We Banjo 3 is an Irish-Americana fusion band that is reviving the banjo's opulent heritage. The group consists of two sets of brothers: Enda Scahill on banjo, mandolin, and tenor guitar and Fergal Scahill on fiddle, guitar, and bodhrán; and Martin Howley on banjo, mandolin, and tenor guitar and David Howley on banjo, vocals, and guitar. We Banjo 3 uses avant-garde arrangements, ancestral melodies, and technical virtuosity to mix contemporary bluegrass with old-timey Irish folk music.
Growing up in Galway, Ireland, the Scahill and Howley brothers were introduced to traditional Irish music at young ages, and immediately sensed a strong musical chemistry upon meeting each other in school. After playing together in various groups, We Banjo 3 officially formed in 2007. Originally there were three members: Enda Scahill, Martin Howley, and David Howley; but they quickly added Fergal when the music inevitably started gaining momentum. By that point, the name "We Banjo 3" had enough clout that they decided to keep it.
Up until six months ago, We Banjo 3 was still self-managed, putting in countless hours and sleepless nights of work and travel to get to its current level of success. When asked what outside influences might surprise the band's audience, David Howley admits that he's always been influenced by the late Chris Cornell's singing: "Every word told a story," Howley says. "I wanted to feel that power." In addition, his dad would always tell him, "Music is for your soul," words of solidarity that forever validated his passion.
The positive energy is palpable in We Banjo 3's live performances. Its newest album, "Haven," is meant to provide a sonic safe haven for those struggling with mental health issues: $2 per purchase of the single, "Don't Let Me Down," goes toward the Pieta House Suicide Prevention Charity, an organization in Ireland that provides people with a safe environment to get help for their mental well-being.
We Banjo 3 is on a musical mission to spread a message of hope and inspiration for all. What follows is an edited transcript of a recent interview with lead vocalist David Howley.
CITY: What has been your greatest obstacle as a band?
David Howley: Not to be emotionally invested to the point of failure. Bringing a fully written song to the group - tearing it apart and building it back up again - can be brutal. It's easier to come in with five lines and some chords to allow room for the others to do something with it.
Do you have any special pre-show rituals?
We'll sing a chorus or two a cappella to get our sounds locked in. And we drink an immense amount of coffee. We're always searching for the places with the best coffee in every city we visit. Seriously. If anyone wants to send us suggestions for where to find the best quality coffee in Rochester, they will receive a free hug after the show from a sweaty Irishman.
Also, our engineer Frank will come into the green room before every show and shake each of our hands to wish us a great gig. He's never missed a single show in the three years he's been working with us.
How do two sets of brothers keep from butting heads when working and touring together?
We don't fight, but we argue sometimes. While we do butt heads, it's always about a difference in opinion rather than a difference in direction. We are all striving for the same thing. It's just a difference of how to go about it. We're some of the most stereotypical Irishmen you could meet, and we all get very passionate about what we're doing.
What is your mission going forward as a band?
To bring awareness of mental health through a positive lens.
Is there anything else you'd like people to know about We Banjo 3?
Whether you're a longtime fan or have never heard of us before, we personally promise that you will leave with a smile on your face. We never got up on stage with the intention to wow people. We just really love what we do, and it makes us so happy to have someone come up to us after a show and say we've made a difference in their lives, or that our music brightened up their day.