JigJam is a multi-award winning quartet from the heart of the midlands in Ireland. Blending the best of traditional Irish music with bluegrass and Americana in a new genre which has been branded as ‘CeltGrass’, their onstage energy along with their virtuous musical ability has captivated audiences throughout the world.
We spoke with JigJam ahead of their show at The Cedar Cultural Center on April 12 about the band’s first gig, the influence of American music, and the recording of 2017’s Live in Tullamore. Read the full interview below and get tickets for the show here.
You grew up immersed in Irish music, which Irish artists were inspiring to you when you began playing?
When we grew up we were listening to a lot of funky Irish bands. I remember Beoga would have been a big hit back when we were teenagers, as well as Flook. But then again we always had a huge admiration for the old stuff. We always liked Planxty and guys like that. From the banjo side of things, I have a huge admiration for Gerry O’Connor and Damien O’Kane. Guitar players, you have the likes of Arty McGlynn and even Paul Brady. There would be so many influences.
Popular Irish folk band Beoga are among Jigjam’s early influences
How did Jigjam meet and begin playing music together?
We were all friends before Jigjam started. We would’ve went to the same music teachers and summer schools together. I was actually asked to do a 21st birthday party and I didn’t really want to do it on my own, so I rounded up a few troops and started a band. We were actually a five-piece band at the start. We were just kind of doing some parties and local gigs in pubs at the very start. It’s only after maybe two years that we really said to ourselves, “Hold on, we’ll try to make something of this.” And we tried to find our own sound and such. So then we were a three-piece. James is a full time primary school teacher; he was married and he had kids so he couldn’t commit. My sister was in college at the time, studying, so she couldn’t commit. So the three of us worked out. And since, we added Gavin Strappe to the band two years ago. So we’ve been a four-piece for two years now.
How does American folk and pop music influence your sound?
We listen to a lot of Americana style music. It goes hand in hand with bluegrass music as well. We listen to a lot of bands like Old Crow Medicine Show and then some guys on the more bluegrass side of things, like The Infamous Stringdusters and Greensky Bluegrass. And then the more pop kind of stuff; we listen to a lot of American country music over here in the States–people like Chris Stapleton and Rascal Flatts. The band Midland that have been blowing up in the past few years, I really like their style as well.
What can audiences expect from your live shows?
Hopefully we get a lot of enjoyment out of them. Hearing our new songs and original tunes and a lot of jamming as well. Lately we’ve been experimenting with some effects and stuff like that.
We hope it’s entertaining. We try to keep the crowd in light humor at all times. But musically, it’s definitely toe-tapping. The set is very lively. A couple of slow songs thrown in here and there, a couple of ballads, but mainly upbeat kind of stuff.
Jigjam performing to a crowd of 30,000 at Milwaukee’s Irish Fest
Did becoming an internationally touring act change your perception of what you could accomplish as a band?
Definitely. For example, we were at the Americana awards last year and we got to meet The Lumineers, we got to meet Van Morrison, Old Crow Medicine Show. We hung out with these guys and were completely starstruck. We were completely taken aback by the experience. It’s when you meet these people and you see them in person that it kind of gives you hope and perspective on the whole thing. Maybe we could do the same as them. If we put our head down and start writing music, who knows what could happen. There’s no limit on where we want to go as a band. We want to keep growing, we want to keep getting our music out there, but we have no such goal set in stone that we have to do this and then that’s it. We just want to keep going and keep going. Who knows what’s gonna happen?
You recorded a live album in your hometown, 2017’s Live in Tullamore. What was the experience of playing that show and making the record?
That was amazing. We were playing for a lot of peers, a lot of friends and family, which was obviously a bit nervewracking. I find you could play a gig in America at a festival, for example in Milwaukee, Irishfest, we played to 30,000 people on a Saturday night before Gaelic Storm. But yet I was probably more nervous playing for the 200 people that were in Tullamore when we recorded that CD. It’s people that know you and you just feel that you’re under pressure even though you’re probably not. It was a great experience though. We really enjoyed it. I like listening back to what we actually did, because a lot of stuff that we do on stage is off the cuff. It was exciting.
Jigjam’s 2017 release, Live In Tullamore
You’ve released two studio albums, are you working on any other recorded material right now?
We have a lot more original songs this year around and we hope to write a lot more in the next year. Maybe at the end of the year we’ll see where we are.
You’ve got an extensive touring schedule ahead, what are you looking forward to?
We have a few theaters in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa. We’re looking forward to playing sit down venues that are listening crowds as well. I think that’s exciting for us with the type of band that we are. We have a few new Irish fests this year too, Colorado Irish Festival. We’re going to Telluride Bluegrass Festival this year, can’t wait for that.
What’s been inspiring you lately?
We’re huge bluegrass fans, big country fans. We’ve been listening to a band called Mipso. We’ve also been listening to a fella called Billy Strings that’s pretty amazing. Greensky Bluegrass, the Stringdusters, stuff like that. Some singer-songwriter stuff as well. Then we always have our old favorites like The Punch Brothers, Old Crow Medicine Show, Nickel Creek. Anything and everything, really.