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

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I first saw Woven Skull at Supersonic Festival in 2015 and they were a highlight in a weekend full of them, leaving me stunned and mumbling to anyone who’d listen about ‘if Godspeed were a folk band’ (not an accurate description, as we’ll see later). Since then, they’ve become regulars at all the right festivals, never failing to utterly captivate the audience, and released a barrage of essential releases through various sources. With their return to Gateshead’s Old Police House this month, I asked mandola player Natalia Beylis to tell me a little about the band’s origins. Born in the Ukraine but with “a roamer’s strand on my DNA”, she’d met drummer Willie Stewart in Pittsburgh and eventually found herself living in County Leitrim in the middle of Ireland, “where there was no one to bother with all our noisemakings.” Some loose experiments turned into Woven Skull with the arrival of guitarist and friend Aonghus McEvoy, although it seems there was no clear notion of what Woven Skull should be. “We were in no hurry to cement the sound of the band. We still aren’t. I reckon it will keep morphing alongside us as we go. The only thing that remains constant is that there are us three at the core. Beyond that we’re always getting stirred from playing and recording with a bunch of inspiring musicians.” Indeed, hanging out with Woven Skull you get a sense of a thriving community of drunken, wayward collaborations but the reality is a little different.

 “Willie and I live in the least populated county in Ireland. It’s generally very, very quiet and I often find myself communicating with the sounds of four legged and winged creatures more so than two legged ones. David [Colohan – United Bible Studies / Raising Holy Sparks] is our closest musical pal living about forty-five minutes away. The elusive Fuzzy Hell is about an hour away. In terms of musicians I collaborate with, those are the only ones around. There is, however, a fine group of general creative misfits (architects, poets, woodturners) that regularly come out to gigs at our house. Plus tons of visitors pass through. People are always up for getting out of the city to wreak some sound havoc for the weekend. That’s often when the drunken improvisation kicks in.”

Many of Woven Skull’s cassette releases have contained abstract soundscapes, splicings and concrète elements – as Beylis explains, “Our practice room is awash in noise making possibilities: bundles of seashells, a pump organ, disintegrating kids toys. They get added in, and a lot of what we end up with is delicate and abstract or calls for the kind of listening atmosphere that we aren’t trying to create with our live set.” By contras,t perhaps their best known release Lair Of The Glowing Bantling was a deliberate attempt to capture their live energy. “The Bantling LP is the first one that we recorded with an engineer in a studio and it was an attempt to capture the songs and atmosphere of our stage performance. I think we nearly got there, though it still has a delicacy over our live sound. Our other recordings give more of an insight into the space in which our sounds are created, into the sounds that are going on around us while we’re recording and into snippets of our writing process.”

Given my previous ‘Godspeed if they were a folk band’ summation, and their immersion in everything from the music of Morocco to drone to noise legends Smegma, I wondered how Beylis saw their relation to folk music.

we’ve invented our own country and written the traditional music for it

“For me two things come to mind when I hear the term ‘folk music’; the first is the traditional music of a specific group of people from a specific place and the second is the music that’s evolved from the Irish, US & UK folk traditions. We fit neither of those definitions. Someone did once describe us as creating self-imagined folk music. I like that idea; that we’ve invented our own country and written the traditional music for it. But we are not a folk band and we are not rooted in folk. People who come to us with that expectation with inevitably be in for an unexpected surprise; pleasant or disappointing. We’ve never played acoustically live. Even though I play an acoustic mandola and various members join us on violas, violins and cellos, everyone is amped up, often running through pedals and FXs. There’s a lot of pushing the limitations of what is conventionally done with the instruments and how loud and nasty acoustic instruments can go in a live setting.”

With typical industry, Woven Skull have two releases coming out alongside this current tour. ”There’s a ten-inch on Lancashire & Somerset Records which is us playing with Jorge Boehringer and Eleanor Cully. It’s noisy and free form and we let Willie use a full drum kit for it. We’ve also got a tape coming out on Cruel Nature which has a photo of me, my brother and my granny on the cover. It’s a more delicate and possibly more formidable release. The other new thing we’ll have with us on this tour is a viola player named Ailbhe! This is very exciting. She’s a shredder. Get ready.” 

The band are also mixing a new album (listen up, label heads!) and have a split coming on the mighty God Unknown Singles Club, and there’s always side and solo projects bubbling away. As for the visit to Tyneside, Woven Skull and $un $keletons (their roadmates for some of the tour, a marvellous outfit connected with Workin’ Man Noise Unit) are planning “an afternoon generator gig about fifteen minutes south of Gateshead. It’s in a very secret location. Can you guess where it is? There will be more info closer to the time on all the usual channels.”

Woven Skull play Gateshead Old Police House on July 21st alongside $un $keletons, Wreaths and Luna Del Cazador.

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