In the second part of our exclusive interview (read part one is here), Emily Barker talks Australian wanderlust, How The Red Clay Halo came together and the positive effect of Nostalgia and Pause. Plus we have a full album stream for Dear River which is released on July 8th through Linn Records.
To change tack, what made you decide to travel? Can you still remember setting off?
Most young Aussies at some point set off to explore the world. We’re so far away down there and many of us have European ancestors/relatives who we’re keen to meet or stories we’re keen to put into context by visiting a certain place. For me this was certainly the case. With Dutch Grandparents on my mum’s side, and my mum never having been to Holland before, I was really interested to fill in the blanks of our family story.
I also was aware of the fact that I’d lived such a wonderfully sheltered life, growing up in the countryside, with no television, on a farm, in the middle of nowhere. So I wanted to get out into the world and learn about other cultures, cities, people and languages. I ended up travelling for three years before returning to Australia. When I returned, I stayed put for about three months and then set off again.
Was your focus already on making music by the time that you left Australia? Can you also still remember being inspired to make music?
I had done quite a few gigs already and had started writing songs. I was definitely very passionate about music and performing before I left Australia, but I hadn’t worked out that that was what I wanted to do as a career. It took a few years of travelling around, experiencing, doing gigs where possible, writing songs on the road, before I decided that music was what I definitely wanted to do with my life.
I remember first being inspired to perform and make music when I was a teenager. The Waifs, a West Aussie band, came to my highschool during ‘Blues at Bridgetown’ weekend (which is a blues festival that pulls about 20,000 punters and some big international acts – it completely put little Bridgetown on the map and as a result, most people in the town now know how to play a guitar or banjo or something).
Anyway, The Waifs played during lunchtime and I was blown away by their rootsy songs, their harmonies, their attitude, and just how cool they were. I decided then to start taking my singing out of my bedroom and into the school. I started singing Aretha Franklin songs at graduations, school assemblies, etc. I was 14 then.
How did the Red Clay Halo come into being and what’s behind the name?
The Red Clay Halo, the name, is a tip of the hat to one of my all-time favourite songwriters, Gillian Welch. Her song talks about being a country girl and no matter how much you scrub and clean, you can’t get the red dirt out from under your nails, from your dresses, your skin, etc. Growing up in rural Australia, I could certainly relate to that.
I also liked the word ‘halo’ in it as it symbolises how the four of us work together: sitting down in a circle, facing one another, arranging and playing the music harmoniously…well most of the time anyway!
I first met Gill Sandell at Cambridge Folk Festival in 2002. We were both guesting with a band called The Broken Family Band. I loved her playing so she was the first person I asked to accompany me on my first solo record Photos.Fires.Fables.
I then met Jo Silverston at a gig and persuaded her to come down to the Brixton studio to play some cello. I asked her if she knew of any good violinists, and she mentioned Anna Jenkins, who she was studying at TrinityCollege with. So that’s how we came to be.
How did you conceive or imagine the sound of the band? Are there reference points musically for that?
The sound I wanted was certainly inspired by Leonard Cohen arrangements as well as Neil Young acoustic records. So quite haunting, atmospheric strings and accordion with a classical feel weaving around folk instruments of banjo, guitar and harmonica. I’m also a huge sucker for harmonies so it was a huge bonus that they can all sing so beautifully.
What effect did Nostalgia and the Pause have?
Having Nostalgia used in Wallander really changed my career. The show was so popular so suddenly my music was in front of 6 million people! There’s no way as a self-releasing artist I could have ever afforded that sort of publicity. It also lead to Pause being used in The Shadow Line which gained us further attention and credit. Since then I’ve had a number of film/TV opportunities come my way and it’s an area that I’d really like to learn more about. I’m currently working with Martin Phipps on a feature film called The Keeping Room. It’s an amazing learning experience.
In The Winter I’ve Returned suggests that although you’ve established yourself in the UK that you will never really think of it as home. Do you still feel a strong tie to your Australian past?
Absolutely. That song is about realising that no matter how long I live over here, a part of me will always be travelling. I am destined now to always be of two worlds. To return back to Australia would be a huge uprooting for me too after having lived here for almost 12 years. But I certainly miss Australia and my family on a very regular basis. I wish it was closer!!!
Interview by: Simon Holland
Dear River Album Stream
Buy ‘Dear River’ on:
Emily Barker will be making many instore appearances throughout July – see the full list below – Anna, Gill and Jo might be able to join her on one or two, and her appearance at Rough Trade East will be the full band complete with honorary Halo Nat Butler on drums.
Mon 8, 5pm – Rise Records, Bristol
Tue 9, 2pm – Rise Records, Worcester
Tue 9, 5pm – Rise Records, Cheltenham
Wed 10, 6pm – Truck Records, Oxford
Thu 11, 7pm – Rough Trade East, London
Sun 14, 3pm – Sound It Out, Stockton-on-Tees
Mon 15, 5pm – Record Collector, Sheffield
Tue 16, 1pm – Jumbo Records, Leeds
Wed 17, 6pm – Banquet Records, Kingston
Thu 18, 6pm – Sound Knowledge, Marlborough
Fri 19, 7pm – The Last Shop Standing, Plymouth
Sat 20, 6pm – Drift Records, Totnes
Mon 22, 5.30pm – Spiller’s Records, Cardiff
Tue 23, 6pm – Music’s Not Dead, Bexhill
Wed 24, 3pm – Union Music Store, Lewes
Wed 24, 6pm – Pie & Vinyl, Southsea
Thu 25, 7.30pm – David’s Records, Letchworth
Mon 29, 4pm – Badlands, Cheltenham
Wed 31, 6pm – Trading Post, Stroud