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Interview: Smoke Fairies
A Folksy Debut
By Ani Mikaelian
Twenty-ten might mark an important year for you by whatever means, but it is nothing short of memorable for the two females behind London’s Smoke Fairies. The duo consists of Katherine Blamire and Jessica Davies, a pair of best friends who have gone through a tale of epic proportions to get to where they are today.
You may say Jack White is defined with the role of fairy godmother transcended with masculinity, having picked up on the music positively and was compelled to record with the two of them. Throughout compilations of A-Sides, B-Sides, an EP, and providing backing vocals for Richard Hawley’s current EP, False Lights From the Land, they are proud to announce the completion of a debut album.
Through Low Light and Trees, with what has been revealed thus far, is one of attributes for a more modernized blues feel. With breathless vocals surrounded by a cinematic of instruments, there is really no predicting how your reaction would be to such a combination. The group is proud of their progressive ways, taking on forms of seasons, coming and going, but equipped with the intentions of staying.
With a record release date of September 6th, 2011, Smoke Fairies have been kind enough to offer up a free track to download, which goes by “Strange Moon Rising” just to sink in the hook to gain your attention. I was able to get in contact with Katherine and Jessica, and this is what they had to fill me in on.
Please state your names and instruments for the record.
Katherine Blamire: Vocals and guitars.
Jessica Davies: Vocals and guitars.
Tell me the story of how Smoke Fairies was first formed and how the name of the group came up.
JD: It came to us one night when we were driving around in the misty roads where we grew up. Sometimes the mist gathers in the winding roads between the hedgerows and creates smoky figures that we called the smoke fairies. It's also an old black and white film about two mischievous fairies trying to cause trouble, which is also quite fitting.
Who would you consider your greatest influences? Have they changed or altered as time went on and you grew more comfortable with your own sound?
KB: Yeah, that question is always quite hard to answer because you can't really say the things that influenced you as a kid are the same things that do now; it changes as you get hungry for more. I think at first it was a lot of 70s bands like Crosby Stills and Nash, some Grateful Dead records and things like Pure Prairie League that were around the house. Then we became more influenced by blues artists like Skip James and then there was an alternative country element, like Handsome Family, Ryan Adams, Gillian Welsch, that sort of thing. And then there was a lot of English folk such as Pentangle and Waterson Carthy, twisted blues like Mark Lanegan and 16 Horsepower. It all mixed up to form something that we hope is unique, but it is sort of changing constantly in small ways, so I think it’s hard to say what the greatest influence of all is. We are just as much influenced by the weather and the seasons or the place we are living in.
How different was it working on Through Low Light and Trees than in comparison to when Frozen Heart was processed?
JD:Through Low Light and Trees was recorded in a very secluded studio in the middle of the country whereas the Frozen Heart EP was recorded in inner-city London. As you can imagine, it made the experiences and the outcome very different. When we went into the studio to record Through Low Light and Trees,we had a lot more experience of the way we like to work in the studio and a lot of experimenting and demoing had been done beforehand, so we were way more confident with what we wanted to achieve.
KB: It felt like we were able to let the environment seep into the record a lot more while working on Through Low Light and Trees. It was a beautiful and restful place that seemed conducive to allowing a freedom of ideas.
How would you say your music has evolved over the past year? What have you learned because of it?
KB:Through Low Light and Trees is quite a dark and intense album, possibly because a lot of the songs were written in the winter. I'm glad its coming out in the autumn because I think it suits that time of year. It’s the point where I think people look back and forward at the same time. The weather changes and things go a bit more restless. But the summer has been hot, we've been listening to different kinds of music and I think the things we are writing now are lighter and full of a different sort of energy. I think we have learnt to just go with how we are feeling and let ourselves write whatever feels natural even if it doesn't always follow what came before. There will always be something slightly twisted about what we do, so I guess that will always be the common theme!
Can you walk me through a general day of touring, whether it be in the US or the UK?
JD: Touring in the US consists of:
7-8 a.m., get up and go out on mission to find a suitable breakfast then with a coffee and unusually overlarge sandwich frantically pack up your suitcase and head down to the van.
9 a.m., get in the van and then drift in and out of sleep for the next 5 to 12 hours with your head bobbing up and down or resting on your band mates.
4 p.m.-ish, arrive at the venue and as we are normally supporting there is an hour while the other band sound checks where we are able to go explore the city we are in.
Touring in the UK is usually about getting up in the middle of the morning driving around looking for a nice place to have a cup of tea, maybe go for walk then have a crazy hour trying to navigate a city in search of the venue and a place to unload.
Both experiences involve a lot of loading and unloading and carrying boxes of merchandise around.
How was the experience of touring the states with Laura Marling? What did this particular teach you?
JD: It taught us how big and vast the Midwest is. With all the traveling, it is easy to forget why we were there but on this tour I learned to make the time on stage the best moment of the day.
What is each of your favorite songs to perform live and why do you think it deserves that title?
JD: At the moment I enjoy playing “River Song” (one of two tracks recorded with Jack White) just because of the dynamics in it. The chorus gets really crazy and no matter how mad it gets, I know it is going to end with just Katherine and I singing.
KB: I quite like playing new songs. There is an element of fear and excitement, and it keeps you on your toes.
Have there been any embarrassing moments recently onstage? Can you tell me about one or two in particular?
KB: There are too many to mention really. Probably just slightly mad stage banter after being squashed in a van for 12 hours. Once I found myself just describing the bean-roll I had eaten for lunch and how it made me feel.
How would you go about describing your music to a deaf person?
KD: Imagine yourself driving down a dark road with no real idea where you are going; it’s like a journey through humid, swampy heat with the occasional cold chill.
Other than making music, what are some other hobbies of yours?
JD: At the moment I am trying to grow some vegetables and I have recently started making papier-mâché animals.
KB: I like to take pictures.
What would be an ideal lineup in the future? Which bands would you like to tour with?
KB: There are obviously lots of bands that we would love to tour with. Touring with Laura was great because it was inspiring to hear her songs and voice every night, but it was also a fun atmosphere on the tour, so anyone fun and inspiring. It would also be great to get out on our own at some point.
Where do you have yet to tour that you can’t wait to cover? JD: Despite being so close, we have never done any shows in Europe. That is the next big territory. And going to Japan would be an experience.
What and when did you realize you wanted to pursue music as a career?
JD: I guess from an early age I daydreamed about life on the road as a musician. When Katherine and I met and started writing songs, there was another person to share that ambition with. After that I think it was stubbornness that kept us going.
In some alternate universe where music does not exist, what would you see yourself doing?
JD: I might have pursued my childhood interest in animation and puppets.
KB: I would probably have gone completely mad trying to fit into something normal.
How do you feel about the growth in accessibility of music on the internet? Is it a help or a hindrance for a band?
KB: It is just part of the world we live in now. We don't really know it any other way because from the start the internet has been a tool for us to utilize. I think at first it’s a help and then as you go along you realize the pitfalls, and I guess everyone has to adapt to a new market, which is going to take time and a lot of innovation. At the end of the day, it's a great way to connect with more people, but a tricky place to make a living.
What are some artists/bands you cannot stop listening to lately?
JD: When we were in Houston, Texas, we did an in-store at a record shop called Cactus Music. They serve beer there, which is a great idea because after a few glasses you will probably pick up something you wouldn’t normally. I was drawn to an album cover with kids dressed up as ghosts and ghouls. The band turned out to be Dead Man’s Bones, which I have been listening to a lot.
What are some other plans for Smoke Fairies for the rest of 2010?
JD: Well, we have the release of Through Low Light and Trees in the UK in September and I guess we will be doing everything that goes with promoting an album. Gig-wise, we are playing Green Man & End of The Road Festivals and have a London Headline show at Dingwalls, Camden on September 21st.
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