Since the release of their first album as Twelfth Day in 2010, Northern Quarter; violinist Catriona Price and pedal harp player Esther Swift have been writing and performing memorable music. Always keen to set themselves apart from the mainstream, their unique sound draws on traditional and classical influences and sends rhythm and melody on a whole new adventure together.
Their latest album, Cracks In The Room (reviewed here) is currently a Featured Album of the Month on Folk Radio UK. We couldn’t enthuse enough about the album in our review, saying that “Twelfth Day are boldly unique, and Cracks in the Room is one of the most rewarding listening experiences to be placed before an audience this year”.
The duo are in the middle of an exhaustive tour schedule at the moment, but luckily Esther was able to take some time out to answer some burning questions…
FRUK: There’s no escaping the increased boldness about
We talk to Twelfth Day about their new bold album Cracks in the Room, their writing process, working with Chris Wood and gender discrimination in the music industry.
. Would you say you felt more confident about the strength of your own material, going into the studio?
Twelfth Day: Yes certainly. As we grow up we are becoming less apologetic for doing what we do, and we are starting to recognise that our voice is as valid as any other, so we might as well shout it from the rooftops. There has also been a marked change of attitude for us – we feel less intimidated by the industry and more able to be our carefree and mad selves.
FRUK: Those songs have a definite biting edge. Cracks, most noticeably. Is the song a scathing attack on glass ceilings, a dig at the lengths we go to to fit in, or a bit of both?
TD: Haha, it’s a bit tongue in cheek, though it does touch on some issues that are genuinely everyday niggles to us. Being young women, or young people, or even just people, we can get quite hysterical dealing with all our weird social etiquettes sometimes, being faced with multiple social media conventions, advertising on what, and even how we should feel. So we wanted to highlight some of these weird things we all put ourselves through and poke fun at them. We find that everything becomes a whole lot lighter if you can laugh at yourself.
FRUK: At Celtic Connections in January, Rachel Newton chaired a panel discussing gender discrimination in Scottish traditional music. We can probably assume that Twelfth Day have been at the sharp end of this imbalance – how have you dealt with it?
TD: It is a very good question, and we appreciate being asked this. The fact is that it can be very hard to recognise some of the subtle imbalances that happen in any industry today, but they’re there, and they niggle away at you, almost without you even noticing. Then before you know it, you feel just a bit deflated and undervalued and timid and maybe get some pent up rage and anxiety. This can obviously happen whichever sex you are. I think as much as anything it’s trying never to let people get away with it, which can be hard going and means you have to constantly be in a sort of alert state of mind, something which doesn’t come naturally to creative types I think. We are so lucky to be doing this together as that makes things much easier. We also make an effort to surround ourselves with lovely people in the industry who aren’t interested in power. But the main thing that keeps us fighting this issue is our ability to laugh about it afterwards.
FRUK: Discussing the issue itself can be seen as at least a sign of progress, and it’s a problem that isn’t restricted to Scottish music. Are Scottish musicians taking the debate to the promoters so we can all show the way forward?
TD: I hope so. I think it’s very difficult for musicians to be the instigators of this change, as all artists simply want to make music and be heard. Or at least they should (not always so in corporate money-making pop music). I think it’s probably equally as difficult for promoters as they need to see ticket sales to keep doing what they’re doing. I think that in order to make real, genuine change, we have to go right back to the root of people’s consciousness, promoting equality to children in schools. No promoter is ever going to be able to change what drives an entire group of currently experienced concert goers. Real change takes time, and although it’s a good start, merely putting more women on the bill won’t solve gender equality in the music industry. I also think that the media has huge power to make a change. It’s their responsibility to promote equality and diversity wherever possible, and ask the right questions that provoke thought and change, just like good music does and always will.
FRUK: Every track on the album feels like it’s been a close collaboration from the outset. There’s no sense of ‘this is one of Catriona’s, this is one of Esther’s’. Is that synergy the result of recording technique or your writing process?
TD: Our writing process has always been 100% collaborative. It’s the result of multiple discussions and a strong, long friendship, as well as improvisation sessions and spending a lot of time together finding new colours on our combined instruments. In this album, Chris Wood was instrumental in experimenting with colour, mood and texture in the studio. We experimented a lot with different mic setting, different spaces and distances and had a lot of fun with it all. It helps that the three of us are also all mad fishes. The fun and silliness are essential to all creative studio sessions we reckon.
FRUK: Esther’s early background as a chorister can’t have been the only connection to that well-known choir-boy Chris Wood. How did that particular partnership come about?
TD: Catriona did a workshop where Chris was teaching a couple of years ago called Distil (reviewed here), where they really connected and stayed in touch. The stars aligned and luckily enough a couple of years later Chris approached our manger at the time asking if he knew of any potentially interesting production projects. Through another serendipitous stroke of luck, the celebrated American sound engineer Oz Fritz, who Chris had taken up contact with around about the time of Distil, agreed to mix the record. Both of us have always been huge fans of Chris and his ability to create such a beautiful world of sound with such careful simplicity. This was something that we wanted to work on in our own music. We were delighted he was interested in producing us.
FRUK: The album’s been available at your live shows for some time prior to release, has it been helpful receiving feedback from your audience before the reviews start to appear?
TD: Yes certainly, we have had lots of lovely feedback from fans both old and new. Some very touching messages – one woman wrote to us saying she has been struggling with depression and this album made her feel uplifted and positive again. This is sort of what we wanted it to do – give people confidence to speak out and be heard, and remember that all of us are flawed and weird and have our issues. If that doesn’t make this crazy business worthwhile, I don’t know what does! Here’s to embracing all of our cracks in the room!
Twelfth Day are spending the month of May on an extensive tour of Germany and will be returning to the UK for live dates in June including The Queens Head in London on the 28th. Cracks in the Room continues to enthral the music press and audiences alike, earning a stream of glowing reviews. The originality, craft, and that all important sense of fun shines through on an album that could take you on a listening adventure you never thought possible.
Cracks in the Room is out now.
Upcoming Twelfth Day Tour Dates
May 05 Gutsscheune Varrel, Stuhr, Germany
May 06 Passionskirche, Berlin, Germany
May 07 Schloss Hallenburg, Schlitz, Germany
May 08 Tuchfabrik, Treves, Germany
May 09 Cafe Hahn, Coblenz, Germany
May 10 Kultur im SWR Foyer, Mainz, Germany
May 11 REITHALLE, Offenburg, Germany
May 12 Pauluskirche, Ulm, Germany
May 13 Kulturhaus Osterfeld, Pforzheim, Germany
May 14 Burghof Lörrach, Germany
May 16 E-Werk, Freiburg, Germany
May 17 KUZ Dieselstraße, Ostfildern, Germany
May 18 Zehntscheuer, Ravensburg, Germany
May 19 Bierstindl, Innsbruck, Austria
May 20 Spielboden, Dornbirn, Austria
May 22 Roxy, Neustadt, Germany
May 23 Capitol Sulzbach-Rosenberg, Germany
May 24 Veranstaltungsforum, Fürstenfeldbruck, Germany
Jun 22 Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum and Arts Centre, Lochmaddy, UK
Jun 23 Aros, Isle Of Skye, UK
Jun 25 House Concert, Isle Of Jura, UK
Jun 28 Old Queen’s Head, London, UK
Jul 12 Lichfield Festival, Lichfield, UK
For full details and ticket links visit: http://www.twelfthdaymusic.com/