INTERVIEW: Skylark Song | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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On their second album, Newcastle-based duo Skylark Song have consciously captured a darker and more contemplative sound. The highly acclaimed husband and wife’s previous releases have garnered considerable praise for their haunting contemporary folk, but violinist and vocalist Emma McRae describes a relative change of direction on their new release. “Personally, I always feel an affinity with darker songs that touch on more harrowing themes, both lyrically and musically. I think that there may have been some conscious drive to explore songs like that.”

Skylark Song’s music has an old head on its shoulders, without seeming retro or old fashioned. Each track is carefully considered and quietly reflective; simple melodies and exquisite vocals underpin beautifully unadorned songs that glow with a warmth and depth of feeling that’s utterly enchanting. From the pastoral beauty of Arms That Hold You Still to the more traditional style of Keep Wide Awake, Emma’s clear and strong voice is supported by guitarist Alex McRae’s warm tones, providing a perfect juxtaposition.

The new album, entitled May The Hunter Retreat, is rich with shades of darkness and light. The raw and unadorned guitar backing of Peaceful Alone, the gentle lullaby of Mornings Are Colder and the intensity of the repetitive picked guitar line of Wounded showcases an album of subtle diversity. The duo have continued to be inspired by nature, with the darker themes of the hunter and its prey coming to the fore. “We’re definitely still inspired by nature. I think our lyrics are always quite metaphorical, at times a little indirect, so I think we sometimes use natural imagery to talk about other things. A lot of times we might not necessarily be writing about nature, just using nature to express different feelings and perspectives.” Emma explains. “We’ve used the idea of hunter and prey in quite a lot of the songs, which has obviously influenced the title of the album. Again, it’s not necessarily in a literal sense but a more metaphorical interpretation.

“We wanted to explore the way that that those who are the most vulnerable are always preyed upon, both in and out of nature.”

Having worked with a group of talented musicians to produce the album, including folk musicians Niles Krieger (mandolin/violin) and Bevan Morris (double bass), drummer and producer Adam Sinclair, as well as Bellowhead’s Rachael McShane on cello, Emma feels their involvement has added riches to the album. “It was a refreshing experience working with other people; with it just being the two of us it can occasionally get a little insular at times so it was really exciting to get another person’s perspective on the direction of a song. For example the counter-melody Rachael McShane brought to the track Crawl Inside just transformed the song completely.”

There is enough pastoral beauty and traditional themes on May The Hunter Retreat to slot Skylark Song in the ‘contemporary folk’ niche, but – whether it’s the relatively subtle change in direction or their innate ability to capture an atmosphere – it’s also clear that their sound is much more expansive, coming from a myriad of places. “Like every musician we take inspiration from lots of different places. I suppose that the nature of being involved in any kind of art is that people are always going to try and define you.”

Skylark Song launch May The Hunter Retreat, via Roseberry Records, at The Cluny 2, Newcastle on Friday 13th November.

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