TCF caught up with Yorkshire’s finest Folk Gothic duo Storm Chorus (collectively Rebecca Denniff and David Owen) to talk about the release of their profound and twisted debut album of murder ballads ‘Died For Love’.
TCF. What does releasing Died for Love mean to you both?
Rebecca Denniff – “It’s profoundly important to me – I never thought I would be creating music in this way and I feel that through our songs I’ve found a voice.”
David Owen – “I’ve been wanting to create a folk album that didn’t follow the usual instrumentation or formulas and meeting Rebecca and working on this project together was a wonderful meeting of minds – and it shows – the album is everything we wanted it to be – I’m incredibly proud of it.”
TCF. Where did the idea to change the gender roles in the lyrics come from?
RD. “I like to play with lyrics and make songs personal to me. If I can’t relate to the words I’m singing then the circuit won’t close and connect. I was tired of hearing the cliche – man meets woman, man does woman wrong, woman forgives man. I’ve been through some turbulent times and the expectation that women should sit quietly and accept their lot doesn’t wash with me. Changing the roles and revealing a different truth within the songs was a way of bringing the women in the songs into the spotlight and out of the margins.”
DO. “We didn’t strictly always change the roles, it was more changing the inbuilt ‘masculine’ feel of the lyrics – we wanted to redress the balance and empower the women.”
TCF. Why was this important to you both?
RD. “I love music. It’s my life’s blood. And I love David. There’s something very special about creating music and art, and plotting and scheming about our next project or song. This album has been our obsession and our passion. It’s time to share it.”
DO. “Also Folk songs have a tendency to be very macho ! The folk scene is very male dominated and the majority of the song collectors were men and they edited the songs accordingly! We decided to re-edit….”
TCF. What was the first recording session like?
RD. “For me, the first recording session was just fun – we did a lot in our make-shift home studio so it was just what we did in every moment of our spare time. But our first session with someone else was weird for me, because I felt like a fish out of water! I think I’ve learned how to breathe that air now, though”
DO. “At first we were just experimenting with the songs and trying to find which instrumentation and sound suited the mood. We were recording at home and had time to try different approaches. We didn’t even realise we were making an album until we’d worked on a few songs and found a sound and a style and a mood – then suddenly the whole project just became real and unfolded in front of us.”
TCF. Does a musical genre like folk need to adapt to remain relevant?
RD. “Yes, yes, yes. These songs were frozen in time when they were collected at the turn of the twentieth century. Their organic growth was cut short. Folk songs should be relevant and immediate, whilst retaining a sense of enduring humanity. They are songs of shared experience. Everything about them should be up for grabs. Sing what means the most to you.
DO. “Of course. Folk has become so detached from its meaning and purpose. It speaks of the human condition, so it will always be relevant and necessary but if it doesn’t evolve and adapt then it just comes across like some weird curio or museum piece. “
TCF. Are you scared of the genre police?
RD. “I’m not scared of them. It makes me sad, sometimes, that I feel like an outsider. Other times I decide that this is my strength. I think they should be scared of me. I think some of them are.”
DO. “No. They know me. They know I’m a troublemaker and they’ve cautioned me a few times….. but in this instance, I’m above the law!”
TCF. How important was the recording environment to the end result?
RD. “Recording at home was a joy. We immersed ourselves in the things that inspired us, and because we live in the wilds of the North York Moors those desolate hills and ancient woodlands ran though our songs like a deep, dark crimson thread. Transferring this to the studio to capture the final touches was harder. Next time I think we need to work on taking the darkness with us!”
DO. It’s a joy to be able to record at home and take time to experiment and feel comfortable. And we live in the environment that we’re singing about so it’s easy to immerse oneself. But you always end up having to go to hi-tech modern studios to finalise things and they can be very impersonal and cold and it’s easy to lose sight of the mood you were creating.”
TCF. What do you love most about folk?
RD. “I love the songs. The words. The worlds within them. There’s something primal about singing the songs of those who have gone before us. I love the otherworldliness of that place where the stories happen.”
DO. “The stories. The songs have been fine-tuned over so many generations and years and singers. They’ve perfected the telling of the tale, yet there’s still room to embellish or amend or update. The songs are very resilient and also flexible. That’s their beauty.”
TCF. What do you love most about The Cramps?
RD. “Oh, what a question! Well – so many things. But in the context of Storm Chorus, I love what they did with the rock and roll standards. They took classic songs and messed them up, and made them their own. They weren’t afraid to create their own reality. And they were an enduring power couple! There was heaps of love in those performances.”
DO. “The raw energy and the vision and fun ! They took those old songs and revamped them and created their own genre and their own world. And the Gretsch guitars….”
TCF. Is the album format still important to you both?
RD. “As a body of work, yes it is. These songs fit together and feed into one another. I like the completeness of this collection. I’ve already got a plan for the next one.”
DO. “In this instance, yes. It’s very much a concept album – the songs are all interconnected so they need to be listened to as part of a whole.”
TCF. How did the production influence the final outcome, did the songs take a long time to record?
RD. “Oh the waiting ! The process took as long as it needed to take, and it was interesting having a producer (Mercury nominated Black Star Liner producer Choque Hosein) who did not have deep roots in the Folk world. He didn’t care about traditions, or whether we were flouting conventions. He only cared about the sound. For me that was good. That was important.”
DO. “Overall, it took us more than 18 months from start to finish. Almost all the songs sound as we intended. A couple of songs were reworked during the mixing process giving them an angle and a mood we hadn’t even realised was within them – but for the better.”
TCF. Your thoughts on the music industry?
RD. ” I feel like I’m late to the party – and it’s hard for someone like me to get noticed. There are so many barriers and so many gatekeepers. I love to sing. I love to make music and perform. What I would really love is to be able to get my foot through some doors so I can do more!!!!
DO. “There’s so much music available on so many platforms, it’s become a vast monster and it’s difficult to know where to start sometimes. There’s so much freedom in the ability to record and release your own music direct to your fans, but discovering new music can sometimes be overwhelming.”
TCF. Your ambition for this record?
RD. “I want this record to reach the ears of those who think that folk music is not for them, and convert them. I would like be able to break those chains of convention and have the stories told. And I want to start a revolution. These songs are our birthright. They are up for grabs. The preservation society doesn’t have a monopoly on our cultural heritage. Change the world one folk heroine at a time. “
DO. “I’d like people to realise that folk is not twee or pastoral or woodcut or sepia tone – it’s not about the sound, it’s about the context, and the songs. And I’d like to actually sell vast quantities because people love it and it provokes a reaction in them.”
TCF. To finish, what do you want to contribute to the world and what matters to you both?
RD. “I want to get people to make music, listen to music and sing. Always”
DO. “I’m an artist. I just want to create art and put it out into the world for people to enjoy, to enrich them, to inspire them.”
Died For Love is available on all good digital platforms and in iTunes here globally via Proper Distribution. The retail CD will be available in the UK and for export at a later date after an initial limited edition run on the bands website.