Celtic darling Cara Dillon was barely out of her teens when she was invited to replace Kate Rusby in the Warner-backed folk supergroup Equation. Cara didn’t stay long with the group, preferring to breakaway with fellow band member Sam Lakeman whom she married and has recorded with ever since. After three albums on Rough Trade, Cara’s latest album Hill of Thieves was recorded at home, produced by Sam and put out on their own label. It finds the couple returned to their folk roots with simple acoustic versions of traditional songs. Cara talked to FFS about breaking free from major record labels and the challenges of touring while being a mum, but only after she had put the twins to bed.
FFS: So how do you manage to balance recording a new album and going on tour with being a mum of two year old twins?
CD: It is a challenge. I would be lying if I said it was very straightforward because there is a lot of organizing. I don’t know what it is like to have one baby because they came in two for me and that’s complicated enough. It just means you always have to be one step ahead of the game. When you get offered a concert you have to plan your child care and decide if you want them to come with you. They came with us to America, twice in 2008 and they’re coming with us again back to America for three or four weeks. It is a challenge, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
FFS: Sam has worked really closely with you producing, arranging and playing on the new album. How is it collaborating musically with your husband?
CD: It works really well. I suppose it is because if you are working with other people you are not as close to, egos get in the way, sometimes there are disagreements, and sometimes they are not aired and you are pussy-footing around each other. Whereas with Sam and myself we are very honest with each other and straight forward from the start so if I play a song to him and he says ‘I don’t like it’, I won’t get offended. We don’t usually fall out about music, it is usually about who is going to make the next cup of tea.
FFS: The decision to go it alone, seems to have been a good one judging by the success of Hill of Thieves.
CD: It’s really ironic because for all those years we have been signed to different major labels and the record companies were always striving for us to make some kind of wave commercially and to get more people to hear it. And the final twist was when our album went in at number seven in the indie charts and it was really funny. We sat back and laughed because we thought all these years we’ve spent with all these people trying to do this and then we have a go at it ourselves and thoroughly enjoy the whole process and it’s easier than its ever been and suddenly we have achieved something they have always wanted for us.
FFS: And the album has a much simpler, acoustic sound than the three albums you made while signed to Rough Trade.
CD: With this album Sam and I decided to simplify everything in our lives, because we had twin boys and I think when you have children it makes you realize what is important and suddenly you realize what it is you want to do in life. And so this is personally the album I have always wanted to make. There are at least three or so songs on the album which I have always wanted to record and since I was knee high I have been singing them. And the other thing was to keep it simple and to enjoy the whole process of recording the album, which we did at home in between feed and naps and all that. So it was essential that the music be kept really straight forward and simple.
FFS: So why did you decide to leave Rough Trade?
CD: We had fulfilled our contract with Rough Trade, we had made the three albums we had set out to make with them and they were interested in doing another but we decided that we really wanted to take the bull by the horns and take control. In the past we had sat back and it very convenient and very easy to let someone else be at the helm of the ship and to run the show.
A big part of us thought it must be a bit more complicated than you can ever imagine because there are two or three people looking after PR and there’s more people doing the label-managing side of things. And when we had our boys, that was such an incredible journey to go through. They were born three months premature and we thought to ourselves, ‘this is what life is all about, nothing will ever be as challenging as this’. And I thought ‘let’s take full control of our lives now. Let’s just put this album out on our own label, how hard can it really be?’
You want to make music that you hope other people are going to enjoy and appreciate and you want lots of people to hear it. And so why not record it on your own label and put it out there and be in control and make sure the right people get there hands on it and the right people hear it. It has been the best thing we have ever done.
To anyone out there thinking of doing it, it is not brain science. There is a lot of hard work involved but it’s not that difficult. At times record companies can make it seem a wee bit more complicated than it is. At the end of the day, you know as a singer, exactly what your goal is. It can be pretty straightforward at the end of the day.
Interview: Jon Cheetham
Cara Dillon is appearing at Blackheath Halls on May 30. Tickets cost £18 (£16 concessions) and are available from blackheathhalls.com or call the box office on 020 8463 0100.