Thursday, May 24, 2012

Daniel Martin Moore and Joan Shelley Take Us To Their "Farthest Field"

Daniel Martin Moore started his Kentucky-based record label called Ol Kentuck with the simplistic and genuine mission of sharing some of the incredible music he heard around him with the hope of exposing the artists to a wider audience.

Last month, Ol Kentuck delivered Joan Shelley's excellent new album, Ginko, and seemingly without a moment's pause, the label has just released the stunning new collaboration between the two songwriter-string players called Farthest Field.

Having had the pleasure of interviewing both artists previously (Joan on the making of Ginko as well as with the members of Maiden Radio on Lullabies, and Daniel on In the Cool of the Day), I am pleased to offer a new interview with the two artists together, discussing their sparsely delicate, and stirringly alluring new album Farthest Field.

Can you each discuss your songwriting styles/ approaches? What would you say are your biggest differences from each other? Where and how would you say they intersect?

Daniel Martin Moore: Songs so often begin as letters, and I do think of them in that way. I don't put any energy into style: whatever happens once I start into working on an idea is what happens, and that is all, and that is enough.

Joanie's songs have an immersive quality about them that I enjoy and admire. It's difficult for me to say how our songs and styles differ, but they intersect in a sense of space & environment, in detail and description of the world.

Joan Shelley: Our collaboration really intersects at the vocal harmony. I think that's the common ground we built this record on. This was the softest, quietest record I'd ever done before, and that gentle approach is something you can find in much of Daniel's work.

His writing style is very wistful and meditative. My writing style tends to be more rhythmically oriented. The lyrics drive both of our songwriting styles, and I think that's one of the reasons our songs work so well together.

You have worked together on a number of projects before Farthest Field. What would you say this album adds to each of your bodies of work as well as an expansion of your work together? What would you say uniquely sets it apart from your previous works?

Daniel: This record doesn't exactly sound like anything either of us have made before, and I like that about it. Joan and I set out to make this thing mostly ourselves, and we didn't bring in any friends (ace players) to help us sound better like we normally do when recording! So our scope was smaller, and it allowed us to focus in on the elements that we could bring to the album.

Joan: Farthest Field is much more delicate and sparse than any of my previous work. This material didn't require the drums and bass that I usually yearn for. I do love it's starkness, especially set against the backdrop of the busy and highly-produced current music climate.

For Daniel and I to pull this off, just the two of us, it was a big step in a new direction for us both. Neither of us are formally trained. We isolated ourselves as much as possible and focused on what the two of us heard, what we knew, and what we wanted to hear.

The idea for this record began with your rendition of "Trawlerman's Song" (by Vashti Bunyan and Robert Lewis), both as something you enjoyed singing together, and that was so positively received (and inspiring to you both).

Upon reflection of your experiences interpreting that tune, can you each discuss your processes of writing your new tunes independently, and describe your process of coming together for the harmonies and arrangements to complete them?

Daniel: I think the only song that was written specifically with this album in mind is the instrumental, "Bright Water." All the other songs we had written already, just going about our lives as each of us do. So all the songs had to be imagined this way, with two voices, sort of all at once.  The harmonies came together fairly quickly and naturally without a lot of fuss, and once we found our parts, we began to learn each other's phrasing over lots of rehearsals and lots of tea.

We rehearsed and recorded the whole album in familiar and comfortable surroundings, and we weren't especially rushed in the process (unlike some records where the weight of the clock can be crushing). It all unfolded over several months. I think that helped a whole lot in achieving the feel of the album.

Joan: I'm not sure whether or not "Trawlerman's Song" influenced me in the writing stage (I wrote these songs in a period during and after recording Ginko), but it served as a home base to come back to after every stage during recording with Daniel. It set the tone. It's a cuter song that I'd ever be able to write on my own. "Wifey" (one of the lyrics) is, regrettably, not part of my vocabulary.

To illustrate how different my writing is than "Trawlerman's Song," I would point to "The First of August." The melody is loose and changing; a little too wild to do a perfectly stacked, constant harmony with Daniel like we do on "Trawlerman's Song". But we hung in there and added a gorgeous harmony.

When I listen to Farthest Field, I just kept returning to an idea of "place". How does being Kentucky-based artists (geographically, historically, and communally) inspire you, and even guide you thematically, philosophically, and artistically?

Daniel: Aside from my family and my dearest pals, there is a wonderful musical community in Kentucky with so many artists making good, inspiring work. There are also great writers & poets (I'm thinking of Silas House, Jason Howard, Marianne Worthington and, of course, Wendell Berry).  And we've got a tradition of music being interwoven into our communities and our families. It's a rich place. But I also think that every place has a story not unlike ours...

Joan: I've gotten to work with many wonderful musicians from this region. There is some quality that about their music that seems to set them apart. The landscape within the state is so varied, it is hard to point to one thing we all share in common.

There are so many musical genres and scenes thriving here, the thing that binds us together is less likely about what we are than what we are not. We are not Nashville, and we're not from a big city with lots of resources for musicians. We're choosing to do this from our home places.

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