Wolf was a project created whilst I was taking a much needed break from gigging earlier this year. We wrote it over a short space of time in the beautiful setting of the Schwarzwald in Germany, coming home to record it in three days with Garry Boyle at Slate Room Studio in Pencaitland.
It’s a sweet and mellow collection of songs, assembled with a simple set-up of voice, piano and cello, with light touches of harmonium woven throughout. I wanted whole takes, with voice and piano, no drop-ins or over-dubs – to preserve the performance element of each take. I think the end result is warm and hopeful, and sung with a genuine sense of reflection.
You could say I was ‘self-soothing’ with this album, following a really tough bereavement in 2015. Sometimes it’s not about ‘likes’ or download numbers, streams etc. It’s a personal endeavor to create something meaningful and authentic – you can’t always please everyone, and sometimes it’s vital to please your artistic self instead – whatever the motivation behind it.
I will always remember the process of creating this record – it was a relief and a cathartic, magical experience, one that helped me through a dark and difficult time.
Artists like Ron Sexsmith, Leonard Cohen, Tori Amos, Tina Dico – and of course – Joni Mitchell! They all share stories so beautifully with such ease and grace. I have long admired Emmy Lou Harris for her work ethic and longevity in the industry, and I adore people like Colin Hay who can create humour and warmth in their live shows.
I can pretty much enjoy and feel influenced by anything! It’s important to keep going back to your early influences – but also continue to discover new and exciting sounds and styles.
More and more I’m inspired by other people’s stories and something I see or hear that peaks my interest. I try to allow my writing to come from another ‘place’, and then use my own emotional vocabulary to build a song out of it.
As a writer there’s a certain freedom when you step away from yourself – and start to access and enjoy what lies around you or directly in front of you. Even the mundane everyday stuff can become something interesting, if you really want it to.
It’s challenging to keep looking outwards and still have a sense of personal reflection; to continue to look at everything with a genuine curiosity in life. This form of creative exploration and practice can really feed inspiration.
I also try to read as much as I can – books and authors who reflect on their own creative practice are helpful and inspiring. I was so happy when I found Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert – it’s a joyful and inspiring read.
Graham McLeod who plays guitar with me part of a stunning acoustic chamber-folk trio called The String Contingent. They have toured for the last five years across Australia, New Zealand, Europe and the Middle East, and their music is seriously beautiful.
I think Bella Hardy, and Ange Hardy are both fantastic, and I came across The Young'uns at Folk Alliance International who were wonderful too. Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker are great – and I’ve always really enjoyed Lau.
I’ve recently been listening to Tanya Tagaq who is a Inuk throat singer from Cambridge Bay, Nunavut in Canada – and it’s such a confronting and challenging listen – really interesting performance, sound and style.
For me tradition is something that is kept real and alive via the art of sharing with those around you – the next generation – or perhaps taking it to another country, finding new listeners and new cultures.
My late mother had the most glorious singing voice and sang traditional songs to me from birth – Dream Angus, Coulters Candy – and many more. I only knew about these songs because she sang them to me as I was growing up, and they became a huge part of my own singing and folk song education.
I recently sang them with my partner (Thilo Pfander) to his nieces in Germany. Watching them listen with such intent and fall asleep so sweetly was a really special moment. For the first time I truly understood the beauty of it, and how powerful it can be – such a simple yet important way of keeping things alive.
In the spirit of tradition, I recorded Highland Fairy Lullaby on Wolf as a direct homage to my mother. It was an emotional song to get through in one take…. I’m amazed that I did.