The sound you create is very pure and unfiltered which creates a real intimacy with your audience. What elements do you feel have inspired and influenced your sound?
Finding the right songs is key! We spend a lot of time trying out songs to find “the ones” that will work for our blend of instruments & voice. We try to get behind the song and put our own interpretation of what we believe is at its essence. Although we are all classically trained musicians, we are very aware of our Celtic heritage and this definitely is a big influence on our sound.
NP: You were previously known as Celtic Rose. What does ‘Affinity’ mean to you?
We have known each other for many years and initially formed Celtic Rose about 7 years ago as a wedding group. As we started to experiment more with our sound, we discovered that we got a real buzz from creating new arrangements of well known songs, by injecting celtic, classical and operatic elements into them. Our sound evolved as a result and we felt that the name Celtic Rose just didn’t represent who we were anymore; that and the fact that every Irish group seemed to be called Celtic ‘something or other!’ After much brain storming, we suddenly reached the eureka moment where we realised that it was more than the music that kept the three of us together, that we were now friends for so long that we had a real affinity with each other. And suddenly, it seemed so obvious that our name needed to be Affinití. You’ll notice that we spell it with an Í rather than a Y at the end. This is our nod to the celtic influences in our music. Also, seeing as we are three very different personalities, always with strong opinions, we have a joke amongst ourselves that there is no ‘I’ in team, but there are 3 in Affinití!
Emer, tell us a bit about your most challenging vocal role?
Emer: There is a lot of challenging repertoire in the operatic genre, so this keeps me on my toes! I still go to weekly lessons and I’m constantly working to expand and strengthen my range. I’m playing First Lady in Mozart’s The Magic Flute with an Opera company here in Ireland (Lismore Music Festival) this May. Vocally the biggest challenge is just the high tessitura i.e it sits very high in the voice throughout so it’s just about working it into the voice the correct way! By the time we get to rehearsals I’ll be able to just have fun with it and that’s the greatest joy of singing for me – working in the technique and then just letting go and getting into character. Within Affinití, I use my voice in many different ways across a myriad of styles so the biggest challenge here is the very wide range required by the different genres. I can sometimes use 2 and half octaves in the one night so it’s important I’m always breathing properly.
How did the concept for your EP “Rebirth” come about?
We thought “rebirth” was a suitable title for our debut EP because we feel that we give songs a new life! In this EP, we took 5 well known songs, paired them right back and completely reworked them, adding new melodies, or creating new textures. For example, in One Day Like This, we added a Hornpipe that we composed ourselves, in My Immortal, we composed a celtic melody as an instrumental in the middle of the song, Falling Slowly we morphed into an operatic aria etc..So in this way, we think it could be said that the songs experience a rebirth at the hands of Affinití!
Mary, you are the composer of the group. Have you been writing any new material for the group that we might be able to hear soon?
I do some composing and freelance arranging outside of Affiniti which I very much enjoy, but when it comes to composition for Affiniti, this is a very collaborative process and we all play our part. Recently we have started working on some original compositions which is extremely liberating and something that we are very much enjoying. The project we are currently working on is the Shannon Suite which was commissioned by Shannon Airport and is a 4 movement piece with text both in English and the Irish language from the work of Irish poets including Máirtín Ó Direáin and W.B. Yeats.
On your website, you all are described with various characteristics, “the girly one,” “the glam rose” and “the goony one.” As musicians however, you all have similar training in classical music. What do you think is the reason so many classical artists like yourselves are turning to classical crossover?
We are all classically trained to Masters level but although we may be classical at our core, I think we all found the classical tradition quite restrictive. For example, as an orchestral musician, your role is to play all the notes on the page exactly as written, adhering to all the dynamic & phrasing markings and following the lead of the conductor. There is little room for personal freedom and creativity. Within the classical crossover genre, we can do what we want! We love using our instruments and voice to create new sounds and effects, and there’s nothing we enjoy more than injecting something of ourselves into the music we are playing. On a broader level, the classical music industry simply has to embrace crossover in order to survive this modern era we live in. For some purist ensembles, this is met with inertia from musicians who resent having to ‘lower their standards’ but in Affinití, we strive to strike a balance between contemporary music and virtuoso performance with sensitive arrangements. We LOVE crossover and continue to adore classical music, Irish traditional music, world music, pop and rock music as separate genres in their own right. We just consider crossover as its own genre too!
NP: Aisling, you have performed on the classical stage and also with Kayne West. How do you, as a harpist, adjust to accommodate such a range of styles?
Aisling: Whatever the performance, concert or recording, whether with a symphony orchestra, chamber group, or rock star, music is music. It is a language and a playground all at once! I find I get lost in it and just the excitement of entering into the moment guides me. Of course, having trained from an early age helps endlessly in the task. It takes a huge amount of practice and study to appear effortless behind any musical instrument and adapt to so many different styles, but for me, that’s the joy of the craft!
Kanye West is such a massive ‘star’ and his production was huuuuuge. I can’t honestly say that it was a musical highlight for me as I had to busk from a violin part but it was certainly a novel tour! Style over substance is rife in the music industry and often appearances are more important than the quality of music. As a harpist, my tone will vary hugely from genre to genre. Where I choose to play on each string will produce slightly different tone, how much or little flesh I play with on each finger, how quickly or thoroughly I close my hand after plucking each string, how abruptly I change a pedal (yes. The harp has SEVEN pedals, each with three different positions – flat, natural and sharp) what technical effect I use (harmonics, glisses, pedal slides… the list is endless!) What I adore about Affinití is that Emer and Mary know how much I love to improvise so I have lots of freedom to explore the harp on every gig. We are sort of telepathic and know each others thoughts- which is VERY handy when you have to cope with a rather rebellious and rambunctious harpist! Affinití is all about marrying style WITH substance and we work incredibly hard, always striving for satisfying arrangements musically- for each of us. Its such a fascinating process that requires all three of us to have the eureka moment. (We nerdily joke about being ‘struck by Affinití’ when this happens)
You girls have a special relationship with classical and rock; is there any music style you think you would never cover or is the sky the limit?
The sky is the limit and that is precisely why we love what we do so much! Saying that, we’ll probably steer clear of rap!
Mentor’s are extremely important to the creation and improvement of any artist. Who are some of the people who have helped you on your journey so far?
Affiniti: Well I think we would have to start with our manager, Terry Browne. He truly believes in what we are doing and has done so much to help us already since we first met him in September. Second would have to be Howard Crosby, nephew of the legendary Bing, who we also met last September at a concert in the National Concert Hall in Dublin. He loves our music and has organized a very exciting White Christmas Tour which will take place in Dec 2014 and includes concerts in Portland, Washington State (the Bing Crosby Theatre!) and Chicago. Another inspirational mentor is Harry McKillop in Texas who presented us with the Spirit of Ireland Medal in McKinney, Texas in February. We had the honor of performing at his Honorary Conferring at the Perot Museum of Science in Dallas. At 94 years of age, he still goes to work every day and is an incredible and inspirational person. We have been very fortunate to meet these wonderful people and are so honored that they believe in what we are doing.
When can we expect a full length album from you?
We have recorded about 75% of the album. We don’t have a recording contract so it is an expensive process; we are currently saving to finish it off! We hope to have it ready to release by early Autumn.
Affiniti official: affinitimusic.com