Needfire is probably the most accessible Celtic rock band since Big Country. Less New Wave than those long-missed Scottish lads, Needfire nevertheless inject a power-pop sensibility to authentic Irish-Scottish sounds. Songs such as “When I Get There” and “Fight Where I Stand” are furious toe-tappers that owe as much to the Beatles as to Celtic music.
How are Celtic groups who aren’t from Ireland or Scotland looked upon in Europe? Have you ever encountered any negativity in the U.K. for being a stateside product?
Europe seems to have an open heart for Celtic music. Our U.K. cousins look upon Needfire favorably. Our experience with the U.K. audience has been tremendous and a lot of fun. In fact, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival podcast used a song of ours, “Gravel Walks,” for the theme song last year. Quite a compliment.
The band meshes its Celtic and rock sensibilities quite well. How do you achieve that balance, musically? Is it self-conscious?
In the beginning, Ed [Walewski] was always enamored with traditional Celtic music. I am a Texas guitar slinger/songwriter. We took the Texas blues-rock roots and injected a strong dose of Celtic traditional music into the mix. Everyone was knocked out. It was experimental at first, now we look and craft the right blend. Both rock and Celtic audiences love it.
How long has Needfire been together and how did the band form?
Needfire is three years strong and going for four. Ed was playing with a Celtic band that was headed for the great Celtic music graveyard. They were seeking a guitarist. I answered an online ad and auditioned for the project. It was horrible music, but I got the gig. That band soon imploded and broke up. I called Ed a few days later and said, ” Hey, wanna start a band?” Ed said, “You will never know how bad I wanted you to call me!” We went into the studio and recorded a few ideas and searched through a few musicians looking for talent. Dylan Cleghorn was age 16 and played viola. He asked if he could pick up a fiddle and play a show with us. I consulted Ed with instructions not to crush my son: “Let Dylan play a gig with us while Needfire continues to look for a fiddler.” Dylan came into the next rehearsal and blew everyone away. I stood there with my mouth open. Ed called me the next day, also dumbfounded. We never looked for another fiddler. I have known [drummer] Matt [Henthorn] a long time. Matt was playing drums with a Dallas blues-rock bar band, bowed out, and joined us. Brad Madison, bagpiper, was a long-term friend of Ed’s. We twisted Brad’s arm a bit.
Unlike many other Celtic rock acts I’ve heard, Needfire places an emphasis on songcraft over style. In other words, a number of your tunes could be refitted into a straightforward pop format. Are the songs written on guitar first with the Celtic instrumentation then added? How does the songwriting process work within the group?
Yeah, we are “song first, band second.” I am the main songwriter. Dylan and Ed also write songs. Dylan and Ed allow me to tinker with their songs. I maintain an even hand on our work but encourage their creativity in the process. Often, a new song is first demoed with just guitar and vocals. Not always, but often. I may play a guitar part that later becomes the fiddle/bagpipe riff. Ed and Matt get the luxury of hearing a pretty close final arrangement of a song before they record. I listen to Ed and Matt and say things like “a little more of that or a little less of this.” Sometimes Dylan brings in a killer fiddle part and tells me to reverse engineer it and rock it up. Ed builds bass as he goes, sometimes coming back the next day with a new better part, which I re-record because Ed is right. Brad and Dylan normally complement each other’s musical parts. Normally.