This interview was originally published in Issue #16, March 2011.
Last year musical mavericks Jonny Kearney
and Lucy Farrell
completed an impressive set of festivals. Despite attending several of the fated events, the monster shamefully missed every performance. The duo continued to elude us until last December, when by chance Mother Wolf saw Bellowhead
play the Bristol Old Vic – more out of curiosity at how a band would fair in the venue, which is normally reserved for theatre. That night proved all good things come to those who (unintentionally) wait, not because the headline was particularly strong, but because Kearney and Farrell displayed an extraordinary dexterity. In our review for Issue 15, we claimed they topped every other gig of the month, and they were up against some stiff competition.
In the wake of their debut album The North Farm Sessions
, and preceding their first album proper, Tiffany Daniels
sent a flurry of emails to Lucy (and briefly Jonny) to discuss the definition of folk, mud at festivals and what convinced them to play their instruments with a saw.
You both went to the University of Newcastle to study Folk. How do you think that reflects in your music?
I suppose the fact that we play traditional songs is [...] the biggest tell. Also, if the songs have been written by us, they often take influence from traditional songs, either in concept or form.
Do you consider yourselves folk musicians?
We do partly, but not exclusively, in that we take influence from the folk tradition but also other songwriters [like] Dylan, Waits, Porter, Wilson
and The Beatles
. Recently we’ve been listening to a lot of Motown.
You cover some traditional songs live. Do you think it’s necessary to uphold convention to be properly part of the folk genre?
I think that if one is to make any attempts to move forward, it’s necessary for them to know about the past.
[It] all comes down to definitions again - the idea of what the ‘folk’ genre is. [It]’s different for each and everyone of us. Therefore, to try and decide whether it’s necessary to uphold convention to stay within this genre is simply down to what your definition of folk is. Personally we think no, but to be aware of what came before helps [...] to make more informed decisions. Just like if you were to go and write a book, it helps to have read a few beforehand.
At the end of the day, people like to hear a good song and for the most part, people aren’t too pedantic about it. Ultimately, whether it’s designed to tell a story, designed to be a catchy pop song, or has no design at all - if it’s sung honestly with conviction and without pretence [it will] compel people.
What’s your definition of folk music?
Typically anonymous, in the sense that it’s all about the song and not the ego.
To me, performing under both of your names suggests the coming together of two solo musicians. Was that intentional? When you began playing together, did you consider using a separate ‘band’ name?
[That] happened simply because we couldn’t think of a band name quickly enough. The Unthanks
asked us to go on tour with them. We decided that impulsively deciding a band name in a state of panic was something we may regret.
Have you found it hard to make the leap from underground to mainstream? Are you conscious of the difference, or do you think there’s more of a progression?
It seems like more of a progression for us. But we can’t say for sure as we’ve never really encountered mainstream.
Last year I managed to go to three of the festivals you played, and I didn’t see you at any of them! Which was your favourite?
We enjoyed all of them: Cambridge, End of the Road, Larmer tree, Sidmouth. Green Man was great, the singer from Flaming Lips
running over the crowd in a big inflatable ball. It’s something we’re considering to enhance our live show experience.
Did your tent and shoes survive Green Man Festival? Mine didn’t.What’s been your worst festival experience?
The Unthanks very kindly let us stay on their big bus with them, so we didn’t have the camping issue which we were extremely grateful for. The mud was ridiculous. We developed a tip toe up against the fence technique which served us well. We saw the stewards giving piggy backs to some of the other bands across the mud swamps!
Were you inspired by anything in particular when you first decided to play a saw with your bow?
Yes, I saw a film called Delicatessen
. There’s a scene in it where there are two people playinga cello and a saw. When the film had finished me and my Dad got an old saw from the shed and started experimenting.
How often do you have to get your bow re-stringed?
It depends on which side of the saw I play. I generally try not to play the jagged edge these days.
Jonny, have you ever tried to play a household appliance to compete?
: No, but now you mention it, I feel I must explore.
Why did you choose The North Farm Sessions as the title for your debut? Was it recorded on a farm? (Am I being daft?)
Yes, it was recorded at Rachel and Adrian’s (Unthank) house in Northumberland, which is situated in a place called North Farm. Again not being imaginative enough to conjure up a half decent name, we went for the very literal North Farm Sessions.
You’ve recently gone into the studio to record a full length. Are there any potential album titles floating about?
No, given our general fear of committing to band/album names, it will probably be something like Album no 1. This could carry on indefinitely.
How does it differ from The North Farm Sessions? Are you recording in a similar style?
Yeah [it’s] quite similar. We’re going to have a few more instruments on this one, hopefully a bit more light to the shade.
Will it include any of the established songs you missed off your last release?
Yeah it should include a couple. We haven’t completely finalised track listing yet.
When is it likely to be released?
[Sometime in the] summer!
Plan to see Jonny and Lucy play live this year by visiting the pair’s website: www.jonnyandlucy.com
, and buy a copy of The North Farm Sessions
, released on RambleRouser, via www.amazon.co.uk
. While you’re at it, check out their videos on YouTube. If you haven’t yet, you’re in for a treat