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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

An interview with the Smoke Fairies

Smoke fairies play the guitar with their eyes closed, and sing like heavenly creatures. The Sussex girls have toured with artists such as Bryan Ferry and Laura Marling. I caught them after they'd just completed their own headline tour. Here's my interview with Smoke Fairies.

Written by Helen Martin

 Georgia Coote
Illustration by Georgia Coote

You may have seen my review of Smoke Fairies, with Sea of Bees supporting, last month in Bristol. ‘I’m telling you when they play together live on stage, it feels, well… I will have to use a simile – here follows: You know that advert for Ireland, when the lady is singing in her Enya (is it her?) voice and the camera is sweeping over the ridiculously green fields and coastlines of Ireland? A bit cringe but you get the image, it feels like you are the sweeper – as in you are sweeping/flying over amazing landscapes. Possibly wearing some tweed, definitely a cape with a hood. The music is more The Cranberries than Enya, but the flying sensation fits.’ I was lucky enough to get hold of Katherine and Jessica, just as their tour finished. I asked them a whole bunch of questions, on a range of subjects; from Jack White to New Orleans and Sussex.

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Could you introduce yourself for us please?
We are Katherine and Jessica from the Smoke Fairies

And what is your music like?
A concoction of harmonies, riffs, blues, folk, long drives, late nights, nostalgia, stories of loss, dark thoughts, changing light, memories.

When and how did you get together?
k.We met at school when we were about 11 and started singing together as a way to make the school years more interesting. It soon became pretty obsessive with us playing at every opportunity.

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Do you miss Sussex?
K. Sometimes living in London gets a bit intense and I think deep down we both love getting out to the countryside and back near the sea. I miss the space and the ability to get out on your own. But London has more opportunities and of course we are drawn to all the activity and creativity happening here. It would be equally hard to tear myself away from here now that it has become a home base.

Smoke Fairies Georgia
Illustration by Georgia Coote

What was Canada and New Orleans like?
K. We lived in New Orleans for a year at quite a pivotal time in our lives and we absorbed a lot of influences from the environment and people. We used to hang out in a coffee shop where we were given gigs and a lot of musicians from across the States would pass through. We felt free to explore our sound. We were affected musically as well as by the heartache that came from leaving it behind. Canada was a less focused and more calamitous year and that came out in the music we were writing at that time, but again the environment was the main influence seeping in. From our apartment we could see the mountains stretching off into the distance as well as the sky line of the city. Those places were important in our development, but nowadays we are just as much influenced by the heavy air of London, as England has really become our home.

Who have you toured with? What was it like?
J: We have toured with a range of artists; Bryan Ferry, The Handsome Family, Richard Hawley and Laura Marling. All have been completely different experiences due to the venues, the audiences and the way we were travelling. For some tours we have driven ourselves which requires a lot of organisation.

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And what is touring as the headline band like?
K. It has given us a lot more confidence as performers. It is a completely different feeling to being the support band, there is more of the feeling that you are able to own the stage and that brings a sensation of immense freedom and enjoyment. It’s very satisfying to be able to headline shows now.

What was it like working with Jack White?
K. At first we couldn’t really believe we were there, but it was amazing how relaxed we felt once we got into the studio and we had never had the chance to record with analogue equipment before so that was really interesting.

Who would you like to work with next?
K. I think any musician dreams about working with many of the people they admire.

What’s coming up for you?
J. At the moment we are getting ready for festival season, writing the new album and making plans to release ‘Through Low Light and Trees’ in the US.

How are you enjoying your successes?
J. It is great at the moment but we will always want more. We are pleased with ‘Through Low Light and Trees’ and the way it was received but we are eager to move on to the next album.

What inspires you?
J. Sometimes it will be music but mostly ideas from songs will come from a combination of experience, books, tv, the weather, the seasons…. Sometimes one idea will strangely keep presenting itself in different ways, forcing you to write about it.

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Do you write your own music?
K. Yes. We write it all. Except, recently we have been experimenting with some covers. We worked on a cover of Killing Joke’s Requiem and played it a lot on our last tour. We ended up releasing it on the B Side of our special edition tour vinyl of our single Strange Moon Rising. We also recorded a cover of Neil Young‘s Alabama. We are hoping to expand the covers we do into more unexpected genres, so there will hopefully be more on the way. The Killing Joke cover was really inspiring as it was probably a surprising direction for us to take, but it gives you a different perspective on your own songs and how you could think about writing songs in another way.

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Where did you learn to play the guitar like that?
K. I think its just taken us a really long time to develop our style. Its a bit like singing I think, it takes a while to find your voice and feel confident. That came mostly from listening to a lot of music and watching folk and blues musicians playing live. Sitting in the front row and watching their fingers. I don’t think our style of playing is particularly conventional or based on a technical background.

Where do you see yourself in ten years?
K. Hopefully still alive and reaching more people with our music, maybe I’ll be able to get a dog, but I’m not sure with all the touring.

Smoke Fairies latest album, Through Low Light And Trees, is out now on V2 Records.

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