EMQ’s with JOY SHANNON AND THE BEAUTY MARKS
Hi everyone! Welcome to our new EMQ’s interview with Los Angeles, California based Celtic Pagan Dark Folk Band, Joy Shannon And The Beauty Marks. Huge thanks to Joy Shannon for taking part.
What is your name, what do you play, and can you tell us a little bit about the history of the band?
My name is Joy Shannon and I play Irish or Celtic harp and Cello and sing. I have written music since was a child but started writing and recording seriously when I was about 18 years old.
How did you come up with your band name?
I first began performing just under my own name, but once I started adding band members, I thought we should add a backing band name for fun. I have been criticized for how verbose it can be, but I blame it on being Irish…we have never been short on words. The name the Beauty Marks comes from my fascination with the history of the 17th century witch trials. I read about how people could be accused of being witches if they possessed birth marks, or what we today could call beauty marks, on their bodies. So thought, I would call my band the beauty marks, to own that we would all be accused witches if we lived back then.
What Country/Region are you from and what is the Metal/Rock scene like there?
I live in Los Angeles at the moment, and most of my bandmates live here too, but one of my singers lives in Oakland, CA. The music scene has been very deeply impacted by Covid, of course, but typically, there are interesting shows happening in LA, San Francisco, Oakland and into Oregon and Washington state that we like to participate in.
What is your latest release? (Album, EP, Single, Video)
Our latest full-length album release is called “The Cave”. “The Cave” is my seventh studio album and was recorded at Lava Studios in Copenhagen with producer Christopher Juul, best known for his work with the Nordic folk band, Heilung. The cover art was designed by the UK based illustrator Adrian Baxter, known for his intricate artwork in the metal genre.
While I previously released albums with my Celtic folk band “Joy Shannon and the Beauty Marks”, I chose to record this album alone, in step with the theme of the solitary spiritual experience that inspired this conceptual album.
“The Cave” was inspired by a revelatory spiritual experience in a cave on the island of Crete, one that bears evidence of ritualistic use from 30,000 years ago. As I walked into the cave, its high ceiling opened up and the cooing of pigeons perched high in the rocks created an echoing symphony of rhythmic coos, which sounded like a heartbeat. With its red rock walls and distinct smell of iron, the cave felt like a living thing – the very womb of the earth itself. In the flickering light and dancing shadows, I felt the sense of the ancestors walking amongst us with their timeless wisdom.
After this experience, I began to research the use of caves in ancient Irish rituals and beyond. This journey led me to create a multilayered album that explores the mythologies of ancient peoples, as well as the stories we tell ourselves within our own personal caves.
While the album was written and recorded in late 2019, its themes of meditation in solitude and facing fears alone in the darkness of a cave, felt relevant in the midst of the isolation during the quarantine of the global pandemic. It is my hope that my album may offer solace and comfort, during these challenging times.
‘Síonnan’ – (Audio)
Who have been your greatest influences?
I cannot remember what came first, but when I was 12, I came across both Nick Cave and The Birthday Party, and Gavin Friday and The Virgin Prunes. Both Nick Cave and Gavin Friday and the lyrical and emotional content of their music set me on the right road for me to explore musical genres that would inspire me to this day.
What first got you into music?
I lived in this row of town houses when I was a small child and I could hear my neighbours play music through the walls. I have a very early memory of hearing “The Joshua Tree” album by U2, which came out when I was 5 years old, being played very loud by my next-door neighbours. I remember listening through the wall to the bass and the howling sounds of the vocals and thinking to myself- whatever THAT is…I want to do that.
If you could collaborate with a current band or musician who would it be?
Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, Gavin Friday, and Rome.
If you could play any festival in the world, which would you choose and why?
I would love to play the Midgardsblot Festival in Norway. I love playing music at sacred ancient sites like that ancient Iron Age burial site.
What’s the weirdest gift you have ever received from a fan?
Some lovely witches in New Orleans wrote me a letter that they use my song, ‘Hecate’ in one of their rituals. That’s a lovely gift to think that my song is used in a spiritual way.
If you had one message for your fans, what would it be?
I hope that my music helps make my listeners feel like they are not alone in their places of spiritual and emotional healing. I write my music from some of the darkest and loneliest places in my own heart…the place in my heart that longs to connect to spiritual wisdom of my ancient ancestors and bring healing to this troubled earth in some way. I long to reconnect to the indigenous spirituality of my ancient Irish ancestors, whose spiritual lineage was broken through recent history. I write songs about my journey of healing this ancestral wound and I hope somehow my music has magic in it that finds the ears that are supposed to hear it.
If you could bring one rock star back from the dead, who would it be?
Oscar Wilde…he was a rock star in his own way…or perhaps the ancient Irish god Lugh who was said to have been the ultimate harpist.
What do you enjoy the most about being a musician? And what do you hate?
I love everything about the creative spark that inspires me to write music. When I hear a song in my heart and mind and I translate it into my fingers through my harp and into words through my voice, it’s truly like some sort of magic. I love recording and performing for various reasons too, but I do not enjoy promoting myself. It’s extremely hard for me to tell people they should listen to my music, which is why I always need help with that part of putting an album out. I am actually quite shy when I am not singing or playing my harp.
If you could change one thing about the music industry, what would it be?
It’s a difficult thing – I love that music is accessible to hear for the ideas, on one hand, but I hate that many musicians do not get paid a living wage.
Name one of your all-time favourite albums?
“Let Love In” by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.
What’s best? Vinyl, Cassettes, CD’s or Downloads?
Vinyl. I love seeing the art so large… though I have amazing memories pouring over the tiny lyrics in some of the first CD’s I was buying as a kid though.
What’s the best gig that you have played to date?
I have really enjoyed playing shows at the “Thirst for Light”, or now called “Cascadian Litha”, summer music festival in Washington state. It’s in the Cascadian forest up there and they set up stages amongst these huge trees. It’s just so inspiring to hear your own music bouncing off these ancient giant trees. I have always felt like I was playing a show in the forests of Lothlorien when I was there.
If you weren’t a musician, what else would you be doing?
I am also a tattoo artist, who specializes in Celtic and Nordic mythological artwork, so I split my time doing both. When I have toured, I booked tattoos along the way in various cities. For example, when I recorded my album in Copenhagen last year, I also tattooed there at Kunsten På Kroppen. I actually met the producer of my new album through my tattoo connections.
I met the incredible Nordic style tattooer, Kai Uwe Faust, about 5 years ago at a tattoo convention in Florence, Italy. We became friends and I made it a goal to tattoo at his shop one day. When I did, I also played a music show there and he told me he wanted me to meet his producer friend Christopher Juul and his partner Maria Franz, who he was starting to record music with. The project that Kai, Christopher and Maria were recording became the incredible band Heilung. Kai said, you should record with Christopher, because I think he would really understand your sound. I felt he was right, but at that time (2017), I had just put out my last album, “Aes Sídhe”, and was not ready to start anything new yet. But when the time came to work on this new album “The Cave”, it was such a dream to work with Christopher Juul. But I would not have connected to him if it wasn’t for my tattooing work.
Which five people would you invite to a dinner party?
Oscar Wilde, Grace O’Malley, JRR Tolkien, Maud Gonne, Queen Maeve
What’s next for the band?
I hope some wonderful things…despite the challenges of the world right now.
What Social Media/Website links do you use to get your music out to people?
Jaffa Cakes? Are they a cake or a biscuit?
Thank you for your time. Is there anything else that you would like to add?
Thank you so much for speaking to me! Go raibh maith agat!
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