Scottish duo Catriona Price and Esther Swift, better known as Twelfth Day, released The Devil Makes Three last month which we featured as an album of the month (review here). They both took some time out of their incredibly busy schedules to answer questions from Folk Radio UK about their musical partnership and their exciting plans for the months ahead.
What were the building blocks of your individual musical development? I guess I am thinking about significant events, people and music that have inspired or given encouragement.
Esther: We have both had very inspirational teachers from the start of our musical learning process, who encouraged us to be creative, and who are themselves extremely successful and talented musicians. I studied with harpists including Catriona McKay, whilst Catriona had the lovely Douglas Montgomery, among others. Both of us were lucky enough to be surrounded by music within our own communities also, who encouraged us to participate as much as possible. We have a shared love of Lau, Spiro, Beethoven, The Unthanks, Steve Reich, Joni Mitchel, John Adams, Bon Iver, Sigor Ros, Britten, Peter Maxwell Davies, Passion Pit, Punch Brothers, to name a few, but it’s hard to pinpoint direct influences on what we do together because I guess we try to draw all our knowledge and influence into our own music. We both just feel seriously passionate about good music, of whatever style or genre or whatever!
When did you first meet and what brought you together? What did you bond over?
Esther: We met at School- Catriona came to St Mary’s Music School in Edinburgh, for her last two school years, where I had been studying for the past 9 years. We decided to go on and live together when we both went to the RNCM in Manchester to study. It was there we discovered our shared passion for creating new music from our traditional roots, which included taking lots of influence from our college environment and the incredible music we got to play there. It was kind of an outlet, because “classical” music, (despite being amazing, and we think that’s an EXTREMELY general term to describe so many different musical styles written over such a long period of time!) can be misinterpreted to be stagnant and set in its ways and we first of all wanted to have more involvement in the creative process, and secondly wanted to show that the music isn’t like that, its always changing and moving. We feel passionately about giving it the freedom to do that.
What is your intention and ambition for Twelfth Day?
Esther: We want to continue making music together for as long as we can eat (and trust us when we say – we can eat!). So to allow us to do this we want to keep opening as many doors to our careers as possible, and using whatever opportunities come our way. We are very lucky being Scottish as the scene here is very inspiring and surprising sometimes, which keeps us wanting to up our game, and we are also presented with a lot of exciting opportunities here. We love working with as many different musicians as possible around the world, and have been very lucky with our project Routes to Roots to have got to do this a lot already in our careers. We also feel passionate about live music, and want to keep improving our live show forevermore, and playing to as many different and challenging audiences as possible, as nothing beats that electric buzz of nailing a gig!
Tell me a little about the records you have made. Each seems to be quite different in a way. I’m thinking especially about the collaboration with Joy and then the covers EP and now this new release. How has your writing and your sound evolved?
Esther: It’s hard to say how our writing has evolved, because the process with these other two projects was totally different from the one with the new album. With the project with Joy (review here) we already had the inspiration- the beautiful poems. The challenge with this project was trying to be sensitive enough to the poetry, and tell the stories already laid out, without being over cautious or trying to do too much word painting, and also using what each of the three of us brought to the group in terms of style. It was a lovely process and we feel this project is kind of timeless for those reasons. The EP of cover songs was also different because we chose to take those 5 songs and make them completely our own. Because they are songs we already really liked, it was sometimes hard, but between us we always seem to have too many ideas, rather than too few, so it was just a case of seeking out the good ones! The album is very much our own and we it felt almost like a relief to make it, as the music had been building in us for years and was a culmination of our musical journey together so far.
Are there other people that you are close to musically and is there a scene as such? Scottish music seems in a very healthy state, full of adventure and willing to push the boundaries or borders in search of growth. What about the other projects you are involved with?
Esther: We both do a lot of other projects individually, which helps us come together with new ideas we think. To sample a few – Catriona is in the Orkney fiddle band Fara, and plays with The Rails, as well as working in Germany with her band Nua, while I write and play with The Clouds Harp Quartet, as well as working with the beautiful tenor David Douglas, and I’ve recently released my first solo E.P.
It also struck me that you are adventurous with form and style, although I lack the musicality to describe this accurately. Can you explain a little about how you work, your composition, the harmonic range that you are aiming for?
Esther: I suppose we take one little idea that one of us may have – a few chords, a riff, a few words, and run with it! We are not afraid of trying things and rule them out, because we know each other so well. We have been known to take a spoon to the harp, swap instruments, and shout lyrics, in rehearsal times… We are both pretty mad so things can easily spiral into crazyville when we get together…
What else are you up to this year? Tell me about the Deutsche Bank award and Routes to Roots.
Esther: We are planning our final trip to Mongolia, as part of our international folk music sharing project Routes to Roots, very kindly funded in part by Deutsche Bank. We had a little hair brained scheme when we were at the end of our studies in Manchester to travel with our music and break out of the western music environment we have always known to try and put the jigsaw together and the world of music we live in… We decided to make this dream a reality and we have! Watch this space for more info but you can see some of our adventures so far by visiting our YouTube channel.
Catriona: “At the moment we’re busy writing new material ahead of a new EP we’re planning, featuring some remixes from the album plus a couple of new tracks. That should come out in the spring. We’re also planning gigs for autumn/winter and into the spring, and are busy planning for our Routes To Roots project. We’re also getting ready for a concert in the Edinburgh Fringe featuring some of our music, but we’ll also play music by Ravel, Schubert and Arvo Part. Our friend Neil Smith has also written some new music for the occasion. We wanted to try putting on a concert without genre boundaries, just playing really great music and mixing in some of our own. It’s a bit of an experiment… We’re really excited about that, and love the idea of encouraging audiences to come along without any stereotypes. We hope that folk will leave feeling not that they’ve just been to a “folk” concert or to a “classical” concert or to a “whatever” concert, just that they’ve sat and listened to a bunch of good music. That’s on the 20th of August at St Andrew’s and St George’s Church, George Street, Edinburgh at 2:30pm.”
Interview by: Simon Holland
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