Quick-links to sub-sections:
Seth Lakeman | Festival Q & A's
Like a one-man Mumford & Sons Ė only better dressed Ė Seth Lakeman has managed to bring folk music to a younger, hipper audience, who wouldnít otherwise know their John Martyns from their Chris Martins. With his fourth album, Hearts & Minds, the Mercury Music Prize nominated Dartmoor native is once again stretching the boundaries of folk music, and in this interview, we speak to Seth about why his mission is to make folk music hip again and why it might piss off all the purists.
Interview by Soren McGuire
Hearts & Minds is your fourth album, and it does sound somewhat dfferent from your previous work. What changed?
Youíre always conscious about trying to move forward and experimenting with your sound, and thatís what I set out to do with Hearts & Minds when I approached writing it a year and a bit ago. Lyrically, I was inspired by events that were happening around me. Itís very much about people around me, hard working men, friends of mine losing their jobs, about corruption and such. But I also wanted to write songs that had a more personal perspective on life, so lyrically, I tried to bring it up to present day, up to date, with some sort of social commentary.
I brought in a really talented multi-instrumentalist to join us. It really helped the sound, and as a whole, Hearts And Minds came out a bit more colorful than my last one, Poor Manís Heaven, which was what I tried to set out to do.
Is there a limit to how much you can allow yourself to experiment while working under the folk banner?
I think that depends on whether or not youíre looking at it from a folk music puristís point of view. I did experiment a lot with traditional folk music on my first two records, but on Hearts & Minds there really isnít any re-workings of traditional songs at all. I tried to move forward to make it more contemporary. There was a conscious effort to move it away from the traditional side of folk music, but itís still very much written with a viola, mandolin, banjo, tenor-guitar and violin in mind. The traditional folk influences just arenít as obvious now. But thatís the funny thing when you talk about folk music from a puristís point of view. Everything has to be a re-working of a traditional folk-song if it is to fit under the folk genre, but thankfully I think those boundaries are being broken down and music seems to be moving forward at a very, very fast rate. And thatís the exciting thing about folk music.
Do you think, in order to actually survive, folk music needs people like you who are willing to go against the grain?
Yes, I think so. I donít think young people today, or even people at my age, are interested in re-workings of traditional folk music these days. Itís not a popular format, it really isnít. So you need artists like Mumford & Sons, Laura Marling and Johnny Flynn, all these acts whoíve been bursting through within the last 18 months. Theyíre breaking down boundaries, and I think they can only help the more tradtional artists, who are coming through, experiment even more. I think there is room for all types of acoustic songwriting. I think folk music is really storytelling. Iím not sure how folkíy this record really is, Iím not sure. Iím definitely a folk artist, no doubt about that, cause that comes down to the stories I tell and the way that I play, but folk music is quite generic.
When Kitty Jay came out in 2004, you were credited as taking folk music to a new and younger audience. I donít suppose that went down well with all the folk music purists?
Well, thankfully I wasnít necessarily one of their chosen artists or whatever you want to call it. I came from the leftfield and sprung out from nowhere. Well, from the wilderness of Dartmoor, literally, and I think it was a shock to them. What I did was take a traditional song or a traditional story, a true story, and write my own lyrics around it. I didnít think these traditional lyrics, as beautiful and well-crafted as they were, were contemporary enough for younger listeners to get their heads around, so I always tried to write my own set of lyrics to these songs. Also, the thing about these songs is that you rarely have a chorus, and unfortunately in the pop-sensibility of radio and the way music is going, people expect to be entertained within the first 30 seconds of a song. Thatís just the way it is. I guess what I did was build a style of my own all while keeping with the folk genre. I donít know if it was a conscious decision, it just seemed to happen.
The same sort of thing is happening in Americana music. You now have a lot of younger artists showing an honest interest in the legacy of classic American songwriting. In this case, itís just British folk music, isnít it?
Thereís an awful lot of young people who seem to be interested in that again, and with songwriters like Laura Marling and Marcus Mumford, you now have artists writing in a sort of Steinbeck style. I can see where theyíre coming from and I can relate to it. There are so many influences within that, and I think thatís really exciting.
Why do you think that is? I heard someone give the explanation, that since weíre all living in uncertain post-9/11 times where the world could basically go down the drain any minute, we feel the need to seek out what feels secure and safe to us, being in this case, traditional music.
Well, insecurity shakes you up, makes you look around to see whatís around you and try to grab on to something you donít fear and which will make you secure again. I think thatís a psycological reaction from anyone in any format of life. A painter would say the same, and I think any writer would too. The insecurity of the way weíre living, living under terror, is always going to have an effect on music. I think there will be an increase in the amount of younger artists who now have something to say.
Seth Lakemanís Hearts & Minds is out now on Virgin. For more on Seth, go to Sethlakeman.com
|Seth Lakeman | Festival Q & A's|
What's the best festival youíve ever played or been to?
It has to be a local festival - Beautiful Days at Escot Park near Exeter.
Some info on festivals you have lined up for this summer, perhaps a bit about some of the musicians whoíll be playing with you and maybe something about anywhere youíre playing for the first time?
I'm playing on HMS Warrior at the weekend. This should really suit the theme of my last album Poor Manís Heaven. Iíll be performing with Benji Kirkpatrick but also the fantastic percussionist Cormac Byrne which is really exciting. I am also doing a festival over in Denmark with them - I've played there a couple of times before but think the trio will go down really well.
Dream line up of artists alive now, and dream line up of deceased artists
Dream line-up would be ACDC, Tom Petty, Paul Simon, John Butler Trio, Elvis, Johnny Cash & The Beatles
Which festival would you most like to play and which festival would you most like to attend as a punter?
I would love to play Strawberry Festival in California and also would really like to hang out there in Yosemite Park.
How do festivals compare to a normal gig?
It's always exciting to play a festival because of the other music you can discover. I've seen so many fantastic artists and bands at festivals.