News Column

Screaming Orphans close out Nightfall with pop/Irish blend -- Aug. 30

August 29, 2013

YellowBrix

Aug. 29--With a name that sounds like it belongs to a bunch of punk rockers or metal heads, it's no surprise that, despite almost 20 years of touring, The Screaming Orphans still feel the need to nip confusion in the bud.

"We do feel like orphans because we don't fit into any certain market," drummer/lead vocalist Joan Diver offers as explanation of the band's name during a recent phone interview. It's the beginning of a response that is as rehearsed as it is entirely unprompted.

"We're very different, so we're out on our own, musically, but we're not a death-metal band," she adds. "We're very sweet and harmonic."

For all the sonic intensity implied by their moniker, the Orphans have more in common with The Cranberries than Mastadon or Sex Pistols. Diver and her three sisters -- Angela, Grainne and Marie Therese -- blend elements of American pop/rock with melodies rooted in the traditional Celtic music their uncle taught them while they were growing up in County Donegal, Ireland.

On Friday, the Orphans will return to the stage at Miller Plaza as the final headliners of this year's Nightfall concert series. The band's last appearance in the Scenic City was to headline the series in 2007.

As children, the Diver sisters served as a backing band for their mother, a traditional ceili-style singer who took them with her to perform for tourists each summer in England. As teenagers, however, Diver says they began feeling an itch to distinguish themselves and began experimenting with a new group that catered to their love of bands such as Fleetwood Mac, Simon & Garfunkel, Red Hot Chili Peppers and R.E.M.

The band received a rush of early success after making a high-profile appearance at a concert in Kildare, Ireland, alongside traditional music luminaries such as Christy Moore and Liam O'Maonlai. The band then embarked on a world tour as the backing band for singer/songwriting superstar Sinead O'Connor. The Orphans spent the following year on tour with Senegalese singer and guitarist Baaba Maal, and in 1999, Joni Mitchell selected them as her backing band for a song used in The Chieftains' "Tears of Stone" album.

"You learn a lot by being with people who are so professional," Diver says. "It's an honor, too."

In the early 2000s, the Orphans relocated from Ireland to America to take advantage of the latter's wider touring circuit. At first, however, they decided to take a hiatus from touring to refine their music. After about a year, they emerged with a new approach that blended their Irish roots with their American influences.

With a decade stateside under their belts, Diver says she and her sisters have found a deeper connection to the music they were raised on, thanks to seeing it from a new perspective.

"We're blending the past with the modern, and people really like that," Diver says. "I was surprised by how much Irish music and Ireland is embraced over here.

"It makes us feel privileged because growing up in the tradition, I took it for granted. Coming over here, my eyes were opened."

Contact staff writer Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.

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