Talking Folk with The Elephant Sessions

The Elephant Sessions performing at Northern  Roots 2013. Photo by Roddy Mackenzie.

The Elephant Sessions performing at Northern Roots 2013. Photo by Roddy Mackenzie.

Hailing from Inverness, The Elephant Sessions are an upcoming act set to make waves on the traditional Scottish music scene this summer. I caught them last year at a gig in Edinburgh, where they blasted through a set of the grooviest folk music I’ve ever heard. They’re currently recording their debut album off the back of a successful online fundraising campaign, so I recently caught up with guitarist Mark Bruce to find out more:

Describe the members of the Elephant Sessions and the instruments you play:
The Elephant Sessions are:

  • Euan Smillie – Fiddle
  • Greg Barry – Drums
  • Alasdair Taylor – Mandolin
  • Seth Tinsley – Double bass
  • Mark Bruce – Guitars.

Where are you from and how did you guys meet?
We met through a mutual love of traditional music and the fact we have similar ideas of how the folk/traditional genre can be pushed by adding influences from other genres. Four of us hail from the Highlands of Scotland, and Seth is from Northumberland.

You’re all excellent musicians – I was wondering how long you’ve been playing and how you got into this type of music?
We have all been playing traditional music for many years, we all got into it through things such as the Feisan movement and through traditional music groups in school. We are very lucky in the Highlands of Scotland that we are so immersed in traditional melodies and culture.

The thing that struck me the most about your band is the way you combine traditional folk music with contemporary genres such as funk – what makes your music so unique, and what kinds of things is the band influenced by?
I think what may potentially make our music a bit different is the fact the we self write all our melodies and we aren’t afraid to try and push the boundaries of where we can take it – I think not being afraid to fail is very important when you’re trying to do something a bit unique. We take influences from a wide range of music, everything from Gaelic singer Julie Fowlis to the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

I saw you perform last year in Edinburgh, and you definitely got the crowd moving for a subdued Wednesday night! Is this what usually happens at an Elephant Sessions gig?
Yeah, we usually try and noise the crowd up a bit. Basically, whether its an 11am or an 11pm festival slot we will try and give it all we have and hopefully we get everyone dancing

What’s been your standout gig so far?
I think our highlight so far has probably been opening up for the Peatbog Faeries at The 02 Academy in Newcastle. They have been a band we have all looked up to from early on in our musical lives and it was an honour to get the chance to do that.

I’m a complete newbie to traditional folk music – can you explain to me what it’s called when a song suddenly changes halfway through? Is this a round? Set? Jig? Help!
Erm, the best way to maybe explain this is usually a ‘set’ comprises of more than one tune. We try and arrange the tunes so there is a tempo change, it can be fast or slow depending on where we are trying to take the listener. A classic traditional music change would be something like a Strathspey into a reel, effectively this doubles the beat. The difference between a jig and a reel is, in a jig the notes are grouped in 3 and in a reel notes are grouped in 4. We hope this makes a little bit of sense.

The Elephant Sessions

The Elephant Sessions

You’ve just finished a successful Kickstarter campaign for the funding of your debut album – how did it go?
Kickstarter is a company that allows you to set up a page where the public can donate money to help fund a project. We plan to record our debut album with the money we raise from it, we are very excited!

Comparing the music that you’re currently performing with the music available on your EP, do you think it’s different at all? Where do you hope to take the band?
I think we ‘grew up’ a bit from what we were playing on the EP to what we are playing now, we have become more confident in our ideas and we think we are writing better material. We hope!

What’s the most exciting thing happening in Scottish folk at the moment?
We all really love Adam Holmes’ debut album ‘Heirs and Graces’. He is writing some beautiful songs and he has an amazing band. Definitely worth checking out.

Finally, what are your plans for 2014?
To release our album and hopefully do some festivals in the summer and tour Britain in October.

You can hear more by the Elephant Sessions at www.elephantsessions.com or check them out on Facebook.

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About Nadine Lee

Originally from New Zealand, Nadine is a documentary researcher now based in the north east of Scotland.

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