An interview with Wildwood Kin
Wildwood Kin: ‘we’ve learnt so much over what seems like such a short period of time’
These up and coming musicians talk about life on tour, their journey as a band, and what it’s like making a living from loving music.
As an alt-folk trio, Wildwood Kin are rising higher than the ceilings of the charming churches and cathedrals they perform in. They give an eloquent soundtrack to millions of BBC Radio 2 listeners in their cars and kitchens all over the country, and have performed at annual music events around the world such as the Blue Balls Festival in Switzerland and the Bootleg Barbeque in Nashville. Despite all that, they’re still as humble as they were from the beginning of it all.
Comprised of two sisters and a cousin, Emilie, Beth and Meghann gift their audiences with heavenly harmonies that you must hear to believe. And trust me, it’s not an easy thing to do; my sister and I once tried it with the dreary ‘Jar of Hearts’, and it wasn’t pretty.
I’m not going to pretend that we spoke in some urban chic café over coffee and cake in Soho, but let’s just imagine it that way. In this scenario, the Kin say that ‘Meg would definitely go for a flat white, Em’s usually a tea girl or would go for a black Americano depending on her mood. Beth would go for either a latte or if the option is there, a white hot chocolate.’ I get the feeling that despite being in each other’s company through tours, album recordings and of course, family gatherings, they certainly have their own tastes.
After taking a sip of her white hot chocolate (yes, the option is always there in imaginary cafes), Beth explains how they came to form the band four and a half years ago. ‘I was still in school finishing my GCSEs, Em was finishing her A levels and deciding where to go next, and Meg had just been let down by something she felt she was meant to be doing. But it all seemed to fall into place,’ she says, putting the whole idea of sibling rivalry to shame.
‘One night Em and Meg were talking and said to each other “wouldn’t it be cool to just do music and sing together for a bit” not really realising what it could become.’ They talk about being invited to an open-mic night by a friend, and how they were discovered there and then by their now-manager, who ‘saw potential and looked past the stage fright’ when they performed some covers. It seems that when it comes to the folk industry, the music and the way in which it reaches out to listeners, always comes first.
Of course, when Beth talks of things falling into place, she means their decision to come together as a band. Despite the assumption that a musician’s life on the road is a dream job, it comes after years of performative effort and a whole lot of creative energy. Wildwood Kin make the hard work look easy, most likely due to their love of sharing music. ‘People seemed to enjoy it so we came up with a name and started a Facebook page, played wherever and whenever we could and it has somehow snowballed into what it is now. We’ve been full time now for two years,’ they explain, as though their success happened like magic.
Wildwood Kin appreciate the interests of their listeners. They say that although they mostly perform original material, covers also seem essential. ‘We were invited to do an Under the Apple Tree session for legend Whispering Bob Harris, and they wanted us to do a cover as-well as originals,’ they say, before talking about their last-minute rendition of ‘Helplessly Hoping’ for the YouTube channel, as they knew that Bob Harris was a fan of Crosby Stills and Nash. After the whispering legend came to know and love their talents, The Kin featured on a recent one-off episode of The Old Grey Whistle Test thirty years after its last showing, becoming part of the impressive alumni, as well as their folk and country companion, Robert Vincent.
But what goes on behind the elegance of performing? I ask them more about the ins and outs of their recent Turning Tides tour around the UK, following the release of their debut album of the same name. ‘A typical day consists of waking up early after a very late night. More often than not, skipping breakfast and driving an hour or so down the motorway to our next city, stopping en route for wee breaks and snacks for the road,’ the Kin say, showing they live, breathe and sing in harmony.
The girls say that a lot of days consist of briefings, interviews, sound checks and if their busy schedule allows, they ‘aim to have one proper meal a day’. But it doesn’t end there. ‘Post show, it’s straight to the merch to meet and greet and sign autographs’, they say, ‘which is quite surreal and also sometimes difficult after an hour plus of singing when you half want to crash, half running on adrenaline.’ They say that signing autographs is still ‘very strange but we feel flattered…We love meeting people but often find it strange that people want us to sign our names, often more like messy scribbles’ on their merchandise. ‘The funny thing is we all do kisses at the end and then if ever we have to sign anything other than merch, like an important contract or for our hotel room keycards, we automatically put a kiss on the end,’ they admit. ‘Embarrassing,’ Beth adds, though it might add a friendly touch to all the serious business.
I’ve only ever seen Wildwood Kin once, and that was just Beth and Emilie. They were supporting Seth Lakeman, an English folk singer who is best known for his chirpy stage presence and most buoyant track, ‘Lady of the Sea.’ The venue was Exeter Cathedral and it was a full house, complete with a candlelit atmosphere and echoes of preshow conversation. Two thirds of the Kin took to the stage, graciously introduced themselves, and picked up their instruments, showing no visible signs of the stage fright they spoke of. Although we missed out on Meghann’s low harmonies and drums, I got a glimpse of Wildwood Kin’s ability to capture their hearers with blood harmonies that blend together beautifully.
‘Playing Exeter Cathedral on this tour was very special for us. Definitely a night and venue to remember. We love playing in churches and cathedrals,’ they say when they speak of the second time they performed at the cathedral, this time headlining. There’s something about these buildings that suit their music so well, where gentle voices are carried through the medieval cathedral, as folk musicians like Laura Marling have already proved so well. They mention the Avalon stage at Glastonbury as a highlight also. ‘We’ve played some very cool venues and cities over the past few years and feel very fortunate to be able to travel and play in such well known venues across the country.’
And while they embrace their musical ventures, the Kin suggest that there are bound to be some glitches along the way. Embarrassing moments are always a must when it comes to the stage, which is why I choose to take a different, less serious turn and ask the Kin if they have any of their own. As if expecting it, they respond immediately, ‘Oh yes, many.’ They refer to their time on tour with country duo Ward Thomas, when Meghann encouraged Beth to tell a joke on stage to an audience of about 1,500. Beth says ‘I gave in and started to tell this joke and somehow forgot the punch line and told the joke wrong, then started saying to the audience repeatedly “get it?”’ Whilst she’s forgotten the joke altogether, Beth recalls one girl at the front of the crowd who laughed out of sympathy.
‘Sometimes we break but never notice how far we’ve run,’ the Kin sing in the chorus of one of their Turning Tides tracks, ‘Run.’ It’s feisty and stunning, and it hints at the importance of looking back on our victories and as they say, ‘about life and how things don’t always work out the way they seem and that that’s not necessarily a bad thing.’ On discussing the significance of journeys within their lyrics, they reflect on their own. ‘I think we’ve been on quite a crazy journey these past four and a half years,’ they say, and ‘looking back, we’ve learnt so much over what seems like such a short period of time, a lot about ourselves and each-other mostly’. Wildwood Kin represent everything the music stands for - how it strives to be selfless and collective and in every sense, encouraging towards listeners and musicians alike. ‘Our lyrics reflect our journey of faith more than anything which has helped shape us as a band and through difficult experiences, and so we hope what we write inspires and encourages others experiencing their own battles in life.’
But who inspires the inspirers? To end, I’m interested to know who Wildwood Kin listen to when they’re on the road or having some downtime. ‘Maggie Rogers, Robert Plant’s new album, Fleet Foxes - we went to see them recently which blew our minds [….], Bon Iver’s stuff, Aurora and the Staves new album with the orchestra which is awesome.’
I can see a little bit of everyone in Wildwood Kin’s music, yet their sound is their own. Their take on Folk music is refreshing, as is their gratitude for the music they create, and the people they can share it with. I’m convinced that no matter how big they become, Wildwood Kin will remain gracious in their journey as musicians.
Now my own coffee is cold, but it was certainly worth it.
Wildwood Kin will be performing at this year’s Fowey Festival of Arts and Literature in May. Their album Turning Tides is available to stream or download on iTunes, Spotify and Google Play. For updates, follow Wildwood Kin on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.