August 2016 Featured Artist: Charm of Finches
Melting Pot puts the spotlight on artists within the community that are doing something special.
Charm of Finches, aka sisters Mabel and Ivy, aged 16 and 13, emerge from an eclectic musical environment of classical strings and Celtic folk, and have been likened to artists as diverse as Danish chamber songstress Agnes Obel, First Aid Kit and Gillian Welch. Since releasing their debut EP “Home” in 2014, the “singing finches” have played Australian folk and roots festival stages and last year won the 2015 Darebin Music Feast Songwriter’s Award with their song “Paper and Ink”. This weekend Charm of Finches release their debut album “Staring at the Starry Ceiling” which features the duo’s signature angelic sibling harmonies, with a distinct chamber-folk flavour coming from the instrumentation: cello, violin, guitar, ukulele, lyre, banjo, piano, glockenspiel: all played by the sisters. Melting Pot’s Liam Dixon was lucky to catchup with them this week in the lead up to their album launch.
Liam: Thanks so much Mabel and Ivy for your time. You must be very busy with school, rehearsals, radio interviews and tv interviews at the moment.
Mabel: Yes! Being a school kid really does sometimes get in the way of being musicians, but preparations are going well for our album launch!
L: For those that don’t know your story, how did Charm of Finches start?
M: Well, we have always sung together, and making up harmonies has been a kind of game we’ve played since we were little. We started busking in Fairfield outside the organic veggie shop our dad used to work at with our friend Bel, singing three part harmonies, especially old timey songs from “O Brother Where Art Thou”. We had a little sign saying “saving for Ireland”. We had this idea we could buy ourselves tickets to Ireland with the money. In the end, we used it to pay for the post production of our first EP, and we are still waiting to get to Ireland! In 2014, we decided to have a sister duo, named it Charm of Finches after a great list of other collective nouns was compiled, and made our EP “Home”. We then started playing heaps of Folk Festivals around the country. Very lucky! Very fun!
L: Your last release (debut EP Home) started out as Mabel’s Year 8 project and became so much more. What did you learn from that experience for your new album?
M: You are right! The EP was made very quickly, partly because of budget constraints, but also because we decided with our producer Michael Johnson, that we wanted to capture a live feel, and a freshness. For our debut album, we wanted to take our time creating a lush production with lots of layers – a studio album. This time, we did quite a bit of recording at home, to spend as much time as we wanted with the strings (we played violin and cello).
L: You’ve credited Sufjan Stevens and Agnes Obel as inspiration and influences due to their intricate and beautiful arranging. What was it like for you Mabel to be co-producing the album with Nick Huggins?
M: We drove down to Point Lonsdale to record with Nick lots, and on that two hour drive, often listened to those two artists. Also Joanna Newsom’s new album Divers. We had some great conversations about production choices on those drives. Working with Nick was awesome! We gave him a demo at the very beginning with our production ideas, and played him the albums we wanted to take inspiration from. He totally got it. And then, we just left those ideas behind, and went into the process of creating the album. It was like, we all knew we were on the same page, we all got on so well, and trusted the collaboration.
L: Your album ‘Staring at the Starry Ceiling’ features 10 tracks. Was it hard to choose which songs made it on to the album and the tracklisting order?
M: It’s interesting what ended up on the album. “Dragonfly”, for example, is a song we actually stopped playing live, even though we love it. It is a perfect album track though. There were two songs we wrote during the period of recording, “Lost Girl” and our single “Sky Watching”. It was pretty exciting to add them to the album, as it is always exciting to have new songs. It seemed pretty clear which songs needed to go on.
L: Mabel, when you played at our Songwriters in the Round event last year, you said your songs have come from poetry competitions, nature, metaphors, conversations with classmates and even geomorphology! Once you have the initial inspiration, what’s the process? Do you race home as quick as you can to write the song or is it a process that takes a bit of time for it to come together?
M: A bit of both! I usually write my ideas as they come to me, especially in the middle of the night. I have been known to switch on the light to write something down. That’s usually lyrics. I also record heaps of bits on the iPhone, guitar bits, ukulele bits, and now piano bits.I find some songs come to me as though it was already written. I know a lot of people say that, but it’s actually true.
L: For people out there that haven’t written a song before, how would you describe what it feels like to write a song – what does it mean to you?
M: Well, you’re kind of putting an emotion into a form, or something that is on your mind is made into art. It is like grasping into the air, and pulling lyrics, melodies, harmonies all together and then somehow it becomes something new. It’s a good way to fix feeling down. Songwriting is very important to me, and a great way for me to express myself. I’m proud of my songs and each one holds a memory.
L: Your harmonies are very impressive both on the recording and when you perform live. Is this something you’ve always been able to do Ivy?
Ivy: Thank you! Yes. It just feels really natural and I don’t really think about it when I’m doing it. It’s actually quite fun.
L: You have already toured and played with the likes of Clare Bowditch, Kasey Chambers, Domini Forster. What can you tell people about your support act for your launch (who’s also a favourite of ours) Anna Cordell?
M: Anna Cordell is one of our favourite Melbourne artists! Her voice is warm and divine, her songwriting compelling, and wow, have you seen her guitar picking. It’s very unique and beautiful. We feel so honoured she is supporting us.
L: What can people coming to your launch on Saturday expect? Apparently you have a special guest string ensemble?
M: We do have an string trio joining us, which we have put together especially for the launch. Jenny M Thomas from Bush Gothic is playing violin, Alice Hurwood, who is an astoundingly talented cellist who is also a teenager, and the lovely Portia joining us on viola. It’s so exciting to be able to replicate some of the arrangements from the album. It’s gonna be special!
L: After your launch what’s next for Charm of Finches?
M: Well, we are going to Sydney after out Melbourne launch to play a couple of shows, and then we have a Parlour House concert tour planned for the Spring! House concerts are one of our favourite kinds of shows, so very friendly and intimate and fun. We dream of supporting some of our favourite artists in the future, and of course play more festivals, which are the best fun! And then of course, there are always new songs being written so a new album is already hatching, but that will be a while to come! Ireland will come one day, and hopefully it will be a UK/Ireland Folk Festival tour! In the meantime, Mabel has VCE to do over the next two years, and then it will be Ivy’s turn.
Charm of Finches launch their album at the Wonderland Speilgeltent in Docklands on the 6th of August. Tickets are $15/$10 (14yrs and under) and bookings can be made through Wonderland Spiegeltent website: www.wonderlandspiegeltent.
The views expressed in this article are the views of the author and not necessarily the views of Melting Pot.
Author DetailsLiam Dixon
Liam is the founder and director of Melting Pot. Once a regular performer at Melting Pot events as the writer / frontman for local band Creatures of Karma, these days Liam works as a commercial lawyer by day. When hes not busy doing lawyer stuff or with Melting Pot, Liam loves to write, play and record his own music and see the odd gig around town.