Ben Glover | Interview
Cara Gibney talks to Ben Glover ahead of his highly anticipated album release The Emigrant (released 30 September ’16)
Situated in the civil parish of Tickmacrevan and settled in the long past kingdom of Dalriada, Glenarm is the hometown of singer songwriter Ben Glover. In Glenarm, the main street leads directly to the forest; the commanding castle gate keeps a watchful eye on the village. Glover spent his youth with a backdrop of music from Ireland, while at the same time classic songs from the likes of Hank Williams and Johnny Cash were helping to form his musical course. By his early teens, he was performing in the local pub where all those influences started to take shape.
He travelled to the States a number of times over subsequent years, and eventually moved to live in Nashville in 2009. Consequently, the last couple of years have been embroiled in the process of gaining his U.S. Green card; a process of assessment that unlocked a self-analysis in Glover, of his own sense of place, of where he has landed on his life-journey and of where the road will lead. “Contemplations like ‘what and where is home’?” brought the realities of immigration to this analysis, as he stands connected to two very distinct shores of the Atlantic Ocean.
Singer songwriter to the core, Glover dealt with this through music. He returned to the traditional music he had grown up with, looking at it now with a very different world view. He also penned songs that laid bare his own personal version of immigration and its accompanying sense of dislocation. The resulting album The Emigrant is released 30 September on Proper Records.
“This album is more concerned with the emigrant’s journey and the experiences that accompany that, rather than the end point,” Glover told me in a Belfast-Nashville email exchange. “Is there really an end point for any of us though, aside from the ultimate one?” he asked. “I think it’s a dangerous illusion for anyone to believe that they have ever fully arrived at a place.”
With all this in mind, it was important that his choice of traditional songs portrayed the message of the album, and deciding which songs to include was a labour of love. From ‘The Parting Glass’ to ‘The Green Glens Of Antrim,’ Glover carved his own meaning into the words and arranged the music himself. “It was quite overwhelming when I started out gathering songs,” he admitted. “Just prior to and during the recording process, it became evident which songs fit best on this album. They had to sit well with the other songs, they had to develop and further the themes on the album and most importantly, I had to believe my performance when I heard myself singing them.”
Of his own songs, the lovely ‘Heart In My Hand’ was written as a collaborative effort with long time song writing partner Mary Gauthier (Americana troubadour from New Orleans). “When I close my eyes and go searching for a moment’s peace I usually find myself drifting back to Ireland,” he told me of the song. “That in itself probably reveals the depth of the spiritual connection I feel with it.”
The haunting title track, ‘The Emigrant’ was another collaboration, this time with Gretchen Peters (Grammy nominated Nashville singer songwriter). “The restlessness, the discontent/That’s the curse of the emigrant,” he sings; sparse deep piano underlining the thread that runs ultimately through the course of the album.
With The Emigrant, Glover makes no claims of knowing how it feels to be a refugee, to be displaced, or set adrift so starkly; however, he is fully aware of the times in which he has released this album. “There’s so much fear in the world right now and the consequence is that it’s causing people and society to react in ways that are frighteningly destructive. It seems more than ever we need to be reminded of our responsibility to be compassionate, empathetic and tolerant. I believe that it’s vitally important that we choose connection over division, something that many recent world events seem to be at odds with.”
Ben Glover will be touring his new album The Emigrant in October, including two album release shows back home in the old country. “The plan is to perform the new album in sequence, something that I’ve never done with a record before. Rod McVey will be playing keys with me and we’ll be in No Alibis Bookstore in Belfast on the 14th – an intimate venue that I love playing. Then on the 21st I’ll be playing in the Londonderry Arms Hotel in Carnlough which is just a couple of miles from my hometown of Glenarm. That will be a special night.”
NI Tour Dates
No Alibis, Belfast • Friday 14 October, 8pm • The Emigrant Release Show (SOLD OUT)
The Londonderry Arms Hotel • Friday 21 October • The Emigrant Release Show