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Q+A: The Gloaming's Thomas "Doveman" Bartlett

With an unintentional Radiohead reference for a name, and a rapidly expanding fan base that includes the prime minister of Ireland, The Gloaming is not your typical world music chart-topper.

In just the past three years, the five-man, Irish/American group (Dennis Cahill on guitar, Martin Hayes on the fiddle, Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh on hardanger fiddle, Thomas “Doveman” Bartlett on piano, and Iarla Ó Lionaird providing vocals) has played to sold out crowds at international venues like Dublin’s National Concert Hall, won the approval of mainstream critics at The Irish Times and The New Yorker, and most recently, put out a debut album that simultaneously pays homage to Celtic melodies and innovates Irish folk music for the modern ear. Bag pipes and Riverdance, this is not.

In part, the key to the group's success lies in Thomas “Doveman” Bartlett. A New York pianist best known for collaborating with Yoko Ono, Rufus Wainwright, and indie rock band The National, Bartlett is free to break the rules and push the limits of traditional Irish music, because he doesn’t know them in the first place.

Below, Bartlett shares his thoughts on the group's name, first album, and recent widespread success.

Q: Tell me about the band’s name, The Gloaming. What does that mean?

A: It’s a term for twilight. We were thinking about names for the band, and it was Caoimhín who came up with the idea of “The Gloaming” as a name. It immediately seemed to capture some of the atmosphere that the band was kind of going for.

Q: How did the band come together?

A: It was really Martin Hayes who really pulled us all together. He had preexisting musical relationships with everyone else in the band. He's the focal point around which we all came together.

Q: Several of the members of The Gloaming are from Ireland but you are American. What drew you to traditional Irish music?

A: I grew up in Vermont and my best friend Sam—Sam Amidon—and I played for contra dances when we were teenagers. Contra dance music has a lot in common with Irish music, and so Sam and I got very into the Irish traditional stuff. It is, in a weird way, the music of my teenage years. This project is really a return to that for me.

Q: You first met Martin Hayes when you were 11 or 12. Could you tell me a little more about that?

A: Sam and I were huge fans of his first record, and when I was on a family vacation to Ireland, my parents and I went to see Martin play. I was totally amazed by him. So we ended up following him all around the country for the next week and a half.  Eventually, Martin noticed that this family was in the front row of his shows every night, so he came up and introduced himself, and that’s how I met him.

Q: The piano isn't typically associated with traditional Irish music--tell me a little about your role in the group.

A: Guitar is a much more typical accompaniment in Irish music, and I’m freed up by the fact that Dennis [Cahill] is so locked in rhythmically. He’s really the foundation of the band, and that frees me up to do a fair amount of improvisatory stuff to extend the harmonies in different ways. I have a very free role in the band; I can join Dennis and become part of the rhythmic engine if I want to, but I’m also able to float around the music.

Q: Jim Carroll of The Irish Times recently ranked “The Gloaming” as the best album of 2014 so far. What do you think of the response to the group's debut album?

A: It’s been really lovely. I think all of us in the band were excited about the project, but we weren’t sure what the response was going to be like. It’s been gratifying how much people have been excited by it. And especially that people outside the traditional Irish community have been excited about it. It seems like our songs have been getting a response from people who would otherwise be listening to very different kinds of music, so that’s been very nice.

Q: Do you have any travel suggestions for people visiting either New York or Ireland?

I’m really not very familiar with Ireland, it’s a little bit embarrassing how little time I’ve spent there, apart from performing. I can tell you one of my favorite restaurants in New York. I’m obsessed with this place called I Sodi. it’s an Italian restaurant in the West Village on Christopher St., and when I’m in New York, I eat there probably twice a week. 

Q: What's always in your carry on?

A: I take sleeping pills, an iPad. That's really it. I feel like as long as I have my iPad loaded up with books to read, and then some Ambien to make sure I can sleep, you can take me anywhere.

The Gloaming’s debut album is available on iTunes, $9.99. 


Caroline Hallemann is an assistant digital editor at Travel + Leisure. You can find her on Twitter at @challemann

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