The Story Behind the Trio(Interview)

With a new EP just released and a full length album on its way, how interesting life is with these three Canadian lads who are filled with a cornucopia of musical ideas? And what happens when these ideas are rooted in traditional music? I got a chance to conduct an interview with James M Law, Graeme McGillivray and Jacob McCauley a trio better known as NUA.

As of this writing, the text was done by Jacob McCauley while the two remaining members contributed their answers in the background. It’s all three of them basically since they answered it together. He stated,” It was too confusing to write “I” or “me” because the reader won’t know who is talking. I typed it all up though, but as I wrote it I was getting feedback from James and Graeme and writing their answers and such.”

Please don’t forget to check the previous article about them. I did a review of their debut EP when it came out in November 16. Since then, the record received good reviews from a lot of Celtic music sites. It is fun when you share the music to your friends and they become equally passionate about it. This happened with Celtic Music Fan’s best pal Christi who also runs her blog Talk and Chatter. She said” They are good! I love their light touch and wonderful Celtic feel!Love this band! It has the pounding beat that is a grand Celtic tune with SO much more!” So dear readers, here is my Q&A with NUA:

I listened to the EP and seen the youtube videos. There are no loose ends and there is this high level of concentration. How do you three maintain this all throughout not just in one track but through all the tracks and live shows?

Well, the age old notion of “practice makes perfect” comes to mind! But in all honesty there are several reasons why. The first being how comfortable we are playing together. Obviously we have spent countless hours practicing, performing, recording, jamming etc. But it’s more than just time spent, we have a good connection as a group of players and that makes it a lot easier to work on material. Even at times when a certain gig is rushed, or a new tune/arrangement is introduced, we always seem to adapt quickly to it and work together nicely. The relationship between each instrument seems to always compliment nicely, which ultimately makes the rehearsing progress a lot easier. Another fact is that we all have had music in our lives since day one. That is a huge benefit as it kind of trains your ears to listen to every detail of the music (often without even knowing it). It helps the process of learning or creating new tunes and then preparing them for playing live or recording.

In some ways it is impossible to say why we maintain our “signature sound”. This may come as a shock, but we actually don’t get as much time to practice right now as we would like. Each member has other things on the go that takes time away from the group. Both James and Graeme are currently finishing up college and university (Graeme on Jazz Guitar, and James on Jazz Drums). They also have other musical engagements throughout the year. Jacob keeps a pretty busy schedule of performing and recording with various artists from around the globe, and also has an active teaching schedule. So all in all, it can be difficult at times to devote full attention to NUA. But we collectively feel that as NUA grows, and we naturally become busier with performances, tours, festivals etc. then we will naturally be devoting more time.

How did you three get together to form NUA?

It’s kind of hard to pinpoint an exact time that we decided to form NUA. Both James and Graeme have been playing together since they were 3 years old. James and Graeme met Jacob a few years ago after they started college and university in Toronto. After being immersed in the Toronto Irish scene, the three of us would run into each other at various jams around Toronto and that’s kind of how it started. Jacob was slowly introduced to some of the material that James and Graeme had written, and it’s safe to say that he was intrigued! As time went on, three of us began jamming more and more often and learning each other’s tunes. As Jacob had begun to learn most of the tunes, we began doing a few select performances locally. But this was long before we had discussed forming as a full-time trio. It was not until around early 2012 that we began discussing recording an album and forming together as a group. As we talked about it more and began planning, it was pretty evident that we we’re passionate about it and had an equally strong desire to work together.

How were the tracks pinned down? Did you three just got together one day and said hey let’s make this track that sounds like this…or you all sat together and spent hours and hours trying to come up with a concept?

Well, we basically had a good idea of what are favourite tracks were, and we decided that was a good place to start. Since the EP is only 4 tracks, we wanted it to showcase some of our best tracks that give people a pretty good idea of what we sound like. We actually have had enough material to do a full-length already, but an EP seemed like a good way to get our music out there before 2013. If we had instead chosen to start with a full-length album, we would still be working on it into the New Year. This way, we have some of our music out there, and next year we will release our full-length album.

The Draw and The Hijack were the first definite tracks picked, as they are some of the first tracks that we learned together as a group, and are certainly our favourites. They also are a superb example of our sound and feature each instrument really well. They were a natural choice. Martins Yellow Tea Pot was another tune that was written some time ago and one of the first ones we learned together as a group. I guess you could call it one of our slower tunes, but it showcases that not all of our music is fast or complex. Lastly, Fizzbuzz was sort of the wildcard of the EP. Fizzbuzz began as the last tune of a 3-tune original set. But were struggling with the arrangement and weren’t totally convinced that we want to leave it as a 3 tune set. But we knew that we really liked the third tune, so we had the idea to make it just a standalone tune. Graeme came up with a gorgeous chord progression, and that really made the tune. After we finished the arrangement and did a few rough recordings, we all felt really strongly that it was a keeper. So much so that we decided to make it the opening tune of the EP (previously it was The Draw). So all in all, after choosing the track listing of the EP it was fairly straight forward from there. The arrangements were done, so it was just a matter of recording it all.

Who is introspective type, the happy go lucky type and the one in between in terms of being a musician?

That’s a tough one! But after some lengthy discussion we think it’s safe to say that Jacob is the introspective type, Graeme is the happy go lucky type and James in the middle. Why you might ask? Jacob, being a percussionist, generally seems to pay close attention to every detail. Where on the other hand, Graeme has a knack for just sitting back and going with the flow, but when it comes time to work, he’s always on par. James is in the middle since he certainly also has an attention to detail, but also can be laid back at times.

What’s your idea of a great live show?

Well, really there is nothing like a really enthusiastic crowd. You could be playing the greatest venue on earth, but without a crowd that is really into the music, it would not be that enjoyable. That being said, almost every show is a different experience. The smaller shows of course tend to be a bit more intimate which is always nice, but the larger shows are a lot of fun because you are playing to many people. But ultimately (whether the concert be small or large) to have a room full of enthusiastic, trad-loving fans is certainly as enjoyable as it can get. Oh, and of course some free beer and food is great too!

How did you achieve such level of skill in terms of your favorite instruments?

We all began playing at a young age, and that of course is one of the best ways to reach a high level of skill on your instrument. With James and Graeme picking up Fiddle as young as 3 (and Guitar by 13) and Jacob starting with piano as young as 5 and moving on to bass, guitar and bodhrán shortly after, there was a lot of development in the younger years. I think it’s safe to say that since then, music and playing our instruments has been a huge passion for all three of us. Although we may not have known or planned to be playing music for a living, we each had the desire to become the best we could be on our favourite instruments. It really just takes the commitment and dedication to put in the practice time to reach that higher level of skill. It of course was the enjoyment as well; to play the instruments that we love, and eventually be able to do it to pay the bills. It’s a dream come true!

Your advice to teenagers who are interested in the trad music scene but are nervous because they might find it too difficult?

I think it’s safe to say that our advice for any musician would simply be to play for the love of it, not for the fame or to pay the bills. Sure, it’s lovely to gain exposure and of course to play music for a living, but ultimately one should play music simply because they love to. If a teenager is interested in getting into the trad scene, possibly starting a group, playing gigs, then just find the music that is your calling, find some like-minded musicians, and sit down and jam! If you feel that you are ready to perform, then start playing locally, anywhere, and get a feel for it. Go out there and have fun playing the music that you love!

How can fans reach you and also how can listeners help you promote the music? What is the most effective way (aside from buying the albums)

There are of course many ways to promote music, but in all of our experience in the music scene, it is pretty evident that one of the best ways other than buying albums is just simply word of mouth. Word of mouth can spread faster than anything else. When someone buys an album, if they like it, they will recommend it to their friends, and their friends, and so on. It is an essential aspect for a musician to have fans that are enthusiastic and talk about it. So don’t be afraid to speak up!


I also got an update that Jacob wrote an article (entitled The Contemporary Bodhran Player) in The Living Tradition Magazine issue 94. According to Jacob: “The article is primarily about, well just what the title says, “The Contemporary Bodhran Player”. It focuses around my experiences in my career of getting to where I am today, and how the bodhran has evolved as a whole, with regards to the player as well as the instrument. As opposed to my DRUM! Magazine article in late 2011, this article takes on a much more personal approach and allowed me to share some of the things I have been working on, both technique wise, as well as musically and aspects of drum/tipper construction.”

I checked The Living Tradition Magazine and I told him that it looks amazing. He replied : “Yeah it is! It’s probably Europe’s (maybe in the worlds) most read traditional music magazine. They ship copies all over the place which is great.”