Speaking with Luka Bloom is a lesson in storytelling at its finest. Each question is not only met with a rather delightful Irish brogue, but somehow pinwheels off into stories of his many musical travels, of adventures large and small.
There is a splendid Gaelic word for storyteller, seanchaí, and across anecdote and song, I suspect this is what makes Bloom so very enduring; the man sure knows how to sing a story to life.
“It’s a very special blessing, it’s a gift, because anybody who writes songs and is really serious about it in their life would tell you that there’s an awful lot of work involved,” he laughs. “Sometimes you can toil over songs for weeks, months, years, and somehow feel you haven’t quite closed the deal. Sometimes songs slip away from you after you’ve worked at them for ages, and other songs that just seem to come through you, it’s like waking up from a dream and the song is there and complete.”
Bloom has been visiting Australian shores for many years now, and has found himself with a loyal following. We are a country he has great affinity for, and just as his native County Kildare has been fundamental to his craft, so too have Australia, and many other countries again, been instrumental in his evolution as a songwriter.
“If I were born in Sydney as opposed to rural Ireland, I know my songs would be completely different. I know that the nature of my creativity would be completely different. I mean, my writing was completely changed by moving to America – it brought a totally different sensibility to the nature of my songs that I wouldn’t have dreamt of ten years before. In New York, it’s not just about the landscape, it’s the sounds that you’re hearing. I grew up hearing a lot of ballads, a lot of American and Irish and English folk music. But then when I moved to New York, I was listening to a lot of hip hop, because that’s what was in the air. I definitely think that we singers are moulded to a large extent by our environments.”
After learning that tendinitis has been a recurrent demon throughout Bloom’s life, I wonder of the damages that a performer must face throughout their career, and what measures they must take to sustain themselves. His answer is both evocative and revealing.
“The simplistic answer is love, trust and patience. These might just be words, but I don’t use them flippantly. I’ll tell you a funny story. About 12 years ago, I’d just finished building this house, and as soon as I needed to go out into the world and earn some money to cover the cost of it, I got nodules on my vocal chords and my tendinitis returned. I was really afraid in that first year I was going to have to sell it. All I could do was sit at home and play lullabies on my guitar, and I ended up making a little record. It was never formally released, but there was something in that vulnerability of that recording, Before Sleep Comes. It ended up selling enough records to allow me to keep living in the house, and that taught me that the greatest gift that any creative person has is their vulnerability.
“I used to worry a lot about songs, my career. I’ve stopped that now. I believe genuinely if I try to be true to myself and write my songs with a good heart, and sing them with a good heart, then I’ll be taken care of.”
[Luka Bloom photo by Claire Burge]