INTERVIEW: Isobel Anderson

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We caught up with folk musician and sound design artist Isobel Anderson, talking about her use of soundscapes in her music, creating a different perspective for folk music, the process behind the creation of her albums, her collaboration with Passenger, along with a bit of advice for independent musicians!


You use a lot of soundscapes in your music. What inspired you to do this?


I’ve done a lot of soundscape work in other areas. I did an MA in sound art and just finished a PhD in it, so I really specialized in that kind of thing, and voice. I wanted to incorporate that into the music which I’ve already established.


So what does it add to the song for you?


I think it places the songs in a particular context, and it also works as a kind of transportation for the songs between each other, which I think is quite interesting.


Who are the influences that inspired you to do this?


I think there are examples of people who use field recordings, like Laura Marling with her first album, right at the end of the last track, she has a recording of birds. So I guess there are examples like that, where you’re taken from the music into every day life, but I wanted to kind of really explore.. well what if its not pretty birds, what if it’s a bunch of drunk guys at the pub, like at the beginning of Don’t on In My Garden. So on Know Your Heart on the second verse you hear children play, but at the same time there is this really low organ note, and I wanted to use that because Don’t is about losing that almost innocent confidence we have with youth, and I wanted to juxtapose that with the sentiment of the song, that as you grow older maybe that starts to slip away from you, as experience teaches you that you actually know nothing.


You do a bit of spoken word as well, like in ‘These Places Should Only Be Imagined’- do these pieces make you feel different to when you sing?


It is different, but it’s interesting because I approach those pieces very similarly to how I’d approach a song, even though they’re made while I’m walking, and as I walk I collect different materials like field recordings and I take notes and I create poems, and also photographs, and objects, so sometimes they’re installations as much as they’re sound work. So I think they’re all hinged around the voice, which is hinged around words, and the way that the words are verbalised.


So do you perform these poems when you do gigs, or do you perform mainly the songs?


I am starting to find they’re being mixed together a bit more, so I did a performance of These Places Should Only Be Imagined but I also sang a couple of songs, and I hadn’t really done that before, but they’re slowly becoming more and more intertwined.


So in the long term, do you see sound design or the songs as the main focus?


I would like to do both. I’m thinking of getting some remixes of In My Garden with DJs and producers and see if we can get some remixes of In My Garden out and record a new album, so that would be the next 12 months. But I also have ideas for bigger sound art research projects, and I see that both benefit one another, and I can see how gradually they may become more intertwined.


Would you recommend all artists to learn recording techniques and produce themselves?


It depends on the kind of person you are, if you enjoy collaboration, and if you’re genuinely interesting in recording techniques. If you’re not interested, don’t do it. You have to be prepared to do it to industry standard, and if you’re not interested in that, it’s not going to be good. I made my album form the perspective of studying sound art, so it brings a whole new perspective to folk music.


Jamie Cullum commented on your music and he was a big fan. What came of that- have you done any collaborations?


Nothing happened with Jamie Cullum, though I wouldn’t rule that out at all. I guess the most notable collaboration would be with Passenger, where we worked quite closely on his first solo album, and worked on getting vocals together. Sometimes I even did 4-part backing vocal harmonies to his songs. So I really enjoyed that process. I really got to be involved with somebody else’s songs and the process of making it into an album.


Both of you are from Brighton right? How does it compare to London, because there seems to be a very tight-knit music community in Brighton. Would you ever re-locate to London?


I just find with London unless you’re really out of that grassroots or mid-level point, it's very hard to really enjoy the benefits of being part of a music network or the music scene in a city, because you’re generally playing for free, with not many people listening to you, and never seeing the same people again that you shared the stage with.


Do you make an effort to get to know the audience at a gig?


I think it’s important to keep in contact, reply to messages on social media and so on, but you also need to keep a balance. You need to not tie up your own personality too much with your songs. I want the songs to be as much about other people’s lives when they listen to them as well as mine, and also as an artist you need to keep a certain privacy, so it's hard getting that balance sometimes.


Great, well thanks a lot for the interview, and coming down to London!


To find out more about Isobel and take a listen to her music, you can check out her website here