When Irish singer-songwriter Luka Bloom was 9 years old, he picked up the guitar for the first time and was shocked by a sense of deja-vu. The youngest of six children growing up in Newbridge County, Ireland, perhaps the familiarity with the guitar was a product of being the sibling of notable folk-musician Christy Moore, or maybe it stemmed from a spiritual connection to music that he would later discover and incorporate into his music. With his 10th album, “Innocence,” out on the shelves, Luka Bloom is beginning his first major U.S. tour in nearly a decade at the Barns at Wolf Trap on Wednesday, April 5. Bloom took some time to discuss his life, music, and tour in a phone interview.
Tell me a little about your history with music:
Bloom: “I picked up the guitar when I was 9 years old and it was this incredible feeling of deja-vu. I can distinctly remember the moment I held my first guitar. By the time I was 12, I was writing songs. Whatever little bit of sadness or sorrow was within me, I would articulate it through song. By the time I was 15 I was singing my own songs in bars near where I lived. It’s all I’ve ever done. I’ve never earned one penny anywhere in my life from anything other than just writing songs. I’m 50 years old now so it’s something to be happy about.”
How do you believe your music has evolved over the years?
Bloom: “I kind of hope that the songs have improved. Writing songs is what I’m about and it’s the most important thing that I do. You get to a certain age, hopefully, in your working life where you see what you’re good at. I’ve gone down some cul-de-sacs in my time and ultimately I came to realize over the last number of years that what I’m good at is what I do and that’s basically this troubadour life. I’ve lost any kind of ambition I’ve had to be a celebrity or being on MTV or daytime radio and I’ve come to enjoy a working life that is about writing the best songs I can write and being true to myself and my songs and enjoying my shows and enjoying the troubadour life. I love traveling to different parts of the world with my stories and my songs and just connecting very directly with people.”
In your new album, “Innocence,” I noticed some religious undertones. Can you tell me about how that has influenced your writing?
Bloom: “I kind of differentiate very strongly between spiritual connotation and religious connotation. Especially if you come from Ireland, which has been for many, many years, and not so much any more, a pretty oppressive Roman Catholic environment which has caused a lot of harm for a lot of people by being over-involved in people's personal lives. I think for me to deny a sense of spiritual dimension to my life would be untrue to myself. I wouldn’t play down the influence. I think that when you are in the business of writing songs, sometimes this stuff is a bit like prayer, it’s a very meditative process. It’s difficult to explain from a work point of view how the spiritualness comes into play. I think from being a bit of a survivor, from having survived some pretty tough times in my younger days, I think that I experience a great sense of gratitude for just being able to act out my job because for a long number of years it didn’t really look like it was going to happen for me and any bit of success came to me comparatively late in my working life. That alone sort of informs my attitude towards my work. It’s a sense of gratitude that I survived this long and a sense that maybe I haven’t always been the one in control and I haven’t always been the one who has been responsible for the good things that have happened to me and I want, through my work, to try and manifest some gratitude for that and if that manifests itself as being somewhat spiritual, than that’s perfectly OK with me.”
Some of the songs off your new album mention global conflict such as the War in Iraq. How has that played into your writing?
Bloom: “I don’t perceive myself as a political songwriter and I’m always a little bit weary of people who carry a political manifesto in one hand and a guitar in the other. I’m weary of the idea of sitting down in the morning and looking for a cause to write about and sometimes I think some people exploit that quite cynically to further their own careers. Something has to move me really deeply in a political way before I will react to it in the context of a song. ‘I Am Not at War,’ was written two weeks before the war in Iraq began. I just had this awful feeling of despair and I just didn’t believe it. I didn’t believe what we were being told. I felt uncomfortable with myself and uncomfortable with my own country in Ireland because we accommodate the war efforts through our airports and channel ports. I’m a bit uncomfortable with that because we have a great tradition of being a neutral country that goes to troubled spots in the world where we can be respected by both sides of a conflict because of our non-participation. I think, for me personally, we in Ireland have crossed a line and I wanted to manifest my own personal sadness in that. Even if it’s a political issue, it’s not enough to rail against governments and foreign policy. I want to connect with it in a personal way and take a personal responsibility for what my beliefs are.”
You incorporate folk instruments from different countries on this album. Do you see a universal theme in Folk music throughout the world?
Bloom: “There is just an incredible interconnectedness now in the world. It is an amazing interconnectedness now that, for me, is expanding more and more particularly as the European Union is expanding all the time. I’m hearing gypsy music from Eastern Europe coming into our country. I think that this is the excitement of the world in which we live. We are just opening up to that and it’s really exciting.”
Luka Bloom is coming to Wolf Trap to begin his first U.S. tour in nearly a decade on Wednesday, April 5 at 8 p.m. in promotion of his new album, “Innocence.” Tickets for the show are $25 and are available by calling 1-877-WOLFTRAP or by visiting www.wolftrap.org.