Interview: Emily Barker of Emily Barker & The Red Clay Halo

I always love it when I come across an artist on complete accident and soon become a fan.  Emily Barker is one of those artists who I stumbled upon last year after hearing her and Mr. Frank Turner duet on the Emily Barker & The Red Clay Halo song “Fields of June”.

Her name may not be well known just yet here in the states, but I have a strong feeling that that will all be changing in the next year or so.  Having already played the opening ceremony for the Olympics as well as was featured on the UK roster for the Revival Tour last year, Barker has everything going her way.

Of course Barker is not alone and is surrounded by amazing talent in her band.  Having dug into their catalog, I can only say that I wish it did not take me that long to get into them.  They have been doing their thing since about 2005 and have already three albums to show for it.

Next month, Emily Barker & The Red Clay Halo will be releasing an all new album titled Dear River and have already planned on an extensive UK tour to support the new release.  Having already heard a couple of tracks, I would be lying if I said I was not excited for this.

Recently, I had the chance to catch up with Barker and not only got to asked her about rubbing elbows with Frank Turner, but some other questions as well:

BHP: Hi Emily, thanks for taking some time out of your busy day to chat with me.  How’s the week been treating you?

EB: Good thanks! Nice to see the sun. Very busy trying to get everything prepared for the album release, alongside doing a bunch of other projects that I’m involved with.

So, for those who have not heard of you yet, tell me a little about yourself and your band.

I’m from Bridgetown, Western Australia but have lived the last 11 years over here in the UK doing my music. The Red Clay Halo are Gill Sandell: accordion, piano, guitar, flute and bvox; Anna Jenkins: violin, viola and bvox; Jo Silverston: cello, electric bass and bvox. We’ve also recently been joined by a drummer: Nat Butler due to the sound of ‘Dear River’, our forthcoming record, having more of a “rock” vibe. I guess we play contemporary folk/rock music. As a songwriter, I’m very much influenced by Neil Young – both his more acoustic sound as well as the heavy, guitar-lead stuff with Crazy Horse. As a singer, I’m really influenced by Aretha Franklin. So what have we got now…folk/rock/soul but then there’s the classical element that The Red Clay Halo bring too so…

You were born an Aussie, but eventually ended up in the UK. How did that come about?

I headed over to the UK with a working-holiday visa that lasts for 2 years. I worked in the UK in order to travel all around Europe, Brazil, Canada and the USA. At the end of my two years, I was living in Cambridge and fell into the music scene there. I loved it so I kept returning. After a while I made the decision to try to be a musician full time and also to live in the UK.

How tough was it to move away from home? 

It wasn’t that tough to move away. I really wanted to see the world, but it is tough staying away. I miss my family everyday and at the same time, I realise I’m becoming more and more embroiled in my life here, so the idea of moving back now becomes this huge, overwhelming question. I wish Australia was closer to the UK so I could just pop over for a weekend.

So, at what age did you start getting into music?

At a really young age. There was always a lot of music in our family home. Dad was big into vinyl and he played loads of 60’s/70’s singer-songwriter/folk revival records (all the usuals – Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, etc.) as well as a lot of blues, rock and jazz. My mum plays a bit of guitar and used to sit us all down and teach us old English folk songs and children’s nursery rhymes. She taught us how to harmonize. When I was a teenager I auditioned (because my peers dared me to!) for the Year 9 band as lead singer. I sang “It must have been love” by Roxette and got the role.  Then I made a deal with the only other musicians in the school at the time (they were big into heavy metal and none of them sang), that if they would play soul songs for me, then I’d sing heavy metal for them. So our set consisted of Aretha Franklin, Chuck Berry, Etta James, Metallica, Pearl Jam and Nirvana. Quite a combo!

Nice.  That is a completely random list of bands to cover!  How long ago did you meet up with The Red Clay Halo?

8 years ago when we were all living in London.

Was the Red Clay Halo already doing their thing when you were introduced to them, or was this just a new collaboration once you started playing together?

A new collaboration. They hadn’t played together before or met (apart from Jo and Anna).

What exactly is this genre “chamber-folk’ that has been used to describe some of your songs?  

I’m not sure who coined that phrase but it definitely worked for our album “Despite the Snow” and probably also “Almanac”. I guess chamber-folk has got an element of classical music/arrangements in it. We certainly have that in certain songs.

You’re pals with a guy who has pretty much made a huge name for himself here in the US over the last couple years. I am sure tons of people ask you how you met and eventually shared the stage with Frank Turner in the UK. Honestly, if it were not for him, I may not have been privy to Emily Barker & The Red Clay Halo. So, how’d y’all meet?

Frank is a very good friend and a huge inspiration to me. I first met Frank about 6 years ago at one of our shows in Brixton. [He] invited me out on the road with him and the band to open up the shows. We did something like 28 shows in 30 days – Frank style! – and became good friends then. We have had the honour of performing on his records and sharing his biggest musical moments with him: Wembley Arena and the Olympics Opening Ceremony. I am forever grateful for his support. We have more plans to collaborate too!

Playing the Olympics Opening Ceremony.  How insane was that?

Totally insane! So difficult to compute due to how epic it was. I’m so pleased Frank asked us to be involved. Was certainly a once-in-a-lifetime moment. We had A LOT of fun!

I bet.  I wanted to talk about the murder-ballet that Frank Turner appear on called “Fields Of June”. Not only was the rendition outstanding, but it had me hoping you two would duet again. Any change that will ever happen again?

Why thank you very much! It certainly will happen again. We’re actually talking about doing something very soon – most likely a cover but I’m sure we’ll write something original at some point in the future too.

Who was the original guy who shared vocal duties with you on that song when it first released?

Steve Adams from a great band (no longer together sadly) called The Broken Family Band. The Singing Adams now exists though and they’re awesome.

You have a new album that is coming out soon don’t you? Care to tell me a little about it?

Of course. It’s called Dear River and it’s out on July 8th on Linn Records. We recorded it in a state-of-the-art studio called Gorbals Sound up in Glasgow with producer Calum Malcolm. The songs are all about ‘home’ – a subject I’ve been quite preoccupied with since leaving Australia 11 years ago with a backpack and a wish to see the world. It’s my personal story of home but it includes those of other’s too and covers the related themes of exile, emigration, land rights and ancestry.

With the new release, you all have a  UK tour coming up.  I heard Chris T-T is opening for you. I must say, I am jealous I will be missing out on that tour!

It’s our biggest headline tour in the UK ever. We’ll also be playing Shepherd’s Bush Empire in London on 16th October which is our biggest headline show! We’re really pleased to have Chris join us. It’s something we’ve been threatening to do now for about 4 years.

Threatening? Haha, I don’t see why that should be a threat. Were there any other musicians or acts you tried to get to join you on tour?

Not on this one. We knew we wanted Chris T-T. There’s a bunch of people we’d love to take but they’ll have to come on other tours.

I have to ask, when will you ladies tour the states? Please tell me soon.

I’m hoping to come over and do a solo tour at the end of the year! I’ll keep you posted…

So say you did make it to the states on a tour. Who would you want to share the stage with?

I’d love to meet up with The Revival Tour guys again: Chuck Ragan, Rocky Votolato, Cory Branan and Jay Malinowski. Or…Neil Young and Gillian Welch!

Speaking of the Revival Tour, you happened to play one of my all time favorite tracks “Fairytale Of New York” with Mr. Chuck Ragan. Whose idea was that? You guys nailed it and I can not tell you how many times I listened to it over and over. Thanks for that.

Our pleasure. It was Chuck’s idea. I recorded my part in Australia when I was back there for holidays. Love singing with that gent.

I am sure the Dear River UK Tour will take up the latter part of 2013, but what else will Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo be getting into this year?

We’re doing a bunch of festivals over the summer; I’m writing quite a lot for TV and film at the moment; I’ve got two other side projects: Folk in a Box (smallest music venue in the world) and Vena Portae (Swedish/Anglo collaboration/band); I’m also writing an EP with Ted Barnes and the list goes on. So keeping myself busy for sure!

Folk in a Box? You have got to tell me about this. Sounds fun.

It’s Britain’s smallest music venue, if not the world’s! You can read about it [at] www.folkinabox.net

That just looks like so much fun. So, what is Vena Portae all about?

It’s a collaboration between a Swedish producer/engineer/musician Ruben Engzell, a British theatre maker/musician/composer Dom Coyote and myself. We made an album last year which we’ll release hopefully early next year – it’s quite hard to fit in with all the other things going on but we love it and it will happen soon.

Wait. Ted Barnes? As in the guy that played with Beth Orton?

Correct!

That is just awesome. Tell me, why should someone check your band out?

In order to define what “chamber-folk” is, OR because we’re all decent enough human beings working hard at what we love, OR because it will lead you to a really great coffee shop somewhere in London/the UK.

Or because you and your band sound amazing. Seriously, I first thought you were from Nashville when I heard you signing solo.  I’ll stop with the pleasantries now.  Let’s hope you make it to the states soon.

Bless ya thanks.


Dear River will be released on July 8th in the UK.  Pre-order the album HERE.

Check out the rehearsal video that was taken of Emily Barker & The Red Clay Halo while playing “Ghost Narrative”:

Emily Barker & The Red Clay Halo are:

Emily Barker
Vocals, guitar, banjo, harmonica

Anna Jenkins
Violin, viola, vocals

Gill Sandell
Accordion, piano, flute, vocals

Jo Silverston
Cello, bass, banjo, vocals

For more information on the band, visit www.emilybarker.com or check out her Facebook page.  Also, if you like photography and randomness, you should find Emily Barker on Instagram.  She takes some pretty awesome photos.

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