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August List - Interview

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 24 / 2 / 2014

August List - Interview


Malcolm Carter chats to haunting Oxfordshire-based band and husband-and-wife duo the August List about their stunning second EP

It was in June of last year that the husband and wife duo who record under the name of the August List first came to our attention. The unaccompanied voice of Kerraleigh Child that fills the opening thirty seconds of the first song on the couple’s debut EP, ‘Handsome Skin’, was one of those ‘stop what you’re doing’ moments. Kerraleigh’s beautiful but slightly unsettling vocals gave notice that something special was going on here. That opening track, ‘Bird House Song’, develops into a bluesy, foot-stomping slice of Americana, which is the second surprise after hearing such sublime vocals. Kerraleigh and Martin Child were originally from Dorset and currently reside and record in Oxfordshire, but the sound the duo create is so authentic that you are going to find that hard to believe. If the couple had released an album in 2013 and not EPs, then surely they would have taken a few places in the ‘best Americana album of 2013’ end of year lists. While Kerraleigh took the lead vocals on the opening two songs on their debut EP, the third song and the one that seems to really have caught everyone’s attention is ‘Forty-Rod Of Lightnin’ where Martin takes the lead vocally for the first time. Where the sparseness of the opening songs was in some ways compensated by Kerraleigh’s vocals (when Kerraleigh sings you are so transfixed with that voice that the house could be falling down and you wouldn’t notice), Martin’s drawl enhances the rawness in their songs. After two songs when you thought it couldn’t get any better it suddenly does. At the close of ‘Handsome Skin’ the listener really is left wanting more. Yet strangely the EP feels like it is a complete work, a complete statement as it is. There really is no more that the August List had to do; it’s all there in four songs. Don’t think of it as an EP. It’s more of a mini-album. And if anyone has put in a more heartfelt vocal performance in 2013 than Kerraleigh did on the closing song, ‘Homeland’, then it has yet to reach these parts. Fast forward six months or so and the expected album didn’t materialise, but yet another four-track EP was released. ‘High Town Crow’ thankfully, isn’t that far removed musically from the sound the duo created on their debut. The sound is still sparse, but the addition of melodica, harmonium and mellotron certainly goes some way to keep things interesting and displays the duo’s desire to progress and not let their music stand still. Again the duo has used the EP format brilliantly. The four songs featured on this latest release flow so well together and, while the overall sound stays the same as the debut, (although it could be argued that ‘High Town Crow’ has a mellower feel) it was a wise decision to release these eight songs over two separate EPs instead of making a full-length album out of them. It doesn’t show two distinct sides of the duo, but somehow the two sets of songs demand to be heard separately. With two outstanding EPs released within six months we felt we should try to learn a little more about the people who created this music and, without wishing to take anything away from the obvious talents of Martin Child, it has to be said that vocalists like Kerraleigh don’t surface that often so we jumped at the chance to put a few questions to the August List. PB: Can you tell us a little about how and when you met? KC: We met in 2004 when Martin was making an independent film down in Dorset and I was an aspiring actress. The film was a disaster and both of us gave up on our film-making plans, but we became a couple shortly after. PB: Was it a love of the same music that inspired you to form a musical partnership? MC: Yes! Neither of us sung or really played any instruments. I had an old acoustic guitar that I would play some Neil Young songs on every so often in private ,and Kerraleigh didn’t think she could sing a note. I’ve always loved music and loved collecting records. We picked up an album by Jenny Lewis called ‘Rabbit Fur Coat’, and we both fell head over heels for it. So, I worked out some chords for the songs and Kerraleigh started singing them. From there we started learning songs by Nina Nastasia, Dawn Landes, Will Oldham, Holly Golightly and were having fun playing them. We started writing songs as our confidence grew and the next logical step was to look for some gigs! PB: You took the name from a Willard Grant Conspiracy song. Was that band an early influence on your songwriting? MC: I was really influenced by alt. country/Americana stuff. Willard Grant Conspiracy’s album ‘Flying Low’ is one of my all time favourite records. I love the gothic style in the lyrics, really dark stuff, I love Robert Fisher's voice, and I love the acoustic hammering they give songs like ‘Evening Mass’. The darkness and the power of their songs really influenced me. PB: On both EPs the songwriting credits are given as being by the August List. Do you actually write together or is it more one handling the lyrics and one the music? KC: We’ve never had a particular method that works the same for each song. Martin definitely takes the lead when it comes to lyrics – I sometimes write a skeleton of a song and he adds the flesh so to speak, the more interesting imagery and language. He is also stronger on the guitar (I play very basically)m so he may come up with a riff or chord sequence and I will start to mumble a melody that encourages us to write. We then mould the song together, and I’ll add lead instrumentation (harmonica, melodica) to the melody until we are both happy with the results – if one of us doesn’t feel a new song then we drop it. PB: Although obviously linked what do you feel the differences are between the two EPs? MC: We were more confident of the process and what we wanted to achieve second time around. We feel the writing was more cohesive.‘High Town Crow’ also takes its time a bit more than ‘Handsome Skin’, so it is perhaps less immediate. PB: Both EPs have been released in the space of less than a year. Were the songs all written during the same period or were they written with a specific EP in mind? KC: ‘Handsome Skin’ included songs that had evolved with us since we first started writing. ’40 Rod of Lightnin’’ was originally a finger-picked folk song, less frenetic, and I sang all the vocals and played a few very gentle notes on the harmonica! ‘Homeland’ was the newest song on that record ,and we really love the feeling of that track and think it shows how we were changing as a band. All the tracks we recorded for ‘High Town Crow’ were written after the first EP, during the first half of 2013 and we knew straight away that we wanted to put them together on second EP. PB: Was there a reason why you chose to release EPs rather than a full-length album? I’ve heard comments that the EPs sound like complete mini-albums in their own right, and that they maybe wouldn’t have the same impact if part of a longer album. MC: That’s true and we wanted to learn about the recording process before committing to a full-length album. I’m a massive fan of the album format, and so that idea of how tracks flow was put into the construction of the EPs. PB: Kerraleigh, you have pretty unique vocals that are more welcoming than quirky and are a singer. It would be interesting to find out which femake singers you rate highly. KC: Jenny Lewis is and always will be my idol! She has such an overwhelming presence and character on stage and on her records. Her voice oozes colour and confidence and I always love hearing her songs. In the early days of playing music with Martin, it was singers such as Nina Nastasia and Holly Golightly that impacted on me. More recently I have been listening to a lot of Laura Marling, Neko Case and Mary Epworth. PB: So after two EPs are you going to continue with that format or do you have plans to record a full-length album in the near future? KC: We are looking to start recording a full-length album this year. We want to take our time and get it right! PB: Looking back now is there anything you would change about the songs you have already released. Is there anything you would like to have done differently? KC: I think there are always going to be odd vocal inflections or guitar fluffs or whatever that only we can hear! We try to find the balance between a performance that captures the song and striving for perfection that’s bound to send you crazy. PB: Which is your favourite song of those you have recorded? And the one you like playing live the most? MC: I love how ‘Homeland’ sounds. The drums and the pedal steel make it a real epic. As for playing live, I do enjoy ‘Forty-Rod of Lightnin’’ as I get to shout a lot and kick a drum to death. KC: I feel like we won a battle with ‘High Town Crow’ and had to fight to get the recording as we wanted it. After three days and rearranging the studio, we got it in one take and I love how it has come out. At gigs, I love performing this song as you force the audience to wait for the release at the end. PB: You play quite a few gigs, have you played outside of the UK yet or any plans to? Your music would go down well in certain European countries. KC: As of yet, we haven’t ventured outside the UK as a band but it is on our list! PB: When you play live is it as a duo or do you have back-up from other musicians? MC: It’s mainly as a duo, but we try to make as much noise as possible. I play guitar, kick drum and home made tambourine machine while Kerraleigh plays harmonica, melodica, harmonium and percussion. So, it is quite a full sound. Though we would never rule out getting a band together for the odd gig. We try to collaborate with other musicians as much as we can when we record. PB: You’ve been nominated for best duo at the Spiral Awards 2014, so the word is getting out about your music. Are you happy with the response your EPs have so far received? MC: Yes, it’s been great! The Spiral Award nomination came out of the blue and it’s been weird seeing our name alongside Anais Mitchell and Lisa Knapp, people who are in our record collection. So, we feel really honoured to be on the shortlist. Both EPs have been well received by critics and audiences alike, and for that we are also really grateful. It kind of gives you the reassurance that you’re on the right track! PB: Finally what plans do you have for gigs/recordings in 2014? KC: Recording wise we will be concentrating on the album over the course of the year. On the gig front we are looking forward to supporting Lisa Knapp in Witney in May and we have a few shows booked in Oxford and Reading over the next few months, which will be lots of fun! PB: Thank you.

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