There are ten musicians in the Songs of Separation gang, hailing from across Scotland and England. Some of you will know some of us… but in case there are a few of us you’ve not encountered before, here’s an introduction in the form of a short, quirky interview.
Today we feature fantastic fiddle singer and banjo player Rowan Rheingans, and there will be more interviews from the gang over the next few weeks. Please keep in touch or join our newsletter if you’d like to find out more!
What made you want to start playing music?
My mum and dad both played music while me and my sister were growing up; so folk music, song and dance were very much part of my childhood. I really liked messing around on lots of different instruments when I was a child – I used to make up long musical stories on the piano, usually about the wild animals I wished I could have as pets, as I recall. And I’ve always loved singing. My first song, as a toddler on the Appalachian Dulcimer, was about my sister. It was titled ‘Oh, little Anna, won’t you climb a tree in the Autumn?. It made her feel sick when I played it, unfortunately.
What made you choose your instrument?
Well, as my dad is a violin maker, me and my sister got some very tiny fiddles fairly early on! I don’t remember specifically choosing to play the fiddle, but I do remember becoming more serious about it in my late teens and seeking out what I wanted to play and how I wanted to sound, which led me to Sweden to study fiddle when I was 19. Similarly, I picked up the banjo kind of by accident – lots of them were lying around at home – when I was around 15, and it’s sort of always been there since then, in various ways. First I played more classical style, up-picking, then my dad showed me more old-time style, so now I have a mixture of approaches depending on what I want the banjo to do. Does anyone ‘choose’ to sing? I’m not sure, I think it just comes out. I’m happy with fiddle and banjo and voice being my tools and I’m glad they kind of chose me.
Who would you say have been your influences (musical and otherwise)?
I had some very inspirational teachers when I was in Sweden and their words have stuck with me – less about specifics of playing style and more about a general approach to music. Otherwise, I’ve always been inspired by people I’ve played with over the years – bouncing off other musicians and finding togetherness is always very energising. I listen to a range of different music, which I find all have their own impression on my interpretation of traditional music or the writing of new music – jazz, blues, minimalism, contemporary classical, dance music, “world music”, early music, whatever.
I like to find space in music, room to breathe and wriggle around, so I’m attracted and inspired by artists who do that successfully.
Tell us one unusual thing about you
I made my first asparagus bed last week.
What do you want the Songs of Separation project to achieve?
I want this project to make some really good music! By this, I mean some ambitious, creative, interesting and thought-provoking music, drawing on the rich possibilities of our different traditions but not being bound by them either. I’d like us to make a record that is ‘of this time’, even if we are drawing on some very old sources; a record that has something to say about living England, Scotland, our many different places, now. I’ve been inspired by the theme to research and re-visit traditional material but also to write new songs, but I’m being careful not to over-anticipate what we will create: a lot of what will be so exciting musically, in this project, is what will happen when we are all thrown together for a week on beautiful Eigg! I’ve not worked with most of the other (amazing) women in this group, so it’s going to be very exciting to see what comes out.
What matters to you about the project? Why do you want to be part of it?
Apart from wanting to be part of such a great group of musicians, song-writers, singers and artists, it does matter to me that it’s an all-female group. Although I’m lucky enough to often perform and work with groups of women, it’s still an unusual thing to ‘see’ on the folk scene, or most other music scenes for that matter, where-as an all-male band or management team or sound crew is pretty normal. Anyway, that’s all been said a thousand times I’m sure! What I’m also interested in how us being women affects the work artistically – how our specific perspectives and life experiences from different generations might gather and what we will make.
Got any news? (e.g. new reviews, new albums or songs out, anything that you want to share)
The Lady Maisery tour starts this weekend and goes through till the end of May and then I’m on the road with Anna as the Rheingans Sisters in June, which keeps me busy till Eigg! Oh yes and the lovely Nancy Kerr and The Sweet Visitor Band have a double-single out now too, which is downloadable or you can buy it on vinyl….oooh!