INTERVIEW: THE OFTEN HERD | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Having formed from the ashes of much-loved Newcastle band The Kentucky Cow Tippers, The Often Herd release their debut EP this month, and it’ll come as no surprise to fans of the bluegrass band that it’s a study in virtuosity from a supremely talented group of musicians.

Having begun their careers busking in Newcastle, Rupert Hughes (guitar) and Evan Davies (mandolin) joined forces with American fiddle player Niles Krieger and double bassist Sam Quintana. With varied musical backgrounds, the foursome developed their instrumental skills and strong vocal harmonies as part of The Kentucky Cow Tippers. Evan explains the difference in approach for The Often Herd. “The Kentucky Cow Tippers were heavily influenced by the traditional bluegrass sound, which often featured driving five-string banjo. We chose to explore the space created by the absence of a banjo, which encouraged a fresh approach to song writing and arranging. There is now more of a focus on developing a sound which transcends the bluegrass genre.”

We have always written about people and surroundings that were close to home, taking bluegrass from its American context and creating something more personal and honest.

Although the group only launched last year, the wealth of time they spent together over the last three years has ensured they’re coming out fully formed and raring to go, as Sam explains. “We have built up a strong band dynamic which means our new songs can come together in a natural and exciting way.” It was in 2016, whilst the band were performing at a festival in the French Alps, that their newly discovered musical direction came to the fore. “Cool Summer Rain was the first piece of music we arranged as a four-piece and saw a change in musical direction which we have since built upon.”

The track is a delightful introduction to the band; full of warm harmonies, with a lovely fiddle which meanders gently around melodic mandolin. Elsewhere on the EP, there’s the sedate Ruined Road and manic strummed intro to Debt To The King, which also features some delightfully eccentric fiddle and a chorus made for singing along to. While the group’s sound may be more rooted in Americana, they remain inspired by their local surroundings, as Evan notes. “Rupert and I grew up around Newcastle and the city and its surroundings have always inspired us. Its beautiful old buildings, stark industrial areas and modern urbanisation sit side-by-side in a way which is nostalgic and unique. We have always written about people and surroundings that were close to home, taking bluegrass from its American context and creating something more personal and honest.”

With inspirations varying from retro spy film soundtracks to bluegrass duo The Stanley Brothers, their songs touch on universal themes too. “After being immersed in the music of Earl Scruggs, Alison Krauss and Seldom Scene we were inspired to work on our rhythm playing, vocal harmonies and instrumental skills.” Says Evan. “Our songs from the new EP touch on subjects such as the juxtaposition of old and new in everyday surroundings, fear of failure in life and fleeting romance. It’s easiest to write about what you see around you but it’s also fun to combine these ideas with escapism and fantasy.”

The Often Herd launch their self-titled debut EP at Alphabetti Theatre, Newcastle on Wednesday 28th March.

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