6 Questions with Twelfth Day

Esther SwiftEsther Swift – likened to Kate Bush, Eddie Reader and Joanna Newsom – is one half of Twelfth Day – a young duo making waves in the scene with their enticing blend of traditional folk and classical elements. 

‘Surrender to their charms you must… It would be a sin not to.’ (Folk Radio UK)

A deep love of Scotland and nature continually inspire and influence Twelfth Day, richly influenced by upbringings in Orkney and the Scottish Borders. In live performance Twelfth Day describe themselves as a two-person quartet – using harp, fiddle and both voices to conjure a broad array of sounds, textures, rhythms and polyphony. Exploring and pushing the limits of what a duo can achieve is at the heart of everything they do.

We grabbed Esther for a few minutes ahead of her gig at the Scottish Storytelling Centre on Wednesday 6 May to find out what makes her tick musically.

Q1. Tell us about your recent album.

Our new mini-LP – Shell Story – released on Mon 18 May, features three brand new tracks and four exciting remixes from our most recent album, The Devil Makes Three

The title track is based on a short story by George Mackay Brown about women who have lost their husbands at sea returning to them in the form of gulls.  The second track is an instrumental based on the Greek god Janus who has two faces, exploring two different opinions and how they can come together and work together with a little perseverance.  The third track is our arrangement of a Schubert Lied called Romanze. We really enjoyed arranging this beautiful song and wanted to embrace the fact that we love “classical” music and showcase it can be used in a variety of ways.  The four remixes are made by talented friends of ours who have inspired us musically – Fraction Man, The Reverse Engineer, DJ Tudo and Max Reinhardt – who have all done very different things with the material, and we love the results.

Q2. How long have you been writing music/playing together as a band?

We started playing together back in college when we were living together. We ended up sharing crazy ideas and jamming into the night, and became really close friends at the same time.  Because we are such good friends we were never afraid of sharing our most crazy ideas with each other.  As a duo we have really got going in the last couple of years now that we are both out of study and have more time to dedicate to it, which is really exciting

Q3. What is your writing process like? Is it broken down between lyric writing and music composition, or do you focus more on collaboration?

It is very much a collaborative process. Typically one of us will write a few lines and then hand it over to the other person.  One of us always comes along with a new idea and then we realise it together.  We try to keep a really open mind and fully embrace whatever mad idea one of us has! This means that we take quite a while writing the material, but are always really happy with the results.

Q4. What inspires you when writing music?

Whatever we happen to be discussing together at the time – political opinion, what’s happening in our lives, old stories, people and places.  We talk about everything together so there is never a shortage of topics to cover. We share a lot of similar views as well, which means we are both passionate about similar things, which helps!  

Q5. What other musicians have influenced you?

We don’t believe in genres and just want to write good music, so we like to be as open minded as possible and listen to every kind of music that comes along.  Some of our favourite musicians at the moment include Bjork, Trentemøller, Rhiannon Giddens, Anda UnionPunch Brothers and Arvo Pärt, but we are constantly listening to new music and looking for new sounds to discover.  We love musicians who really push the boundaries of capability in their respective field.  

Q6. What does Tradition mean to you?

Tradition is something that is somehow too special to forget and therefore people learn it and change it and it keeps evolving, as society changes and evolves. 

We were recently in Brazil where we met a rap artist who showed us Casa Do HipHop in Diedema, outside of Sao Paulo, the first political hip hop house in Brazil.  He had been a child when the political hip hop movement in Brazil had begun and picked up the amazing tradition from his older friends.  In our view, this is as much of a tradition as music that is very old, and we found it so inspiring to see a new tradition growing here, filled with so much life and energy and with such a growing community. 

We think a tradition should be something that grows and changes as the people using it grow and change.

Catch Twelfth Day live at Scottish Storytelling Centre, Wednesday 6th May , 7.30pm