Posts Tagged ‘BBc Folk Award’
Friday, November 6th, 2009
StonefriutEver wondered what ‘Hobopop’ sounds like? Eyetunes caught up with Kirsty McGee and Mat Martin to find out just that and what made the recording of their new album so special.
Kirsty let’s start at the very beginning. What inspired you to become a singer and songwriter?
K: I’ve been writing songs since I was a kid and I guess I first became aware of other singer-songwriters in the 80s when upfront musicians like Michelle Shocked, Tracey Chapman and Billy Bragg were around. I was kind of a political teen and I liked the combination of attitude and heart that their writing had in it.
You have been described as a “maker of delicate yet stubborn songs; an instinctive traveler; a human scrapbook” – and have become somewhat of a cult figure on the UK songwriting scene. Would you say this was an accurate description?
K: The songs are certainly delicate and stubborn. I don’t like things to be too comfortable otherwise you end up getting complacent. I spent about ten years hitching around the UK before I really started writing songs and the more you move around, the more stuff you collect to put in songs. As for the cult songwriter thing, that makes me laugh – it’s a great way of saying I’m an acquired taste!
You have twice been nominated for a BBC Folk Award (2002 for album ‘Honeysuckle’ and 2004 for Best Original Song for ‘Coffee Coloured Strings’). Would you like to share with us your secret formula?
K: I’m not sure I know what it is! I got off to a good start with the Folk Awards but since then I’ve been precariously balanced on the edge of the Folk thing because what I do doesn’t fit easily into categories. We’re like the musical equivalent of Carnival folk and eventually you have to move on because musically you don’t quite belong anywhere.
Mat, you first worked with Kirsty on her second album ‘Frost’ and you have worked together ever since. How did you meet and what do you think has kept you working together?
M: Kirsty and I met backstage at a festival in 2002. She had just released her first album and was performing solo. She was nervous as hell, and we just hit it off and stayed in touch. I guested on ‘Frost’ but didn’t really become a fundamental part of the mix until the ‘Frost’ tour. Over the years we’ve developed a kind of synchronicity that comes with working and traveling together. There’s a kind of musical telepathy onstage that makes the shows very organic. I think audiences connect with that.
Kirsty and Mat, the Hobopop Collective is your recently developed band. Interesting name. Care to elaborate?
K: ‘Hobopop’ refers to the music being of no-fixed-abode – it switches genre all the time, so we named the band as a skit on that aspect of what we do. As for the ‘Collective’, when we started the band, we decided we wanted to keep the format open for guests so that every show is different to the last. It’s great to keep everyone on their toes and it means the sound and the show is always fresh.
M: I can’t remember who first came up with the word ‘Hobopop’ – it may have been a journalist describing our sound. The word is evocative and fun and it stuck, becoming the name of our production company and record label too. We’ve since had ‘folk noir’, ‘vaudebilly’ and (one of my favorites) ‘Simon & Garfunkel – the Tim Burton version’.
You have some influential, like-minded emerging Jazz artists as part of the Hobopop Collective such as double bassist, Nick Blacka (Aim, Mrs Columbo) and drummer Rob Turner (Neil Yates’ New Origins, Magic Hat Ensemble). What do you look for in your collective?
M: Eccentricity, enthusiasm and a lack of preconception. We knew we wanted something modular with this band and we also knew we wanted to work with dynamic musicians from a range of scenes. It would have been really easy to pick out a bunch of session players who were well known on the roots scene, and commercially that would probably have been the more sensible option too, but we wanted to be sure that the playing was fun and would slightly skew the angle of the songs.
K: We’ve been really lucky in the musicians we’ve discovered for the project. It’s also true that in the year and a half that the band’s been going we’ve all grown together and learnt a lot about each other both as players and as people. I don’t think that when we first met Rob he could have conceived of ever playing a couple of watering cans and a washboard instead of his regular drum kit, but I like to think we’ve just brought out his dormant hobo side.
Your latest and most poignant project was the live recording of your forthcoming Spring 2010 album aptly named No. 5. Why did you decide to record this album live?
M: It was borne of a desire to make something completely honest, to re-connect with the audience and bring them into the process of making one of Kirsty’s records. I had worked playing on the debut album from The Brute Chorus, which was also made in this way, and that experience re-ignited the idea we had had for a while of making a live recording. We worked hard on getting the right room and setup – we wanted to be ‘on the level’ with the audience – to have them right up there with us, so we just got rid of the stage and played on the floor.
Live work is such a large part of what we do, and it is the most direct contact we have with our audience – there was an energy we wanted to capture.
Christopher Cundy (The Guillemots), James Steel (The Brute Chorus), Gabriel Minnikin (The Guthries) and Richard Hawley’s Clive Mellor played at the show that became “No. 5”. That is a hefty line up and must have been amazing?
M: We’re lucky to have such obliging friends! It has been an honour and pleasure to work with these guys, most of whom we have known for years. I hope the record will show that they’ve really made significant additions to the musicality of the songs too.
K: We were thrilled that they all agreed to work on the project with us. It’s a daunting thing, making a live album, full in the knowledge that every sound you make is going down for posterity – especially when you’ve only had a few rehearsals – so I admire their bravery! Whilst we’ve worked with James and Chris before, working with Clive was a totally new thing and I’m excited that he came on board.
The gig to record No. 5 sold out within a week. That must have been very exciting?
K: I’ll admit that when the tickets first went on sale I was skeptical. I had a few sleepless nights as to whether anyone would want to come! When we heard that the show was selling out so fast I was absolutely delighted and the whole thing started to be a bit more real to me.
M: It was very exciting. For the tickets to go so quickly was exactly the kind of boost we needed to get moving on making the show so unique and special. When you put together a project like this one its very easy to get so involved you forget that without an audience there really is no project at all! The guys who came were just great – enthusiastic, receptive and supportive – and they have been a fundamental part of the sound of this record. Whatever our performances may be from that night, they were formed by the support of the crowd.
We can see that you express your creativity and individuality in your lyrics and music. Would you say you use the same formula with your fashion style?
K: The style of the band has kind of developed quite organically over the past few years. We were drawn to a jaded-vintage look – based on 1930s and 1940s silent movies – so that the whole style was ruffled and slightly frayed as if we’d been out in a speakeasy all night. My own style more or less grew downwards from the battered bowler hat I acquired a couple of years ago, and from a cross-dressing, Chaplinesque black-and-white take on vaudeville.
M: I’ve always been a great admirer of the styles of Felix the Cat and Captain Haddock from the Tintin strips. I try to blend them together in my own way.
What is it that drew you to discover Kirk Originals Eyewear and incorporating them into your unique, quirky sense of style?
K: I’ve been wearing glasses since I was fourteen and so over the years I’ve tried lots of different styles. Glasses, like the battered bowler hat and tattered frock, are such a vital part of the way I look. True, I could have gone for contacts, but the great thing about specs is that you can really make a statement with them. What’s so great about Kirks for me is that aside from being eyecatching, iconic, beautifully designed frames, they have such a great sense of humour! The sparkly Kirks I wore on stage for the No.5 gig couldn’t have been more perfect for the show!
M: There’s a great sense of complicity when you come accross people who are approaching what they do with a little of what you try and have yourself. In this case, eccentricity, an eye for detail and a certain disregard for convention!
I have to ask you… if you were marooned on a desert Island what 3 items could you not live without?
K: Glasses, guitar, water-cooler.
M: Water-cooler? For those ‘water-cooler moments’?
K: Ok then, fresh water supply – it doesn’t have to be cool…
M: Oh I see. Can I share it?
K: Are you there too? Cool! Of course you can. What are you having?
M: Well since I don’t need water I’ll have the Complete Tom Waits catalogue, my fretless banjo and my coffee maker.
K: So you need a plug and a CD player then? Does that mean you’re leaving the laptop at home?
M: I figured I could use the outlet you had your water cooler in from time to time. Oh yeah – the laptop. And the internet. Darn, this is hard, Eyetunes…
With the recording of your live album No. 5 under your belt, what else does the future hold for Kirsty McGee and the Hobopop Collective?
M: Its all No.5 stuff for a while – promotion, planning, design, manufacture, touring… We’re keeping a record of it all, from performance to release, on our new No.5 blog (http://kirstymcgeeno5.blogspot.com).
Most of 2010 will be probably spent on the road touring the album, with plans for tours in Scotland and Europe again as well as England. But we like to keep things as open as we can, and see which way the wind blows us. We are supposed to be hobos, after all…
Kirsty wears Seb 35/N from the Sculpture Optical collection
Mat wears Demon from the Turbo collectionEye Catching Hobo