Chandler Center for the Arts staff sent a Q & A to David Howley from We Banjo 3. All the way from Galway, Ireland, the multi-award-winning We Banjo 3 finds common ground between Old World tradition and authentic Americana by playing their banjo, fiddle, guitar, and mandolin in an innovative fusion of styles that they dub “Celtgrass.” Fans of the Avett Brothers, Mumford and Sons and Chris Thile will be right at home. Don't miss We Banjo 3's radiating performance on Saturday, February 4, at 7:30 p.m.
Q. Who or what are some of your biggest musical inspirations?
A. I was wildly inspired by the playing and writing of artists like Paul Brady, Darrell Scott and bands like Solas and Nickle Creek. The blending and bending of traditional styles but using contemporary energy has always moved me in a big way. Martin and I grew up in a house where our father honored music for its soul rather then just technical brilliance, he taught us that to move people you only need to lower the veil between your heart and the audience in front of you. I’m very grateful for that upbringing.
What is the biggest change you can see between We Banjo 3 when starting out 10 years ago compared to now? What advice would you give yourself if you could go back to the beginning?
I’m really proud of what we’ve done as a band in the last 10 years. I was only 19 when the band started to form, relatively a child in ways. That said I had the wisdom of the other lads to always fold into. The only advice I could give now looking back would be to trust in your intuition and allow room for mistakes. You don’t have to be perfect, there will be setbacks of course, but it’s more important to never let anything break your spirit of hope and enthusiasm.
We Banjo 3 seems to radiate such a positive energy. Where does that stem from?
For me as a writer I know that I try to battle the shadow and darkness in me by pulling focus to the light in my life. With WB3 the sound of the banjo is so joyful that it lends itself a helpful amplifier for a message of hope. I don’t sing from a place of knowing, rather a belief in the better days ahead. We’ve been lucky that the reflection of goodness we get from the people at our shows has always kept our tanks full.
The album, Haven, is meant to provide a safe space for those struggling with mental health. We Banjo 3 has donated quite a bit of time and money into mental health awareness. This is a very generous and selfless thing to do and it says a lot about the band. Can you talk a little bit about why this topic is so important?
“Haven” the song is a special one, it started with Martin and I writing little snippets on a couch in Nashville. The song progressed and was helped by many hands, including Martin's wife Kiana June Webber, and by the time it ended up on the album it felt like such a community effort. In ways that mirrors the ways of mental health, it is never an individual effort, rather a net of love and support that can hold even the heaviest of hearts. Speaking for myself, I have leaned into that net many times. Our efforts to shed light on the subject stemmed from the feeling that not everyone knows the ways that support can be found and engaged with.
Many artists say that being in a band is like having a whole new family. In your case, We Banjo 3 is made up of 2 sets of brothers. How does this family relationship affect your music and band dynamic?
Someone should really write a book on it, not a straightforward path that’s for sure.
There is a musical telepathy that only comes with families, we have it two fold as there are many strands that cross the brotherhoods. For example Fergal and I at one point we’re playing 7 hours of music together a day for months at a time, years and years in a row. That time spent cannot be replaced.
If you weren’t a musician, what other profession would you want to have?
I have always loved how things come apart and go back together. My initial path in life was Mechanical Engineering but as I’ve gotten older my interest has shifted from steel and wood to the ways of the mind. I have a hunger for psychology and being a big advocate for therapy. I think that path would fulfill my heart a lot.
Do you have a favorite song from your new album Open The Road?
I love the title track. I’m very proud of the way we recorded it. There is a tendency for perfection when you are in a studio environment, a want for order and safety. With that track we chose to lean into the uncertainty and chaos of recording all together in a room - where the take is the take, no plan, no edits, no fixes. What you can hear on that track is pure unrefined passion and trust in one another. If I had the time, I’d go back and re-record every song in that spirit, but I’m still very proud of the album as a whole. It was the first album I’ve had the honor of producing and I’m grateful to the lads for trusting me in that role.
Is there anything else you would like to say to our patrons?
We are really excited to be back out on the road and particularly to be in Arizona. To date we’ve actually never been in the state without it raining the whole time we’re there. We wonder if it might be us at this point!