Emily Barker And The Red Clay Halo are about to release their fourth album Dear River on 8 July. David Brown from Louder Than War met up with Emily before their recent show at Salford’s Sounds From The Other City Festival to find out more.
Dear River is your fourth album, can you tell me a little bit more about the history of the band?
Yes, it’s our fourth. The first was Photos, Fires And Fables which was recorded in 2004/5 and it was around that time I met the girls so it wasn’t released as the Red Clay Halo, because we hadn’t formed as a group until after it was released.
In the band there’s Jo Silverstone, who plays cello and now plays bass live, there’s Gill Sandell, who plays accordion, piano, a bit of guitar, flute and a few other things and Anna Jenkins, who plays violin and viola. They all sing harmonies. They all have various bits and bobs they do too. Gill has her own solo projects and is about to release her second album. Jo and Anna work quite a lot with other musicians too.
How would you describe your music to someone who’d never heard you before?
It’s so hard. I’d say our previous albums would be in the folk / singer-songwriter vein, but contemporary and not trad. I think the new album, Dear River, is a more pop-rock album. It’s definitely got more of a band sound to it. Writing the songs, it was a conscious decision not to write in a folk style, to challenge myself.
Do you write on your own or do you write with the girls?
No, I write on my own and then bring the songs to the girls. This time we worked slightly differently as we had a really kick-arse producer called Callum Malcolm and he had ideas about what instruments would work on each track.
We write the girls’ parts together. They’re such incredible musicians. I might come with ideas that I want vocal harmonies in a section or some cello coming in, but I don’t come in with anything too planned or thought out as they’re really creative. It’s one of our favourite moments when we try things out because we’re quite adventurous. I don’t want to come in and tell them to play this note at this point. It’s not like that.
The deluxe version of the album comes with an acoustic version of the songs. What was the thinking behind that?
We decided to do acoustic versions of the album just to show where it all begins. We wanted to show the bones of what we do when we sit down together and arrange the songs after I’ve written them. It’s also to have something for the fans that are used to hearing us as a quartet as the album is a much fuller sound.
Dear River feels like a journey album. There’s lots of references to rivers and travelling. Is there a theme to it?
Yes. It really was. For the first time, I decided to write to a concept and that concept is home. Quite a lot of my songs have been preoccupied with that question of where is home.
I’m from the south west of Australia and when you’ve lived away from home for so long, I’ve been over here for eleven years now and did a lot of travelling, there’s various places all over the world that feel like home.
My ancestors were European, but I grew up in Australia, but there was this feeling that I had other parts of my history and identity in other parts of the world. So the album is all about home, but I use the rivers as a metaphor to bind all the different themes of home together. I grew up by a river called the Blackwood and that had a really profound effect on my childhood and gave me a very strong sense of home. From there, the river goes out to the sea to other places.
When you play live, is it just the four of you or do you have other musicians with you?
It’s usually just the four of us, but we’re going to start playing with a drummer as soon as the album is released, because the new record has more of a rock feel to it. I can’t wait to do that.
Ghost Narrative, the first release on youtube, definitely has that feel to it. The other albums have gone that way, but never quite gone that far.
It is quite rocky, definitely more so than we’ve done before.
You’ve worked quite a bit with Frank Turner, how did that come about?
He saw us play at The Windmill in Brixton years ago, something like 2006 and loved what we were doing, and asked me on myspace, that’s how long ago it was, if we’d do support on one of his tours. I did solo support and we did about 30 shows and became really good friend. That was the start point and we’ve played on a few of his records, doing backing vocals, and we’ve shared some of his biggest moments with him, like headlining Wembley Arena and then playing at The Olympics?
How was that?
We did the opening ceremony, doing backing vocals. We opened the opening ceremony. It was amazing, so we continue to work together.
So what are your plans for the rest of the year?
The album’s out on July 8th. We’re going out on tour in the Autumn, probably a thirty date UK tour, I can’t wait. The venues will be quite varied. I used to do all the bookings. We did often play church halls and town halls and quirky little venues, but they’ll be quite varied.
Dear River is out on July 8th on standard CD, limited edition CD with bonus acoustic CD, heavyweight vinyl and special edition bundle, all of which can be ordered here. The title track is available as a download only single now.
The band have just announced a major UK tour for the Autumn as well as festival appearances over the summer. They are scheduled to play :
31st May – The Stage, Haye-On-Wye
16th June – Smoked And Uncut, The Pig, Brockenhurst
11th July – London Rough Trade East
12th July – Two Thousand Trees, Gloucestershire
13th July – Old Cinema Laundrette, Durham
26th July – Folk Festival, Cambridge
9th August – Wilderness, Oxfordshire
10th October – The Lemon Tree, Aberdeen
11th October – The Arch Inn, Ullapool
12th October – Ironworks, Inverness
13th October – Oran Mor, Glasgow
15th October – Komedia, Brighton
16th October – Shepherds Bush Empire, London
17th October – Blackfriars Priory, Gloucester
18th October – The Globe, Cardiff
20th October – The Musician, Leicester
21st October – Artrix, Bromsgrove
22nd October – St John’s Church, Oxford
23rd October – The Apex, Bury St Edmunds
25th October – Open, Norwich
26th October – Folk Festival, North Dorset
7th November – St Philips Church, Salford
8th November – Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal
9th November – Cluny 2, Newcastle
10th November – Brudenell Social Club, Leeds
11th November – Junction 2, Cambridge
13th November – Discovery Centre, Winchester
14th November – Phoenix, Exeter
15th November – Plaza Suite, Sevenoaks
16th November – St Mary-in-the-Castle, Hastings
17th November – Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth
19th November – Glee Club, Birmingham
20th November – Greystones, Sheffield
21st November – Floral Pavilion, New Brighton
22nd November – Folk House, Bristol
All words by David Brown. You can see more of David’s work on Louder Than War here