Tuesday, 19 August 2014

INTERVIEW: Northern Oak


I have the great pleasure of presenting my interview with Chris Mole and Catie Williams of Northern Oak - progressive folk metallers and the pioneers of the heavy flute sound, from my home town Sheffield.

Northern Oak were formed in 2006 and have released 2 albums to date.  Their third album - Of Roots and Flesh - is due to be released on the 4th October and was funded through an hugely successful KickStarter campaign.

Can you tell us about Northern Oak?

Catie: We're a progressive folk metal band based in Sheffield, South Yorkshire. We're made up of 1 woman and 5 men playing flutes, melodeon, violin, keyboards, guitar, bass, drums and vocals.

Can you tell us a little about each member of the band?

Catie: I think one of the great things about the band is that musically we come from a variety of backgrounds - Digby and I have classical backgrounds, I'm also influenced by folk music, Rich previously played in indie bands, and I met Wib when we played in a salsa band together. So it's a real melting pot of musical influences which I think comes across in our music, hopefully in a good way!

Chris: I think we all have quite eclectic tastes, which makes our songwriting and music sound quite diverse- I grew up listening to classic rock, classical and lots of other stuff thanks to my dad’s CD collection, and then gradually got into more and more extreme metal at University.  We’ll often mess about in the practice room playing funk jams, or just riffing on ‘My Sharona’ by the Knack!

What inspired the band name Northern Oak?

Catie: I believe that was when Chris and some of the other founding members went on a mid-winter walking trip to the Peak District and were insipred by their surroundings to start a folk metal band, and the band name was also born out of that trip.

Chris: The name was suggested by our first keyboardist Elliot after the Peak District trip- we’d camped out on a hillside, in the middle of a forest, in February. Only one of us had a sleeping bag. With hindsight, it was a terrible idea, but it was a great experience that gave us the genesis of the band name.

How would you describe the bands sound?

Catie: Predominately a mix of black and folk metal but with a bit of doom, medieval, prog and classical thrown in for good measure!

You recently recorded Of Roots and Flesh, an album funded through Kickstarter. Can you tell us about the album?

Catie: The overall theme of the new album is struggle, mostly struggle between humans and nature, and the title Of Roots and Flesh reflects that theme. Our songwriting has always been a bit of a group effort - Chris and Rich have great abilities to turn ideas and riffs into structures that the rest of us can build on, with Martin finishing off with the lyrics. We recorded it at Skyhammer Studio with Chris Fielding who is absolutely amazing, and we couldn't be happier with the finished article. We knew that the artwork would have to be very special and were extremely fortunate to have Sheffield-based Augustinas Naslenas (http://www.vandenis.net/) on board who has really come up with the goods!

Chris: I’m incredibly proud of how good the album sounds - we asked a couple of bands that we’d played with about producers who were good to work with, and Chris Fielding got glowing reviews from all of them. He was a consummate professional, and really helped us make the best-sounding album that we possibly could.

How did you find the crowdfunding process and would you consider funding releases this way again?

Catie: It was pretty nerve wracking to be honest, I was on tenterhooks most of the time obsessively refreshing the page to see what the total was! We planned the campaign very carefully though and took time to get a balance between offering some awesome rewards and not spending all the money on those awesome rewards! We also didn't want to set the target too high and miss it my miles but didn't want to undersell ourselves by setting it too low. In the end we exceeded the target and we were all completely overwhelmed by the response.

Chris: It was terrifying! I did a lot of reading and research before the campaign started to try and get an idea of how to approach it, and asked some Kickstarter-savvy friends for advice, but nothing can really prepare for how scary it is placing the fate of your creative enterprise into the hands of the public. I remember Rich getting quite nervous at the first gig of the tour that we’d booked to coincide with the campaign- he was worrying that we wouldn’t make the target even though it had only been running for 3 days.  Thankfully he was wrong! I'd definitely consider crowdfunding a future release, but not for a while- we don't want to be in a position where we need to ask our fans for help with every album that we want to record. It depends on how people respond to Of Roots and Flesh, really!

What motivates you to make music?

Catie: For me it's the feeling of creating something new, something that's never been heard before. As much as I like playing classical music, in some ways your creativity is restricted to interpretation and arrangement, so it's a great feeling to be able to create something from scratch and then see it get a positive reaction from people.

Chris: I enjoy trying to create an atmosphere, to transport the listener to a particular scene or story, whether in nature or inside my head. If anybody listens to our music and feels the same sense of awe for the natural world that I often feel when I’m writing it, then that’s all the motivation I need.

Which artists have influenced you?

Catie: Too many to mention! In terms of metal bands, Moonsorrow are certainly a huge influence on me. They're one of those bands who have that ability to transport you somewhere else with their music.

Chris: Since we all have such different tastes, we all have very different influences- I’m personally inspired by Agalloch, earlier Opeth (anything before Heritage, basically) and older artists like Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd.

We have been fortunate enough to see you live a number of times, what do you enjoy most about playing live and which Northern Oak song do you most enjoy playing?

Catie: That moment when everything comes together on stage, everyone is playing their best and you can see the crowd are really into it - if you could bottle that moment and sell it you'd be super-rich! My favourite songs to play live are Dark of Midsummer and Nerthus, both have longish intros which build up before the heaviness kicks in!

Chris: I love throwing myself into each song and trying to really get the crowd going- the intro for the Dark of Midsummer is great for that, but the heavy tremolo-picking section in Taken is a close second!

What’s next for Northern Oak?

Catie: We're in the process of writing some new songs as one of the rewards for some of our backers. They've chosen the theme so I'm looking forward to seeing how the songs develop. Other than that we're preparing for the album launch gig and hopefully a bit of a mini-tour in winter.

Check out the recently released lyric video for Nerthus:



The band will be launching their new album Of Roots and Flesh on 4th October with a gig at Corporation, Sheffield.  Tickets are just £5!  Buy them here.

Of Roots and Flesh can be pre-ordered from Bandcamp here and a couple of tracks are available to listen to already.



Follow the band on:

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Originally posted by Emma Sheridan on Femetalism.