In Interviews

Photo credit: Claire Burge


Luka Bloom takes his latest release REFUGE to stages all over Germany. For the second time in under two years, he took the time to talk to us about a record that has the courage to take up challenging subjects and emotions triggered by recent events – and that chooses simplicity and kindness as the languages to address them.

Q: Luka, it’s been about 18 months since we spoke for the first time. You’ve been up to a lot it seems, a lot of touring and most important your new album Refuge. Would you like to introduce it briefly to our readers?
A: I had no plans to record in 2016. Then Brexit and Trump happened. Prince, David Bowie and most of all Leonard Cohen all died. Suddenly the world seemed angry, hurt, and sad. I retreated into the refuge of songs. Then I decided to record them. I thought I would use a choir and strings and wind, but then I decided the songs should come out in the naked form I wrote them in. The songs were naked. I had my clothes on…

Q: Let’s talk about inspiration. You’re honouring two very different artists on the album, French cellist Jacqueline Du Pre in Cello as Everest and Leonard Cohen in In My Secret Life. What do they mean to you?
A: Leonard Cohen was my great teacher, and still is. Not only for his poetry and humour, but for his simple humanity. A complex man, but a deeply kind one. And kindness is the strength we all need now. Jaqueline came to my music ear in 2016, and she became my refuge while writing these songs. Her life was too short but very powerful.

Q: Another topic that features prominently on the album – in Water Is Life and in Dadirri – is the struggle of indigenous people to preserve their land, culture and way of life. How did you come across these two specific battles for existence and identity? 
A: Ah, that would be our sometimes friend, the internet. I have always been interested in the struggles of both the Native American and Aboriginal people. Their countries are very different, but their experiences are very similar. And they are the people left in the western world who have the experience and wisdom to guide the rest of through the challenges of climate change. It REALLY is time now we learned from these great peoples; particularly when it comes to the protection of natural water resources.

Q: We talked about political songwriting last time. With protectionist and segregationist tendencies on the rise around the globe, borders getting closed and nationalist ideas seemingly putting an end to decades of cooperation, do you feel the power of songs to “change minds, bring us together and lift spirits” has gotten even more important? 
A: I really don’t know if songs make any difference at all, in the way that societies behave. They make a big difference to the lives of individuals, and maybe inspire some people to do good work. I have no choice. I am 62. I can pretend I see nothing, or I can try my best to sing what I see and feel. And in the end, my only responsibility is to be true to myself. But yes, we are making all the same mistakes again. Nationalism and religion are a kind of hell for the world. If we could only find a way to see that we are here for a short time; and during that time we are in this together. It’s that simple. Love knows no borders.

Q: I’m Not At War With Anyone takes up this idea as well in the words “I still sing my song/I’m not at war with anyone”. Also, the album features a re-recording of City Of Chicago, where people find temporary refuge from the hardships of their lives in music. People are still driven from their native lands. Yet it seems music always finds it way, today I read an article about Arabic alternative band Hawa Dafi playing live shows in the embattled border region between Israel, Syria and Lebanon. Does that help to ease the fear for the future of the world you mention as one of the album’s key inspirations?
A: I have no idea if Hawa Dafi make any difference to the behaviour of the countries in the region. But they make a difference to the people, because they care enough to do this. Beautiful.

Q: Does the album title refer to you seeking and finding refuge in songs yourself?
A: Yes.

Q: You spent a lot of time in the United States, but you chose not to comment on the country’s current situation under a president whose aggressive rhetoric has the whole world fearing for the future of the world. Any specific reason for that? Could you imagine living there now?
A: I haven’t visited America for four years. I don’t comment on elections as a singer. I respect democracy. And if this president is the person they wish to represent their political lives and views on the world, I must respect that. It is one of the reasons I have not returned to America. Oh, and by the way, Obama was no angel.
Q: Wayfaring Stranger is the only traditional track on the album, a song covered by artists as wildly diverse as Johnny Cash, Giant Sand, Neko Case, Neil Young, Ed Sheeran and even Norwegian prog death metal band In Vain, to mention but a few. Do you remember the first version of this song you heard? What made you choose it as the only traditional tune on an original album?
A: I chose the song as a response to the issues raised by your last question. Particularly the desire by 45 to build walls between people. The thrid verse in Wayfaring Stranger on REFUGE was written by me.
Q: From politics to the more personal: Dear Gods… is dedicated to the memory of actor and musician Tyrone Tuohy who was reported missing in early 2017. I couldn’t find any updates on this but it was widely feared he had drowned after his car was found near the Cliffs of Moher. Is it known what happened to him in the meantime?
A: I don’t really speak about this, as a mark of respect to the family of Tyrone. It is not my place to speak in publically about such a tragic personal loss. I wrote the song with the blessing of Tyrone’s father. We have lost too many people in the West of Ireland in this tragic way, and this is why I wrote the song.

Q: I Still Believe In Love is the song that inspires hope and the belief things can get better, Still, the album addresses difficult topics and emotions like loss, fear, loneliness and pain which many people prefer not to deal with. In spite of its title it doesn’t take its listeners from the world’s confusion and anguish to an escapist realm of light entertainment. How did audiences react to that so far? Are they up for dealing with those emotions through your songs?
A: The subjects on REFUGE are indeed challenging. They are real. And this is what I wanted to do. To reflect on this new reality, without anger. So the subjects are tough; but the tones are mellow and soft. I guess in this I am suggesting that anger is not the only emotion in these times.
Even in hard times, we can choose kindness and love. Kindness and love are the real strengths we need now, or as it says in I still believe in love: “Kindness turns me on”. I am bored with capitalism, consumerism, greed, possession, etc. etc. etc. Kindness is the only thing that is sexy now.

PS. I love Germany.

Find out more about Luka Bloom’s music and REFUGE here
See our partner Karsten Jahnke’s website for all tour dates.
Go here to win two tickets for any of Luka Bloom’s German shows.

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