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Kelly Oliver - Interview

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 8 / 3 / 2016

Kelly Oliver - Interview


As she prepares for a tour to promote her forthcoming second album, 'Bedlam’, Folkstock artist Kelly Oliver speaks to Malcolm Carter about how she started in music and got into the folk scene

With her second album, ‘Bedlam’, pencilled-in with an early March release date and a tour which runs until the end of the same month, it seemed like the right time to put a few questions to Kelly Oliver, yet another mid-twenties singer/songwriter who is gaining a lot of interest with the folk crowd. Like Kelly’s debut album, ‘This Land’ and her first EP, ‘Far From Home’, her latest collection of ten songs will appear on the Folkstock imprint. That fact, and given that four of the songs which appear on ‘Bedlam’ which have been already been released throughout the last twelve months have all gained plays on BBC Radio 2 (Mark Radcliffe and Bob Harris no less), one assumes that Kelly’s music is likely to neatly fit the folk tag. But like other emerging British artists who are also labelled as ‘folk’ the music Kelly Oliver has to offer can hardly be contained in one genre. Obviously Kelly’s musical heart is beating to what most music lovers would label folk music but, like some of her contemporaries, there’s a lot more to the music that Kelly creates than that label suggests. Hearing fresh, young talent keeping the folk flag flying for those who can still remember folk’s glory days is heart-warming; discovering those same artists introducing a whole new audience to the joys of folk-based music by adding their own unique vision to the music is even more rewarding. Unusually, but shrewdly, Kelly and the guys at Folkstock have chosen three different producers to work on ‘Bedlam’. Stu Hanna, of English folk duo Megson lent his skills to a handful of tracks, Lauren Deakin Davies, the young talented multi-instrumentalist who produced Kelly’s debut ‘This Land’ is back again and Nigel Stonier (Thea Gilmore and whose 2014 album ‘Built for Storms’ should have made him a household name) lends his production skills to a brace of songs. Maybe the extra texture and space afforded to the songs by utilizing the talents of three different producers is one of the reasons why ‘Bedlam’ is sure to get noticed upon its full release. Without a doubt Kelly Oliver is going to widen her fan base with her current tour, and we managed to put a few questions to her as she set out for the road. PB: Can you please begin by telling us how you decided on a career in music? Are we correct in thinking that you were in your 20s before you considered taking that path? KO: Yes, I was 23 and I was away travelling in South America. It was when I was in Rio that I decided when I got home I wanted to pursue a career in music. My friends and family had encouraged me for years to sing and play my own music, so it took a while before I was brave enough to try it! I had no contacts in the industry and no example of a route to follow. I started at the very beginning and just went for it. PB: Do you come from a musical family? There’s a distinct Irish flavour to your music which doesn’t sound forced, like it has been passed down to you. KO: My family aren't musical but my dad used to play records and tapes in the house, so my early influences are musicians like R.E.M, the Pogues, Alanis Morrisette and Bob Dylan. My grandmother was from Tralee in Ireland, and I do feel like my love for Irish culture and music has been passed on to me through her! My grandmother on my mum's side used to like country and western music, so I grew up listening to that as well. If there is an Irish flavour in my music, that might also be to do with me listening to Irish singers like Cara Dillon and Paul Brady, and learning from their vocal style. PB: There’s no denying the folk influence in your music. Again the folk leanings flow so naturally to the listener. Was there ever any doubt in your mind that you should take the folk route? KO: I stumbled across the folk scene really. I had no idea it even existed, and it was by chance that I was recommended to approach my local folk club Hitchin Folk Club, to ask them for a support slot. Hitchin Folk Club is one of the most prestigious in the whole of the UK, and it was right on my doorstep! The organisers Keiron and Maureen Jones helped me so much, and gave me many opportunities including a short set at Cambridge Folk Festival, the biggest folk festival in Europe. Once I had been introduced to the scene, I never had any doubt that it was the scene I wanted to progress in. PB: We’re in an era, again, when there’s an abundance of extremely talented young British female folk singer/songwriters. Are you finding it hard to get your music heard? KO: Perhaps because there is so much great music out there, people are motivated to keep listening and keep discovering new artists. I've been very lucky that people have been willing to give my music a listen. I'm so grateful for the support of Mark Radcliffe, Bob Harris and Paul Sexton on BBC Radio 2 and Chris Hawkins on BBC 6 Music who have all given my music airplay, as well as many regional BBC and local radio stations. 'The Telegraph' also reviewed my debut album 'This Land', and gave it 4*. Anyone who listens to my music, reviews it, gives it airplay - they are all helping me so much and I would never be able to progress in my career without it. PB: Your forthcoming album, ‘Bedlam’ is being released by Folkstock Records. How did you make the connection with them? KO: Folkstock Records was initially created to release my debut EP 'Far From Home'! My manager, Helen Meissner, is the founder of Folkstock Records and we began working together shortly after my first gig at Hitchin Folk Club in the summer of 2013. PB: Like many of the other young musicians you are keeping folk music alive and exciting for a new generation but what do you feel your music brings to the genre? KO: Thank you, that's very kind of you! I would hope to be bringing a contemporary sound to folk music. My foundations are in traditional folk music, but I listen to indie, rock, country, Americana, pop - I think all these influences seep through into my own music in some way or another. As an artist you want to appeal to as many people as you can, so if someone listens to my music and thinks "I wasn't really a fan of folk music, but now I'll give it a try", that would be a brilliant outcome! PB: It’s been a couple of years since your debut EP and a year since ‘This Land’, your debut album. Would you agree that ‘Bedlam’, while still retaining those folk roots, has seen your sound evolving? KO: I hope so; I would always strive for my sound to evolve and develop. I've worked a lot on my guitar technique over the last year and I focused a lot on the instrumental side of 'Bedlam', as well as the lyrics. 'Bedlam' has more production and features more instruments, but it also has a few stripped back tracks to guide the transition from 'This Land', which had very minimal production. PB: Do you write all your own songs or collaborate with others? Who would be your ideal writing companion? KO: I usually write all my own songs, but in the production of 'Bedlam', I co-wrote with my producers Nigel Stonier and Stu Hanna. I loved the experience and it's something I'd really like to do again. I've rediscovered Tom Odell recently - his 'Another Love' is stunning in my opinion, so it would be intriguing to co-write with someone who produces that kind of emotion, musically and lyrically. I'd love to co-write with the Staves as well; I think their album 'If I Was' is my favourite of 2015. PB: Your lyrics, like most in the folk idiom, tell stories. Do you use personal experiences as the basis for your lyrics? KO: A lot of my songs are loosely based on a personal experience of mine, but then I use poetic license and fiction to romanticise them and make them more interesting for the listener. I like to write about family members and friends, and I enjoy putting their experiences into songs as well. I think if you are writing about a personal experience, it's important to portray it in a way that it can be relatable to any listener. When people say "You know your song 'Diamond Girl', that's exactly about me!", it's so satisfying, I love hearing that. PB: Hohner is sponsoring you and the distinctive sound of their harmonicas can be heard on many of your songs. How did the sponsorship come about? KO: We got in touch with Sutherland Trading who distribute their harmonicas to the UK. Endorsing a young female soloist was a different marketing angle for Hohner and it happened very early on in my career, so I've been able to use the harmonicas they sent me for nearly all of my live gigs and recordings. PB: Are both ‘Far From Home’ and ‘This Land’ still available? If so in which formats? KO: Both 'Far From Home' and 'This Land' are available digitally from iTunes, Amazon and Bandcamp, and physical copies of 'This Land' can either be bought online from Folkstock Records' bandcamp page, from Blackwell's Bookshop in Oxford and Fish Records or at any live gig or festival that I play. PB: You start a UK tour in late January, is this your first headlining tour? KO: Yes, as well as it being my 'Bedlam' album tour, it's my very first headline tour! I'm so excited for it. I love travelling all over the country to visit new venues and play to different audiences. I've supported a lot of artists over the past two and a half years, so to actually be going on my own headline tour is amazing. PB: Will you have any other musicians on stage with you for the tour or is it just you, your guitar and harmonica? KO: For the most part it is just me, my guitar, my harmonica, and the addition of a stomp box which I got for Christmas! I am playing for the third time at the prestigious The Convent venue near Stroud however, and I'm thrilled to be joined by Lukas Drinkwater on bass and Niall Murphy on fiddle for that particular gig. This gig will also be available to stream live through The Convent's Netgig streaming system, so anyone can buy a ticket and watch it at home. PB: Do you have any plans to tour outside of the UK, Europe for example? KO: No plans currently, but I would absolutely love to tour around Europe, Australia, America...it's definitely in the pipe line for the future. PB: Finally, which artists do you listen to when you are not working on your own music and are there any you take inspiration from? KO: So many different ones! While I was writing 'Bedlam', I was listening to a lot of Old Crow Medicine Show and I recently got into Joni Mitchell after people kept asking me if I was influenced by her! I'm always buying new CDs and listening to new artists. I enjoy a lot of different styles of music, and my music collection is quite broad I think. It's great when you come across a new artist that you really love. PB: Thank you.

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Kelly Oliver - Interview

Kelly Oliver - Interview

Kelly Oliver - Interview

Kelly Oliver - Interview

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Bedlam (2016)
Impressive second album from Stevenage-based Kelly Oliver, which finds her expanding her folksy sound by using three different producers which, maybe surprisingly, results in a cohesive set of songs

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