In the second instalment of our Folk Series, we spoke to folk musicians and third year LCoM students Sif Jacobsen & Caitlin Stubbs, to get their take on playing folk music and how it can represent modern society…
Q – What does the term “folk music” mean to you?
(S) For me it’s music that is based around storytelling. I define myself as folk because of the lyrical content in my songs. Musically, it’s more pop music, but because of the stories within the lyrics, that’s what makes it folk.
(C) I think with folk there is a real integral sense of authenticity – telling things as it is. It’s telling stories and capturing raw emotion, it’s based on truth. When I first heard Joni Mitchell and Woodie Guthrie, I just thought - I want to do that. I want to tell it like it is, but in a beautiful way.
Q – Do you feel that folk musicians have a responsibility to tell the stories of a community?
(C) I do feel like that. You don’t want to be preachy, or just do it because you think you should, but I do feel that someone has to comment on things that are happening from a human perspective.
(S) I don’t feel a responsibility to sing about politics as such – but for me it’s about taking the point of view of things that we need to remind ourselves about in modern society. I don’t like to take political stand points because I’m not sure that it’s always valid, but what I can contribute are my thoughts on the world as a human being, and how I can stay true to myself.
Q – What inspires you to create folk music?
(C) It’s the feeling of human connection. The audience reactions at folk gigs are really inspiring, like at Sif’s recent event, Hyggelig. In modern society people are glued to their phones, laptops, and often distracted from what they’re seeing, so it’s refreshing to be in a gig like that. When one person is just singing their story, and people are fully engaged. Folk is about the lyrics and being present together, about being human. That’s what it is for me - it’s a human thing.
(S) There’s definitely a part of folk that is coming together, understanding each other and finding common ground. I never necessarily set out to be a folk musician but it’s this thing that has always lied within me – singing out stories. I find it inspiring to listen to other folk musicians being themselves. It’s so hard to be human because we think we’re so alone in everything, but really we’re just very much alike. It doesn’t matter what kind of music you make – if I can relate to you then I find that inspiring.
Q – What cues do you take from the wider folk music tradition?
(S) This is just a personal standpoint but I like to keep things as acoustic as possible. I don’t use many effects in my recordings. I’ve had many situations where people have said “don’t worry about recording these drums because you can just find samples,” but I don’t want to do that. I want to record everything acoustically and I want to perform everything the way that I’ve recorded it – I want things to be as alive as possible in that sense.
(C) On my first EP I was terrified of putting too many plug-ins and effects on the tracks because I thought that would take the songs further away from where they had come from, i.e. my head and heart. Then I became more interested in recording myself, and fell in love with the sounds you can make on DAWs like Logic. My opinion now is that production plays a huge role in helping the intended meaning come across to the listener and therefore we shouldn’t be afraid of altering sounds because we think it’ll make the song less “authentic”. If anything it can often have the opposite effect if it makes a deeper connection between songwriter and audience! Folk for me is conveyed in the lyrics, I love that in folk you can talk about human issues or moral ideas – and I’m interested in combining these lyrics with modern production techniques.
Q – Some suggest that you can’t teach folk music in a formal way – what do you think?
(S) It’s about finding a balance between teaching and inspiring people to go out and do it for themselves. You can’t just take a bunch of young people and then shut them in a room and teach them. They have to go out and play live, because folk is so human-orientated.
(C) You can’t say “this is what folk means” and indoctrinate students with “how to play folk music.” One thing that sets LCoM apart from other institutions is that it doesn’t try to push you down a certain path, or manufacture you in a certain way. What it’s done for me is completely open my mind and made me question things. If the folk course is taught from that place of “let’s appreciate it, let’s learn where it has come from, let’s understand what it means to each person individually”, then that’s amazing because that’s the attitude that will allow it to carry on and evolve organically.
Leeds College of Music launches BA (Hons) Music (Folk) in Sep 2017
Revisit Folk Series #1 with Gilmore & Roberts
More info on Sif Jacobsen aka Lilac’s Daughter, here
Find out more about Caitlin Stubbs, here