How it’s New York: Sephira will be performing at the Cutting Room on March 16.
How it’s Irish: Ruth and Joyce O’Leary are natives of County Monaghan, and their playing style fuses traditional Celtic music with classical, rock and folk. Before striking out on their own as Sephira, they performed with Celtic Thunder.
Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, Sephira will be bringing their unique blend of violin and vocals to stages in New York.
The duo of vocalist-violinist sisters Ruth and Joyce O’Leary is currently touring the United States. They have three albums to their credit, the most recent being Eternity.
New York Irish Arts spoke to Ruth and Joyce on Wednesday, just before they were to appear at the Cutting Room on Thursday.
New York Irish Arts: How is the current tour going?
Joyce O’Leary: It’s been absolutely fantastic. We did shows in Arizona a few weeks ago, and standing ovations all around. It was so much fun. And it’s great because the show is a mixture of things, like genres; it’s Celtic mixed with pop, rock, folk – there’s something for everybody.
Ruth O’Leary: Yeah, there’s a point in the show where we go from – it’s actually probably one of the surprise parts of the show where we go from a solo Irish song to into a solo violin song, and then into “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin. So it’s really a – just a really good mix of stuff for everyone.
NYIA: What can audiences expect at the upcoming shows in New York?
RO: So the 16th is a 90-minute show, and it’s a mix of – we’ll have Celtic, classic songs, Celtic pieces, but then we’ll have like, really well known rock anthems.
We were actually musical ambassadors for Tourism Ireland at the time when were asked to perform at the New York pre-premiere of the Bond movie Skyfall.
JO: Just a good mixture. Because we’ve been – we’re sisters, and we’ve been touring together for the last…since we were kids. And we’ll be telling stories about our journey so far. We used to be in a group called Celtic Thunder, so we’ll be telling stories about us…
RO: The show was actually called “Journey.”
JO: So it tells about our journey so far.
NYIA: The two of you have been performing and recording as Sephira for just over 10 years. What are your thoughts on where the journey has taken you?
JO: Well, it’s been absolutely amazing. We’ve been…it’s actually strengthened us, strengthened our characters so much. We started out touring in 2008, and…it’s been such a learning curve, musically and personally.
RO: Character building. We were in Celtic Thunder for two years, but we decided it was time to make-or-break, career-time. And we moved to New York, and we had 5,000 business cards, and we just went networking every night. And we really built the business up ourselves. We never really had management, so we did everything ourselves. And only recently did we actually take on management. It was a good eight, nine years of the hard slog.
JO: Ups and downs, but the ups really were amazing.
RO: Yeah, and they always balance out the downs. That’s life.
NYIA: Are there any particular moments or memories that stand out for you?
JO: Every show is so different – I can’t think of one in particular.
RO: I do – one that stands out in my mind is, you know, after we left Celtic Thunder, we were very much in a pigeonhole of being Irish. And we did want to branch out, as you can see from what we do in the show, and we did want to play more stuff, like it’s still with a Celtic edge but we wanted to branch out.
And we were actually musical ambassadors for Tourism Ireland at the time when were asked to perform at the New York pre-premiere of the Bond movie “Skyfall.” That moment for me, was like, a moment when we were like “Oh my God! It worked!” All our hard work paid off, and our branding and, you know, all the things we worked so hard on – people could see us as being more branched out. I think that was it.
JO: Yeah, I’d have to agree.
NYIA: Tell us about how your music has changed or evolved over the years?
JO: That’s a really good question. We actually started out – our very first album, 11 of the 12 tracks on the album are original, and a lot of them were slow, and ethereal…
RO: Enya-style vocals. With the usual soaring violin melodies.
JO: And we moved on to, like, to a more contemporary sound, more edgy, rock, incorporating some Celtic with rock. So, yeah, that was our Christmas album and our EP, Eternity, which we dedicated to Larry Hagman, who’s one of our biggest fans.
RO: Oh, yeah, that was also a very cool time of our career, getting to know Larry and Maj Hagman – he was J.R. Ewing from Dallas.
NYIA: Are you working on any projects at the moment?
JO: We are, actually, considering a new album. So we’re just trying to get the repertoire together. And we probably will go back to our Celtic roots for this one.
RO: Yeah, very much so.
JO: Yeah, we don’t want to say too much, because it’s just the very, very beginning and things can change, but we definitely want to incorporate a lot more Celtic.
RO: Even though we sound Celtic anyway but just to even, you, know, really, really return to the roots. Solo – you know, songs that are like, completely without complement, just to get that real feel of Irish vocals.
NYIA: What’s next on the horizon for you?
JO: We see maybe a U.S. tour.
RO: Yeah, another U.S. tour, a more extensive U.S. tour, next year we’re hoping to be out for three months and do the 90-minute show across the country. So…that’s it, and a new album!