First of all – some facts. Where did the idea for this collection come from, how did you chose which tracks to go on the album and did you start the Clubhouse Records label specifically for this collection? And what is your own personal background?
About 12 months ago it struck us that no one had put out a collection of UK acts before and it felt like the time was right. We started with a list of ‘must haves’, based on the established bands that we like personally, and then we put out the call online to find newer acts we were less familiar with. Once all the bands said yes, we thought we’d better set up a ‘proper’ label – it’s taken us this long to pull it all together! To some extent the selection is biased towards our personal tastes and our own take on what “Americana’’ is, but then we never set out to make a ‘genre defining’ or all encompassing ‘definitive’ compilation, that would be virtually impossible. It’s just a great collection of current UK bands that can be broadly grouped under the Americana umbrella. No more no less.
Makes sense. Divided By A Common Language catches, in your own words, a snapshot of UK Americana right now. How would you describe that particular snapshot?
‘Snapshot’ is a good word for it as it’s not an exhaustive who's who of all the quality Americana acts in the UK today...but it does present a pretty healthy picture.
And musically? Where do you hear the common ground between these acts? Do you think there’s a certain British sound intertwined with all the lapsteels and Rickenbackers?
You might be better off asking an American if they can hear and identify a common British thread on the compilation. To us it’s perhaps less in the sound and more in the humour and storytelling that’s always been present in the narrative songwriting tradition of British folk music.
The last few months have seen the UK media aiming their attention towards UK Americana. The Independent wrote a piece on UK Americana and so did The Sun. Why do you think we’ve reached this point where these very talented bands and artists now make up an actual “scene” rather than just being bands that sound more like Missisippi than Manchester?
There’s definitely an increased level of interest in Americana and Country music in the mainstream media and that seems to have been bubbling under for sometime now, but it’s more that the press are picking up on an existing scene rather than creating a movement as has been the case in the past. Whatever scene there is, didn’t spring up six months ago in a Camden boozer. In fact to call it a scene somehow implies that it’s a relatively new, localized phenomenon and that couldn’t be further from the truth. On this compilation alone there are well established bands from Oxford, Leeds, London, Leicester, Edinburgh and Liverpool. Some of the bands know each other from the circuit. Some of them are playing on different circuits. The main thing is that there are clubs and acts all over the UK doing something similar and I guess pulling them altogether in one place is just joining the dots.
"Anglicana" – any thoughts on that one?
The term "Anglicana" doesn’t really work for us. If you have to label music then that label should refer to the music and its’ influences not the geographical origin of the musicians. We’re talking about UK based bands playing American influenced music it doesn’t really need a separate label. Jazz is an American art form but when British musicians play jazz nobody feels the need to re-christen it ‘Brazz’.
This year also marks the 20th anniversary of Alan Tyler forming the perhaps seminal UK Americana band, The Rockingbirds. What do you think this collection would have sounded like if it had come out twenty years ago? How has this music evolved over the years?
20 years ago the collection would probably have been a lot shorter!
It surely would, but if this UK Americana “phenomenon”, in lack of a better word, isn’t exactly a new thing, like you mentioned earlier, what do you think brought it on ? There’s certainly been a resurgence in country and Americana music in the States, and regardless of what caused it – 9/11, The O’Brother soundtrack or simply a generation of musicians fed up with glitz and glam and seeking a truer and more honest sound– you can’t deny that it somehow has rubbed off on the UK. When did you first realise that a lot of different musicians where doing this similar thing, playing the same sort of music, all around the UK?
In the UK there’s been a long standing love affair with American roots music going back decades, but I think there is a generation of musicians that have maybe grown a little tired with formulaic indie rock and have turned their hand to the various forms of Americana. For some there’s a more romantic/escapist element to the music of the ‘canyons and cotton fields’ than with the everyday kitchen sink dramas of the Lily Allen or the Arctic Monkeys and that’s very appealing.
The thing about Americana is that few – if any - have managed to pinpoint its exact meaning or describe its sound other than “rural sounding with a lapsteel thrown in here and there”. The majority of the artists featured on this album play what can be desribed as country rock, and our reviewer here at Americana UK mentioned that the collection lacked a bit more musical diversiity. Do you agree?
We’d agree that Americana is difficult to define and as we’ve said we’re really not trying to present anything definitive but we do think Divided By A Common Language offers a pretty good range of what’s on offer under that very broad heading. Sure there’s country rock which we love, but there’s a lot more besides including some outstanding roots and folk influenced material.
In the US, Americana seems to embrace everything from Wilco and Band Of Horses to Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash, from classic Outlaw country to contemporary indie rock. Where do you think the UK artists will go in the future – musically speaking?
That is a very broad definition, almost to the point of being meaningless. I think some of the bands are already ploughing their own furrow. We saw Two Fingers of Firewater play about a year ago and then again at the Divided launch night. Back then they wore their country influences very much on their sleeves but twelve months on and they've developed their own sound, it owes a debt to those influences but they are growing. As many of the acts develop some of them will end up playing music that may be difficult to call Americana others will elect to be creative within the traditions of the genre.
When you were compiling this album, you must have been in touch with a lot of musicians. How would you describe the “average” UK Americana musician?
Almost as impossible to define as the genre itself. ‘Penniless’ would probably be a good start! The only real common factor is that they’re passionate about the music they play and have the confidence and belief to play it regardless of prevailing tastes or fashions.
What do you hope Divided By A Common Language will achieve, not when it comes to sales figures, but in terms of awareness etc?
The collection isn’t really aimed at the existing hardcore Americana fan but more at people interested in country and roots music and keen to investigate what’s on offer in the UK. Hopefully it will encourage them to explore further.
There seems to be an increase in the amount of players on the UK Americana scene. Apart from all the labels and musicians, you also have people like Bob Paterson, Phil Edwards and Bob Harris showcasing the music on radio, Wagon Wheel Media from Sheffield who specialises in putting on gigs with local, national and international acts, and of course, us here at Americana UK. Have we reached the point where you’re beginning to see an actual DIY-Americana community here in the UK?
There are certainly a lot of people doing if for themselves whether that’s promoters or band producing and releasing they’re own material but I think that’s across the board in an increasingly fragmented music industry, not specifically Americana.
In your opinion, what does it take for a British band in this part of the musical spectrum to actually succeed and attain some sort of commercial success? I suppose, for every Danny & The Champs and Mumford & Sons, there’s probably hundreds of great and talented bands who don’t get so far.
If we knew that…
You’d all be filthy rich, yes. What are the future plans for Clubhouse Records?
If we don’t lose our checked shirts on this one we’ll be releasing further albums by UK artists, and possibly some friends from Canada, later in the year.
Divided By A Common Language is out now on Clubhouse Records. You can listen to songs from the album on Clubhouserecords.co.uk