Interview with Red Shoes

FolkWords talks to Red Shoes – aka Carolyn and Mark Evans

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FW: Were you surprised by the waves of positive media and audience reaction to ‘Ring Around the Land’? ME: To be honest, we had few expectations when we first put a few songs on My Space from a back catalogue of material that was never intended to see the light of day. Then those songs steadily picked up a few good reviews and we received an increasing number of calls asking where we played and were we planning an album. Then eventually Dave Pegg heard our songs and agreed to produce our album; the rest as they say, is history. Peggy was our first producer and it was an enlightening experience working with him. He helped us make some songs work in a way we hadn’t considered. It’s an amazing experience to have a skilled producer, trust his advice and hear the results.

FW: Now your song Celtic Moon is on ‘Festival Bell’ the new Fairport Convention album, how do you feel about that? ME: Apart from the obvious honour it feels really odd listening to Fairport play our song. It makes me feel almost outside of the experience in a way. It’s as if you can’t believe it’s your work. It’s also a feeling of achievement that a band of Fairport’s calibre wants to record one of our songs. We’ve always had a confidence in our material but when someone like Peggy wants to get involved with your work it’s almost hard to believe.

FW: Your music shows some clear Americana influences and rhythms, is that deliberate? CE: It’s probably accidental in its presence but deliberate in leaving it there. Mark doesn’t come from a folk background he is more influenced by American music – Bob Dylan, Neil Young, John Fogarty. Combine that influence with my folk roots and I think it’s a good mix. Mark’s style of writing is different to mine too but I think the combination makes the music better - it just happens to work.

FW: So do you agree there’s an Americana tinge in the Red Shoes musical spectrum? ME: Yes there is – Carolyn is the traditional folkie and much as I like English folk, I also love American music. There are great writers like John Fogarty, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash and Bruce Springsteen. They are people with a history and tell great stories in their songs. I like people with a history it crosses over into their stories and their music.

FW: Is writing and composing something you’re compelled to do either from within yourself or through external influence? ME: It’s a definitely compulsion. It’s something I want to do – or more accurately, have to do. I want to get a specific melody or lyric out of my head, not necessarily for an audience, but to forge the thoughts into a song. I enjoy the craft of song writing. The external and internal influences are pretty much equal. You meet people, you see things or even hear a line of verse and you want to incorporate them into a song or idea of your own. There’s alchemy at work in song writing – it’s a magical process.

FW: Do you feel that social networks and online communication channels help or hinder songwriters? CE: For us MySpace was a great help. Without it our songs could not have reached such a wide and ultimately supportive audience. Using MySpace enabled us to ‘spread the word’ that ultimately helped us create the album. It also allowed us to make our music available to people that could help us and become influential in bringing ‘Ring Around The Land’ to life.

ME: There is some good music that comes out of networking sites and for me that’s exactly what they’re good at – opening channels of communication that might otherwise remain closed. The Internet also opens your ears to a whole raft of music. You can listen to wide and varied styles from across the world not necessarily to use their influence but to hear what other people are producing.

FW:  Do you think that online downloads signal the end for the CD? CE: I hope not because we feel that the mp3 is Ring Around the Landcompressive. You spend a lot of time, effort and money to achieve the sound you want and then the download compresses and alters it. The temptation is definitely there for artists to put out downloads. Of course, they can work to give an audience a ‘taster’ but when you strive to develop a sound the download does it no favours. The audience has the sound but often it’s not what the artist looked for in the studio.

FW: Do you think any aspects of the folk tradition make it hard for folk to develop? CE: There are many people that define folk to a point where anything that falls remotely outside their proscriptive boundary doesn’t stand a chance. Also there are venues that do not consider acts simply because their brand of folk falls outside the venue’s perceived ‘safe zone’. I think it is good to challenge and explore. Of course, I understand that venues need to generate bums on seats and ‘different’ isn’t always appreciated by everyone. However, I think that many audiences would enjoy the chance to experience the new and different – even if it’s not their preferred music.

FW: Does that mean that you think that folk music must change to develop? CE: Yes, I think change is healthy and necessary. I don’t think that folk would die if it did not develop but it could probably stagnate rather than progress. Writing and singing old songs from the past is fine but there is also a need to write songs that are in the ‘now’ and take those songs to a wider audience. Music has always developed and folk is no exception. By all means reflect on the past but don’t ignore the present.

FW: So folk music isn’t necessarily old fashioned? CE: Absolutely not – it must relish its heritage but must not become its slave.

FW: Do you have a view on the statement that originality rather than marketing should drive music? CE: There is some truth in that statement and our journey through folk has been a real eye opener. We are writers first and performers second, so I find it unsettling when I hear bands performing only covers. I feel that there must be a drive to write your own material.

FW: Do you see performers operating outside ‘traditional folk’ having an acceptance problem? CE: I think there’s a level of tolerance but also a lack of acceptance. Such artists are pushed into another camp and that’s the acoustic camp. The problem is that when they play at a traditional venue you watch the audience squirm in their seats or leave. Some songs go down a storm in certain venues and not in others.

FW: Does it bother you when you perform if people get up and walk out? ME: Sometimes but it depends on how you feel about your music. I’d rather twenty people sat and listened and like what they heard, than have forty people tolerate it and then moan about it. If you don’t like it then leave.

FW: Do you see any stereotypes in the rise of new folk? CE: Yes in some ways I think I do. There’s not quite the universal pop stereotype of stick-thin, pretty-boy (or girl) but the potential is there. Originally, folk was written and performed by older people. Now if you’re young, with a regional accent, play fast (not necessarily well) and look good, and then team up with another young person, it seems that you can break into folk more easily today. Don’t misunderstand me, there are hugely talented young people in folk and they deserve the recognition they get. However, there are also a lot of artists that are simply not popular because they appear to be less marketable.

FW: If there is traditional folk and ‘pop folk’ even though they may not come together, are they not just branches of the same tree? CE: A lot of our music is called ‘pop-folk’ or ‘middle-of-the-road folk’ – not sure why there is so much classification but it doesn’t matter. The issue is that music defined as ‘pop-folk’ is also labelled in some folk quarters as ‘too mainstream’ or with too much ‘mass appeal’ to be classed as folk music. I always thought that folk was music for folk whether that’s a small group or a ‘mass’ of people. I don’t put too much stock in such classifications.

ME: A large portion of pop music is ‘manufactured music’ but there are also some great songs in pop music. I can see why some people refer to some pop as ‘21st century folk’. Years ago someone told me that the Beatles sang folk songs and today some of their songs are sung in folk clubs. Originally, the Beatles based much of their music on American blues rather than folk but songs such as ‘Hide Your Love Away’ have become folk songs. I think that wherever a song fits that’s fine. Definitions that become restrictive rather than descriptive are usually irrelevant.

FW: Is the narrative form of song the backbone of folk? ME: For me, storytelling runs through everything. Yes, it’s a backbone of folk. A song has to mean something to the audience. The story-telling folk song answers that need where in many ways the introspective ’personal’ song does not. I also like ambiguity in songs. In a way, uncertainty in a song means it prompts different reactions in different people. I sometimes re-write a song to avoid it becoming too personal and missing a connection with an audience. I weave in ambiguities to make my songs mean something to many people. I really like Dylan’s writing – and I’m not comparing myself to him in any way - but you can listen to his music and find your own place in a song, draw whatever you want from it or put yourself in its story.

FW: Do you keep a collection of ideas for songs? ME: There’s a lot of material that I’ve written down either as random ideas, thoughts and snippets of lyrics, or chords and melodies that might work one day - perhaps not now but one day.

FW: So I hear there’s another Red Shoes album gestating – do you subscribe to the view that the first album is easy but the second is hard? ME: I don’t know – we’ll see as the album develops. I think it comes down to material. Any second album will always be different, perhaps better, maybe worse. It’s really down to regarding each successive album as a progression rather than a revolution. Not everyone will like everything you do. It’s evolving but not forgetting where you started. Each subsequent album has a different quality; there’s nothing like the first but each one has different characteristics and is unique in its own way. However, I believe it’s a mistake to make a second album radically different from the first. Having said that you will hopefully see a progression with our second album - perhaps slightly darker in content but the style remains the same. Let us know when you hear it.


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