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A Dirty Dozen with ERIC MCCULLOUGH from ISILMÉ – September 2022

| 13 September 2022 | Reply

According to a recent press release: “Baltimore, MD based, Indie / Alternative duo isilmé has unveiled the visually stunning, official music video for their ethereal new single, “In the Dark,” which was filmed in Isle of Skye, Scotland, featuring a breathtaking backdrop to the already emotionally striking musical composition. isilmé is indie / alternative husband-and-wife duo Eric McCullough and Jayne McCullough. The project was founded in 2020 – the same year that the couple found each other. The duo combines ethereal and emotive vocals with intricate instrumental layers to create a sound that is uniquely their own. Thematically, isilmé is autobiographical, transparent, and introspective – taking on their collective and individual triumphs, struggles, and evolution.” We get guitarist / singer Eric to discuss new music, influences, and more…

1. Tell us a little about your latest release.  What might a fan or listener not grab the first or second time they listen through?  Are there any hidden nuggets you put in the material or that only diehard fans might find?

Isilmé’s latest single and music video is for our song “In the Dark.” We shot the music video in four different locations in the Isle of Skye, Scotland and we could not be happier with how it came out. The song itself embraces that wonderful, terrifying sensation of finding yourself deeply in love with someone. That dreamlike moment when you wake up in the night and feel the weight of them next to you. It’s dark, time isn’t real, and you’re just laying there listening to them breathe, full of all these emotions. It’s painfully vulnerable and exhilarating at the same time. While the names of these characters do find their way into the lyrics, the Greek Myth of Selene and Endymion is also referenced in “In the Dark.” Selene, goddess of the moon, falls in love with the sleeping form of the handsome (and human) shepherd Endymion, and visits him every night in his dreams. She pleads with Zeus to bestow on him perpetual youth so that they might never be parted, and Zeus grants this wish by putting him in an eternal slumber, never to grow old or to wake. The story felt like a natural fit, and a crescent moon is something we used from the beginning for visuals with Isilmé (which also means moonlight in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Elvish). In terms of purely musical “hidden nuggets,” we really added a lot of layers to the song in the studio. The area that is most dense is, without a doubt, the second half of the bridge. If you are able to listen to this section with headphones, you’ll be able to pick up on all of the harmonies and simultaneous vocal parts that happen here.  We really presented  Producer/Engineer Tony Correlli (Deep End Studio in Maryland) with a challenging task when it came to mixing this section. He handled the section beautifully and all of the layers we added really come through.

2. What got you into music, and can you tell us about the moment you realized you wanted to be a musician?

Without a doubt, it was when I saw Back To The Future as a kid in the 90s. Music and guitar have such a prominent role in that film and I think the final scene at the Fish Under the Sea Dance just sealed the deal for me. The fact that Michael J. Fox is an actual guitarist made it all that much more meaningful to me.

3. Building on that, is there a specific song, album, performer, or live show that guided your musical taste?

Though they are a completely different genre from isilmé, I would have to say Metallica. As a 13-year-old learning guitar, it wasn’t until I was exposed to Metallica that I REALLY got into music and became serious about the instrument. It then became my mission to purchase every tab book and try to master (no pun intended) every song. When it came time to choose between jazz or classical when majoring in music in college, I chose classical. This was largely due to the classical influence that surfaces in a lot of Metallica’s music. I ended up completing both a Bachelor’s (Towson University) and Master’s (Peabody Conservatory) in classical guitar performance and have now been teaching music in higher-ed for almost a decade.

4. If you could call in any one collaborator to do a song with, who would it be, and why?

The 15-year-old goth kid in me is going to say Amy Lee. No one else has a voice like her and both her writing and musical ability are just off the charts. Back when Ben Moody left Evanescence, I remember being a teenager and dreaming of filming his spot. Come to think of it, I think I actually sent a demo to Wind-Up Records for consideration. Yes, I was naïve.

5. What is your favorite activity when out of the studio and/or not on tour?  What do you like to do to unwind?

My favorite activity lies on the other side of the Atlantic and would be walking the fells (mountains) of Northern England. I have traveled there a handful of times now and the Lake District is a place like no other.  It’s on my bucket list to do all 214 of the Lakeland Fells. We’ll see if my now 30-something knees allow it.

6. How would you describe your music to someone who’d never listened to you before? What is the one comparison a reviewer or fan has made that made you cringe or you disagreed with?

I would say that isilmé falls solidly in the indie/alternative genre and that our music combines ethereal and emotive vocals with intricate instrumental layers. We’ve done a number of crowd reviews online and have gotten some really off-the-wall responses in regard to who we sound like. I think the one we disagreed with (and cringed at) the most was 3 Doors Down. Please not Dad Rock!

7. When your band is hanging out together, who cooks, who gets the drinks in, and who is first to crack out the acoustic guitars for a singalong?

Being that we are a husband and wife duo, we hang out all the time! I tend to do most of the cooking during the week, but we do split it up. Jayne is a fantastic cook; she’s great at thinking on her feet and can come up with a great recipe on the fly (and based on whatever we have in the house). On the other hand, I need a recipe and will follow it exactly – carefully measuring along the way.

8. When was the last time you were starstruck and who was it?

When I saw Phoebe Bridgers live back in June of this year. I admire her musical and songwriting ability so much. Beyond that, she truly seems like the coolest person. Do you want to be friends, Phoebe?

9. What is the best part of being a musician? If you could no longer be a musician for whatever reason, what would be your dream job?

It’s cliché, but the best part is being able to express yourself beyond simple speech. Speech alone is so limiting and never really seems like enough to express how I feel (if it’s even an emotion that can be put into words). My dream job outside of music would be to be a mountain guide in Northern England or Scotland. Being able to be out in the fells/mountains on a daily basis (and to be able to share my love for that corner of the world with others) would be incredible.

10. What is one question you have always wanted an interviewer to ask – and what is the answer? Conversely, what question are you tired of answering?

I love talking gear, so I’m always waiting for someone to ask “What guitars do you use?” Since I was about 12-years-old I have loved PRS Guitars and have been using them almost exclusively ever since. Obviously, they sound amazing and are beautiful instruments, but the playability is what I think really makes them special. If memory serves me correctly, I used my PRS Custom 22 Semi-hollow when tracking guitar for “In the Dark.” PRS Guitars are also built in our home state in Stevensville, MD. It’s not that I’m tired of answering it, but I would pick the common question of “Who do you sound like?” It’s a very fair question, but I feel like few bands can answer it accurately for themselves (I am including myself in that statement). I feel like most of us are too close to the music to really hear it objectively. So many times we end up saying who we WANT to sound like vs. who we actually end up sounding like.

11. Looking back over your career, is there a single moment or situation you feel was a misstep or you would like to have a “do over,” even if it didn’t change your current situation?

I am thankful to have not made any major missteps, but know the importance of reflection and learning from the past. The best advice I could give to myself would be to remain in-the-moment and to appreciate every opportunity as much as possible. We are often so future-oriented and focused on what’s next as musicians that we don’t appreciate what’s right in front of us. A few years back, a rock alternative band I was in (We Love The Underground) opened for Sebastian Bach at Rams Head in Baltimore, MD. The venue treated us like kings – we had food, drinks, our own dressing room, and were able to play to a full house (we even got to meet and hang out with Sebastian afterwards). We obviously enjoyed ourselves, but I remember our drummer Gary Holmes saying “soak it in guys, this could be the coolest thing we ever do as a band.” In the end, Gary was right; that band is no more and that show WAS the coolest thing we ever did. In the moment, I think we were so focused on finishing the album we were working on thinking of “what could be” once it was released that we didn’t fully appreciate just what we had at the time.

12. If you could magically go back in time and be a part of the recording sessions for any one record in history, which would you choose – and what does that record mean to you?

I’m not sure how many artists pick soundtracks for their answer, but I would select the soundtrack from the 2007 film Once. This movie, along with the music from it (by Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglove), changed my life. The story and relationship between the two struggling musicians in the film resonated with me so much and the music is a huge part of the reason why. The authenticity and emotion behind Glen Hansard’s voice and performance just completely arrested me. Up to that point, I had mainly been interested in listening to (and performing) rock/metal. The music from the film opened up a whole new world to me – that of the singer-songwriter and folk genre. While I will always love rock and metal, my favorite artists now include the likes of Glen Hansard, Damien Rice, Lisa Hannigan, Passenger, and more.





Category: Interviews

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ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

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