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Eighteenth Day Of May - Interview

  by Anthony Strutt

published: 15 / 3 / 2006

Eighteenth Day Of May - Interview


Six London-based psychedelic folk band the Eighteenth Day of May released their self-titled debut album to much acclaim last year. Anthony Strutt speaks to guitarist and sitar player Richard Olson and bassist Mark Nicholas on their first full British tour

The Eighteenth Day of May are a six-piece, London based group. Originally formed as an acoustic trio consisting of American Alison Brice (vocals, flute), Swede Richard Olson (acoustic guitar, harmonica and sitar) and Ben Phillipson (guitar and mandolin), they combine elements of traditional and contemporary folk with a psychedelic underground rock sound. The trio started out as an acoustic act, spending the summer and autumn of 2003 making home demo recordings , but then early in 2004 went electric adding the rhythm section of defunct fellow folk act Of Arrowe Hill, Mark Nicholas (bass), and Karl Sabino(drums,autoharp) and then lastly ex-Saloon player Alison Cotton (viola). The Eighteenth Day of May's self-titled debut album was released to much critical acclaim in October 2005. Pennyblackmusic spoke to Richard Olson and Mark Nicholas at a London date on the Eighteenth Day of May's first national UK tour in January, supporting Robin Hitchcock and the Minus 3, whom included 3 members of R.E.M. including Peter Buck. PB : (To Richard Olson) You're all from different countries ? How did you all meet ? RO : Alison Brice and I got to know Ben through mutual friends. We started talking at a party in East London, and we said that we would try and write something together and so we did. After that, I bumped into Mark, who I already knew and he said he would play bass for us. He knew Karl, and so we were off. PB : You, Alison and Ben worked as a three piece for a while. Did you ever play live ? RO : .No, we didn't . We never thought about it. We never thought that we would be a band band as such. We thought we would mess about with some songs and we wrote 7 or 8 songs and made home demos of them. When Mark came in, we started messing about with a more eletctric sound and then we thought "Fuck it ! We might as well start to play live." PB : Why did you choose to work in the folk medium then ? MN : It wasn't like we chose it. When Alison and Richard met Ben, they started talking about Fairport Convention, the Incredible String Band and Sandy Denny and bonded. I was into those groups as well. PB : They are fashionable again now. MN : They weren't back then. It is very strange that it is all the rage now. When started playing live there were people just giggling at us. PB : I assume there was an arrogant indie attitude towards you all. MN : There was totally, man, but quickly after that people got into it andstarted to turn around and to take notice. RO : I personally think it is because we mix it up a bit,. The fact that we have good haircuts and two women in the band probably also helps (Laughs). PB : And you have a blonde lead singer and a girl viola player as well. RO : You can' t go wrong? A fantasy for everyone (Laughs) ! PB : Alison Brice is originally from New Orleans. What made her come to Britain ? RO : She has been here for quite a while. We have known each other for a long time. It was because of personal reasons. I think she was a bit fed up with the States at the time, and didn't think she was getting anywhere. PB : The instruments you play are traditional folk instruments. You don't really see them very often in a live setting. RO : No. PB : Did you use them all from the start ? RO : The flute was always there from the start, and then the harmonica and then the strum stick. I'm a really big fan of a big sound and, with so many of us in the band, it is fun to mess about with them. PB : You play a lot of sitar on the album, Richard. As the sitar has so many strings, does that make playing it hard ? RO : I had a teacher and before he left for Spain after three years of teaching me he told me that if you want to play sitar it's a lifetime's commitment, but you always make a sound and you can play with what you have. PB : The album has been released on Hannibal, which is part of Rykodisc. Both Of Arrowe Hill and Saloon released albums through Track and Field. Was there any reason why you didnt go with them instead ? MN : It was because of the head of the English part of Rykodisc. We went with them because he was so keen on us. He came to us and really wanted to sign us. RO : Steven Drew and Paul Wright at Track and Field are great people, but it came to us at the right place at the right time. He was really keen, and you don't meet many people like that. It is also such a respected label. PB : As you come from a folk angle, have you played any of the folk festivals like the Cambridge Folk Festival ? MN : Not yet. RO : I think they will open up to us though. PB : What you are doing has that 60's/70's sound, but you also update it to sound modern. MN : I hope so. RO : In some ways I don't think what we do is retro. A lot of people try to get us in that pocket, but I don't see that. We use drone and feedback. PB : What age is your audience ? I can imagine it is everyone from people in their 20's and up until their 60's. MN : It depends upon where we play. On this tour with Robin, the audience has been older, but we have played Track and Field shows where everyone has been younger than us. PB : I thought 'Uncut' would fall in love with you guys. RO : They gave us a good review but are yet to do a feature. PB : How did this tour Robin Hitchcock and the Minus 3 come about ? MN : Robin came down to one of our shows at the Water Rats in London and we gave him a really early demo and he said to us that he really wanted us to come and play some dates with them. RO : And we said "Yeah, sure, we will come and do a few dates with you" and he said "No, you are going to do them all." MN : He has been really supportive. PB : What are your future plans? RO : I think, we are all itchy to do another album but we all need to finish promoting our first record off. We have a batch of new songs but we all have lives , jobs and other things to deal with but in an ideal world we would like to be working on this all the time. PB : Thank you.

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Eighteenth Day Of May - Interview

Eighteenth Day Of May - Interview

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