Will Kradlak, frontman for the Watsontown-based, Celtic band MacAlum, is a fiesty fiddler whose musical prowess also includes guitar, bass, harmonica, recorders, bagpipes and e-bagpipes. Together with drummer Robbie Gresko, guitarist Randy Moyer and bassist Mike Cannon, MacAlum cranks out a lively blend of Medieval dance music, popular Celtic tunes and traditional ballads - as well as original material. With an obvious flair for showmanship, the guys provide a interactive, toe-tapping experience at each show.
Catch their next performance from 6 to 9 p.m. April 14 at Ali's Restaurant and Bar, 500 Elysburg Road, Danville.
The Sun-Gazette recently spoke with Kradlak about the challenge of playing bagpipes, the future of the Celtic music genre, the band's passion for performing and, of course, that fundamental question - will there be kilts at the show?
Celtic band MacAlum will perform from 6 to 9 p.m. April 14 at Ali’s Restaurant and Bar, 500 Elysburg Road, Danville.
Jackie Szymanski: How did your fiddling career begin?
Will Kradlak: Well, I originally wanted to play the violin in the fifth grade, but they told me fiddles were for little kids. I guess this was back when schools only had so many instruments and they needed to be practical about it. Anyway, since I was a "big kid," they expected me to play a big instrument like a cello or a tuba that I could wrestle home on the bus. So I picked up guitar. Then, you know, you always want to go back to what you liked when you were 10, so I finally picked up a violin about eight or nine years ago.
JS: What drew you to the Celtic genre?
WK: I had been playing bluegrass and country for a while on the guitar, but one day I got a phone call from a band playing at the Pennsylvania Renaissance festival. They needed a fiddler for 13 weeks for the Renn Faire season ... and the money was better than anything that country could offer - especially bluegrass - so I jumped at it. I found myself really enjoying the Celtic genre. [It's] definitely a world music - it incorporates African and Latin influences.
JS: You've mastered a number of instruments, including e-bagpipes. What are they?
WK: Electronic bagpipes. They're phenomenal - you can tune them to two octaves, set them to different voices and I think, perhaps, the best part is that you can adjust the volume. [laughs].
When you play acoustic bagpipes, especially in a restaurant setting or something, you can only play one song because no one can talk or place their orders while you're playing.
So you just can't interrupt the social atmosphere for too long. Even when I rehearse with the band, they all wear earplugs.
JS: Does the band primarily do more traditional or modern fare?
WK: Well, I think, in just about any genre, that you've got to master the traditional before you have the authority to take the music further. And, yes, we do traditional acoustic Celtic music and we do Medieval music, but now we're getting to more of a Celtic rock kind of deal with electric fiddles and guitars.
JS: Since it was brought here by immigrants, do you think Celtic music in America has developed separately from its Scottish and Irish predecessor?
WK: Everytime you have cultures colliding in that way, they're going to borrow from each other. I think Celtic music from Ireland and Scotland has picked up many influences from Middle East and Africa and a lot of Latin American stuff. A lot of the rock 'n' roll influence did come from Scotland - I mean, there are a lot of great Scottish bands playing rock 'n' roll.
I think Celtic music is kind of like the Bronze Age - which happened simultaneously, all over the world - like the consciousness of man is reaching out to enjoy and expand the genre. And now you have Latin artists like Ruben Blades doing renditions of songs like "Danny Boy" with a definitive Latino flavor.
JS: Which MacAlum song is your favorite to play and why?
WK: I think it changes every month. We just wrote a song called "Marco Polo," which shows a lot of the Middle Eastern influences we're playing with. With the boys coming back from military service, a lot of people are being exposed to that style of music and I've been hearing echoes of that out in the music world. Loreena McKennitt is a Canadian artist who has a song called "The Gates of Istanbul," which was an incredible influence - she's a Celtic artist, but she's really into Middle Eastern music.
JS: Which instrument do play in "Marco Polo"?
WK: I'm playing twin recorders at all times, as well as singing and playing my fiddle and e-bagpipes. It's quite an experience for me, but it's also quite a challenge.
JS: What's on the horizon for MacAlum?
WK: The plan for the next couple of years is just to continue to establish ourselves at major Renaissance fairs. We've also talked about moving into a fullblown stage show, bringing together music, theatre and improv. Our eventual dream is to take it to Broadway or host a TV show in the area.
JS: What's your vision for the TV show?
WK: We have a bunch of skits developed and improv sketches like one we're calling "Cooking with the MacAlum band." Another potential skit would be "What does a Scotsman wear under his kilt?"
JS: And will there be any kilts at the April 14 gig?
WK: Well, we've just been doing blue jeans and T-shirts normally, but if you're going to be sending a photographer or anything, we might reconsider [laughs].
JS: How was the name, MacAlum, chosen?
WK: When I was at a Renaissance festival out in Linden, I met some Canadian performers who hired me on as a cast member for their group. My persona within that Renaissance village was Hamish MacAlum and when we formed, the band I decided to let the name live on.
JS: Has playing music always been a big part of your life?
WK: I've always been a player ... and I think there comes a day when you realize there's nothing else you want to do. There's a certain wonderful thing about playing music - it can be meditative, peaceful and incredibly fulfilling, especially when you're playing in a band situation.