ON THE ROAD: KIRSTY LAW:
Hello Kirsty and welcome to Breakthrough. Our magazine is dedicated to highlighting new talent making great headway in our industry. Also to provide a community for emerging talent developing their skills in Music Creativity and Business. Tell us a bit about you?
Hi, I am a vocalist and song-maker based in Edinburgh.
The mainstay of my musical education came from learning traditional ballads and Scottish folk songs. Today I use this rich tradition in my own compositions, often writing in a ‘patchwork’ style, layering and combining traditional and original melodies, poems and text. Working with artists of different mediums is the lifeblood of my work – performing alongside poets, storytellers and sound artists as well as responding to the work of contemporary visual artists.
When did you first realise that you wanted to pursue a career in Music?
I always enjoyed singing traditional Scottish songs and in school plays. Then as I got older and I realised that this was something I could be good at, the idea just lodged itself in my mind. I was lucky enough to grow up with many Scottish folk musicians around me who were working professionally.
Did you study music, if so where and why?
Yes, I studied Folk and Traditional Music BMus at Newcastle University. I liked the time and space this gave me to study the music I was singing. I liked the chance it gave me to develop my skills. But I also like the academic side to the work, the sociology and musicology. I definitely still feel the benefits of having a deeper understanding of my genre.
When did you first release any music into the world? And what were the key points in your journey up to that point?
My debut album Shift was the first thing I released. I had been gigging for quite a few years and finally I had a good band, a funding grant from Creative Scotland towards it and a producer to work with.
What were the main similarities and differences in the writing process production of your first and second album?
The production between my first and second albums differed quite a bit. On my first album, Shift, I worked with Mattie Foulds from Caribou Recordings. Our aim for that album was a simple one – to capture the music that myself and my band had spent the last few years developing, then making it the best it could be in a digital context. The second album, Young Night Thought, was an audiovisual album project. I worked in tandem with a painter and filmmaker whilst writing the songs, their work feeding into mine and vice versa. From this project there is now also a short film and triptych of oil paintings, which we take on the road with us. I was a lot more focused on what could be achieved creatively in the studio. I worked from the beginning of the writing process with producer Ben Seal, using a much broader sound palette, incorporating a few samples, and making sounds that could not be replicated on stage.
How much of your career so far are you responsible for? Do you take care of everything?
I do everything. I write the songs, manage the bookings, make the funding applications, project manage the album, the tours, pay the musicians, do the promotion, the social media etc. The only time I have handed over the reigns is to a producer whilst making the records, and more recently I have employed a PR person for a short stint on this latest record. However, I have no permanent help such as a manager or agent.
So if we want indulge in the world Kirsty Law which song from which Album should we start with?
I am very proud of Shift, it shows clearly where my musical roots lie. But I feel as though I have hit my stride with Young Night Thought – this album gives a much better idea of where my work is at now.
Have you had any key mentors in your journey for far? If so who are they and what were the crucial things they helped with and how?
Karine Polwart has been a great inspiration and mentor for many years. From giving me my first Lizzie Higgins CDs (Scottish Traveller, traditional singer) to co-writing a song with me for Young Night Thought.
Being an independent artist, developing your own career can be tough. What processes or methods do you use to keep your self inspired, disciplined and healthy?
I have a part time job, I work in a record shop. It keeps me up to date, with a trickle of steady income that I don’t need to worry about. This allows me to only focus on the music that I want to. I make sure I keep in touch with other people in the same position, other professional musicians. Having the right people around you makes all the difference.
What’s on the immediate horizon for you? Any projects, tours or collaborations you are most excited about?
This year I am touring Young Night Thought in the Spring with my trio – Esther Swift (Twelfth Day) and Owen Curtis Williams (Withered Hand) and following that with a solo tour in the Summer across Scotland. I have an ongoing collaboration with author Kirsty Logan who has just released her second novel, ‘The Gloaming’. We’re performing our show ‘Lord Fox’ in Edinburgh in May after we took it to Malaysia last year for the George Town Literary Festival. I am also releasing a new EP called ‘An Urban Seascape’, based on some work I did for a residency with Coastword Festival.
What one piece of advice would you give to another artist perhaps a bit earlier in their journey than you?
If you’re in this for the long haul, work like hell – but be kind to yourself.