I rarely do 'question and answer' style interviews but this one seemed to work nicely... and it was done via email so it makes things a little easier :)
This was done last summer (2008) though, so it's a little out of date...
First of all, you're having a massively busy summer. You seem to be at every festival there is! What's been your highlight so far?
My drummer George brought his 7-year-old son Harrison to Green Man. It was his first festival and the mud was almost to the top of his little Wellies! One of his favorite bands, the Super Furry Animals, was headlining the Main Stage, but they came on late — not til almost midnight. Harrison, who had been a real trooper, made it to the beginning of the set, falling asleep 30 seconds into their first song. It was a real heart-wrenching, adorable moment.
How do UK festivals compare to the ones back home?
I’ve only played a few festivals in the US. Kerrville Folk Festival has a wonderful, community vibe to it. It goes on for two weeks and it’s incredibly hot, way out in the Texas desert. Like the rain here in the UK, the heat at home can be a real drag but can also add to the feeling of adventure.
You've been playing some of the UK's best known folk festivals - quite well known for being elitist and only putting 'true' folk artists on. Has this been your experience? Considering your music is derivative of a few different genres, were you surprised as your invitation?
I thought Cambridge would be the folkiest of the lot. But after seeing loads of different genres represented and having talked to a bunch of long time attendees, it seems like they were actually one of the first festivals to get really ecclectic with their line-up. Maverick was probably the least ecclectic of the bunch but the music was still good and it was great fun to see a bunch of English people in cowboy hats.
While you've been here in the UK, have you had the chance to visit the county of your namesake? Did you sample any of its famous clotted cream and scone afternoon teas?!
Yeah – we went to Devon last weekend actually, for the North Devon Folk Festival in Ilfracombe. It was lovely but I couldn’t match the enthusiasm of my bandmates, who had camped there as young’ns and were just puddles of nostalgia the whole time. Our Devon experience ended on a rather bad note, getting charged extra at the B&B because my bass player puked up a curry in his room, after a night out in the Ilfracombe night clubs. Now, who says folk music isn’t exciting?
I saw you play at the Royal Northern College of Music supporting Rachel Unthank and the Winterset. I see you're supporting them again - but this time, on tour in America. How does your music compliment theirs and vice versa? How do you think they'll go down in America?
My hope is that Rachel and the gang will have the exotic-foreigner advantage in the US, sort’ve like I get here in England. Their northern accents are so pronounced and they tend to chat a lot onstage, so the folks at home will probably dig that. In general, good audiences seem to enjoy artists who have obvious roots, but who don’t just play traditional music. And the Unthanks definitely fit that category.
It's been over a year since 'Keep Your Silver Shined' was released... that's right, isn't it? What's next in store? Are we to hear more about married life?
I’m recording for a couple days with my English band next week, before heading back to States. Hoping that we’ll get some keep-able stuff from that session. I’ve got about eight new songs, so that’s most of the way to a new record. And let’s see, on the subject front...there’s a new, homesick song that I wrote here, between UK festivals. There’s a been-married-a-few-years song called Don’t Hurry For Heaven. And a few that mention my sister-in-law — sort’ve the lady in my life — Maria. So I guess it’s still pretty domestic, pretty Virginia-centered. There’s just a little less folk-style fingerpicking, a little more groovy stuff in its place. Maybe I’m finally putting all that Jesse Winchester listening to good use!
When I've seen you play, your husband got up to accompany you, too. Do you ever write together? Or is it a case of presenting your music to each other for suggestions/criticism/approval?
We tend not to tour together. Paul has helped me with my last two records — enormously. But as far as collaboration, pretty much all we do it this once-a-year Valentine’s Day show in our hometown, when we play old country and jazz covers.
I was startled when I read in an interview that you said you 'did a lot of women's music when you were a teenager.' Then I realised you meant writing from the perspective of being a woman. Why would you say this doesn't form the basis for your music now?
I think I meant that early on, I listened to and was inspired by a lot of women artists -- Bjork, Liz Phair, Ani Difranco — and their strength and independence was possibly even more important to my growth as was their actual music. Nowadays, I still listen to women — a lot of Lucinda Williams recently, and I did love Amy Winehouse’s last CD — but have spent much of my twenties catching up with all the talented men.
Do you ever encounter blatant sexism whilst performing, writing or recording? Or do you think it may be a little easier being a solo artist and playinh music which isn't quite mainstream? What advice would you give to a young girl who was just starting out as a musician and songwriter?
I guess it really mostly depends on who you choose to work with. In business matters, my husband and I have found that agents, promoters, and venue people (especially men) are often less polite with Paul than with me, and I think that has to do with my being a woman. Sometimes, if we’re in a guitar shop together, salesmen will assume that I know less. Sometimes sound guys are like that too. But in general, independent music seems pretty good in that sense.
Every interview I have read mentions your community 'alternative' upbringing - does it irritate you that this is always brought up?
Good question, Sophie. Thanks. Well, I’m always a little torn on questions about Twin Oaks. I love talking to people about it, think it’s great to let people know about a radically different way of living. But when an article is published that talks more about my communal upbringing than my music — well, that can be a little frustrating.