When it comes to the trinity of Folk, Country and Americana my preferences have always been towards Americana, through which I then discovered Country. For some reason I’d never been that interested in folk music - in a straight shootout I would always pick Neil Young over Bob Dylan. Things move on and although I cannot see a time when Bob beats Neil, I have started to immerse myself in finding out more about Folk music. One of the key reasons for this is seeing Josienne and Ben playing live at Union Music Store (an awesome event in conjunction with Bob’s Folk Show & Record Store Day). They only played a fifteen minute set, but I was blown away by Josienne’s beautiful voice and Ben’s amazing guitar. I have since become a fan of their second album The Seas Are Deep and have my pre-order in for new EP Homemade Heartache (the tune of the same name even sounds a bit country!).
I hope you like what you read and please do take the time to listen to Josienne and Ben’s music.
What are your musical backgrounds? Has ‘folk’ always been your genre of choice?
JOSIENNE: From the age of about 3 I was convinced I was a fantastic singer. My parents inform me back then I was average at best, however they did not discourage me from bursting into song at the slightest provocation. I was heavily involved in all things musical at school and then aged 15 I started having formal, classical singing lessons; I also took up the tenor saxophone. I went off to university believing I wanted to be a classical singer, but a few disastrous recitals knocked that notion right out of my head. I had started to do a bit of songwriting while at university, and realising that it was less work and more fun I thought it more my thing. Folk music has always been a genre that I’ve been drawn to because of its often dark subject matter, its wordiness and the element of storytelling appeals to me both as a singer and a songwriter.
BEN: For me, I started classical guitar lessons at the age of 6. I continued with them up through the grades, but reached the usual teenage thing of wanting to play louder and heavier, so started playing (steel string) acoustic and electric aswell. My parents, I think, tried to influence me a bit by taking me to see the region’s local guitar celebrity, Gordon Giltrap, at the town arts centre, which is where my interest in folk and fingerstyle guitar was probably first picked up. I didn’t really do much guitar playing whilst at uni, and spent too much time studying (Maths) and making very mediocre electronic music! After university I played in a few indie bands, and eventually met Josienne who suggested I listen to Fairport Convention… Folk was always there in the background, but never something I’d embraced much beyond the odd bit of fingerstyle guitar.
Your last released collaboration ‘The Seas are Deep’ was an album of ‘traditional’ folk songs – how did you go about choosing the songs?
JOSIENNE: Most were ones that we’d heard other people perform, that resonated with us in some way – usually because they’re quite sad! Ben was keen to put on an instrumental piece he’d taken from a Celtic guitar album, and I begrudgingly allowed him to, mainly because then we could use the title “The Seas Are Deep” as the title for the album! Silver Dagger we stole from Martha Tilston – we saw her do it with solo violin at St Giles’ Church, processing down the aisle, so switched violin for mandolin.
BEN: Some of them were new tunes that we hadn’t ever played and just needed arranging. Hares on The Mountain, for example, was something off the Davey Graham/Shirley Collins album – he does this basic guitar thing which I ended up pulling apart and playing it with a more involved guitar line.
I have seen you only briefly live, is it an intense experience like the record?
JOSIENNE: Yes – a lot of people say it’s much more intense than the record. We tend to choose quite gut-wrenchingly melancholy tunes, and then play them in quite a gut-wrenchingly melancholy way! So yes, quite intense.
BEN: I think live it’s a lot different. With the CD it’s easy to talk over or ignore, whilst when we’re sat in front of you it’s hard not to get caught up in the moment.
You are based in London, is there a big ‘folk’ scene? Where should people go to see good folk music?
JOSIENNE: In short, yes. There are various pockets for every flavour of folk. The Lantern Society is a bi-monthly night at The Betsey Trotwood that is much more Americana and Country-infused, whereas somewhere like The Goose Is Out or The Green Note tend towards the more traditional.
BEN: There’s loads going on for every interpretation of the word “folk” – the bigger London-based acts tend towards and around nights run by The Magpie’s Nest, which deals with more folk and anti-folk. Newer acts, especially the younger ones, can be found at The Folkroom, a night I help run every other Wednesday in The Queen’s Head on Acton Street.
What are you working on at the moment?
JOSIENNE: We’re working on our new EP, “Homemade Heartache” – out on July 21st comprising of four folk/country tracks. Our previous two releases were quite traditional in essence, and quite intense in mood. This EP was meant to be a short respite from the doom and gloom we have previously been pedalling! There’s no denying that’s what we’re best at, but it’s not all we want to do.
BEN: We’ve just finished a free download to go with Homemade Heartache – a cover of Gillian Welch’s “I Want To Sing That Rock And Roll”, which kind of completes the circle. There’s a lot of Gillian and Dave in the EP, since we’re both massive fans of theirs, and by adding a straight cover is pretty much a hat-tip to those that have influenced our writing. Oh, and mandolin practice.
Do you have recurring themes that come up in your own songs/lyrics?
JOSIENNE: Yes: loneliness, misery and death. In seriousness though, I do seem to tend towards the melancholy, and “love and the loss of it” is a recurring theme throughout my songwriting. It’s not that I’m a terribly sad person, it’s that sad songs are easier to write than happy ones.
Ben tweets a lot about the records he is listening to – do you share tastes? Who are your personal favourites?
JOSIENNE: We have a record collection in common, then a massive divergence! In common, probably Fairport Convention, Joan Baez, Nick Drake, Johnny Cash, Gillian Welch, Dave Rawlings, Old Crow Medicine Show, CSNY, Joni Mitchell, Martin Simpson/June Tabor, Paul Simon, Elvis Costello. Personally, I love Peter Green, Gordon Lightfoot, James Taylor, Don Mclean, Eddie Reader and Fairground Attractiion…more modern like Sons Of Noel And Adrian, Pete Greenwood, Kings Of Convenience
BEN: Ummm…. the usual guitar-like things: I’m a big fan of Gilmour, Knopfler etc, a lot of the folkier things like Nic Jones, Pierre Bensusan, Gordon Giltrap, whilst new things tend to be eclectic. Squarepusher’s Ufabulum arrived recently and has been in heavy rotation. I’m also a fan of The White Stripes, lots of things from Warp (Boards of Canada, Aphex and the like) and was recently introduced to Erased Tapes Records, which I suspect I may be looking to get into much more heavily.
Ben – who are your favourite singers and why?
BEN: Josienne Clarke. She’s sitting next to me??!!!?!? Jeff Buckley, because he’s the only other singer I’ve heard that brings a lump to the throat.
Josienne – who are your favourite guitarists and why?
JOSIENNE: When first asked this question I naturally thought of Ben, he plays the guitar exactly how I would like to be able to, but that doesn’t make for a very interesting answer so in second place there is Peter Green; I know he’s a blues guitarist, but he’s really the only one who’s guitar playing alone I’ve got in any way involved with.
One record you both love?
Leige and Leif by Fairport Convention (obviously)
How did you find each other?
BEN: She was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar.
JOSIENNE: I still work as a waitress in a cocktail bar, but that’s not how we met.
BEN: I was playing electric guitar in a relatively non-descript indie band, who were having some mixes done by a friend of Josienne’s. I’d popped over to collect a hard drive and was playing some Bert Jansch on the chap’s Martin guitar to pass the time. The question was then asked if I could play acoustic like that, what was I doing in a crap indie band! I replied that I didn’t know any folk singers, and he promptly introduced me to Josienne. We did our first gig a month later.
For those looking for an introduction to Josienne & Ben, what two tracks best sum up your output to date?
JOSIENNE + BEN: “Hares On The Mountain” and “Done”
What are your 3 fave Dylan albums?
JOSIENNE: The Times They Are a-Changin’, Freewheelin’, and Bringin’ It All Back Home
BEN: There’s a great bootleg of the Halloween concert that’s probably my favourite thing of his that isn’t strictly his – amazing duet with Joan doing “Mama You’ve Been On My Mind” which is way up there. Then Highway 61, then Times They Are a Changin’.