We love a bit of quirky folk here at FFS, and Lisa Knapp is at the vanguard of those fusing traditional sounds, structures and songs with new technologies. On new record, Hidden Seam, this combines to deliver something fresh yet familiar, eerie yet warm and as mesmeric and transient as the ocean on which it is based. It also features a roll call of Folk Artists You Most Want To Work With, boasting collaborations with James Yorkston, Alasdair Roberts and Kathryn Williams. With rave reviews across the board now in her armoury, Lisa Knapp tells us how she manages to worship traditional music at the altar of the new.
The new album, Hidden Seam, draws its inspiration from the sea – what’s your own relationship to the ocean and why did you decide to base the album on it?
I don’t really know! I mean, I love the sea…I just became quite fascinated by the element of water and how, metaphorically, it relates to things like language, and also as a chemical substance – our bodies are made up of so much water and all these sort of reflections on different things really fascinated me.
The first song, ‘Shipping Song’ has some really interesting sounds woven into it – could you tell us about that?
I really like pieces of electronic sampled sounds juxtaposed with acoustic instruments and there were a few bands that I listened to at the time that did that…so when I had ‘Shipping Song’ written and the basic shape, I went looking for sounds. I literally went surfing the web and came across this site of old sound experiments that US marines had done in the 60s. There’s actually some wonderful, 60s style American talking on it as well! I think because the sounds were of creatures from the sea as well as ships I thought that would be really perfect to use for describing the waters that the Shipping Song entails.
Is it possible to say which of the songs on the album mean the most to you?
I think that’s possibly something I could tell you in while! I think because it’s just released, I need to tour it live because it is a studio album really and it’s kind of going into another phase of its existence. I couldn’t really say which one means the most but I love doing ‘Shipping Song’ – but you know we had launch gig a few weeks ago and we performed ‘Hidden Seam’ for the first time and ‘Black Horse’ which was so thrilling, you know with drums and everything! They’re all so different…
It’s been getting really great reviews...
[sounds surprised] It has, yeah!
Were you not expecting that?
You know, you never know what to expect. You hope that someone will like it so it’s been amazing that its got the support it has so far. I’m so grateful that’s happened.
As per ‘Shipping Song’, you join very traditional folk songs and sounds with the experimental and innovative, but it never sounds disjointed. How do you manage to reconcile those two sides so well?
I guess I just do what I do. I suppose it would be influenced by traditional music because I am influenced by traditional music, but I wanted to do something that was original and just stretch that part of me – I don’t think writing original work or experimenting and using traditional material are mutually exclusive things and I think there are lots of artist who reflect that. I don’t think it’s necessarily a new thing but perhaps the technology is different now and it’s easy to do sampling at home whereas in the 80s it would have been very expensive.
I’m thinking of someone you’ve collaborated quite a lot with who does a similar thing, and that’s Sam Lee. Is he someone you bounce ideas off and talk things through with?
Well Sam Lee’s always been very encouraging and he’s got a great voice and fabulous ear. Gerry – my partner – who produced my album also produced his album so there’s obviously a link there. The Nest Collective [London-based folk music collective] has really given folk music such a boost in London so he’s definitely an influential character both with promoting and collecting and singing.
You play an extraordinary range of instruments, both on the album and generally. How that came about? Did you grow up with music?
Yeah, I did actually. I played violin at school, my mum played piano and my nan used to sing, so my family was always quite musical. I’ve always been really passionate about music and always gravitated towards music.
Do you feel that now is a good time to be an experimental folk artist, what with so many great artists prepared to push the boundaries a bit?
I think in some ways yeah. Obviously in the last five years the whole realm and breadth of folk music has really opened wide and I think that possibly some of that is to do with the internet – you’ve got access to any artist you want whereas before it wasn’t so easy, which I think has certainly opened the gates for different kinds of influences within folk. In lots of ways there is then a bigger audience acceptance of different ways of broaching music. But I think it’s not so easy in terms of the recession and the current climate to actually progress. There’s a lot more competition for space.
And you’ve got sites like Spotify that say they pay artists, but it’s such an unbelievably small amount of money it must be very hard to make a living wage…
I think it’s certainly something that many musicians have an issue with. It’s a double-edged sword, the internet, because in one way you’ve got so much access and freedom and in other ways something that a musician used to be able to earn as revenue – you have to give it away for free. But you know, people do still make a living so it’s still out there.
So do you have an idea of where you want to go next musically? Or are you just seeing what happens?
I think probably there’ll be more band gigs coming in the new year and I’m thinking about another May CD -I’ve got an EP series of May songs. I’d really love to do some festivals in the summer to support the album and tour it and the coming autumn and then I think I’ll think about the next thing. I’ve certainly got an urge to do another album.
Hidden Seam is out now on Navigator Records