeds into the mysticism and spirituality of their time spent under the feet of Osimo town. It paints the transformational nature of their experience in the dark and heavy air while it salutes their new acquaintance with previous visitors and inhabitants of the caves. Take for example the gentle, redemptive ‘Pain is Gone’. During our time in Osimo we visited the small rural church of San Filippo De’Plano” Glover told me. “It was built by the Knights Templar in the 12th century on a site that they believed to have telluric and healing energies. In a specific point inside the building, where the natural radiations of the land are concentrated, many people have found healing for rheumatic pains and other ailments. Just a matter of feet away from the healing corner is a fifteen foot deep open crypt containing bones which in itself was remarkable to witness. As soon as we crossed the doorstep of the church we immediately sensed a deep peace and the whole experience of the visit was extremely profound. We took a guitar with us in case we felt the urge to write something. I started walking around the church playing the guitar and within an hour the song ‘Pain Is Gone’ arrived in its complete state. It was as if the song, both melody and lyrics, was just gifted to us in that moment. The church had incredible natural acoustics and the guitar you hear on the record is the actual recording from the church during our writing session there.
Glover tells of how, on entering the caves, he was “transported to another realm, one shut off from present day … stepping back into the past, into a mysterious and ancient world.” But there was one “cave in particular, the Riccioni cave [that] had a massive transportive effect on me. There is no electricity so the place is candlelit and that immediately creates a unique atmosphere. This was a secret Templar location where members of the brotherhood would meet for meditative purposes. As you make your way down through the cave you can’t help but sense you are descending into another world. At the end of the cave is a star-shaped room with a column in the middle and eight niches carved out in the sandstone wall. Members of the brotherhood would gather in this room to meditate and the purpose of the column and niches was to keep their identities private. During my time there I was immensely overcome with a sense of connection to some other realm…it was extremely profound. It was here that we wrote the song ‘Meet Me In The Shadows’.
I was asking him how it worked, how they spent their time putting all of this together for the album. “We had a local historian, Simona Palaombarini, with us and she acted as our as our guide and our ‘key’ to exploring this world” he went on to explain. “We spent ten days in the caves and roughly eight hours a day down there.”
“If it wasn’t for Simona we would not have been able to delve into the history, mystery and beauty of this world” he continued. “She helped us to interpret the symbolism of the different caves and the meaning behind everything in Osimo. She was our guide and our key to unlocking that world. She was with us pretty much the whole time we were there. Her passion for the caves and for Osimo allowed us to mine the material that would become the songs.”
“The pattern was something like Simona would bring us to a particular cave and give us an in depth background to the history and symbolism of the location” Glover continued. “At some point in her story we would hear something that would deeply resonate with us and that usually was the jumping off point for the song. We wrote all thirteen songs during our time Osimo. There was no need to stay in the caves overnight. There really was no difference between night and day down there as there is no natural light whatsoever.”
The easy affiliation between Glover, Britt and Hubbard that marked their time in Octagon Hall came to the fore again in Osimo, and it managed to act as a catalyst for their song writing. “It’s an extremely collaborative process” Glover explained. “We have a unique chemistry that none of us seem to find in other creative partnerships. A song usually would start when one of us becomes attracted to a theme and we just start throwing lines and melodies out. Usually within a couple of hours the song is complete. There is a lot of trust between us and I think it goes a long way as to why we can work so intensely together.
The three are close friends and see each other regularly in Nashville, “but all writing for the album was done exclusively during our time in Italy. I’m not sure how it happens but when the three of us enter a concentrated time of working together we are very prolific and can write and record a lot of material. The album was written and recorded within four weeks.”
Orphan Brigade’s Ben Glover, Neilson Hubbard, and Josh Britt plan to tour Ireland and the UK in early February next year. The 29 September release of Heart Of The Cave sees the three collaborators joined on the album by talents including Gretchen Peters, Kris Donegan, Will Kimbrough, and Natalie Schlabs.
Heart Of The Cave: At The Helm Records: Release 29 September 2017